Shopping for an affordable Android smartphone doesn’t mean sacrificing specs, power, and features. The Pixel 6a is proof of that. It gives you punchy performance, quality cameras and loads of smart software for under £400 – a handset we’d recommend not just to Android purists, but to anyone tempted to switch from an Apple iPhone SE.
Why would you choose it over the Pixel 6? Google kept the eye-catching design and packed many of that phone’s key features into a smaller and lighter frame. The Pixel 6a has the same processor as the flagships to power its photography tools, plus the tech giant promises Android and security updates for years to come.
Google Pixel 6a key specs
• Screen size: 6.1 inch
• Solution: FHD+ (1080 x 2400 pixels) OLED
• Operating system: Android 12
• Processor: Google Tensor
• Cameras: 12.2 MP wide, 12 MP ultra-wide, 8 MP selfie
• Battery: 4410 mAh
• Storage: 128 GB
• RAM: 6 GB
• Weight: 178 grams
• Water resistance:: IP67
• Micro SD card slot: No
Google Pixel 6a design
It quickly becomes apparent that when it comes to looks, the 6a is clear a Pixel phone. The camera bump that runs the width of the back to separate the two-tone color scheme returns, although it’s been cut back slightly. We like that the new version is thinner, less thick and lays flat when placed on a flat surface.
Besides the (literally) flashy Nothing (1), Pixel phones have some of the most unique designs of 2022. The glass back on the Pixel 6 has been replaced by plastic on the 6a, but it still feels high-end. A bonus is that the smoothness we encountered on the Pixel 6 is no longer a major issue, as the 6a can be gripped with one hand.
With a 6.1-inch screen, we wouldn’t call the Pixel 6a a small phone, but it’s clearly much more compact than the Pixel 6 and Pro – closer in size to the iPhone 13. So if you think the Pixel 6 is too big, this The affordable alternative will feel much better, although you may still want to invest in a case to protect the back panel, which seems a bit easier to scratch. While the camera bump is black on all three Pixel phones, you have three two-tone colors on the 6a called Sage, Chalk and Charcoal. This translates into light green/dark green, soft grey/white (the ones we tested), and light grey/dark grey.
Google Pixel 6a camera
One of the attractions of the Pixel phones has always been their ability to take excellent photos with minimal effort – point, click and enjoy. In testing, we found that this hasn’t changed on the Pixel 6a, despite the camera’s primary lens being downgraded from a 50MP (wide-angle) to a 12.2MP wide-angle – so that’s closer (at least on paper) on a Pixel 5. You also get an ultra-wide 12 MP on the rear module of the 6a, while your selfies are taken in a solid 8 MP.
Our results were always clear and sharp. With the Pixel 6a on a slightly cloudy day, we enjoyed pleasant color accuracy on buildings and the sky. On brighter days, the colors of our garden plants sparkled on the vibrant OLED display. If you need a camera to take quick social media snaps, you’ve come to the right place.
The secret sauce, as always, is Google’s machine learning, powered by the internal Tensor chip. Like the Pixel 6, it powers a handful of impressive computational photography and video modes. Our favorite is ‘Magic Eraser’, which instantly removes unwanted subjects from images – perfect if you’re taking photos of busier city landmarks on vacation.
We tested this at The National Gallery in London, removing two people in the frame with a click. To most eyes, especially on smaller screens, you can’t tell they were ever there. The phone struggles more when it’s tasked with clearing large crowds, as we found during a test in the bustling Chinatown area, with blurry artifacts on the image after editing.
More AI features returning for this more affordable handset include ‘Face Unblur’, which does exactly what it sounds like and prevents faces from blurring in photos, plus True Tone technology, which makes the cameras more effective at accurately depicting dark scenes. skin tones in portraits. The only missing tool is the motion mode, which adds effects to moving objects, so if that’s a big draw, you’ll have to spend more for the flagships.
