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Google’s Pixel 6a is the latest phone to get exceptional mobile photography at an affordable price point
|Tensor Chipset||12.2MP dual cameras||4,410mAh battery|
|IP67 rating||Stereo Speakers||
6.1" OLED display
One of the main attractions of Google’s Pixel A-series has always been the flagship smartphone camera system, offered at a more attractive price point. We’ve reviewed the Pixel 3a XL and the Pixel 4a in the past, and in our experience, A-series devices have always had great photography chops. However, that camera performance usually came at the cost of battery life, or processing power. This time, though, with this new Google Pixel 6a, that recipe seems to be flipped.
Pixel A-series devices always tend to mirror the flagship Pixel phones in terms of looks, and with the 6a, it’s no different. You get the same two-tone back that’s divided by this horizontal strip for the camera system and flash, and in this Charcoal colour variant, it looks really subtle and classy. Materials are different, though, so while you still get rounded metal rails that feel really nice to hold in the hand, the back is glossy plastic, or as Google says, it’s a 3D Thermoformed Composite back panel. While it does mimic the glass effect pretty well, it does pick up fingerprints and scratches quite easily, and despite me being quite careful, this review unit picked up some pretty nasty scratches. The screen on the front is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is a few generations old, but it should still hold up to a decent amount of abuse.
Also, like I said, that in-hand feel is superb, and with a weight of 178g, it’s really easy to use with even one hand. What doesn’t make it easy to use with one hand, though, is that power button placement, which no matter how much I used the 6a, I couldn’t get used to. Almost every time I reached for the power button, I’d inevitably end up triggering the volume control, which was quite irritating.
In terms of utility, you don’t get a headphone jack like you did on the previous Pixel 5a, but you do get an IP67 rating for dust and water-resistance, some well-tuned stereo speakers and arguably the best haptic feedback in this price segment. You also get a dual SIM-card slot, but no expandable storage, which is a shame since the phone is only offered with 128GB of storage.
The Pixel 6a features a 6.1-inch OLED display with a full-HD+ resolution, a centrally-aligned hole-punch for the front camera and an in-display fingerprint scanner. Colours are quite punchy, contrast is good and there’s HDR-compatibility, even for apps like Netflix.
But more crucially, ever since the Pixel 6a launched and made its way into the hands of tech reviewers, the Internet has been having heated arguments about screen refresh rates. This is because despite its price tag, the 6a’s screen only refreshes at 60Hz, as compared to other Android phones in the segment that all provide a much smoother 120Hz.
Without getting into it too much, I’ll say this—should Google have provided a higher refresh rate at this price point? Yes.
Did I notice the 60Hz refresh rate enough for it to be a jarring user experience? No.
Whether it was interface operations, app switching, app opening, scrolling, or really, anything else that involved interacting with the screen, I felt it was a smooth enough experience.
That being said, the screen is surrounded by rather chunky bezels that aren’t uniform, and that fingerprint scanner is a both a bit slow to unlock and placed rather high up on the screen. Still, you get a nice always-on-display that wakes up and goes to sleep really nicely, even if it does end up draining the battery a little more than usual.
Now, perhaps one of the best reasons to buy a Pixel device is for its camera performance, and with the new Pixel 6a, it’s..well, a bit confusing.
Let me explain. So the Pixel 6a has a dual camera setup, with a 12.2MP primary sensor and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. Now the ultrawide sensor is a new one, in fact, it’s the same as the one on the flagship Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, but that primary sensor is one we’ve seen before on Pixel phones in the past. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a problem, but with the flagship Pixel 6s, Google used a new 50MP primary sensor this time, so unlike every other previous A-series phone, the 6a doesn’t get the ‘flagship’ camera experience on a budget.
The reason I said this is confusing is because, well, this is still a great camera system.
In terms of image quality, the Pixel 6a is second to none, with beautifully handled exposure, well-balanced HDR, accurate colour reproduction and honestly, more sharpness than I expected from a 12.2MP sensor.
Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, top sun or low-light, person or object, the Pixel 6a has one of the best shoot-and-forget-it smartphone cameras I’ve ever seen. It’s such a reliable and consistent camera system, that no matter what the situation, I was sure that as long as I had my frame set, I would get a very pretty picture.
Speaking of consistency, the ultrawide sensor took images that were spot on in terms of colour reproduction and exposure control when compared to the primary sensor. There was also very little distortion in the edges of the frame, which is great.
Also great is Google’s Night Sight, which still produces some of the best low-light images I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Google’s well-known processing prowess really shines here, with incredible noise-reduction and detail in images shot in near-pitch darkness.
