Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

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The Lowdown

The Google Pixel 6a may be considered a budget phone, yet there is nothing about it that screams “cheap” to me. I can highly recommend it to anyone who prefers a slightly smaller Android smartphone without any real caveats other than it not having wireless charging; for the price, I’m not even mad.

Overall
4.5

Pros

Flagship Tensor processor; Excellent cameras; Stock Google UI experience; Smaller, more pocketable size; Excellent display and stereo speakers; IP67 water resistance rating; Solid battery life; Stock Android Performance; exclusive Google Pixel features not found on any other Android phones; Five years of security updates; Great build quality

Cons

  • No wireless charging
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • Wall charger is not included
Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right! Listen to this article

Google introduced the Pixel 6 series last October. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro flagship smartphones debuted upgraded designs with a distinctive new camera module. Rather than their usual Qualcomm system on a chip, the Pixel 6 series launched with the new Google Tensor SoC, an in-house mobile processor focused on AI and machine learning for even better Pixel device experiences. If you were intrigued by the Pixel 6 series but would prefer something smaller and a bit less pricy without feeling a “that’s all I could afford” let-down, the Google Pixel 6a may be just right.

Google Pixel 6a in hand showing the back

The Google Pixel A-series has always been about delivering the core Google experience at a budget price. For the first time, with the Pixel 6a, we aren’t getting just the core Google experience; we’re also getting the latest Google Hardware Platform.

By that, I mean that instead of a downgraded processor, as we’d typically expect to see in a smartphone maker’s budget line, the Pixel 6a didn’t scrimp. It sports the same premium Google Tensor system on a chip that’s in the Pixel 6 flagship devices; it also has Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and 6E (6GHz) with MIMO, dual-band Bluetooth, and the next-gen Titan M2 security chip also found in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Available in three colors — Sage, Chalk, and Charcoal — the Pixel 6a has 6GB LPDDR5 RAM with 128GB storage and a 4410mAh battery. The cherry on top is that, as we first saw in the Pixel 5a, the Pixel 6a has IP67 dust and water resistance, so there’s no reason to worry about getting it wet. I’m not advocating sending it through the washer or swimming with it, though!

Unboxing the Google Pixel 6a

Google’s #teampixel sent me the Pixel 6a in Chalk, a largely white back with a gray strip above the black camera module. Inside the box, you’ll find the phone, a 1-meter long USB-C to USB-C USB 2.0 cable, a USB-A to USB-C quick switch adapter, a SIM tool, a quick start guide, and the obligatory safety/warranty/regulatory guide booklet.

Google Pixel 6a Walk-Around

The Pixel 6a measures 6″ tall by 2.8″ wide by 0.35″ thick, and it weighs 6.2 ounces. The 6.1″ FHD+ OLED display has a 20:9 aspect ratio and a refresh rate of up to 60Hz; it is covered with Gorilla Glass 3.

It is worth noting that the Pixel 6a’s display has the same 1080 x 2400 resolution as the Pixel 6’s 6.4″ display, but because the 6a’s display is smaller, it has a slightly higher pixels-per-inch of 429 versus the Pixel 6’s 411 ppi.

At the top center of the display is a small punch hole for the 8-megapixel front-facing camera. Directly above that, there is an inch-long ear speaker that couples with the bottom speaker for stereo sound.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

Like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, the Pixel 6a can be unlocked with the under-display fingerprint sensor or by using a pattern, PIN, or password. There still isn’t facial unlock, but I suppose it wouldn’t make sense for the Pixel 6a to have it when the flagships still don’t!

At 6″ tall and slightly less than 3″ wide, the Google Pixel 6a is a great size for anyone who prefers a slightly smaller, more pocketable phone.

Google Pixel 6a in the author's hand with the home screen showing

A volume rocker and a power button are on the right side, nestled between two antenna bands.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

On the top edge, there are two antenna bands and a microphone.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

On the left side are two antenna bands and the SIM tray. The Google Pixel 6a can accept a nanoSIM and an eSIM, so it is a dual-SIM device.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

There is a microphone, USB-C port, antenna band, and a speaker on the bottom; the bottom speaker couples with the ear speaker for surprisingly good stereo sound.

