First impressions Google Pixel 6a: The Pixel at the right size!

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The Google Pixel 6 Pro was my biggest frustration last year, even serving as the trigger to switch from Android to iOS for good. Yet nearly a year later, the Google Pixel 6a seems to have filled the void left by Google’s latest generation of smartphones. The Pixel 6a is in my hands and these are my first impressions of this mid-range device.

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Google Pixel 6a: price and availability

The Google Pixel 6a was announced in May this year, but is only available for purchase from 10 a.m. this Thursday, July 21. The device can be found on Amazon for $449 in Chalk, Charcoal, and Sage colors, and only in the 128 GB internal storage variant.

Featuring Google’s custom processor for better performance of machine learning-based features, the Pixel 6a seems like the best option for those like me who had lost connection with the series by the end of 2021.

Google Pixel 6a review

The model with the best footprint of the entire Pixel 6 series / © NextPit

Compact design and large screen

Unlike the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, the middle model in the series is super compact. In front of me I have a Pixel 6 Pro, a Pixel 5 and a Pixel 6a. Looking at all three models, it’s very easy to notice that the Pixel 6a sits between the other two models, making the switch between generations much more subtle.

With virtually the same visual language as the series unveiled last year, the Pixel 6a uses Gorilla Glass 3 on the front, has an aluminum frame, and is built with polycarbonate on the back. This change in construction materials is not a surprise given that the model arrives on the market positioned in a more affordable category. However, even though I hold the Pro variant in one hand and the intermediate model in the other, at first glance the difference between glass and plastic is almost imperceptible. I was really surprised by this.

Even though it has the same horizontal bar shape, the Pixel 6a’s camera module is less protruding, giving the smartphone a sleeker look. By the way, with a 6.1-inch screen, it is very easy to operate this device with one hand. If I didn’t know it’s a Google smartphone, I’d easily pass for a Sony smartphone if I was just looking at the screen.

Google Pixel 6a review

The Google Pixel 6a display offers exceptional color quality and brightness. © NextPit

By unlocking the screen, we have a classic Google device: Pixel launcher, only factory-installed Google apps, Android 12 (but curiously, the security path is dated April 5, 2022). To unlock the screen, you just need to use the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Heart racing and… action executed to perfection! It seems that the A-series doesn’t suffer from the flaws of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

However, while it delighted me with the compact design and passed the fingerprint sensor test on the first try, the Pixel 6a is still ultimately a mid-range one. Despite the high brightness and balanced colorimetry, the screen of this smartphone only offers a refresh rate of 60 hertz. The Pixel 5 and Pixel 6, for example, offer 90 hertz. In other words, the Pixel 6a offers the same refresh rate as Apple’s iPhone 13.

Finally, regarding the design and quality of the screen, my first impressions couldn’t be better. The grip is excellent, watching any video is a treat on this screen, and the stereo audio counts for a good multimedia experience. However, I really would have liked to see a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack here.

Google Pixel 6a review

Without a P2 headphone jack, you’ll need to use a cable connection via USB-C / © NextPit

Google Tensor inside

Just like the premium model in the series, the Pixel 6a also uses Google’s custom processor: the Tensor SoC. According to Google, this means five times the performance of the Pixel 5a. But leaving benchmark data and test lab stats aside, what really matters here are the machine learning features enabled to, for example, optimize footage from videos captured with this device.

Now, what’s really rather worrying is that the Pixel 6a only has one memory variant: there’s 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. Soon, without the possibility of expanding the internal space, the company will have to resort to the cloud (read Google).

Google Pixel 6a review

The front camera of the Pixel 6a has 8MP and just above the sensor we have the speaker for calls which works in conjunction with the speaker at the bottom to provide stereo sound / © NextPit

As for the performance of the Tensor SoC in the Pixel 6a, multitasking and web browsing happens without lag or stuttering, the in-screen fingerprint sensor works well, and Bluetooth connection happens with weak latency. Everything seems in place. However…

…during a night photo test session, the Pixel 6a had a sudden temperature spike. I think it was caused by image processing because as soon as I noticed the device overheating, I closed the camera app and slowly the heat dissipated. Unfortunately, I noticed the same pattern in two other photo shoots. More on that in the full Pixel 6a review next week.