However, despite all the wonderful images this camera system produced, it is still plagued by the Pixel’s well-known Achilles’ Heel—video quality.
Don’t get me wrong, the 6a shoots 4K 60fps video with no trouble, well-stabilised too, thanks to OIS, but the results aren’t on the same level as the images. Colour reproduction is still quite good, but it’s nowhere close to the processing Google manages to do on photos, and whether it’s daylight or low-light, videos tend to lack in the sharpness department.
Another camera feature I felt could have been tuned better was the Portrait mode, that tended to mess up the edge-detection on subjects in quite a few instances.
Then there’s the front camera, which is the same 8MP sensor as the Pixel 6, but not the 6 Pro. It’s a good performer, capturing skin tones accurately, not blowing out highlights, while also being able to manage low-light situations quite well. Still, I’m slightly disappointed about the lack of 4K video recording with the front camera on a phone that you’re likely going to buy mostly for its camera performance.
Also watch: Google Pixel 4a Review: simple but effective!
Let’s now move on to another part of the Pixel 6a that’s been flipped this year. Unlike previous A-series phones that usually had mid-range or budget chipsets, the 6a gets the latest and greatest from Google—Tensor. It’s the brand’s first homegrown processor for mobile devices and it runs under the hood of the entire Pixel 6 line-up.
At first glance, it seems pretty good, with the 6a holding up quite well under day-to-day workloads and Multi-tasking. Even playing graphic-intensive titles like COD mobile didn’t seem to bother it much, and ran without lag or stutter at very high graphics and max frame rate.
However, once you run the phone through a few popular benchmarks, it tells a slightly different story. For instance, a 15-minute, 20-thread CPU throttle test saw it drop to 75% of its maximum performance at a pretty steady rate. My first run of the 3D Mark Wild Life Stress Test saw only 56.6% stability, and even when I ran it again at a later date, it improved only marginally to 57%.
Now it’s worth pointing out that these are benchmark scores, that don’t really reflect real-world usage patterns very accurately. If you’re looking to do a lot of mobile gaming on this device for extended periods of time, then you may want to look at a more powerful device, but for pretty much all sorts of daily smartphone tasks and Multi-tasking, the Pixel 6a is an adequate performer.
Anyway, even if that chipset performance doesn’t please you, the software experience certainly will, because this phone offers arguably the best Android experience out there. It gets all the great Android 12 features from the flagship phones, like Material You, all the cool Google Pixel widgets and that great Live Transcribe feature which is honestly a complete game-changer for note-taking.
Personally, I’m quite the fan of the Pixel-Android experience, it’s so clean and simple to use, and a much easier experience to switch to if you’re coming from an iPhone. I don’t like that the brightness toggle in the notification shade stays on top, it means that it’s always two swipes away and harder to reach when I’m in a hurry. But, one feature that I absolutely love is Magic Eraser in the Photos app. It can detect and remove artefacts or objects in the frame that you may not want there and it honestly lives up to its name because it really does work like magic. I tried it both with the automatic suggestions and with the manual brush, and in both cases, it was so satisfying to see a cleaner image than reality allowed.
Apart from this, it’s also worth mentioning that being a Pixel device, the 6a gets a promised 3 years of major Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates, which always spells good things for longevity.
Yet another area of the Pixel 6a that’s been upgraded compared to previous generations is the battery, which is now a 4,410mAh unit. Now before you run to the comments with pitchforks, I know that it’s not larger than the Pixel 5a, but I’m comparing it to the Pixel 4a, which is the last Pixel we received in India, at least officially.
Anyway, that battery unit, coupled with the 60Hz refresh rate offers great battery life. I always managed to get over a day’s worth even with heavy usage, and if you’re a light user, you can expect it to last even longer.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good in the charging department, because while most Android rivals are offering 25, 80, and in some cases, even 160W fast charging, the Pixel 6a only supports 18W fast charging. Zero to full took just under 2 hours, which is borderline respectable, and it really would have been nice to see faster charging in this day and age. Plus, there’s no charging adapter in the box, a trend that’s catching on quite annoyingly. There’s also no wireless charging, which isn’t a massive loss in my opinion, especially at this price point, but that’s yet another feature the 6a doesn’t share with its flagship siblings.
So, I said in the beginning of this video that with the Pixel 6a, Google has flipped the script. Instead of the ‘flagship’ camera experience on a budget, you get more well-rounded device, that makes it a sort of default Android phone, something that’s pretty easy to recommend. A price tag of ₹43,999 in a market as competitive as India is quite risky, sure, but Google, I think, is betting big on that camera performance, which is what I feel will draw photography purists to the Pixel 6a.
Google Pixel 6a Review: buy this phone if you love photography!
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