Google’s Pixel “a” series has been around for a few iterations now (since the Pixel 3a) and typically offers great value for the price, considering the internals are mostly identical to their flagship lineup.
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Our Google Pixel 6a review looks at the company’s first mid-range Android smartphone that features the company’s Tensor processor. Read on for our full review!
Table of contents
The Google Pixel 6a we reviewed has the following features and specifications:
|Processor||• Google Tensor|
• Titan M2™ security coprocessor
|Display||• Full-screen 156 mm (6.1-inch) display, up to 60Hz|
• FHD+ (1080 x 2400) OLED at 429 ppi
• 20:9 aspect ratio
• Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3™ cover glass
• Always-on display with At a Glance and Now Playing
• High brightness mode
• >1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
• HDR support
• Full 24-bit depth for 16 million colors
|Memory||6 GB LPDDR5 RAM|
|Storage||128 GB storage UFS 3.1 storage|
|Rear Camera||• 12.2 MP dual pixel wide camera|
• 1.4 μm pixel width
• ƒ/1.7 aperture
• 77° field of view
• 1/2.55″ image sensor size
• Super Res Zoom up to 7x
• 12 MP ultrawide camera
• 1.25 μm pixel width
• ƒ/2.2 aperture
• 114° field of view
• Lens correction
• Optical + electronic image stabilization
• Fast camera launcher
|Front Camera||• 8 MP|
• 1.12 μm pixel size
• ƒ/2.0 aperture
• Fixed focus
•84° field of view
|Camera Features||Magic Eraser, Real Toneᵀᴹ, Face Unblur, Panorama, Manual white balancing, Locked Folder, Night Sight, Top Shot, Portrait Mode, Portrait Light, Super Res Zoom, Motion autofocus, Frequent Faces, Dual exposure controls, Live HDR+, Cinematic Pan|
|Video||• Rear: 4K (30fps), 1080p (120/60/30fps), 720p (240, 60, 30fps)|
• Front: 1080p/720p/480p @ 30fps
|Authentication||• Fingerprint Unlock with under-display fingerprint sensor|
• Pattern, PIN, password
|Sensors||Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyrometer, Magnetometer, Barometer|
|Buttons & Ports||USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1, power button, volume controls|
|SIMs||Dual SIM (Single Nano SIM and eSIM)|
|Media & Audio||Stereo speakers, 2 microphones, noise suppression|
|Wireless & Location||• Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and 6E (6GHz) with MIMO|
• Bluetooth® v5.2 with dual antennas for enhanced quality and connection
• Google Cast
• GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou
|Network||• GSM/EDGE: Quad-band (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)|
• UMTS/HSPA+/HSDPA: Bands 1,2,4,5,6,8,19
• LTE: Bands B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/14/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/29/30/38/39/40/41/42/48/66/71
• 5G Sub-6: Bands n1/2/3/5/7/8/12/20/25/28/30/38/40/41/48/66/71/77/78
|Hearing Aid Compatibility||M3/T4 HAC Rating|
|Battery||• Over 24-hour battery life|
• Up to 72-hour battery life with Extreme Battery Saver
• Minimum 4306 mAh
• Typical 4410 mAh
• Fast Charging
|Charging||18W Fast Charging|
|Security||• End-to-end security designed by Google|
• Multi-layer hardware security: security core, Titan M2™ security coprocessor, and Trusty (Trusted Execution Environment)
• Minimum 5 years of security updates
• Anti-phishing and anti-malware protection
• Automatic security checks and privacy controls with Security hub
• Camera and mic toggles
• Private Computer Core
• Android System Intelligence
• Android Messages end-to-end encryption and Android backup encryption
|Materials||• Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3™ cover glass|
• 3D thermoformed composite back with a tactile alloy frame
• IP67 dust and water resistance
• Fingerprint-resistant coating
|Operating System||Android 12|
|Color||Sage, Chalk, Charcoal|
|Dimensions||6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 (152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm)|
|Weight||178 g (6.3oz)|
What’s in the box
- Google Pixel 6a Android smartphone
- 1m USB-C to USB-C cable
- Quick Switch Adapter (USB-C male to USB-A female)
- SIM Tool
- Quick Start Guide
The Google Pixel 6/6 Pro design marked an update over the previous Pixel 5-series Android smartphones. The Google Pixel 6a has a similar design to the 6/6 Pro, giving it a sleeker look albeit with a horizontal camera hump.
