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Pixel 6a review: Google pares down the Pixel 6 to perfection

Google is really swinging for the fences this year. The Pixel 6a is not only the latest entry in the reliably excellent Pixel A series; that “mid-range” A-line is also getting a massive upgrade in the form of a flagship-class system on a chip. Yes, the Google Tensor SoC that debuted in the Pixel 6 is also in the Pixel 6a. It’s the same chip, and that means the Pixel A series is doubling in speed year over year. Did we mention the phone is still $449?

Google has created a mid-range juggernaut.

A new family of smartphones

With the launch of the Pixel 6 last year, Google finally landed on a solid path forward for its smartphone division. Besides the in-house Google SoC (with lots of help from Samsung), Google also had a hardware design that it could finally call its own, based on the distinctive and even somewhat useful camera bar.

In the past, Google upended the smartphone table every year and started over, seemingly from scratch. This has meant a disjointed, directionless phone brand that mostly felt slapped together every year. But the Pixel 6a is clearly “step 2” of a long-term iterative process for Google’s phone hardware. The Pixel 6, Pixel 6a, and the Pixel 7 (which has already been officially announced and pictured) are all clearly part of the same smartphone family, and that represents a big step forward for Google hardware. The company is getting just a bit closer to more serious hardware ventures from Apple and Samsung.

The camera bar returns, but it's a lot shallower than the Pixel 6 version.
Enlarge / The camera bar returns, but it’s a lot shallower than the Pixel 6 version.

Ron Amadeo

The Pixel 6a is definitely part of that new smartphone family and feels more like a third, smaller size of the Pixel flagship line than a wholly new mid-range product. The Pixel 6 Pro is the 6.7-inch version with a 120 Hz display, 5000 mAh battery, 12GB of RAM, and an $899 price tag. The Pixel 6 is 6.4 inches, with a 90 Hz display, 4600 mAh battery, and a $599 price. The Pixel 6a is one more step down, at 6.1 inches, with a 60 Hz display, 4410 mAh battery, and 6GB of RAM for $449. They all have the same design and the same SoC, they’re all water-resistant (the Pixel 6a is IP67), and they all have in-screen fingerprint readers. Google’s lineup now feels a lot like Samsung’s, with three flagship phones at the top.

The biggest downgrade is the 60 Hz display, which isn’t as nice as the 120 Hz display you’ll find in more expensive phones, but it’s fine for basic smartphone usage. The camera system is headlined by the tried-and-true Sony IMX363 as the main sensor instead of the newer sensors in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Google has been using this sensor since the Pixel 2, and it’s very good at getting decent results out of the ancient chip. It will probably outperform everything else at this price.

There’s also no wireless charging and, as is usual for the Pixel line, no microSD slot. This year, Google is also axing the headphone jack from the mid-range A series.

The Pixel 6a's camera cover is separate from the rest of the camera bar, which should reduce photo glare.
Enlarge / The Pixel 6a’s camera cover is separate from the rest of the camera bar, which should reduce photo glare.

Ron Amadeo

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