Is Google Pixel 6a the best sub-$800 smartphone? (review)


Google shook up the premium smartphone market with the release of the $999 Pixel 6 earlier this year that in many respects outperformed flagship smartphones costing twice as much. Now the tech giant is looking to shake up the midrange market with the $749 Pixel 6a, offering the same Tensor chip and performance as its top phones but in a new, smaller body. So how does it fare?  


The Pixel 6a continues the two-tone visor design of the Pixel 6 phones, with a horizontal camera bar separating the brighter top portion from the more expansive muted colour. The Pixel 6a comes in three different colourways: Chalk, Charcoal and Sage. 

There is a slight downgrade in materials with the front of the phone using Gorilla Glass 3 as opposed to the more durable Victus glass from the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. There’s also plastic on the back instead of glass, and no wireless charging. 

The under-display fingerprint sensor performs more reliably on the 6a than on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, but you do have to keep your finger pressed to the screen longer for the phone to consistently unlock. 

The OLED display is slightly smaller at 6.1-inches and it tops out at a 60Hz refresh rate as opposed to the smoother 90Hz of the Pixel 6 and 120Hz of the Pixel 6 Pro. It also isn’t the brightest panel going around but it gets bright enough for outdoor use and it supports HDR for some added pop to the viewing experience.

The lack of wireless charging and faster refresh rate display are notable omissions given that other mid-rangers such as Samsung’s Galaxy A53 offer those features. Still, the compact size of the Pixel 6a feels great in the hand and the plastic on the back feels closer to a soft-touch ceramic. 

The Pixel 6a only comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage so if you want more memory you will need to step up to the Pixel 6 phones. Google has omitted the headphone jack which is disappointing considering that last year’s Pixel 5a did come with one.  

The Pixel 6a ships with Android 12 and guarantees three years of software updates, which means it’ll get Android 13 when it arrives later this year. However, in a world where Samsung now guarantees four Android OS upgrades for its phones, including the Galaxy A53, Google’s effort here feels a little underwhelming. The upshot is that since this is a Pixel phone, the 6a will be among the first to receive Android software updates as well as beta previews for future Android builds.

The Pixel 6a retains the two-tone design with the distinct camera bar on the back from the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro

Battery life 

The Pixel 6a packs a solid 4,410mAh battery and combined with the Pixel’s ability to optimise the battery based on your usage habits, it delivered stellar battery life. Most days I would end up with at least 30-40 percent charge with the screen on time ranging between 5-6 hours. For most people, the Pixel 6a should sail through the first day and well into the next without having to charge the phone. 

Charging tops out at just 18W, taking two hours to fully charge the handset from dead flat to 100 percent. 

Software and performance 

What makes a Pixel phone is the software experience and Google has brought all the unique features it debuted on the more expensive Pixel 6 and 6 Pro to the 6a. Notable features such as the ability to translate languages on the fly within any app and when conversing with another person, as well as the lightning quick voice-to-text transcription, all work equally as well on the 6a. 

Our favourite feature is how the Google Assistant handles calls. It will screen calls from unknown numbers complete with a real-time transcription so you can decide whether to jump on the call.

Google Assistant will even wait on the line for you and let you know when the person on the other line is ready to talk, taking the tedium out of those painfully long calls to customer support. 

Meanwhile, on the Pixel home screen there’s a dedicated shortcut to viewing all the songs that the Assistant identified in the background over time with the option to directly export the songs into a playlist in YouTube Music. Having returned from a holiday in Fiji where we heard some amazing music both live and on the local radio, this feature really came in handy. 

Despite the lack of a faster refresh rate display, the software experience feels very snappy and smooth thanks to Google’s Tensor chip. In terms of raw performance, the processor is comparable to a Snapdragon 888 and is substantially more powerful than what you’ll find inside other mid-range handsets.

We also noticed that the Pixel 6a doesn’t get as warm as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro and it doesn’t throttle performance as quickly when under load, which suggests Google has improved the thermal performance. 


While the Pixels 6 and 6 Pro provide an updated 50MP main camera sensor, the Pixel 6a sticks with the same 12MP Sony IMX363 sensor that the company has been using in previous generation Pixel phones dating back to 2017’s Pixel 2. Google has retained the ageing sensor’s relevance by dedicating considerable effort to the software side of image processing and it shows. 

The Tensor chip means that images are captured and processed significantly quicker than on the Pixel 5a and on par with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. 

Comparing shots taken side by side with the Pixel 6 Pro’s main camera, we found the Pixel 6a produced shots with slightly more saturated colours in bright outdoor scenes which at times looked more pleasing to the eye. Although the Pixel 6 Pro’s larger 50MP main camera has an edge in resolved details and dynamic range, I found the shots out of the Pixel 6a main shooter to produce surprisingly more consistent results in more demanding scenes. 

A scene captured by Pixel 6a and 6 Pro. The Pixel 6a does a better job of isolating the subject from the background.

For example, in the shot above – with the subject standing in front of neon blue lights in the background – you can see that the Pixel 6a main shooter does a much better job at preserving the subject’s natural skin tone when compared to the Pixel 6 Pro which fails to isolate the subject from the neon-struck background almost entirely.     

The Pixel 6a is clearly benefiting from Google’s five years of image processing tuning with this particular image sensor. But there’s no denying that the larger and more powerful 50MP main shooter on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro gives Google far more headroom to optimise the image processing over time. 

There’s parity on the ultrawide front, with the Pixel 6a using the same 12MP IMX386 Sony sensor as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. There’s no dedicated telephoto lens but there’s a 2x zoom preset that effectively crops the shot and you can digitally zoom up to 7x. 

Shooting video at up to 4K and 60fps with the main camera and up to 30fps on the ultrawide look great with minimal noise and even exposures. We like how the recorded video retains the same contrasty look as the still images. 

In short, the Pixel 6a’s camera blows away every other Android smartphone within its price range and can trade blows with more expensive flagships. The only notable omission is the lack of a dedicated telephoto lens but that’s to be expected at this price point. 

GadgetGuy’s take 

The closest Android rival would be Samsung’s Galaxy A53 which boasts a bigger and faster 120Hz display as well as wireless charging. Still, it can’t match the stellar performance and overall user experience of the Pixel 6a. 

We would argue the Pixel 6a’s biggest competition is Google’s own Pixel 6, which regularly goes on sale for $849 and comes with a bigger screen, more durable glass as well as a slightly better camera. But for budget shoppers who want to experience the best of what Android has to offer, the Pixel 6a won’t disappoint.

Google Pixel 6a
Google's Pixel 6a is an impressive follow-up to last year's Pixel 5a. It captures the essence of what made the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro such special smartphones and wraps it a more affordable package. The 60Hz display and lack of wireless charging count against it, but for overall value, the Pixel 6a simply can't be beaten at this price point.
Value for money
Ease of use
Great compact size while retaining a substantial 6.1-inch display
Impressive performance
Excellent camera
Steller battery life
Display capped at 60Hz
No wireless charging
No headphone jack