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Google Pixel 6a review

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9.3Expert Score
Google Pixel 6a review: A budget flagship

Google has managed to cram a whole heap of features into a reasonably affordable product here, and the result is good enough to compete with the best phones on the market.

Design
9.5
Performance
9
Pros
  • Value for money
  • Camera takes great photos
  • Same processor as the Google Pixel 6
Cons
  • Some games can be a bit juddery
  • Battery life could be better

When flagship phones launch at prices up over $1,800, many people simply won’t be able to experience those devices. Which is what makes the Pixel 6a from Google such an impressive phone.

Rather than launch a low-quality handset that is more frustrating than fun to use, Google has created a budget flagship by making small sacrifices on the Google Pixel 6.

The result is a compact device that is remarkably versatile at a reasonably affordable price.

Which is why it appears in not just our lists of the best cheap phones and best Android phones, but also our guide to the best phones in Australia.

Design

Google Pixel 6a review

The Pixel 6a is immediately familiar to anyone looking at a recent Pixel phone. As the name suggests, the design is inspired by the Pixel 6, with a two-tone backing above and below the camera bar.

Google has shrunk down the size here, opting for a 6.1-inch screen compared to the Google 6’s 6.4-inch screen, and that size reduction helps keep the weight down.

While the Pixel 7 has very liberally applied aluminium to the outside edge and camera bar of the phone to deliver a premium look and feel, the Pixel 6a has a glossy plastic finish.

The power and volume buttons rest on the right-hand side of the phone, with the SIM card slot on the left and the USB-C charging port on the bottom.

A pinhole camera sits centrally at the top of the screen, while the camera bar on the back of the 6a is remarkably more subtle than the extreme protrusion of the Pixel 7. It houses a twin camera system and flash, but only sticks out a millimetre or so more from the back of the phone.

The smaller size of the Pixel 6a makes it much easier to hold in the hand, and the plastic body isn’t too slippery.

Google has kept the under screen fingerprint reader of the Pixel 6 in the 6a, though there’s no face recognition to unlock the device.

Also impressive is the fact that Google kept the same 1080 x 2400 OLED screen as the Pixel 6 here, just a 6.1-inch version rather than a 6.4-inch.

A stunning screen

Typically, manufacturers will drop to an LCD screen when trying to cut costs for a budget handset, and it’s obvious from the moment you turn on the Pixel 6a that the screen is stunning.

So, given that the screen is pretty much the same as the Pixel 6, where did Google make its cuts?

There are a few places. Battery size, for one, sees a decrease from 4614mAh to 4410mAh in the 6a.

There’s also no wireless charging, and the Pixel 6a only has an IP67 water and dust rating, compared to IP68 for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7.

Memory has been dropped from 8GB LPDDR5 RAM to 6GB, and there is only a 128GB version on offer here.

But the biggest cut comes in the form of the rear cameras. In the Pixel 6 (and the Pixel 7) you get a 50MP + 12MP camera array, while the Pixel 6a only offers a 12.2MP + 12MP array. That’s not as big a deal as it sounds, though.

Performance

Google Pixel 6a phone

So, given that the cuts aren’t as dramatic as you might expect to see in a phone at this price, how does the Pixel 6a perform?

The answer is “admirably”.

Starting with benchmark scores, the Pixel 6a managed a score of 1,063 in our Geekbench single core test and 2968 in the multi-core test.

On the Vulkan Compute test, it managed 7534.

What makes these scores notable is that the newer Pixel 7, which uses the newer Tensor 2 processor, scored worse than the Pixel 6a for both the single-core and the Vulkan compute tests.

Benchmark results

Single-core:

Google Pixel 7
1038
Google Pixel 6a
1063
Apple iPhone 14
1738

Multi-core:

Google Pixel 7
3172
Google Pixel 6a
2968
Apple iPhone 14
4741

Vulkan Compute:

Google Pixel 7
4528
Google Pixel 6a
7550
Apple iPhone 14
12507

Of course, benchmarks are just a guideline, but the fact that the Pixel 6a does so well is a great guide to how solid this smartphone is at handling processing tasks.

The Google Pixel 6a lying on some wood

In real-world use, things were pretty good. Videos streaming on YouTube or Disney Plus are crystal clear, vibrant and colourful. Fast-moving action and high contrast scenes in shows like DareDevil look fantastic, despite being on a small screen.

Games were a little harder to judge. Rocket League Sideswipe had a bit of judder, which made it hard to be competitive. Some minor animations, like the dust clouds from turning quickly, seemed to skip frames.

Apex Legends Mobile was a bit more fluid, which was nice to see. It didn’t have quite the same judder during a Battle Royale, though the phone did warm up. I wouldn’t say it got to the point of hot, though.

From a battery life perspective, I managed to get through a full day of intermittent use without any real challenge. Google promises up to 24-hour battery life, and I can’t say I ever really got close to a full 24 hours before needing to charge if I used the phone for internet browsing or gaming during the day.

Google Pixel 6a Camera performance

Close up of the Pixel 6a pinhole front camera

With that spec difference between the Pixel 6 and 6a, part of me expected photos to be disappointing.

The good news is that the Pixel 6a takes really good photos.

In good lighting, there isn’t much difference between the Pixel 6a and the Pixel 7. Google’s software solution to creating bokeh in portrait shots did an impressive job here.

Even the night sight mode for shooting in low-light situations was impressive, despite the lesser camera. A shot of my local park taken in the evening showed plenty of detail and colour, despite the distinct lack of light.

Where things started to struggle was a night sight selfie. But that’s not a situation many phone cameras can excel at, so it’s far less of an issue. And when it comes down to it, the result is frankly much better than many other devices on the market.

Verdict

The Pixel 6a shows just how much you can get without spending a fortune.

Google has managed to cram a whole heap of features into a reasonably affordable product here, and the result is good enough to compete with the best phones on the market.

It doesn’t have the fastest processor or the best camera, but the specs that it does have are more than enough for most people to be happy with the device’s performance.

And when you pair that with its asking price, then this is a tough phone to beat in almost any circumstance.

Buy the Google Pixel 6a online

Product disclosure

The product for this review was supplied by Google.

Author

  • Nick Broughall

    Nick is the founder and editor of BTTR. He is an award winning product reviewer, who has spent the last 20 years writing, editing and publishing technology and consumer content for brands like Finder, Gizmodo and TechRadar.

    View all posts
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