Unfortunately, I was unable to run benchmark apps on the Pixel 6a, either due to a lack of device support or by blocking this type of app.

Inferior camera, but Pixel quality

Since switching from the Pixel to the iPhone, what I miss the most is the camera from the Pixel line. And while the camera issue is where Google cut costs, the Pixel 6a does a great job on the face of it. The 6a hits the market with the less powerful camera sensors of the Pixel 6 series. However, smart camera features such as Real Tone (for skin tones), Night Sight (for night mode) and Magic Eraser (to erase unwanted elements from the image) are on board.

Google Pixel 6a review

Camera module in bar format, retaining the visual design of the Pixel 6 series / © NextPit

The only features found on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro not available on this model are Motion-to-Action Pan and Long Exposure-and Pro Res. For the rest, exposure and temperature controls are accessible on the screen, and even the video stabilization button can be used here.

The Pixel 6a is built with a dual camera module, with a 12.2 MP wide-angle lens and another 12 MP ultra-wide lens. The front camera, on the other hand, has 8 MP. Images taken with this camera are rich in color and contrast, photos taken in portrait mode combine AI from Google’s camera software to deliver beautifully contoured images. Check out some examples below:

Considerable size, but slow loading

The battery capacity is 4,410 mAh, and according to Google, this would be enough to keep the device in use for up to 24 hours. However, to charge the Pixel 6a, you will need to purchase a charging adapter, as this does not come with the device.

Additionally, the Pixel 6a’s charging power supports a maximum of 18 watts, which is really low compared to charging technologies like OnePlus Warp Charge, for example. Another negative here is that we don’t have the wireless charging option.

Since this is still a preliminary test, I owe you more information on the battery life of the Pixel 6a.

Technical specifications of the Google Pixel 6a

Specification Table Overview
Name of the device
Image Google Pixel 6a
Filter 6.1-inch OLED, resolution
1080 x 2400 pixels (429 DPI), 60 Hertz refresh rate
SoCs Google Tensor
2x ARM Cortex-X1 at 2.80GHz
2x ARM Cortex-A76 at 2.25GHz
4x ARM Cortex-A55 at 1.80GHz
20x ARM Mali-G78 (GPU)
Memory
(varies by region)
6GB LPDDR5-6400 RAM
128 storage in UFS 3.1
Software Android 12 (Android security update: April 5, 2022)
Expandable storage Nope
Main camera 12.2 megapixels | aperture f1.7 | 27mm focal length | Sensor size 1.4 µm | Dual Pixel PDAF | SELF
Ultra wide angle camera 12.2 megapixels | f/2.2 aperture | 17mm focal length | 114° viewing angle
Telephoto Nope
Video 4K at 30/60 fps (rear)
1080p at 30 fps (front)
Selfies 8 MP | f/2.0 aperture | sensor size 1.12 µm
audio Stereo speakers
Battery 4410mAh
Cable charging Max. 18W
Wireless charging (Qi) Nope
ULB Nope

First verdict

The Google Pixel 6a is compact, offers a Pixel-grade camera, has the same processor as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro models, and costs $450. However, if you invest an extra $150, you can bring home the Pixel 6, with a better camera module, more charging options, and finer materials in construction.

More than that, the device overheating while using the camera raises a red flag regarding the performance of this model in the long run. On top of that, there are still expectations regarding the price of the next-gen Pixel smartphone. If Google decides to release the Pixel 7 at the same price as the previous generation – which is entirely possible – in a few months and $150 more it would be possible to buy the updated version of the series.

In conclusion, the Pixel 6a is a good device, but it’s not impressive. Maybe I’ll change my mind after spending more time using the device, but for now the overheating issues are dampening my enthusiasm for Google’s new mid-range.

Google Pixel 6a

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