For a number of years operating, the Pixel A-series cellphone was a no brainer: all the time the perfect Android cellphone in its midrange class. With the Pixel 6A, issues are somewhat completely different. Google is shifting its priorities for its Pixel telephones, and rivals like Samsung have closed the hole. The 6A nonetheless has the perfect efficiency and digital camera high quality at its worth, nevertheless it’s not fairly the shoo-in that it as soon as was.

As is custom for the A-series, the 6A gives most of what the Pixel 6 does — and to a lesser extent, the Pixel 6 Professional — for a a lot decrease price: $449 as an alternative of the Pixel 6’s beginning worth of $599. You don’t get wi-fi charging, a glass again panel, or a sooner display refresh fee. However you do get the identical core options because the flagship fashions. In earlier years, that meant the exact same class-leading digital camera because the pricier fashions however often a much less sturdy processor. That’s not the case this 12 months; as an alternative, you get Google’s custom-built processor, Tensor.

Tensor allows some AI and machine studying pushed options, like higher real-time transcription and HDR video recording on the digital camera’s highest decision and body fee. However largely, the chipset enhances issues that Pixel telephones might already do, like reside translation, by operating them extra effectively so you should utilize them extra with out operating your battery down.

Most significantly, it means you’ll be able to truly preserve utilizing this cellphone for various years, which is a extra typical shelf life for a sub-$500 cellphone. It gives the perfect longevity amongst midrange Android telephones, rivaled solely by the iPhone SE for pure return on funding worth. The SE could properly get software program updates a 12 months longer than the 6A, however the Pixel gives a a lot better display in comparison with the SE’s comparatively puny 4.7-inch show.

Maintaining Tensor because the 6A’s core characteristic is a touch at the place Google is steering the Pixel sequence for the long run. As for the right here and now, it makes the 6A into a superb midrange cellphone. It doesn’t provide the perfect display for the cash — that honor goes to the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. However it’s the finest performer for below $500 (at the least amongst choices accessible within the US). On high of that, it’s a snug dimension with unfussy software program and an excellent digital camera, and it ought to preserve operating properly for years to come back. That’s worthy of an A grade for certain.

Hero shot of the Google Pixel 6a on a grey background with some rocks

The 6A encompasses a fairly sized 6.1-inch display.

The Pixel 6A is the smallest of the three 6 sequence telephones, however possibly one of the best ways to explain it’s that it’s the least massive. Subsequent to the Pixel 6 Professional with its 6.7-inch display and the 6.4-inch Pixel 6, the Pixel 6A feels downright petite. I contest that its 6.1-inch display is the perfect compromise between a small (learn: fairly sized) cellphone and the large telephones everybody else appears to need, however that’s simply my very own private hill to die on.

The display on the 6A is a 1080p OLED panel with a typical 60Hz refresh fee, a step down from the 6’s 90Hz display. After utilizing a 120Hz display for some time, I positively discover the distinction going again to 60Hz. I’d by no means see it with out having the sooner refresh fee to match it to, however movement appears to be like jerkier and it provides the cellphone a lower than polished really feel. Nonetheless, LCD panels are fairly widespread within the $500 and under class, so the richer distinction of an OLED is welcome right here. It’s not terribly comfy to make use of outdoors in direct daylight, both, nevertheless it will get shiny sufficient to be usable.

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, additionally $449, is the 6A’s closest competitor within the US. Its display can be a 1080p OLED however has a 120Hz refresh fee. It’s additionally greater, at 6.5 inches, which lots of people discover interesting. The 6A beats the A53 in a number of methods, however so far as the display goes, it’s all Samsung. So, must you contemplate the A53 over the 6A? It relies upon.

Typically talking, the A53 prioritizes the surface-level specs, together with that fancy display, however its processor isn’t as snappy. It feels extra like a finances cellphone with a number of elevated parts moderately than the opposite approach round. Day-to-day efficiency is just a bit extra sluggish, and that’s solely going to degrade over the following three or extra years. For longevity and the perfect efficiency, the 6A is the best way to go. But when an enormous display is necessary to you and also you solely plan on protecting your cellphone for a number of years anyway, then the A53 is the higher alternative.

Shot of Pixel 6A’s pronounced, horizontal camera bump.

The 6A’s horizontal digital camera bump doesn’t protrude so far as the 6’s.

The Pixel 6A doesn’t simply borrow the 6’s processor; it carries over all the design language Google launched with the 6 sequence. The horizontal digital camera bump on the again panel protrudes a bit much less, however in any other case, it’s the identical distinct design. I can’t say I like it. The black rails and digital camera bar distinction so harshly with the soothing sage inexperienced on the again panel. I didn’t thoughts the design when it debuted on the 6 and 6 Professional. However I’ve been disliking it an increasing number of over the previous 12 months, and I’ve a sense it’s not going to age properly.