The Pixel 6a we reviewed has a white “3D thermoformed composite back” mounted over a tactile alloy frame. While not a glass back, it looks and feels just fine. Located near the top is the aforementioned black camera bump. It’s not a huge lip, but it’s enough of one that you’ll definitely want to pick up a case with this phone if only to protect the edges of the camera bump. On the left side are the two back-facing cameras while the LED flash sits towards the right. The Google G is printed in grey on the middle of the phone. If white isn’t your colour, the Pixel 6a also comes in Sage (green) and Charcoal (black).
On the right edge of the phone, you’ll find the power button and volume rocker. On the right side is where you’ll find the SIM card slot (the device also supports eSIM technology), and the bottom edge is where the USB-C charging/data port and two speaker cutouts (one’s a dummy cutout as the other speaker is located near the top of the phone).
Flipping the phone over, you’ll notice a pinhole camera cutout, centered near the top of the screen. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. The edges of the display are a bit rounded, and curve into the curved edges of the phone, giving the device a flowing feeling.
Notable absent from the Pixel 6a is a staple of the a-series devices: a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s a toss-up here, as removing the headphone jack allowed Google to add an IP67-rating to the device.
The display on the Google Pixel 6a is a 6.1-inch FHD+ (2400 x 1080) OLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 cover glass. Unlike the 6/6 Pro, however, the maximum refresh rate is 60Hz. To be honest, most people won’t even notice the difference as the scrolling still appears pretty smooth (unless you’re directly comparing it to a higher refresh screen sitting beside it). Additionally, by not offering higher refresh rates on the 6a, the battery life isn’t negatively impacted.
With HDR support, 24-bit depth, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and high brightness mode, the display colours were pretty nice and vibrant on the OLED screen. In addition, I had no issues with the responsiveness of the screen or viewing content even in the brightest of conditions.
The Pixel 6a also features the front pinhole camera style. While it bothers some people, I never really noticed it as it sits nicely in the top notification icon bar.
While technically not a display consideration, the fact that the fingerprint scanner is under the screen can be cause for concern. In the case of the Pixel 6a, I had no issues with using the fingerprint scanner. However, when I placed a glass screen protector on it, it was a bit hit-and-miss and triggered about 80% of the time. This isn’t just a Pixel issue, however, as a lot of phones do encounter some issues with under-screen fingerprint scanners and screen projectors. Fortunately, there is a setting that can enhance sensitivity with a screen protector and once enabled, I only encountered a few fingerprint misfires.
The Pixel 6a ships with Android 12, although Android 13 is now available. Since you’ll want to upgrade, we’re going to forgo the Android 12 details and talk about what’s new with Android 13. As with each iteration of Google’s smartphone operating system, there are both subtle and major enhancements. In fact, this review was a bit delayed due to some minor issues we had with it and Android 12, as well as with the fingerprint scanner with the initial Android 13 release. After a couple of updates, any issues that I did encounter have all but vanished.
If you’re curious about all of them, you can hit the Android website, but in the meantime, here are a few of the key updates:
- More personalization features include an evolved look and style that builds on Material You.
- Updated media player that tailors its look and feel based on the music or podcast you’re listening to.
- In Android 13, you can select only the specific photos and videos apps need to access.
- Android will automatically clear your clipboard history after a period of time to prevent unwanted clipboard access.
- The apps you download will now need your explicit permission to send notifications, rather than being allowed to send notifications by default.
- On supported headphones that enable head tracking, Spatial Audio shifts the source of the sound to adapt to how you turn your head.
- Android 13 adopts Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) Audio, a new Bluetooth audio standard that results in lower latency than classic audio.
- Smart Home Controls on the lockscreen.
- Ability to set different languages for apps.
As you can see, while some of these are under-the-hood updates, there are plenty of visible ones as well. Overall, the updates to Android 13 over Android 12 offer more of a refinement than an overhaul.
As is the case with previous Pixel a-series devices, the Pixel 6a features the same chipset as the 6/6 Pro. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to review the last iteration of Google’s Pixel flagship phones, so this is our first experience with the new Google Tensor chip. When it was first released, the Tensor chip benchmarked behind the Snapdragon 888, and was more in line with the 865 series. However, benchmarks are just numbers and what the average user cares about is performance.
