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Nearly a year after its release, Google’s Pixel 6a maintains a combination of performance, camera quality, and price that makes it the best budget Android phone currently available.
Google still sells the Pixel 6a alongside its A-series successor, the Pixel 7a, and the improvements in the Pixel 7a — which include a newer processor and a display with a higher refresh rate — aren’t drastic enough to displace the Pixel 6a’s superior value.
As a result, we chose the Pixel 6a over the Pixel 7a for inclusion in our list of the best Android phones in 2023. Though the Pixel 6a notably lacks some premium features like wireless charging, what it offers for its $350 starting price will satisfy anyone looking for a great budget phone.
Efficient performance from Google’s Tensor processor
The Pixel 6a runs capably on Google’s Tensor processor, which also supports the Pixel 6 flagship series. It’s a generous move on Google’s part, as you don’t need to buy a more expensive phone to run apps and games quickly and smoothly.
Google’s Tensor isn’t the fastest processor you’ll find on an Android phone. Recent Samsung and OnePlus phones running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors have the upper hand, and the Pixel 7 flagship series along with the Pixel 7a run on the newer and more powerful Google Tensor 2 processor.
That said, the Pixel 6a’s Tensor chip is highly effective in everyday use and succeeds in powering several smart features unique to Pixel phones. Live Translate, for example, interprets chat and in-person conversations smoothly and quickly in 11 different languages, and there’s the highly accurate speech recognition for writing texts with your voice. A popular feature that we wish was present on non-Google phones is Call Screen, which filters out spam calls surprisingly effectively.
The screen’s refresh rate is limited but not disruptive
The Pixel 6a’s display runs on a typical 60Hz refresh rate, which means it refreshes what’s on the screen up to 60 times a second, compared to the 90Hz display of the Pixel 7a, which can offer slightly smoother animations that offer a better viewing experience while swiping around the phone.
High refresh rates shouldn’t be expected on sub-$500 phones, nor is it a shortcoming. Displays with higher refresh rates don’t necessarily deliver: The Galaxy A54’s 120Hz display is undercut by its underpowered processor, for instance.
A 60Hz display is one of the compromises Google made, but it doesn’t affect the overall experience. You would only notice the Pixel 6a display’s 60Hz refresh rate if you came from a phone with a higher refresh rate. Even then, you’d get used to it pretty quickly.
Google Pixel 6a specs
A premium-like design in a budget package
Like the Pixel 7a, the Pixel 6a has an aluminum frame and a back that is made of plastic rather than glass, which Google reserves for its flagship phones.
However, the Pixel 6a’s plastic back doesn’t detract from the build quality at all, as it closely resembles both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series flagship phones. You wouldn’t clock that Pixel 6a is a “cheaper” phone, whether you see it from afar or up close.
An older camera system that’s still one of the best around
For several phone generations, Google used the same camera hardware on its Pixel phones until it finally introduced new camera hardware in the Pixel 6 series. The Pixel 6a, though, uses the old camera system, including a 12-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera.
However, the Pixel 6a’s cameras are tried and tested, and it’s still among the most reliable camera systems on any phone. It captures incredibly accurate colors without excessive processing, which other phones are guilty of.
Combine that camera hardware with Google’s incredible camera software and the camera features made possible by Google’s Tensor processor, the Pixel 6a still has one of the best cameras available on a smartphone, which is amazing for a sub-$500 device.
A couple noteworthy camera features powered by Google’s Tensor include Magic Eraser, which lets you remove an unwanted object (or subject) from a photo, and Night Sight that produces amazing photos taken in low-light settings.
The photo on the left is the same as the one on the right, except we removed all the geese using Google’s Magic Eraser feature. Although, to be honest, we would normally like to keep the geese in this photo.
Quite frankly, it’s a stunning feature, but it’s not perfect. There are times when Magic Eraser leaves a blotchy blob in place of an erased object. But in this case, you wouldn’t be able to tell there used to be more geese in the original photo.
We wish other phones took a page from Google’s book when it comes to how photos should look. This ultra-wide shot of a bird habitat lets the scenery speak for itself with accurate colors, brightness, and contrast.
Google’s Night Sight produces amazing low-light photos that retain a ton of detail and brightens up dark settings in a natural way.
Battery life is not outstanding, but it’s no deal-breaker
The Pixel 6a saw us through every day of typical usage during testing — four hours of screen-on time that were mostly spent on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, messaging, as well as a few photos taken — without having to give it a top-up.
The Pixel 6a charges up to a speed of 18 watts, which is on the low-end of fast charging compared to 45W charging on Samsung’s Galaxy S22 phones, but it’s the same charging speed as the other Pixel 6 phones and the Pixel 7a. Note that Google doesn’t include a charger.
Wireless charging is also missing, but we aren’t surprised by that for a phone below $500.
Should you buy the Google Pixel 6a?
Anyone looking for a phone under $500 will be extremely happy with the Google Pixel 6a, which we named the best budget Android phone and one of the best Android phones overall in 2023.
The Pixel 6a offers exceptional camera quality and stellar performance for its $350 starting price, and you can often find the phone discounted to $300.
However, if the Pixel 6a’s lack of wireless charging and relatively limited refresh rate disappoint you, and if you’re able to stretch your budget by $150, we also highly recommend the Pixel 7a, which includes wireless charging and the same 90Hz display as the flagship Pixel 7.
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