Google Pixel 6A Review

This phone isn't the obvious hands-down winner

I've had my hands on this phone for a little over a week now, and I have my thoughts sort of summarized into one major thought, which is there's a lot of competition in this budget phone space now, and this phone isn't the obvious hands-down winner that it might have once been. But this year, more than ever, I think the primary reason for that comes down to the display. And I'll explain what I mean

So what we're getting with this Google budget phone is, and this may sound familiar, a new chip, the exact same one that's in the flagship models, the same software experience as the flagships, but just with some cheaper hardware surrounding it. You know, kind of like the iPhone SE, but Google's version. And so the price here is $449. It really looks just like any other of the Pixel 6 phones.

I mean, that's the one thing I like about the whole lineup. They're unmistakably Pixel. You've got the two-tone colors. The camera bar across the middle is recognizable as a Pixel from a mile away. The only difference here is, well it's a slightly new color. This one is a sage green. But also the camera bump isn't as tall. So it's a bit slimmer.

It doesn't protrude out of the phone as much. So I don't really use the ledge as a grip as much anymore as I used to on the other phones. Everything else though on the outside is pretty much the same. It's got the aluminum rails, same power and volume buttons on the right side with a notch between them, the speakers and the slightly off center USB-C port at the bottom. It's all back. On the inside though, this phone is IP67, not IP68, and there is no wireless charging. That to me was kind of a bummer. I know we're probably saving a couple dollars here, but this phone still has a glass back, and I don't know if you've used wireless charging before, then it's kind of worth noting that this one won't have it.

And then also the Pixel 5A had a headphone jack. This Pixel 6A does not have a headphone jack. So again, if you use that, then that's another thing to note. But really around the front here is where the Pixel 6A actually most reflects its price. So we've got a 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display at 60Hz with a top center hole punch and an in-display fingerprint reader. Visually, it's an okay display. It's decently sharp with good color, and it gets bright enough to support HDR and not totally suck outdoors, but also it has some pretty serious off-access rainbowing, and the auto-brightness is a little finicky, and the fingerprint reader is definitely slow. It's on the slow side just like it was on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

Now this may be forgivable stuff in a budget phone. We've seen stuff like that around this price. But what really takes it a tier down for me is the 60Hz, specifically because this one feels slow.

Actually let me be more specific.

So there's a 60Hz display. There's lots of other 60Hz displays in phones out there. Having a tensor chip, which is a relatively high-end chip inside, should mean that the phone still feels fast, and it still opens apps pretty fast. And that's still mostly true here, but for whatever reason, the responsiveness and the actual smoothness of the display, this is not smooth.

So I think this is absolutely gonna be one of those things that you either feel and notice right away, or you just never notice. Like, I think there's a lot of people who are gonna be looking to get a Pixel 6A that are coming from an older phone, coming from a budget phone, coming from other 60Hz phones, and this will probably feel right in line. But even amongst the 60Hz phones, I feel like this is one of the choppiest ones, and now I've also recently come from a world of 120Hz and 165Hz flagship phones and gaming phones, and that's not the normal place a 6A buyer will come from, but the second you experience 120Hz on a phone, you are way more likely to notice the dropped frames in animations all the time even at 60Hz.

Literally just scrolling around, pulling down the notification shade, opening and closing apps, normal stuff is just constantly slightly choppy. Now the funny thing is, it's hard for me to show you this stuff on camera. This is a 30 FPS article, and these things are happening somewhere between 30 and 60 FPS. But yeah, this is one of those things where I bet if you get to see a 6A in a store or try it out, then you'll feel what I'm talking about, but it really is a feel thing. And this is purely coming from my decade of phone testing experience.

This one feels choppy. Now depending on who you are, even all of this might be acceptable knowing still that things are technically launching quickly, and you're not lagging out, and you're actually launching apps at a normal speed, but I'm combining all of this with my knowledge of what I've just seen happen with the last year of Pixels, which is they haven't aged particularly gracefully.

So I've seen what happened to 6 and the 6 Pro, and I worry about how this phone will age considering how it feels now. It's guaranteed three years of software updates, but what does this phone look like in three years? Now the good thing is everything else about the Pixel here is exactly what you'd expect. The same software experience as the big brothers with Material You, Google's widgets and dynamic colors and stock apps like the calculator and settings and camera, et cetera. Google's smartest features are all here like Assistant. Call screening is awesome, live translate. and the sorcery that is basically instant speech to text everywhere in this phone thanks to the tensor chip, they're all so good.

The haptics are also pretty good, which is great to see in a budget phone, along with the stereo speakers here. Really the only variables that could have come up as a surprise potentially would be the battery or cameras. So Pixel 6A's battery is about 4410mAh hours, and it turned out to be fine. There were some concerns because, oh, it's a tensor chip, it's a higher end chip, uses more power. Maybe in a smaller phone, that's bad, but turns out 60Hz kind of balances that out, so I had pretty good battery life. I was just mildly annoyed by not having wireless charging. But then there's the cameras. So with the camera, unlike the previous Pixels, this does not share the same cameras as the more expensive brothers, the 6 and the 6 Pro.

Instead, it has a downgraded 12 megapixel camera set up for both the standard and the ultra wide, which might look disappointing on paper, but this is the old Sony IMX363 sensor, which some of you nerds will already recognize is the same exact sensor that was in the Pixel 5 and the same that was in the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 2.

In other words, this is an older, smaller, lower resolution sensor, but it is also absolutely a tried-and-true great smartphone camera, because of Google's computational photography chops. So I really appreciated that even with the lower number, you know, with the tensor chip processing things, happening really fast, the shots that come out of this camera are crisp, contrasty, and confident, just like they were with the older Pixels. The colors are on point too. Not too much over-processing happening. And there is not too much fringing at the edges either with close-up subjects, and the dynamic range and how it handles highlights is a plus. So, I mean, it's easy to see why they stuck with this for so long, and the fact is this is still easily a top two budget smartphone camera, easy. It also has the ultra wide that the iPhone SE doesn't have, and it takes decent looking 4K articles up to 60 FPS.

These cameras are like pizza. Sure, they're not super new and groundbreaking, there's nothing that would impress you about them on paper, (gone chimes) but they get the job done in a design that you can dress up like a ninja turtle if you get the right Dbrand skins, you know, the ones linked in the description. The conversation around the Pixel 6A is probably the most interesting when you consider the competitors, just the other phones that you could get for $450, and there's some other really good ones. So to make it easy, I think you should get the Pixel 6A if you value the Google software experience, those features, and or the camera way over everything else. But if that's not you, you could get a Samsung Galaxy A53 for a $100 less, and that's gonna have 120Hz display that has expandable storage and that has wireless charging. Or you could get a Nothing Phone, which I just reviewed, which has all those quirky lights features on the back, but that's also got a much bigger, much, much smoother 120Hz display and all of their features. You could even get an iPhone SE if you wanted to, which yes is gonna be a 60Hz single camera set up with a smaller battery, but that's also a flagship chip set, that's also wireless charging, and that's also, let's be real, it's an iPhone, which is enough of a feature for some people. And then there's some Nord phones and some Poka phones and some Moto G's all with their own merits, so yeah, Pixel 6A turns out is really all about the Google software experience and the camera for the price.

That's where it excels. But yeah, (upbeat music) if you're shopping around, keep your eyes open, 'cause there's a bunch of good stuff, and while good phones aren't getting cheap, cheap phones are still very much getting good. There you have it. That's been it.