It is worth mentioning that the 3.5mm headphone jack seen on the previous Pixel A-devices is now gone. In other words, if you don’t have a pair of wireless earbuds by now, it is time!

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

The Google Pixel 6a has a recycled aluminum frame and a 3D thermoformed composite back, which seems to be a fancy way to say plastic. Even so, it doesn’t feel or look cheap, but it is a fingerprint magnet you’ll likely want to keep in a case anyway.

I do appreciate that the Pixel 6a’s camera module doesn’t stick out quite as far as those on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro do; although I have never cracked mine, it’s always been a bit of a concern, which is why my 6 Pro is always in a case.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

There are two rear cameras; the first is a 12.2-megapixel dual-pixel wide-angle lens with up to 7X zoom, and the second is a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens. The cameras have optical and electronic image stabilization, and they are capable of 4K video recording at 30 frames per second and 60 FPS or 1080p video recording at 30 FPS and 60 FPS.

The cameras are one of the most noticeable ways Pixel smartphones have set themselves apart from most others. These cameras may not have a ton of flashy megapixels, but the software Google employs does a fine job of taking excellent photos even in terrible lighting.

All of the Pixel camera goodies are here, including Magic Eraser, Real Tone, Face Unblur, manual white balancing, Top Shot, Portrait Light, Super Res Zoom, motion autofocus, Frequent Faces, dual exposure controls, live HDR+, Cinematic Pan, and Locked Folder.

Camera modes include Night Sight, Portrait, Camera, Video, Panorama, Photo Sphere, and Google Lens; Motion Mode, found on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is absent, however. Gotta save something for the flagships, I suppose!

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

Photos Taken with the Google Pixel 6a

As expected, the Google Pixel 6a cameras deliver excellent photos without tweaking. Here are some unedited snaps I have taken with it so far. Let me know what you think!

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

You can open the gallery by clicking on the first photo; some photos have comments about the settings I used.

And of course, Magic Eraser is always there if you take a photo that has something in it that you feel detracts from the overall aesthetic. I mean, how many times have you taken what could have been the perfect photo — if not for a distraction nuisance that couldn’t be easily cropped?

With Magic Eraser, you can almost always get rid of things like that without making it look like you obviously did “something.”

Take a look at these two pictures, and notice how nicely Magic Eraser removed the door stop and the empty wall hook; all I had to do was draw a circle around (or a line through) the things I wanted to go, and like magic, they were gone!

How smoothly this works is an example of the Google Tensor chip using its machine learning algorithm to improve the camera phone experience.

Magic Eraser Camouflage is a new editing feature that my Pixel 6 Pro camera doesn’t even have yet, although an update is coming! With Camouflage, you can disguise unwanted items in photos rather than remove them completely.

Here’s an example of it in action.

And again, because of the Google Tensor chip’s machine learning capabilities, camouflage magic can be quickly and easily accomplished by drawing a circle around (or a line through) the object you want to make less obnoxious.

I shot a selfie in portrait mode for this review, and it wasn’t until I was running the photos through my editing software to add watermarks that I realized I had a pretty obnoxious bruise on my arm just under my watch.

Obviously, I didn’t want to remove my arm with Magic Eraser, so I tried the Magic Eraser Camouflage mode.

It did a great job of blending in my bruise to where it’s no longer even noticeable, so I’m calling that a win!

Google Pixel 6A Battery Life, Speed, and the Display

It makes sense that because the Pixel A-series is considered Google’s budget line, you’re going to have to be willing to make a few concessions. Thank goodness processing speed and security aren’t sacrificed with the Pixel 6a!

Even so, you will have to deal with a bit less RAM and give up wireless charging.

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However, even though the Google Pixel 6a has 6GB of RAM — literally half of that on my Pixel 6 Pro — the difference in speed is not glaring. In fact, with how I use my phone, I have noticed much (if any) difference!

