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Google Pixel 6a Review: Arguably the best mid-range smartphone you can buy

With tremendous cameras and a flagship processor, Google brings its A game with the Pixel 6a.

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The recently launched Google Pixel 6a finds itself in a unique position where it’s battling low-cost flagship alternatives like the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy A73, and the OnePlus 10T and also value-for-money smartphones like the Reno8 Pro. Over the years, Google Pixel’s A-series has carved out a niche audience for itself, offering features that you’d typically get in a flagship while making compromises on some fronts to keep the price down. 

The decision-making in this regard is quite balanced, with Google knowing exactly which features are non-negotiable for the consumers and where it can hold back a few things as the distinguishing factor for the flagship. With this in mind, we took a close look at the Google Pixel 6a, using it for almost a week and putting it through different tests. So, how did it fare? Read our in-depth review of the Google Pixel 6a to find out.

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Read Also: Vivo V25 Pro Review: A good camera-centric smartphone

Google Pixel 6a review: Design and Display

The Google Pixel 6a comes in a compact white box which contains the handset, charging cable, an OTG adapter, a SIM ejector tool, and some reading material in a supplementary box with Google Tensor branding. Right off the bat, you’ll notice there is no charger inside the box, which is one of the few corners Google has cut to keep the price down. It is a pretty disappointing trend that slowly seems to be seeping into the mid-range category of smartphones as well. 

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Google Pixel 6a review: Design and Display

Moving on, the smartphone is pretty compact, with dimensions of 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9 mm (5.99 x 2.83 x 0.35 in). It gets a Gorilla Glass 3 front protection and a back that Google describes as a ‘3D thermoformed composite back’. It looks like plastic, feels like plastic – and no points for guessing – it is plastic. This is a stark departure from the Gorilla Glass 6 back on the other flagships. 

Holding everything together is an alloy frame with a matte finish on top. While it is evident that Google has gone for some low-cost materials, the phone itself feels quite nice to hold, as the matte finished frame provides a nice contrasting texture to the glossy back.

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Google Pixel 6a review: Design and Display

The Pixel 6a looks more or less the same as its flagship counterpart, receiving the signature Pixel design. The camera band at the back houses the dual lens setup along with the dual-LED flash. The band itself separates the two colour tones and slightly protrudes outwards (but not as much as Pixel 6). We used the chalk colour variant, and the section above the camera band was a deeper, greyish colour. 

While the glossy back has a tendency to attract fingerprints, they were barely noticeable in the Chalk variant. On the front, the 6.1-inch OLED display houses the selfie camera in a punch-hole cutout and is surrounded by very thin bezels. The phone is rated IP67 for dust and water resistance.

On the right side, you’ll find the power button and the volume rocker keys. The charging port along with the primary speaker makes its way to the bottom, and the secondary speaker goes on top. On the bottom left side lies the solitary SIM tray. 

Google Pixel 6a review: Design and Display

One strange thing we noticed here was the placement of the power button above the volume rocker. Usually while handling the volume, the natural reflex is to go for the topmost button. We had to correct ourselves quite a bit before we got used to the new arrangement. 

Moving to the 6.1-inch OLED HDR display, the primary concern that most people have is the refresh rate being capped at 60Hz. For the price of Rs 43,999, a 60Hz display seems to be an unreasonable tradeoff on paper, but after using the phone we did not have any complaints. 

The touch response is exceptionally fluid, and the overall scrolling experience is smoother than you expect it to be, with Google’s superior haptic feedback taking it to another level. Google has paid great attention to detail and made sound choices on where to provide the appropriate haptic triggers so that it doesn’t get annoying. 

One thing we liked was the little vibration that triggers upon flicking through apps on the app manager window. It is features like this that make compact smartphones attractive to buyers and Google has nailed it with the Pixel 6a. 

If you’re concerned about what effect the 60Hz refresh rate will have on the gaming performance, keep reading further as we will address it in detail later on in the review.

The display is bright enough to be legible in outdoor surroundings during the daytime. Indoors, we had to adjust the brightness level a bit higher than what is typically required on other smartphones, but we can’t complain much about that. 

The OLED display produces deep contrasting colours which aren’t overly saturated. We binged content on YouTube and watched ‘Lost in Translation’ on Pixel 6a, and the phone’s display did justice to the subtleties presented by the colour palate, the overall experience being quite enjoyable. 

The 83% screen-to-body ratio is good enough to provide a distraction-free visual experience. The dual speakers produce a decent audio output, although a slight distortion was noticeable at maximum volume.

The Pixel 6a sports a new improved in-display fingerprint sensor, which still isn’t as fast as its peers, but matches the base expectations we had for it. Earlier in July, a security flaw let anyone unlock the Pixel 6a with their fingerprint, but Google quickly patched it with an update. 

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras

The Google Pixel 6a is available in a single storage and RAM configuration of 128GB + 6GB. It does not offer expandable storage, with no memory card slot present. The phone is powered by Google’s Tensor chipset which also features on the flagship offering. Seeing the success that the iPhone SE enjoyed with the presence of the A15 Bionic chipset, excluding the Tensor processor on the 6a would have been a massive miss from Google. Compared to its other Android counterparts in this bracket, the Tensor chipset outperforms the Exynos 1280 and matches the Snapdragon 778G in performance.

