Shopping for an affordable Android smartphone doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice specs, power and features. The Pixel 6a is proof of that. It gives you snappy performance, quality cameras and loads of software smarts for under £400 – a handset we recommend not only to Android purists but anyone tempted to make the jump from an Apple iPhone SE.
Why should you choose it over the Pixel 6? Google has kept the eye-catching design while packing many of that phone’s top features into a frame that’s smaller and lighter. The Pixel 6a has the same processor as the flagships for powering 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-inches
• Resolution: FHD+ (1080 x 2400 pixels) OLED
• Operating system: Android 12
• Processor: Google Tensor
• Cameras: 12.2 MP wide, 12 MP ultra-wide, 8MP selfie
• Battery: 4410 mAh
• Storage: 128 GB
• RAM: 6 GB
• Weight: 178 g
• Water resistance: IP67
• Micro SD card slot: No
Google PIxel 6a design
It’s quickly obvious that when it comes to looks, the 6a is clearly a Pixel phone. The camera bump that runs along the entire width of the back to separate the two-tone colour scheme returns, although it has been pared back slightly. We like that the new version is thinner and less chunky, sitting flush when it’s on a flat surface.
Alongside the (literally) flashy Nothing (1), Pixel phones boast one of the most unique designs of 2022. The glass back of the Pixel 6 is replaced with plastic on the 6a, but it still feels high-end. One bonus is that the slippiness 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 display, we won’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 found the Pixel 6 too big, this affordable alternative will feel much better, although you may still want to invest in a case to protect the rear panel, which seems a bit easier to scratch. While the camera bump is black on all three Pixel phones, you have three two-tone colours on the 6a, dubbed Sage, Chalk and Charcoal. This translates to light green/dark green, soft grey/white (the one 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 pictures with minimal effort – point, click and enjoy. In tests, we found this hasn’t changed on the Pixel 6a, despite the camera’s primary lens being downgraded from a 50 megapixel (MP) wide-angle to a 12.2 MP wide-angle – so that’s closer (at least on paper) to a Pixel 5. You also get a 12 MP ultra-wide on the rear module of the 6a, while your selfies are shot in a solid 8 MP.
Our results were consistently clear and crisp. Wielding the Pixel 6a on a slightly overcast day, we enjoyed pleasing colour accuracy on buildings and the sky. On brighter days, the colours of our garden plants popped on the vivid OLED display. If you need a camera to shoot quick snaps for social media, this has you covered.
The secret sauce, as always, is Google’s machine learning powered by its in-house Tensor chip. Like the Pixel 6, it powers a handful of impressive computational photography and video modes. Our favourite is ‘Magic Eraser,’ which instantly removes unwanted subjects from images – perfect if you’re taking pictures of busier city landmarks on holiday.
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 won’t be able to tell they were ever there. The phone struggles more if it’s tasked with removing large crowds of people, as we found out during a test at the bustling Chinatown area, with blurry artefacts left on the image after the editing.
More AI features returning for this more affordable handset are ‘Face Unblur,’ which does exactly what it sounds like and stops faces in photos from being blurry, plus its True Tone tech, which makes the cameras more effective at accurately showing darker skin tones in portraits. The only tool missing is Motion Mode, which adds effects to moving objects, so if that’s a major draw you’ll have to spend more for the flagships.
Here is a selection of photos taken using the Google Pixel 6a’s camera lenses. We’ve included a variety of portrait and landscape snaps, and none have been edited:
Google Pixel 6a software
There’s no point buying a phone that won’t be supported into the future. Luckily, that’s not an issue with the 6a. It’s no surprise given Google is the developer of Android, but Pixel phones are among the first to enjoy fresh updates, including Android 13 – which is now in beta but expected to see a release in the coming weeks. Google promises Android updates until July 2025 and security updates until July 2027, and that’s further into the future than the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro – which are supported until 2026.
The Android 12 software you get out-of-the-box is simple to use and easy to navigate, with neat customisation like the ability to match the colour of your icons to your wallpaper, plus the return of live translation that helps you converse in 11 languages or read text you don’t understand from photos – perfect for your next jaunt abroad.
Google Pixel 6a battery
Google says the Pixel 6a battery “can last beyond 24 hours”, which is what you would want buying a smartphone in 2022. In our tests, we found that the battery drained quicker than we would have liked during one day of heavier use – lots of software updates, around two hours of Spotify listening during a commute to and from work, some YouTube browsing and a handful of game downloads – going from 70% at 11:30 am to dead by 20:40 the same evening.
The next day we tested with lighter use and found the battery performance to be better, so while you can certainly get a full day from the Pixel 6a battery – if you stick to checking emails or social media and listening to music via Bluetooth to your earbuds or wireless speakers – we don’t advise travelling 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 that there’s no wireless charging, either.
Google Pixel 6a display
If you do spend all day looking at the 6a’s screen, you won’t be disappointed in the vivid OLED panel, which has fantastic contrast and vibrant colours. On test, apps and games looked great – and it’s always nice to see minimal black borders around the display, which looks a lot more modern than the retro stylings of the iPhone SE.
Unfortunately, the Pixel 6a only has a 60Hz refresh rate, which means scrolling won’t be quite as fluid compared to flagship models. Luckily, this was only obvious when comparing the Pixel 6a and the Pixel 6 displays side-by-side, and we think that you’re unlikely to see too much of a difference during typical day-to-day use.
Google Pixel 6a performance
If you’re concerned that buying an affordable phone means laggy performance – don’t be. Swiping around the Pixel 6a menu and apps is responsive and speedy. We downloaded games, including Call of Duty: Mobile and Angry Birds 2, and found no issues with how they ran. The handset sometimes gets hot charging or when under heavy stress, but not to the point of concern.
You can speed up app downloads and streaming even more by using the smartphone’s built-in 5G connectivity – but do make sure you have an unlimited data SIM card, of course.
Google Pixel 6a drawbacks
No phone is perfect, and the Google Pixel 6a does make some compromises to keep the cost down. Like its siblings, it doesn’t have an SD card slot to expand the storage, so you’re stuck with the basic 128GB unless you use cloud services to save your files and photos.
Google doesn’t support any face recognition on these devices either, so you’re stuck with the fingerprint sensor, tapping a number-based password or swiping a pattern for unlocking, although we are happy to report the fingerprint sensor does seem to be more responsive than the Pixel 6.
The issue for power users is the limited battery. We found from tests that it’s fine for about a day of normal 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 a hard task: making one of the best value Android phones even better. The Pixel 6 is starting to see discounts (it’s now discounted on Amazon) so the second hurdle is trying not to compete with itself.
Has it worked? Yes – by packing the processing power and software of the flagships into a smaller frame and offering up years of software updates, this is a phone worthy of your attention. With a sleek design, high-quality screen and reliable cameras, the Google Pixel 6a is an easy recommendation if your budget can’t stretch past £400.
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