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Google’s Pixel 6a is a budget device with the heart of a flagship

The company cut most of the right corners to bring the device well below $500

The budget devices have been a lifesaver, though, propelling the line up when the Pixel division was still desperately trying to find its footing. It’s safe to say that after several false starts, Google finally succeeded with the Pixel 6. It was the first time in the line’s history that the company could credibly claim to have launched a flagship.

A new hardware design, along with the company’s first in-house Tensor chip and solid new camera hardware, meshed well with several generations of software improvements. The Pixel 6a happily shares more DNA with the Pixel 6 than the Pixel 5a. The biggest connective tissue between the products is Google’s broader overall strategy of a roughly six-month release cadence. First you drop the flagship; then, half a year later, it arrives with its equivalent budget.

It’s an approach that seems to be working well. You appease early adopters with the initial product, and eventually several of the new features seep into its namesake. By the time he arrives, you’ll be ready to start hearing about his successor. Of course, it’s no coincidence that the company teased the Pixel 7 alongside the 6a announcement. It’s an unspoken reminder that while the 6a actually looks pretty good, something even better is on the way. It is the tyranny of the effectively monetized election.

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It’s an important part of Google’s approach, because 6a is a very effective exercise in getting the costs right. It’s still a budget/mid-tier phone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a budget/mid-tier device with the heart of a flagship.

The building materials are the most immediately apparent. The 6a is stickier than its immediate successor. That’s mostly a big deal if you’re someone who carries their device without a case. Those people exist. I will never understand them, but they exist. It loses a bit of durability on the front of the device, downgrading from Gorilla Glass Victus to Gorilla Glass 3.

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The screen size has also been reduced, from 6.4 inches to 6.1 inches (still a 1080p OLED, albeit with a slightly higher pixel density), with a refresh rate of 60 Hz compared to 90. Hz of 6 (none goes up to 120, yes). Honestly, for many, the smaller screen is probably an improvement. The 6 is a big phone. This is much more reasonable for a broader spectrum of hands.

There’s no wireless charging on board and, unsurprisingly, the camera gets a noticeable hardware downgrade, shrinking the dual 50-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultrawide sensors to a pair of 12-megapixel wide/ultrawide.

Google has insisted for generations that hardware doesn’t matter as much as software when it comes to smartphone imaging. However, the latest Pixel devices were a repudiation of that theory. One could argue that’s truer today than it was a few generations ago, but great smartphone shots still require the right mix of the two. That said, you can still capture quality shots on the 6a, a fact that’s helped by some impressive software advancements made over the years, including features like Magic Eraser. Also key is the inclusion of the same Tensor chip found in the Pixel 6, offering many of those key additions.

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The new (well, new) chip offers impressive power gains, when compared to the 5a. The 6a sings by mid-tier device standards. The 6GB of built-in RAM is a downgrade from the 6’s 8GB, but should get the job done. Storage is the same at 128GB, though there’s no option to upgrade to 256GB. The battery, meanwhile, has a slight drop in mAh, from 4,614 to 4,410, but that will get you through more than a day, no problem.

The most impressive thing about the Pixel 6a, however, is the price. The 6 was extremely reasonably priced at $599, and the company managed to save another $150. Good luck finding more for your money.

 

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