Commentary: Wireless charging, a screen with a higher refresh rate and more Android updates, please.
Google's Pixel 6A was my favorite Android phone under $500 last year, which means Google has a lot to live up to with its rumored Pixel 7A. That new phone might get its announcement as early as Wednesday's Google I/O developer conference, although at this time Google has not officially teased a Pixel 7A. Should a new midrange Pixel phone get its debut, that device faces more competition in the budget phone space from Samsung, which has the $450 Galaxy A54 5G.
The $449 Pixel 6A is essentially a smaller, less expensive version of the Pixel 6, Google's flagship phone from 2021. The Pixel 6A has the same Tensor processor and general design as the Pixel 6, but with a lower-resolution, 12-megapixel main camera and a few other compromises. But its relatively low cost, solid photography for the price and attractive design made it a top choice for Android fans shopping on a budget.
Google got a lot right with the Pixel 6A, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. For example, I sometimes felt the Pixel 6A's screen was too dim, and its lack of wireless charging feels antiquated in 2023. As we wait to see if the Pixel 7A is on its way, I'm rounding up the features I'd most want to see on the possible phone.
Google's Pixel 7A has not been announced, but since the Pixel 6A was launched at last year's I/O conference, it would not be surprising if the Pixel 7A made its debut at this year's I/O on May 10. There have been some leaks, such as an image that claims the Pixel 7A will be available in a blue color. Aside from a possible I/O announcement, if Google maintains the same product launch strategy as last year, the Pixel 7A could appear as soon as this summer.
The Pixel 6A's 6.1-inch screen size is perfect for people who prefer smaller phones, so I'm hoping the Pixel 7A inherits this trait. It rounds out Google's Pixel family nicely by ensuring there's a small, medium and large option within the lineup.
However, I am hoping to see display upgrades in other areas. Google could improve the brightness on the Pixel 7A, for example, considering I was sometimes tempted to crank the brightness above 50% on the Pixel 6A, even when indoors. That's one area where Samsung rarely has an issue, especially in the Galaxy S22 and S23 lineups.
I'd also like to see a higher refresh rate on the Pixel 7A. Since Google's A-series phones aren't meant to have all the flourishes you'd find on a flagship phone, a standard refresh rate may seem reasonable for the Pixel 7A. The problem, though, is that high refresh rates are no longer reserved just for premium devices. Budget phones like last year's Galaxy A53 5G and even Motorola's Moto G 5G have refresh rates that are higher than the standard 60Hz, resulting in smoother scrolling. That makes the Pixel 6A feel a little behind, though it excels over these competing devices in other ways, like the camera.
Luckily, Google might address this with the Pixel 7A, if a leak from developer Kuba Wojciechowski turns out to be true. Wojciechowski claims to have found details in the Android codebase indicating that the Pixel 7A could have a higher, 90Hz refresh rate, which would match the Pixel 7's.
Another feature missing from the Pixel 6A is wireless charging. The ability to charge your phone on a wireless charging pad instead of by plugging it in may not seem like a deal breaker for most people. But similar to high refresh rates, wireless charging doesn't feel like it should be a premium feature in 2023, especially since it's been common on most phones for the last five years. That said, many competing phones in this price range don't support wireless charging either, aside from the $429 iPhone SE.
Thankfully, the Pixel 7A may indeed gain wireless charging, if Wojciechowski's findings are accurate.
Google's Pixel phones are among the first to get new Android software updates. Google, however, doesn't offer Android version updates for as long as Samsung does. Samsung provides four generations of Android version updates, while Google offers only three. Considering Google is the purveyor of Android, and that Pixel phones are expected to provide the ideal Android experience, I'm hoping Google considers extending support in the future. And not just for the Pixel 7A, but for all upcoming Pixel phones.
The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro support the ability to unlock your phone with your face, unlike the Pixel 6. Since that functionality primarily relies on the Pixel 7's front-facing camera, unlike Apple's Face ID, which creates a depth map of your face, I don't see any reason why Google couldn't easily bring this feature to the Pixel 7A. Samsung's Galaxy A53 5G, which was in the same price range as the Pixel 6A at launch, also supports facial recognition.
If the Pixel 7A does gain the Pixel 7's Face Unlock, just remember that Google cautions it isn't as secure as using the fingerprint reader or a PIN. Because of this, it's meant for unlocking your phone more conveniently, rather than authenticating purchases.
One of the biggest ways Google differentiates its Pixel phones from other Android devices is by providing software and camera features you can't get elsewhere. One of my favorite additions to the Pixel 7 is a feature called Photo Unblur, which sharpens old photos that may've been taken out of focus. If the Pixel 7A runs on the same Tensor G2 processor as the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, it'll likely support Photo Unblur, too. And I hope it does, because during my review, I was seriously impressed with how well it sharpened a photo of me from 10 years ago.
Google has an opportunity to make its next A-series Pixel phone even more compelling by adding features that should be standard in 2023 -- namely wireless charging and a screen with a higher refresh rate. Google will naturally need to make some compromises with the Pixel 7A to keep its price competitive and maintain some separation from the Pixel 7. But even with the features mentioned above, there's still plenty that would distinguish the Pixel 7 from its cheaper sibling, like a larger screen, a higher resolution camera, a larger storage option and more RAM.
We're hoping to find out more about Google's upcoming Pixel plans at its Google I/O developer conference in May.