Google's Pixel 6A is the latest sign that you no longer need to pay close to $1,000 for a great phone, coming after Apple and Samsung launched their own wallet-friendly devices earlier this year. The $449 Pixel 6A launched on July 28 and has the same Tensor processor as the Pixel 6, but for $150 less. Internationally, the Pixel 6A costs £399 and AU$749.
Google's cheaper A-series Pixel phones aren't new; they've been around since 2019's Pixel 3A. But the Pixel 6A fills a different need in Google's lineup compared to its most recent predecessors. In some ways, the Pixel 5A and Pixel 4A felt like they were fixing the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4's shortcomings. Both devices felt overpriced when they launched, making the Pixel 5A and 4A feel like the better upgrade for Pixel fans.
The Pixel 6A, on the other hand, has a tougher act to follow. The Pixel 6 earned a CNET Editors' Choice Award last year for its excellent value at $600, which undercut flagships from Apple and Samsung by about $200.
The Pixel 6A generally accomplishes its intended purpose of providing a lot for less. The camera may be a step down from the Pixel 6, but it takes crisp and colorful photos for a phone of its price. You also get the same eye-catching design and Pixel-specific software features like Magic Eraser and Live Translate. The problem, however, is that the Pixel 6 was just available at a major discount that brought its price down to $499. With only a $50 price difference between these models for Amazon Prime Day, the Pixel 6A seemed hard to recommend.
- Great camera
- Affordable price
- Premium design for a middle-tier phone
- Among the first to get new Android updates
- Somewhat dim display
- Not a great value alongside discounted Pixel 6
- Not as many years of guaranteed Android updates as Samsung
- Video quality isn't as good as still photos
Google is also facing more competition from Samsung in the midtier Android OS phone space. Samsung outshines Google in some ways, particularly when it comes to displays, but I think Google provides a better overall package.
Possibly the best-looking phone at this price
Without looking at the two phones side by side, you could almost mistake the Pixel 6A for the Pixel 6. It has the same two-toned design and a black camera bar that stretches horizontally across the back of the phone. I've been using the sage-colored Pixel 6A, which is a darker green than the Pixel 6's minty "sorta seafoam" color. The Pixel 6A's camera strip is also thinner than the Pixel 6's, but they otherwise share a similar look and feel.
The Pixel 6A's back panel is made of a "thermoformed plastic composite" according to Google, but it's easy to mistake it for glass. It's one of the few cosmetic differences between the Pixel 6A and Pixel 6, although you can barely tell the difference.
These factors make the Pixel 6A feel more expensive than it actually is, especially when compared to similarly priced Samsung phones. In fact, the Pixel 6A might be the best-looking phone in this price range that I've tried so far. Another perk: Fingerprint smudges aren't as noticeable on the Pixel 6A's "plastic composite" back as they are on the $450 Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, which is probably the Pixel 6A's biggest competitor.
Google is taking a slightly different approach with the Pixel 6A in terms of size compared to the Pixel 5A and 4A. While those devices were larger than the flagship phones they were based on, Google made the Pixel 6A smaller than the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6A has a 6.1-inch screen (making it the same size as the Galaxy S22 and iPhone 13), while the regular Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch screen.
The Pixel 6A is easier to manage with one hand than a Pixel 6, but I wouldn't describe it as a compact phone. Samsung is much better at cramming large screens into small spaces, as the Galaxy S22 proves.
The Pixel 6A's OLED display is sharp and colorful enough to comfortably watch videos, read the news and check email. But Samsung beats Google in this regard. Not only do the displays on phones like the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy A53 feel brighter, but Samsung also offers the option to boost the screen's refresh rate to 120Hz for smoother scrolling.
This feature is more common on pricier phones, so its absence from the Pixel 6A is reasonable. But Samsung and Motorola have started including higher refresh rates on cheaper phones like the Galaxy A53 5G and Moto G 5G, making its omission from the Pixel 6A more noticeable.
The Pixel 6A's standard 60Hz screen is plenty fast and responsive, but I wish it were brighter. I found myself fighting the urge to crank the display brightness above 50% when using the Pixel 6A on several occasions, even indoors.
Aside from its new Pixel 6-esque design and smaller screen, there's another physical trait that separates the Pixel 6A from last year's 5A: its lack of a headphone jack. There's no headphone adapter in the box either, but Google does include a USB adapter for transferring data from your old device.
The Pixel 6A's stereo speakers are loud and clear enough to get the job done. It was the perfect volume for providing background music during a picnic at the park without disturbing other people nearby.
Camera: Better than Samsung's $450 phone, downgrade from the Pixel 6
The Pixel 6A's camera is solid for a phone at this price, but it's a step down from the Pixel 6. On paper, the camera system is similar to the Pixel 5A's. Both phones have a 12.2-megapixel main camera with the same aperture, field of view and pixel width.
But there are differences in the ultrawide camera; the Pixel 6A's has a lower resolution and smaller field of view, but its pixels are wider. The addition of the Tensor chip also brings photography features you won't find on the Pixel 5A.
