Google Pixel 6a Review: For the love of Android (conditions apply)
It is a great time to be a smartphone geek in India. Over the summer of 2022, we have seen some of the most interesting midrange phones from highly hyped brands. Apple gave us the retro-charming iPhone SE 3, and Nothing went for a bold fashion statement with the Phone (1). Both are great in their own ways but the iPhone SE and Nothing Phone (1) sit on polarising ends. And now comes Google with the Pixel 6a as a balancing act – a phone that is in sync with the present and simply wants to be a solid midrange phone.
However, the Pixel 6a, just like the Pixel 4a, is mainly aimed at the iPhone SE buyer and is built to beat it. In all the key areas that matter, the Pixel 6a is objectively superior to the iPhone SE 3rd Gen. Hence, Google deems it right to command an iPhone-like price tag – You get a single 6GB/128GB variant in India. Is that right for you and me? To find out, I have been living with a Charcoal Pixel 6a and this is what I have to share.
Google Pixel 6a Design
As boring and dreary the Pixel 4a was to look at, the Pixel 6a is as much of a beauty! With plastic still on its back, the Pixel 6a gets a new dual-tone design that is highly refreshing and unmistakably Pixel. The “camera visor” makes a strong visual statement and so does the faint Google logo. I adore how Google's designers have played with colours here – the Charcoal variant has two shades on white on the rear, and a blacked out frame to go with the visor; kind of reminiscent of the Panda Pixel 2. The front is a simple affair; narrow bezels holding a large 6.1-inch display.
Despite the plastic back, the Pixel 6a is a solidly built phone. The metal sides impart a sense of strength and the rear doesn't feel flimsy. The display sadly has to settle with the old Gorilla Glass 3, which means you should invest in a screen guard for scratch protection. The IP67 rating is a relief for the rainy seasons and dusty summers. It feels solid to hold but the iPhone SE 3 still is better in terms of that “in-hand feel”.
Google Pixel 6a Display
Cutting straight to the point – the Pixel 6a display isn't the nicest. At 6.1-inches, it is big enough and the OLED panel makes everything look bright, vivid, and with high contrasts. However, the eyesore is its standard 60Hz refresh rate, which is simply unacceptable in a phone costing over Rs. 40,000. If Nothing and Samsung can offer 120Hz OLED displays in similarly priced phones, why can't Google (and even Apple) manage the same? The fingerprint sensor was a worry initially but after the Android 13 update, it works normally.
Google Pixel 6a Performance
A Pixel is all about a smart Android experience and this is where it claws back the desirability. The Pixel 6a offers the fancy Material You theme from Google, and I experienced it both on Android 12 and Android 13. This is one of the nicest Android experiences you can have in a phone today – no adware, no pre-loaded 3rd party apps, no ugly skin. It appears a bit cartoonish but set it up right and it looks elegant. The new Android widgets and colour accent themes are a nice touch to liven up the homescreen, and I adore the large tiles on the notifications shade.
And then you have your usual Pixel smarts. The Google Recorder app can transcribe your voice recordings while the ‘Now Playing' feature keeps showing names of songs on the lockscreen – all without the need for internet connection. And there's more of that stuff. You use this Pixel 6a for a week and it becomes difficult to move to any other phone; even a Galaxy Z Fold 4! These small smarts make me put the Pixel 6a on a high pedestal that was previously taken by the Pixel 4a.
To help with all these smarts, Google is using its new Tensor chip. The Tensor is a 5nm chip based on Samsung's Exynos 2100 platform, which means the performance is comparable to the 2021 flagships. That is a lot of performance to tap for a Pixel and it certainly doesn't disappoint anywhere. I have not observed app crashes or lags in animations in my time with the Pixel 6a; it behaves like a matured phone, almost like an iPhone. If you like gaming, you can enjoy your games at High settings with ease. I played Shadow Fight 4 endlessly for hours at the “Ultra” settings and the Pixel 6a handled it all with no sweat.
Accompanied by a nice set of stereo speakers, the audio experience on the Pixel 6a is good. These speakers are loud and clear but they are still not as punchy as the stereo speakers on the Xiaomi 11T Pro.
The Tensor chip supports 5G networks but as of now, I had Jio's 4G network to play with. Network stability has been great and I have n't faced any issues while calling.
Google Pixel 6a Cameras
The Pixel 6a gets to borrow the Pixel 6 design but misses out on the latter's camera hardware. Hence, we have the ancient 12MP Sony sensor for the main camera that is doing duty since 2017's Pixel 2. You also get a 12MP ultra-wide camera here. To keep it short and simple, the Pixel 6a despite its old sensors takes superb photos and good videos. The dynamic range in both the main and ultra-wide cameras is impressive – daylight photos are bright, get vivid colours, and keep skin tones natural. There is some enhancement going on but most of you will like what this camera can do. Even at night, this camera does wonders! The Night Sight photos can trade blows with the iPhone 13's night photos and the details are simply unbelievable, considering the age of this sensor.
The same goes for selfies – the photos possess incredible dynamic range with ample sharpness and natural skin tones. You can shoot up to 4K videos at 60 fps and the quality is good by all means. However, the footage appears choppy occasionally and the overall processing isn't as nice as the video camera on the iPhone SE 3.
Google Pixel 6a Battery Life
The Pixel 6a is easily an all-day phone. The 4410 mAh battery along with the clever OS-level tuning makes the phone stand up to a busy office day's abuse and still have 20-30 percent charge left. If your usage largely pertains to social media, phone calls, photography, and YouTube binging, you can easily get through a day and have enough charge for making it halfway to the next day.
I wish Google gave the Pixel 6a support for faster 33W charging speeds. The current 18W charging is almost tortoise-like in comparison to the lightning quick 120W charging solutions you get on Xiaomi and iQOO smartphones at this price. With a Quick Charge compatible charger, it takes over 2 hours to fully charge the Pixel 6a's battery, which is painfully slow. And with no wireless charging, it only becomes difficult for the Pixel user.
The Google Pixel 6a is expensive for what it offers but it takes an enthusiast to love the Pixel and appreciate what it has in store. A finely crafted software experience backed by potent hardware and a pair of great cameras is what the Pixel series has been all about, always; and the Pixel 6a carries on that tradition. It is great to see Google doing its magic with a lovely hardware design that goes hand-in-hand with the software. That itself makes the Pixel 6a a worthy recommendation for Android lovers.
Obviously, there are flaws in the Pixel 6a. The 60Hz display is an eyesore and so is the slow 18W charging. With fierce competition in Android town, Google should have been cautious. The Nothing Phone (1) is the new poster boy for Android fans – it is cheaper to own but offers the same Pixel-like user experience with a signature “Nothing-ness”. You also have the bunch of self-acclaimed flagship killers from Xiaomi, iQOO, Oppo and Vivo, all of them promising something better than the Pixel 6a.
Hence, while it may not win the spec sheet wars, the Pixel 6a will continue to serve its role as the definitive phone for Android enthusiasts. At Rs. 43,999, I think it cannot get any better than this.
- Great software experience
- Nice cameras
- Solid battery life
- Fancy design
- Slow 60Hz display
- Slow 18W charging
Display6.1-inch FHD+ OLED
Rear Cameras12.2MP main + 12MP ultrawide