Google has just released its newest Pixel phone and this time around it’s the Google Pixel 6a. I was able to get hands on with one of these new budget Android smart phones ahead of its Canadian launch. In this review I’ll take a look at what’s new over previous models, what you can expect if you opt for one of these phones, how some of the features work and what some of the best are, and if I can recommend the Pixel 6a for you. A quick note I’ve only had a week or so with this device, so I’ll be diving in a bit deeper over the coming days, so watch for more information soon, and feel free to post any questions you have or let me know what features you’d like me to test.
What’s new with Google Pixel 6a?
Google phones follow the same predictable annual update schedule that most smart phones do these days. The most recent Google release was last November’s Pixel 6 Pro which I reviewed here, and prior to that there was the Pixel 5a and then my last personal hands-on with the budget model phone was the Google Pixel 4a review.
Tensor chip is back, 5G ready
The 6a uses Google’s newer Tensor chip, and that’s the same chip as in Pixel 6 Pro, which Google promises makes Pixel 6a super fast and responsive, and that you can expect apps launch fast, pages and images load quickly, and for everything to run smoothly. Tensor also powers advanced features like Live Translate, so you can chat in 11 languages in real time (Live Translate, by the way is not a new feature but it is cool as we all start traveling again). The Pixel 6a phone is also 5G ready, like all the new Pixel phones.
At first blush it looks like this phone isn’t revolutionary or boasting dazzling never-before-seen features; it’s just a newer model. Of course, one of the most important features of the a-series phones is that it boasts a lot of the features of its big sister phones, but without the same big price tag. Google Pixel 6a comes in three colors: Charcoal, Chalk, and Sage and my demo model is the Chalk or white colour.
What’s missing in Google Pixel 6a?
Perhaps it might be easier to talk about what you’re not getting with Google’s a-series phones. Understandably when these phones are priced as low as they are, you can’t expect them to come with all the bells and whistles of the higher powered phones. For example, the Pixel 6a only has the option of 128 GB of storage, while the 6 and 6 Pro have more. The Pixel 6a also has only 6 GB of RAM, which makes it a little less powerful than the 6 or 6 Pro which have eight and 12 GB respectively.
Camera: less powerful but still great
When it comes to the camera, you’re getting a slightly less powerful version here too; with a dual rear camera that shoots 12.2mp in wide (compared to a whopping 50mp in the other phones) and 12 mp in ultrawide (and this ultrawide option is a slight upgrade). The sensor in the camera is also different, and not as optimized for low light photos or and it doesn’t use lasers to gauge distances. The Front facing camera is 8 mp; same as the Pixel 6, but the 6 Pro boasts an 11mp front camera. Google has always prioritized high-quality cameras on it smart phones from the very first Pixel phone, so though this version is technically not as amazing, you’re still getting fabulous photos.
Also not in the 6a, but not a must-have feature in my opinion, is wireless Qi charging or wireless fast charging.
Google Pixel 6a features
Returning Google features include the Material You interface, which is really just Google’s way of saying you can customize your wallpaper, apps and colour scheme, but it does take it a step further and links your phone’s overall design and interface to whatever you choose as your main screen photo, so there’s a nice sense of seamlessness and thoughtful design.
Inheriting photo features from Pixel 6 Pro
The Google Pixel 6a boasts some returning photography-based features that showed up in the Pixel 6 Pro, that are pretty cool.
Magic Eraser, which I covered extensively in my review of the Pixel 6 Pro is back. This feature excels at removing unwanted photobombers, or unattractive distractions from your phone easily. It’s Photoshop, but integrated into your camera. There’s also Face Unblur which can sharpen blurry portrait photos, though to be honest I haven’t had much luck using this feature because googles camera is pretty good at not blurring things in the first place. And Real Tone, which Google says is better able to replicate the subtleties of different skintones better is also at work here.
Battery & power: all day battery is back
Google has obviously listened to complaints from other phone users so it knows battery is an issue we all like to complain about. Google has indeed put a strong focus on long lasting battery life, as well as options for emergency battery extension. The Pixel 6a, like the Pixel 6 Pro, has what google somewhat maddeningly refers to as a “24 hour battery life”. In this iteration they’re being a bit more transparent (I think?) by sharing that the battery in the new Pixel 6 a is a 4410 mAh battery, which is only slightly less powerful than the batteries found in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The entire lineup boasts that “24 hour battery life”, so you’re really getting the same powerful and long lasting smart phone as those upgrade models, so a big high five to Google for that.
With the Adaptive Battery operation and Extreme Battery Saver, you can even stretch your phone’s life to 72 hours in a pinch. You have the ability to choose which apps to keep running and which apps to park or turn off, and that helps prolong battery life. Again, these are not new features, but they are nice to have an a budget smart phone.
There’s wired quick charging where with a few minutes of juice using the USB-C power cable can earn you a few more hours of use, but like I said, wireless charging is not available.
There’s also a couple apps that I use constantly, including Recorder, which not only makes an audio file of any meetings, phone calls or interviews, it also creates a very detailed and often freakishly accurate transcript. In my journalism life this app alone has become a major productivity tool. Wait Time, which will display information about how busy a business is when you want to phone is another feature that’s packed in here. I didn’t have the best of luck using this in the pixel 6 Pro, as I think businesses in Canada aren’t utilizing it yet, so I’ll have to dig a bit deeper and try it out again.
Overall thoughts: Google Pixel 6a
I’ve only had the Google Pixel 6a for about a week. I’m going to need to spend a little more time with it to really get a feel for things. But my early thoughts are that Google has another great smart phone here. The design, as we’ve come to expect, is chic and good-looking: This phone easily looks like it could cost twice the price based on aesthetics alone.
It’s also packed with features, many of which are also found in the much more expensive 6 and 6 Pro phones.
When it comes to what’s missing, there are naturally features that you’re just not going to get in a budget smart phone, but Google has done amazingly well at balancing the must-haves with the “would be nice”. Truthfully, you can live without Qi wireless charging, and the camera, though technically not as high quality as what’s on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, is still outstanding.
If it’s time to upgrade your smart phone and you’re on a budget, I can absolutely recommend the Google Pixel 6a to you.
It sells for about $599CAD (about $200 less than the Pixel 6) and it’s available from Google’s website.