We ran the Geekbench 5 test on the Pixel 6a and it had an impressive single core score of 1,044 points, outperforming the likes of Samsung Galaxy S21+ and S21 Ultra. The multi-core test saw the Pixel 6a scoring 2637 points. You can see the results in the picture below.

Geekbench 5 test

Switching between multiple apps is a breeze. Even with half a dozen apps running in the background, none of them required reloading. The apps load at a lightning-fast speed and, coupled with fluid scrolling, the overall phone browsing experience is as good as it gets. 

The Pixel 6a comes with the Android 12 OS, which you can now upgrade to Android 13. The MaterialYou theme has been further expanded with the Android 13 update, giving you greater control over how your phone looks. The Pixel 6a offers a few unique features too, like Live Transcribe and Magic Eraser, the latter being a fun photo editing tool. We used Magic Eraser quite a bit and it does well to hide small unwanted objects from your pictures, but still struggles to do an effective job of getting rid of the wires and electric poles.

The battery performance of the Pixel 6a is quite disappointing and leaves a lot more to be desired. Firstly, charging the device to 100% can take quite a bit of time. We know that Pixels don’t work efficiently with every power adapter, but we tried a few different ones and the charging speed still failed to impress. The only time we could charge it in one go was when we plugged it in overnight. 

During the day when you need to take your phone everywhere you go, keeping your phone on charge for more than an hour can be impractical at times, especially if you only plug in your phone when it’s totally drained of battery. The battery performance, on the other hand, is quite satisfactory, and on a day of moderate usage, we were still left with almost 30% charge.

Finally, we put the Pixel 6a to the gaming test and played Garena Free Fire Max, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty Mobile on it. After an hour of playing Free Fire Max, there was no significant overheating, and we could’ve easily gone further. But more graphically demanding games like Apex Legends and Call of Duty Mobile really tested the limits of the Pixel 6s, and it heated up after 30-minute sessions. 

That is still a decent performance and one that won’t deter any gaming fans from buying the smartphone. The 60Hz display holds up well too, as we didn’t experience any frame drops, and the overall touch response was quite satisfactory. The on-display controls are receptive to even the lightest touches, and the 60Hz refresh rate does not diminish the gaming experience in any way. 

While the gaming performance may be a mixed bag, the camera unit on the Google Pixel 6s is easily one of the best we’ve seen in the mid-range category. We tested the camera in different conditions, both outdoors and indoors, and it amazed us every single time. The camera unit undergoes one change from the Pixel 5a – the 16MP ultrawide lens has been replaced with a 12MP lens. But the latter gets a bigger sensor which lets in more light, resulting in better pictures. The 12MP primary shooter remains the same.

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras
Ultrawide lens

In bright outdoor conditions, the Pixel 6a took vibrant images, with the colours neatly balanced without any oversaturation. The pictures we took outside managed to capture the sky efficiently, without letting the foreground get washed out. Every minute detail was recorded impeccably in the pictures, with major credit for that going to the Tensor processor which pulls its weight in the image processing. Even the ultrawide lens did not drop any colour level, and you can easily use either lens interchangeably. 

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras

Google Pixel 6a review: Performance and Cameras
Portrait Mode

inddoor shot

Indoors, the camera was able to capture sharp images, given there was ample natural light coming in. The quality depreciates a little if the light source is restricted. Portrait mode works fine as well, with the camera being able to incorporate the entire subject without blurring the edges.

indoor ultrawide
Ultrawide shot indoors

Photography at night does not present any hurdles either, as the night mode handles the low-light conditions extremely well, smoothening any grain from the images and lighting up the subject without making it look too unnatural. Pictures of the night sky came out way better than expected, even though the camera takes some time to click the pictures and then some more to process the image.

night mode
Regular mode vs Night mode

The 8MP selfie camera records a good amount of detail and retains the texture in your selfies. The processor turns up the contrast in the resulting images, but other than that, the camera works pretty well. You can record 1080p videos at 30fps from the selfie camera. For 4k videos, you will have to use the rear camera which can record at both 30 and 60fps.

Read Also: Mivi Fort S24 mini soundbar review: A good inexpensive audio attachment for your TV

Verdict

At Rs 43,000, the Google Pixel 6a is possibly the best phone you can buy in the price bracket. For casual users that want their smartphone to have a good camera and unique looks, the Pixel 6a is a no-brainer. Samsung has made some tradeoffs that bring down the cost of the phone, but they all work out well, in our opinion. The only downside would be the battery, which takes a long time to charge. But it can easily last a day, so if you’re someone that charges their phone overnight, it won’t be a significant issue.

Pros

  • Brilliant camera unit
  • Great value for the price
  • Signature Pixel look
  • Flagship Tensor chipset

Cons

  • No fast charging 

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Design
Display
Performance
Cameras
Value For Money
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Google Pixel 6a Review: Arguably the best mid-range smartphone you can buyThe recently launched Google Pixel 6a finds itself in a unique position where it’s battling low-cost flagship alternatives like the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy A73, and the OnePlus 10T and also value-for-money smartphones like the Reno8 Pro. Over the years, Google Pixel’s A-series has...