The 6A contains 128GB of storage — with no card slot for growth — and 6GB of RAM. That’s the one variant, and it has 2GB much less RAM than the bottom mannequin Pixel 6. For day-to-day use, this doesn’t appear to impression efficiency. The system feels responsive as I soar between duties, and apps keep open within the background lengthy sufficient to not frustrate me.

It handles heavy duties properly, too — higher than the A53 5G does. The cellphone runs graphics-intensive video games like Genshin Affect pretty easily, with some dropped frames right here and there. There’s additionally little or no lag within the digital camera app, even firing off a number of portrait mode photographs again to again. Each the (pre-Tensor) Pixel 5A and the 6A let me take about 4 portrait mode photographs in fast succession earlier than they should buffer and lock out the shutter button. The 5A wants a full 4 to 5 seconds to course of the photographs, however with the 6A, I can begin taking pictures once more in a couple of second. That might imply the distinction between getting the shot you wished or watching the second go you by with a grayed-out shutter button. It’s additionally properly past what I’d count on of most midrange smartphones, and Tensor is unquestionably serving to to make the distinction right here.

The Pixel 6A’s fingerprint scanner has been the topic of a number of hypothesis — particularly alongside the strains of “possibly it gained’t be as horrible because the one within the 6 and 6 Professional.” I’m not satisfied that it’s any higher. Utilizing the 6A and the 6 aspect by aspect, I can see the 6A sensor responding faster generally. However, simply as usually, it’s the identical velocity because the Pixel 6. It additionally feels simply as vulnerable to asking me to rescan my fingerprint or press my finger somewhat longer. In any case, the Galaxy S22’s sensor feels a contact sooner than both of the Pixels’ — and since Samsung’s sensor is ultrasonic moderately than optical, it doesn’t fill your darkish bed room with blinding gentle if you use it. Should you had been hoping that the 6A would tackle that Pixel 6 shortcoming, then I’m sorry to say you’ll be disillusioned.

The 6A’s haptics are good. They’re refined however reassuring as you’re typing and tapping. Nevertheless, one thing in regards to the cellphone’s design (I strongly suspect the digital camera bump) makes it sound as loud as a foghorn when it’s sitting on a picket desk and a notification units the vibration off. I can hear it throughout the home. I turned vibrations down a notch however that hasn’t actually helped. I assume I’d simply get used to discovering one thing comfortable to place the cellphone down on once I wasn’t utilizing it. Or put a case on it like a wise individual.

There’s a comparatively small 4,410mAh battery powering the Pixel 6A, however the tight relationship between {hardware} and software program (presumably) contributes to its superb battery efficiency. It bought me by means of a day and a half of reasonable use, and it dealt with a full day of heavier use with a little bit of gaming and a convention name, no drawback. It’s massive battery power from somewhat battery.

The Pixel 6A carries an IP67 score for water resistance, making it rather less sturdy than the IP68-rated Pixel 6 and 6 Professional — however not a lot. That’s on par with the Galaxy A53 5G and higher than most telephones at this worth. (Motorola’s Moto G Stylus 5G doesn’t provide any score for water resistance.) However the unhealthy information is that the headphone jack that held on for therefore lengthy within the Pixel A-series is now gone. There’s no charger included within the field, both. These have gotten simply as scarce as headphone jacks recently.

Close-up of 6A’s rear dual lenses.

There are two good cameras and nil nonsense macro sensors on the 6A’s again panel.

The Pixel 6A’s 12-megapixel f/1.7 foremost digital camera is borrowed from the Pixel 5A, with a few Tensor-enabled advantages. The 12-megapixel ultrawide digital camera is identical because the one on the Pixel 6 and 6 Professional, and it’s good however unremarkable.

It’s extra symbolic than something that the 6A doesn’t use the brand new 50-megapixel sensor from the Pixel 6 as a result of, in actuality, photographs from that new high-res sensor aren’t dramatically higher than that of the older digital camera. Photographs from the 6A appear to be photographs from a Pixel digital camera: contrasty with a barely cool white stability and vivid colours that don’t cross into oversaturated territory. Should you just like the Pixel photograph aesthetic, then you definitely’ll just like the 6A’s digital camera. Should you want hotter tones, then you definitely’ll be happier with the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. Tensor allows a number of attention-grabbing digital camera options on the 6A, that are generally good, however they’re not so good that they’ll change your thoughts about how you want your pictures processed.

Probably the most spectacular of those options known as Face Unblur. In low gentle, cameras want to make use of slower shutter speeds to get a shiny sufficient publicity. In case your topic is shifting even somewhat, then getting a pointy photograph of them turns into very difficult. Face Unblur makes use of info from the ultrawide digital camera to complement the primary digital camera’s brighter publicity, placing all of it along with somewhat machine studying magic to offer you a ultimate picture with the appropriate brightness and — in principle — a pointy photograph of your topic’s face.