Look, we all know that I am not one to play processor-intensive video games on a smartphone. Still, for what I do — email, social media, photos, Youtube, word games, messaging, surfing — the Pixel 6a has been surprisingly solid!

I was worried that the 4,410mAh battery would be a step back since the Pixel 6 Pro has a 5,000mAh battery, but that has not been the case. Perhaps it is because the Pixel 6a has a 6.1″ display vs. the Pixel 6 Pro’s 6.7″ display or because the Pixel 6a’s refresh rate is up to 60Hz vs. the Pixel 6 Pro’s 120Hz, but battery life has been solid!

With regular use, I can go 7 or 8 hours before I start to get range anxiety — which is about the same as I can get on my Pixel 6 Pro!

Even though there is no wireless charging option, the Pixel 6a does offer an 18W wired fast charge — but you’ll have to supply your own USB PD 3.0 PPS wall charger.

Like the Pixel 6 series’ flagships, the Google Pixel 6a has an adaptive battery that will extend your battery life based on your phone usage so that battery life may improve slightly over time.

Google says that the battery can last beyond 24 hours (and up to 72 hours with Extreme Battery Saver), but I think that would only really apply to someone who isn’t on their phone as much as I am.

Some of the other areas the Google Tensor chip and machine learning come into play include being able to use Live Translate (which can translate live text conversations and videos in real-time), Now Playing (which informs you of the song playing in the background), and the always-on display — without serious battery drain.

The whole point of the Google Tensor processor is not necessarily about beating other processors’ scores; it’s about unlocking and enriching Pixel experiences I’m ways that weren’t possible before

Long story short, I have zero complaints about the processing speed or the performance of the Google Pixel 6a; it is a fantastic option for people who like a smaller phone.

Best of all, because of the Tensor chip, the Pixel 6a includes five years of security updates and three years of major OS updates, which should carry users through Android 15.

I should mention that while I had issues with the Google Pixel 6 Pro’s fingerprint sensor in the early days, it has gotten much better after multiple updates. The Pixel 6a seems to recognize my registered fingerprints just fine.

Consuming media is enjoyable on the Pixel 6a; the OLED display is bright, brilliant, and excellent for displaying colors well. The stereo speakers make watching videos enjoyable when you’re somewhere that doesn’t require headphones.

Google Pixel 6a Review: Not Too Big, Not Too Expensive; It Might Be Just Right!

Long story short, the Google Pixel 6a proves that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a fantastic phone. The Pixel 6a offers a stock Android experience with features only available on Google Pixel smartphones (hello, Call Screen!).

You’ll get early access to beta versions (the Android 13 beta will be available on the Pixel 61 soon), all of the features that Pixel users know and love (if you know, you know!), and it’s well under $500!

The Google Pixel 6a may be considered a budget phone, yet nothing about it screams “cheap” to me. I can highly recommend it to anyone who prefers a slightly smaller Android smartphone without any real caveats other than it not having wireless charging; for the price, I’m not even mad.

Some of the Google Pixel 6a deals I’ve found include a $50 Google Store credit when you buy Pixel 6a (Unlocked or with Google Fi) directly from Google, but there are also some carrier deals.

From AT&T, new and current customers can get the Pixel 6a for as little as $2 a month with no trade-in required. AT&T Enterprise Business customers can purchase the Google Pixel 6a for $.99 on a qualifying two-year agreement plan for a limited time. Verizon has it for free with a new line (it’s $11.11 if you’re upgrading), and T-Mobile offers it for free with a new line, or you can get $300 off with an upgrade.

The Google Pixel 6a retails for $449; it is available directly from the manufacturer and other retailers, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Amazon.

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: Flagship Tensor processor; Excellent cameras; Stock Google UI experience; Smaller, more pocketable size; Excellent display and stereo speakers; IP67 water resistance rating; Solid battery life; Stock Android Performance; exclusive Google Pixel features not found on any other Android phones; Five years of security updates; Great build quality

What Needs Improvement: No wireless charging; 60Hz refresh rate; Wall charger is not included

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.