The Pixel 6A's 12.2-megapixel main camera took crisp and vibrant photos, although the Pixel 6's 50-megapixel camera is better at balancing color, detail and sharpness. However, I thought the Pixel 6A captured better photos than Samsung's Galaxy A53 5G in nearly all of my testing scenarios.
Bright outdoor sunlight
The Pixel 6 unsurprisingly took the best photo of the bunch. It's brighter than the Pixel 6A's and captures a wider field of view, but the photo from Google's cheaper phone still has plenty of detail. The Pixel 6A's photo may be a bit dimmer than Samsung's, but it's also more detailed while Samsung's photo looks a bit blown out and oversaturated.
Portrait mode is one area where the Pixel 6A fell behind both the Pixel 6 and Galaxy A53. There's too much shadow over the subject's face in the Pixel 6A's photo compared to the others.
The Pixel 6A took great photos of people indoors, as shown below. However, the Pixel 6's camera was slightly better at rendering skin tones; the subject's face looks slightly paler in the Pixel 6A's image. The Samsung Galaxy A53 did an adequate job, but its colors weren't quite as accurate. The lace near the top of the subject's dress looks slightly blue in Samsung's image, but it's supposed to be black. Differences may be hard to see at this size, but I noticed these discrepancies when viewing each photo at its full size on a 27-inch monitor.
The Pixel 6 is the obvious winner of this round, but the Pixel 6A's photo was much brighter and clearer than the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G's image.
None of these phones have a dedicated zoom lens, but the Pixel 6A and Pixel 6 can each zoom up to 7x digitally. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G can zoom up to 10x digitally, but it had the blurriest image of the bunch.
All three phones have a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera lens for taking photos from a broader perspective. Photography can be subjective, but I preferred the more realistic colors in photos from the Pixel 6 and 6A over Samsung's. But the Galaxy A53 5G's images are brighter, which some people may prefer aesthetically.
The Pixel 6A essentially has the same selfie camera as the Pixel 6: an 8-megapixel sensor with the same pixel size, aperture and field of view. The Galaxy A53, on the other hand, has a 32-megapixel front camera. All three phones captured detailed and colorful selfies, but I think the Galaxy A53's lighting is slightly better.
The Pixel 6A can record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, just like the Pixel 6. Even though Google's phones generally excelled in still photography, I preferred Samsung's video capture. The clips I shot with the Galaxy A53 in 4K at 30 frames per second had more color and detail than those shot on the Pixel 6A at the same resolution and frame rate.
Since the Pixel 6A runs on Google's Tensor processor, you'll also get many of the same photography features. That includes Magic Eraser for removing unwanted background objects, Real Tone for rendering skin tones more accurately and Face Unblur, which freezes a subject's face when there's movement in the frame. These features help distinguish Pixel phones from other Android devices, although it's really the image quality that's the main selling point.
Like the Pixel 6, Google's more affordable phone launches with Android 12 and will be among the first to get Android 13. Google also periodically releases new software features for Pixel phones through a program called Feature Drops. Android 12 feels slick and clean on the Pixel 6A overall, making it a strong choice for those who prefer a simple, no-fuss interface.
I used to prefer Google's interface above all else thanks to its simplicity, but Samsung has drastically improved its One UI software, which sits on top of Android 12 in phones like the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy A53 5G.
Samsung also offers Android support for an additional year compared to Google, which only guarantees Android version updates for three years from the Pixel 6A's launch. Samsung's new phones, by comparison, will get four years of Android updates. Most importantly, though, Google and Samsung both offer security updates for five years.
Pixel phones also have software features you can't get on other Android phones, and that also holds true for the Pixel 6A. You'll get Google-specific additions like Wait Times, which can show estimated wait times before you dial a toll-free US number. I tried this before calling CVS customer service and was pleasantly surprised to see a warning that I could experience a wait of up to 10 minutes. There's also Hold For Me, which enables the Google Assistant to wait on hold and alert you when a representative is ready to speak with you.
Google also promises that its Tensor chip will bring benefits for language translation through a feature called Live Translate. As the name implies, this allows your Pixel 6 phone to translate text in conversations and videos into a different language. I asked a co-worker to send me a message in Spanish, and the text magically changed to English once I hit the translate button that appeared at the top of the screen.
Solid performance and decent battery life
The Pixel 6A's performance felt fast enough for most everyday tasks, and I haven't noticed any of the bugs or hiccups that plagued the Pixel 6. The camera and other apps launch quickly, there's no stutter or lag when navigating around the operating system, and games like Call of Duty and Asphalt 9 run smoothly. I never noticed the Pixel 6A feeling warm while playing games or using the camera.
That certainly gives it a leg up over Samsung's Galaxy A53 5G. Samsung's $450 phone performed just fine most of the time, but there were instances when I had to press the home button multiple times to exit an app.
The fingerprint sensor also works quickly most of the time, unlike the Pixel 6's which my colleague Patrick Holland wrote was a bit finicky at first.
The Pixel 6A's battery is sufficient but not particularly impressive. When I spent most of my day at home, the Pixel 6A had plenty of battery left by around 9 p.m. But busy days that involved commuting to the office and meeting friends after work drained the battery faster.