Baby holding a bee toy looking at camera

Wonderful particulars are fairly comfortable from noise discount, however Face Unblur helped take away apparent movement blur.

Face Unblur occurs routinely, and also you’ll solely understand it was in use after the very fact. And it really works! The outcomes are nonetheless somewhat comfortable and noisy when you look intently however with out apparent movement blur. It’s a disgrace that it doesn’t seem to work with portrait mode, although, since that’s how I take photos of my child more often than not.

One other factor that Tensor allows is the power to make use of HDR throughout video recording, even on the highest body fee and backbone setting: 4K / 60p, on this case. The distinction is refined, although. I shot a backlit video with the Pixel 5A at 4K / 60p and in contrast it to the 6A with the identical settings. The 6A brings again somewhat extra element in highlights, and it appears to be like somewhat higher than the 5A’s footage, however I’m undecided I’d know the distinction with out seeing them aspect by aspect.

One Tensor characteristic that’s accessible on the 6 and 6 Professional however lacking from the 6A is Movement Mode. Google spokesperson Rebecca Pineiro says it isn’t enabled due to the 6A’s “{hardware} variations” from the 6 and 6 Professional. It is a characteristic that mimics the inventive blur results of lengthy publicity and panning pictures methods — issues that sometimes take time, particular tools, and follow to good. The 6 and 6 Professional can do a convincing impression of each results with only one press of the shutter. It’s enjoyable, and it stinks that the 6A can’t use it.

Nonetheless, the 6A presents a classy set of digital camera options for a midrange cellphone, and by way of uncooked capabilities, it’s nonetheless the perfect in its class. Tensor provides a few attention-grabbing new options, however the basis that the 6A’s digital camera is constructed on was already a robust one.

Pixel 6A’s app drawer with search bar.

Android 12 on the Pixel 6A is mercifully freed from main bugs.

The Pixel 6 and 6 Professional launched with Android 12, and it wasn’t precisely the perfect expertise for early adopters since the primary variations of the software program had been buggy. With Android 13 across the nook, Google appears to have discovered its Android 12 points, at the least on the Pixel 6A. I haven’t encountered any noticeable bugs or disruptive quirks utilizing the cellphone as my every day driver for the previous couple of weeks. I made calls, listened to Spotify on Bluetooth earbuds, took photos and video, and navigated throughout city and not using a drawback. And it’s, after all, inventory Android, which means there’s no duplicate apps or undesirable options to muddle up the UI. (Taking a look at you, Samsung.)

The 6A will get 5 years of safety updates, the identical because the Pixel 6 and 6 Professional. Google wouldn’t affirm to us what number of OS platform upgrades the 6A will get, however the 6 and 6 Professional are promised three. Samsung gives a really robust replace coverage for the A53, promising 4 OS upgrades and the identical 5 years of safety patches. It’s value noting that the Pixel ought to get month-to-month updates from Google all through its life span, however Samsung tends to place its telephones on a much less frequent replace schedule as they become older — simply two safety updates a 12 months for the oldest supported gadgets.

And, after all, there’s 5G. Verizon will promote a model of the cellphone with assist for superfast mmWave 5G for $50 extra. The model of the 6A offered straight from Google and at different retailers will simply assist sub-6GHz 5G, which is ok; that taste of 5G is enhancing quick, and mmWave is form of a sham anyway.

Pixel 6A home screen with an analogue clock widget.

Google is all-in on Tensor, and it makes the 6A the best choice below $500 on Android.

The Pixel 6A is a flagship cellphone with a number of the nicer options stripped again — that’s one method to constructing a midrange cellphone. The opposite method is to speculate somewhat extra in these nice-to-have options, like a quick refreshing display, however to incorporate a less expensive processor and sacrifice a bit on efficiency. That’s the route that Samsung took with the Galaxy A53.

The highway that Google took is sensible to me, at the least. The Pixel 6 sequence telephones make a daring assertion, from their uncommon design to the {custom} chipset. They’re telephones for individuals who need telephones that do actually cool stuff. The Galaxy A53 is somewhat completely different. It’s for somebody who desires the largest and finest show they’ll get for his or her cash and who doesn’t thoughts giving up somewhat little bit of processing energy to get it. I do know which class I fall into, and also you most likely know the place you stand, too.

So, if a very massive display isn’t a precedence and also you (like me) want a sensibly sized cellphone which may truly slot in your pocket, then the 6A is straightforward to suggest. It gives glorious efficiency, its digital camera system is dependable, battery life is superb, and it’ll obtain frequent software program updates for a few years to come back. That’s arduous to beat for $449.

Images by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

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