On that note, I didn’t really notice any major performance issues with the Tensor chip when compared to a device I had at the same time with the Snapdragon 888 Plus. While apps did load a bit slower, it was negligible. I had no problems having multiple apps open in the background and switching between them. The biggest difference I noticed was with more intensive games like Call of Duty: Mobile when loading but once in-game and playing, the gameplay felt just as responsive.
Honestly, one of my favourite things about the Pixel 6a smartphone is that Google doesn’t gimp it with a lower processor like they used to in the past when using Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets. Anyways, you shouldn’t have performance issues for most phone tasks, including browsing the web, social media, playing games, and using the camera.
Like other Pixel smartphones, the Pixel 6a has stereo speakers. While the earpiece doubles as one, the second is on the bottom edge of the phone. Unfortunately, this means one speaker is potentially covered when in landscape mode by your hand. This causes the sound to be muffled a bit. Aside from that, the sound does get quite loud and has a nice soundstage when listening to music or watching videos. That being said, it’s still lacking bass so sounds a bit unbalanced but it’s definitely fine in a pinch for a quick song or YouTube video watching.
Unfortunately, there’s no 3.5mm audio jack on the Pixel 6a so you’ll need to upgrade to Bluetooth headphones or earbuds if you want better sound than what’s onboard.
The Google Pixel 6a does feature a different camera than the Pixel 6/6 Pro. Instead of a 50MP shooter, the Pixel 6a has a 12.2MP dual-pixel wide camera with a slightly smaller ƒ/1.7 aperture. Still, the camera does feature options like auto-focus with dual-pixel phase detection and optical + electronic image stabilization. Out of the box, the Pixel 6a takes pretty decent photos but, as with all Pixel devices, Google puts a really big focus on the camera software.
Because of the new Google Tensor chip, the Pixel 6 series phones have new features like Face Unblur, Magic Eraser, and Real Tone. The first does what it says and detects blurred faces in an image and can unblur them. It does a pretty good job of it as well. Magic Eraser lets you edit out unwanted features (including people) in the background. Finally, Real Tone uses new camera tuning models and algorithms to more accurately highlight diverse skin tones.
Of course, there are plenty of other modes and features of the Pixel 6a camera including Live HDR+, Portrait mode, Super Res Zoom, Portrait Light, Top Shot, Night Sight, and more. For the most part, the camera’s live view actually portrays what your picture will look like. Whatever brightness or colour you see on your phone will be exactly how the photo will turn out. In addition, the brightness slider and a contrast slider right on the main screen allow for quick and easy adjustments.
As for photo quality, while there are a few phones out there with better image quality, the Pixel 6a still produces some great photos, indoors or out. Night Sight remains one of my favourite features of the Pixel phones (yes, other devices have the same) for taking photos in dimly lit areas.
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As with most smartphones these days, reception wasn’t an issue at all with the Google Pixel 6a. Of course, that may depend on where you live/frequent but in major centers on LTE, the device worked just fine. In addition, the Pixel 6a supports 5G, however that was more hit and miss due to the slow rollout in some areas. In fact, most of the time I got better speeds on LTE than I did when 5G was available to no fault of the phone.
As with reception, there was no issue with call quality on the Pixel 6a. I could hear the other party just fine, as they could me.
The Google Pixel 6a sports a 4410mAh battery, one of the larger capacity ones in Google’s smaller form factor phone lineup. It easily lasts through the day, and I frequently plugged it in with no less than 20% left at the end of the day. Typical usage included emails, texting, some web browsing, watching the odd video, and using the camera for between 3-4 hours of screen time.
While the device features 18W fast charging, it doesn’t have wireless charging. While I do enjoy having wireless charging on a device as I have the Pixel Stand by my bed, it’s not the end of the world. I usually end up plugging it in before day and have no issues with it lasting through the next day.
Priced at just US$449/CA$599, the Google Pixel 6a Android smartphone offers fantastic value for the features you get. Not everyone needs a flagship smartphone and the Pixel “a” series continues to offer great bang for your buck.
If you’re looking for an affordable smartphone, the Google Pixel 6a is an excellent choice. Not only does it feature the same Google Tensor chipset as the flagship 6-series devices, but it is also very reasonably priced, has great battery life, and has a decent camera. Sure, you’re missing a few features like wireless charging and less RAM and storage, but at the end of the day, the Pixel 6a is more than enough phone for the average user.