Here’s a selection of photos taken with the Google Pixel 6a’s camera lenses. We’ve added several portrait and landscape photos, none of which have been edited:
Google Pixel 6a software
There is no point in buying a phone that will not be supported in the future. Fortunately, that is not a problem with the 6a. It’s no surprise given that Google is the developer of Android, but Pixel phones are among the first to enjoy new updates, including Android 13 – which is now in beta but expected to be released in the coming weeks. Google promises Android updates until July 2025 and security updates until July 2027, which is further into the future than the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro – which will be supported until 2026.
The Android 12 software you get right out of the box is user-friendly and easy to navigate, with neat tweaks like the ability to match the color of your icons to your background, plus the return of live translation that lets you talk in 11 languages or read text you can’t understand from photos – perfect for your next trip abroad.
Google Pixel 6a battery
Google says the Pixel 6a battery will last “more than 24 hours,” which is what you’d want if you’re buying a smartphone in 2022. In our testing, we found that the battery drained faster than we would have liked during a day of heavier use – lots of software updates, about two hours of Spotify listening on a commute, some YouTube browsing and a handful of game downloads – ranging from 70% at 11:30 am to death by 8:40 pm the same evening.
The next day we tested with lighter use and found that the battery performance was better, so while you can certainly get a whole day out of the Pixel 6a battery – if you stick to checking emails or social media and listening to music listen to your earbuds or wireless speakers via Bluetooth – we don’t recommend traveling without a charger.
The smartphone uses USB-C for charging and wired headphones, but there’s no wall adapter in the box, and it’s a bit of a shame there’s no wireless charging either.
Google Pixel 6a screen
If you’re looking at the 6a’s screen all day, you won’t be disappointed with the vibrant OLED panel, which has fantastic contrast and vibrant colours. During the test, apps and games looked great – and it’s always nice to see minimal black bezels around the screen, which looks a lot more modern than the retro styling of the iPhone SE.
Unfortunately, the Pixel 6a only has a 60Hz refresh rate, meaning scrolling won’t be as smooth as compared to flagship models. Fortunately, this was only apparent when comparing the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6 displays side-by-side, and we think you probably won’t see too much of a difference during normal day-to-day use.
Google Pixel 6a performance
If you’re worried that buying an affordable phone means sluggish performance, don’t. Swiping through the Pixel 6a menu and apps is responsive and fast. We downloaded games including Call of Duty: Mobile and Angry Birds 2, and found no problems with how they walked. The handset sometimes gets hot when charging or under severe stress, but not to the point of concern.
You can speed up the downloading and streaming of apps even more by using the smartphone’s built-in 5G connectivity, but of course make sure to have a SIM card with unlimited data.
Google Pixel 6a Cons
No phone is perfect, and the Google Pixel 6a does make some compromises to keep costs down. Like its siblings, it doesn’t have an SD card slot to expand storage, so you’re stuck with the standard 128GB unless you use cloud services to store your files and photos.
Google also doesn’t support facial recognition on these devices, so you’re stuck with the fingerprint sensor, tapping a number-based password, or swiping a pattern to unlock, although we’re happy to report that the fingerprint sensor appears to be more responsive than the Pixel 6.
The problem for experienced users is the limited battery. Tests showed it’s fine for about a day of regular use, but not much more. On the plus side, having one of the best power banks solves that.
Google Pixel 6a Verdict
With the Pixel 6a, Google faces an uphill task: to make one of the cheapest Android phones even better. The Pixel 6 is starting to get discounts (it’s now discounted on Amazon), so the second hurdle isn’t trying to compete with itself.
Did it work? Yes – by packing the flagship’s processing power and software into a smaller frame and offering years of software updates, this is a phone that deserves your attention. With a sleek design, a high-quality display and reliable cameras, the Google Pixel 6a is an easy recommendation if your budget can’t exceed £400.
Available at Amazon, Argos, Currys, AO, John Lewis and Google
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