It's important to remember that battery life will always vary depending on how you use your phone. Cranking up the screen brightness, playing games often and recording video for long periods of time will deplete your battery faster. During my time with the Pixel 6A, I primarily used the phone for checking email, streaming music from Spotify, watching YouTube videos, and occasionally playing games or taking photos.
Here are some examples of how the Pixel 6A's battery held up in various circumstances. I haven't tried the Pixel 6A's Extreme Battery Saver Mode yet, which Google says can enable up to 72 hours of battery life by prioritizing your most important apps. Other Pixel phones like the Pixel 6, 6 Pro and 5A also have this option, but Google only rates it for 48 hours on those devices.
Pixel 6A battery life
|Battery percentage||Screen time||Usage notes|
|58% at 9 p.m.||2 hours, 31 minutes||Left the screen at half brightness, spent most of the day at home|
|47% at 9:18 p.m.||3 hours, 53 minutes||Streamed video for 46 minutes, had do not disturb turned on for several hours, spent the work day in the office|
|35% at 9:50 p.m.||1 hour, 34 minutes||Had the brightness set to high for a portion of the day, spent the work day in the office and went out for dinner and drinks afterward|
There's also support for 18-watt fast charging on the Pixel 6A, but you'll have to purchase a compatible power adapter if you don't already own one. There's no wireless charging on the Pixel 6A, so you'll have to plug in your device to power it up. This shouldn't be a deal breaker for most people, but it could be an annoyance if you're upgrading from a phone that already has wireless charging.
Given its price, I wouldn't expect the Pixel 6A to include every major feature found on the Pixel 6 and other high-end devices. But wireless charging has been standard in most phones for roughly the last five years, so it's surprising that it hasn't trickled down to cheaper devices like the Pixel 6A or Galaxy A53 yet. Apple's $429 2022 iPhone SE supports wireless charging, but compromises in other areas like screen size and camera versatility.
The Pixel 6A also supports 5G, but Verizon's version will be the only model compatible with super-fast millimeter wave 5G networks. That means it will also cost $500 instead of $449. But you won't be missing out on much by opting for the non-mmWave version available at other carriers. Millimeter wave 5G operates at short distances and is only found in select areas, like busy street corners in major cities or stadiums.
More importantly, the Pixel 6A does support midband 5G on all US carriers, which is faster than the widely available low-band 5G and operates at longer distances than mmWave.
The bottom line
With a great camera, attractive design and early software updates, the Pixel 6A is the best phone in this price range for Android fans.
Samsung's $450 Galaxy A53 5G gives it some tough competition and excels in display quality and video recording. But the Pixel 6A's camera is noticeably better than Samsung's at taking still photos, and Google's phone also offers smoother performance. I'd also recommend the Pixel 6A over the $500 Moto G 5G Stylus since Motorola only guarantees one software update and three years of security updates. The OnePlus N20 5G is also a tempting choice at $300, but it's carrier-limited to T-Mobile and Metro. The same goes for the recently launched Nothing Phone 1, which costs roughly $480 but is only available in the UK and Europe for now.
The Pixel 6A's main drawback is its launch timing. The Pixel 6 was recently available at a significant discount for Amazon Prime Day, which took place about two weeks before the Pixel 6A's debut. Google will also be debuting the Pixel 7 in the fall, so it might be worth waiting to see which phone fits your needs.
But for now, the Pixel 6A remains a top choice for Android users looking to spend less than $500 on a new phone. In fact, it may be the best 5G Android phone for under $500.
Google Pixel 6A vs. Pixel 6
||Google Pixel 6A||Google Pixel 6|
|Display size, resolution, refresh rate||6.1-inch OLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels; 60Hz||6.4-inch OLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels; 60Hz or 90Hz|
|Pixel density||429 ppi||411 ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35||6.2 x 2.9 x 0.4|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||152.2 x 7.18 x 8.9||158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9|
|Weight||6.3 ounces; 178 grams||7.3 ounces; 207 grams|
|Mobile software (at launch)||Android 12||Android 12|
|Camera||12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)||50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)|
|Video capture||4K 60fps (rear), 1080p 30fps (front)||4K 60fps (rear), 1080p 30fps (front)|
|Processor||Google Tensor||Google Tensor|
|RAM/Storage||6GB RAM/128GB storage||8GB RAM/128GB or 256GB storage|
|Battery/Charger||4,410 mAh capacity||4,614 mAh capacity|
|Fingerprint sensor||Under display||Under display|
|Special features||5G, 18-watt fast charging, Wi-Fi 6E, Magic Eraser, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Cinematic Pan, 5 years of security updates, 3 years of Android OS updates, dual SIM, IP67 resistance||5G sub 6 (some carrier models also have 5G mmWave), Wi-Fi 6E, 30W fast charging, Magic Eraser, Motion mode, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Cinematic Pan, 5 years of security updates, 3 years of Android updates, IP68 rating for resistance, Gorilla Glass Victus (front), Gorilla Glass 6 (back)|