The Pixel 6a is Google’s latest mid-range smartphone offering the same chips and performance as its top phones, but in a new, smaller body for a cheaper price.
The phone costs £399 ($449/A$749), which is £200 less than the Pixel 6, but offers 80% of what you get with Google’s top models.
The 6a looks just like the Pixel 6 hit with a shrink ray, too. It has a flat glass front, stereo speakers, painted aluminium sides and a two-tone back with a camera bar across the top. The 6a is 29g lighter and the back is made from high-quality plastic instead of glass, but still feels just as solid and well made as its larger sibling.
The smaller 6.1in OLED display lacks the fast refresh rate of the Pixel 6, making it slightly less smooth in operation, but is otherwise crisp, colourful and bright. The smaller display makes the 6a about the size of an iPhone 13 and an excellent balance between being large enough without being too big to comfortably hold.
Screen: 6.1in 60Hz FHD+ OLED (429ppi)
Processor: Google Tensor
Operating system: Android 12
Camera: 12.2MP + 12MP ultrawide, 8MP selfie
Connectivity: 5G, eSIM, wifi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 and GNSS
Water resistance: IP67 (1m for 30 minutes)
Dimensions: 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm
Top Tensor chip
The Pixel 6a has the exact same Tensor processor as Google’s top 2021 phones with slightly less RAM, which makes it faster than almost all other mid-range competitors and well optimised for Google’s various AI systems.
The battery life is pretty good for a smaller phone, too, lasting about 34 hours between charges, which matches the larger Pixel 6 and puts it on a par with many top-flight rivals. That was with the screen on for about five hours in various messaging, note-taking and utility apps, the browser and taking about 20 photos, spending about two hours on 5G, the rest on wifi.
Google does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery but it should last in excess of 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity. The Pixel 6 is repairable by Google and third-party shops. Screen repairs cost £119 and battery replacements cost £69 out of warranty by Google.
The Pixel 6a is made with recycled glass, plastic and aluminium, accounting for about 20% of the phone by weight. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products. Google will recycle old devices free of charge.
The Pixel 6a ships with Android 12, which includes a load of customisation options, smart refinements and impressive local AI features. For more, see the Pixel 6 Pro review. The 6a will be one of the first devices to receive the Android 13 update, which is due for release soon.
Google will provide at least five years of software and security updates including at least three major Android versions. Samsung supports many of its phones for five years, while Fairphone is aiming for six years and Apple supports its iPhone for up to seven years.
The Pixel 6a has a pair of 12-megapixel cameras on the back: one main and one ultrawide, but no telephoto camera for zoom. Google’s camera software is some of the very best in the business and as a result the 6a shoots photos that beat many phones costing twice the price.
The main camera produces very well-balanced photos, rich in detail and dynamic range across a range of light levels. The ultrawide is similarly good if slightly softer on fine details but it is consistent on colour and tone to the main camera, which isn’t the case for most at this price. The dedicated night sight mode produces great images in low light while the digital zoom is pretty good at 2x but unravels by 7x.
Portrait mode is very good and works on objects and pets as well as people, while video quality up to 4K at 60 frames a second is solid. The 8MP selfie camera is similarly effective capturing a great amount of detail.
The camera app has many of the features as Google’s other phones, including the object eraser or camouflage tools, which recolours distracting and unwanted elements of a photo to make them less obvious.
Overall, while the 6a can’t quite match the cameras on the Pixel 6, it really isn’t that far off in beating smartphones costing more than twice the price and trouncing the mid-range competition.
Google is on a roll. After years of good but not great phones, the Pixel 6a is another excellent model bringing the Android-maker’s magic down to a more affordable price.
It uses the same recipe that makes Apple’s iPhone SE so good: a mid-range phone with the company’s top chip. That makes the 6a faster than almost any other phone priced at £399 and gives it access to the same features as Google’s flagship phones. The battery life is very good for a smaller phone too.
The software is smart and refined, and will be updated for at least five years, which is longer than most rivals. The camera is miles better than any mid-range model, competing with phones twice the price or more.
While the back is less premium, plastic not glass, and screen is not as slick as rivals, it still looks great. The smaller size makes it easier to hold too.
The Pixel 6a is the best mid-range phone you can buy and a fantastic option if you’re looking for a smaller Android.
Pros: brilliant camera, good smaller screen, top performance, good battery life, recycled aluminium, five years of security updates, Android 12, smart software features, competitively priced.
Cons: fairly slow charging, no optical zoom, no macro photo mode, no face unlock option, screen only 60Hz.