Over the years, Google’s Pixel A-series has developed a reputation for offering the flagship Pixel experience on a budget. Whether it was the Pixel 3a, 4a, or 6a that we’ve reviewed, the A-series was all about budget specs, with a flagship camera.
But with this new Pixel 7a, I feel like Google has changed that formula. How? Well, that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.
Let’s begin my review with the cameras, because this is one of the main ways in which I feel the Pixel A-series formula has been changed.
You see, unlike the previous Pixel 6a, that used the tried and tested 12.2MP primary sensor that Google had been using for ages, the Pixel 7a gets a brand-new 64MP primary sensor.
In fact, it’s so new, that even the current flagship Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro have a technically inferior 50MP primary sensor.
Also watch: Google Pixel 7 Review: the compelling alternative!
I tested the three sensors side-by-side, and honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between them. In some cases, one of them was better with edge detection, while another was better with colour accuracy, and another produced more depth of field.
On its own though, this new camera system is a bit of a hit-and-miss.
In well-lit, outdoor situations, it did well with colour accuracy, but the image tended to look quite flat, and contrast levels weren’t punchy enough. In mixed lighting conditions, there was enough dynamic range, but clarity took a bit of a hit. In low-light scenarios, despite Google’s tried and tested Nightsight, results were quite inconsistent. Sometimes, I would get a shot with noise in darker areas of the frame, whereas other times I would get a perfectly exposed night shot. In some shots, the 7a struggled to remove noise and add details, but then in some shots, I’d get crystal clear details.
What I’m getting at here, is that this new 64MP sensor, while powerful, is not exactly consistent, at least not yet, and I feel like it’ll get better over time as Google’s machine learning prowess starts working its magic. For now, though, it feels like any other 64MP sensor at this price point that certainly doesn’t take bad pictures, but doesn’t take exceptional looking shots either, and to me, that’s what the Pixel camera experience is all about.
Still, it’s not all bad.
Portrait images to come out quite nicely in the right conditions, and even ultrawide shots from the 13MP sensor aren’t bad, even if there is a lot of lens distortion in the edges of the frame.
When it comes to videos, results are pretty decent thanks to OIS on the main sensor, but don’t expect anything brilliant. Colour accuracy isn’t too bad, and you can shoot at a maximum 4K at 60fps with the primary sensor, although the ultra-wide is capped at 1080p.
The selfie camera takes good enough pictures, whether it’s in bright, mixed or low-light conditions, and I do like the fact that there’s support for 4K 30fps recording with the front facing camera.
Also watch: Pixel 7 Pro Review: The new benchmark?
Design & Utility
In terms of design, the Pixel 7a is closer to the flagship series than before, in fact, it looks almost identical to the Pixel 7 with the brushed aluminium frame and the camera bump. But, like previous A-series phones, it’s got a plastic back, and the display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, not Victus. That plastic back, sadly, is prone to scratches, so I’d recommend buying a cover if you’d like to keep it mint.
The buttons on this phone are all on the right side, and that power button placement is still as awful as ever. I reached for the volume up button instead on many occasions which made the whole experience a lot less ergonomic.
Another couple of compromises you’ll have to make are in the storage department, because this phone only gets 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and it’s not expandable via a microSD card.
In fact, there’s no space for even a second SIM card, so if you need to use another number, it’ll have to be configured as an e-SIM.
However, Google has added wireless charging to the A-series this year, although I don’t know how useful that is, especially at 7.5W.
I mean, it’s good enough if you want to trickle-charge it overnight or if you sit at a desk all day, but even the Pixel 7 offers faster wireless charging, so I wish Google had offered that here as well.
Still, it’s not all bad, and there are two things I really like about the Pixel 7a.
One, I really like the way this phone feels in the hand, especially when it comes to the weight. Too many phones these days are either too heavy or too light, but at around 193g, this phone feels perfect.
And two, the Pixel 7a gets an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, and this is a consistent edge the A-series has had over the competition in this price range.
Also watch: Google Pixel 6a Review: buy this phone if you love photography!
Like the previous 6a, the Pixel 7a gets a 6.1-inch OLED display with an FHD+ resolution, but crucially, this time it also gets a 90Hz refresh rate.
It’s an adaptive refresh rate, but if you do want to force the phone to stay at 90Hz all the time, you can use the developer options to enable that.
It is interesting, though, that the 90Hz option is disabled by default when you set up the phone for the first time.
In terms of colour accuracy, this display suffers from colour-shift at angles, and there's not a lot of contrast in the Natural display mode. If you want deeper blacks when watching content, I’d suggest keeping the Adaptive display toggle turned on.
It’s still good for watching content, even if it isn’t as large as the competition in this segment, but what bothers me more are the bezels.
They’re thicker than both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a, and the bottom chin is quite pronounced.
Anyway, you do get an always-on display and an in-display fingerprint scanner, that was both quick and accurate during my testing period.
The 7a’s display also gets HDR 10 – HEVC for apps like Netflix, so that’s good to see here.
Performance & Software
So, outright performance has never been the stronghold of Pixel devices, but the Pixel 7a does get the latest Tensor G2 chipset and 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM, which is more than the 6a, that was only offered with 6GB RAM.
It runs graphic intensive games like Call of Duty: Mobile just fine for short periods, but you’ll notice a bit of stutter when you play for a long enough time and the phone gets warm. Multi-tasking and app-switching is also great, no problems there, and thanks to the larger RAM size, apps in the background are quick to load back up.
I did notice, though, that in Delhi’s scorching summer heat, the Pixel 7a tends to warm up quite a bit, especially if you’re out using the camera.
I took just 5 or 10 odd camera samples this one time, and immediately, the camera app gave me a warning, saying that quality may be reduced due to the phone’s temperature.
Now I’m sure the good folks at Google didn’t have 45-degree weather in mind when designing this phone, but I think they should have, considering they’re selling the phone for use in this weather.
I should also point out that although this is a 5G-enabled phone with plenty of 5G bands, I rarely got access to 5G network on my Jio SIM card.
I’ve used 5G with the same card on phones from other brands without any issue, but with the Pixel 7a, I mostly only ever got LTE. Hopefully, this can be fixed with an over-the-air software update.
Speaking of which, the more compelling reason to buy a Pixel device is the software experience, not its outright performance.
The Pixel 7a runs stock Android 13 which is a joy to use with Material You. The wallpapers are stunning, and I really liked the Themed Icons feature, although I wish it worked for an app as popular as Instagram. I really like the way the Always-On display appears and disappears, but like before, the brightness toggle is two full swipes away, which is quite inconvenient.
That Tensor G2 chip really shines when it comes to features like Speaker Labels on the Live Transcribe feature.
It automatically detects when there are multiple speakers on a recording and assigns them labels, which makes it easier to transcribe long meetings.
Apart from that, there’s all the Pixel goodies like Adaptive charging and Adaptive Battery Saver that will help make sure you have enough juice to last you through the day.
Also watch: Google Pixel 4a Review: simple but effective!
Battery & Charging
The Pixel 7a gets a 4,385mAh battery, which is larger than the one on the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 6a.
It got me through a day’s usage with ease, even with the Always-On Display enabled. Whether it was long sessions of camera use, gaming or social media scrolling, I was always left with about 20% battery at the end of the day.
But this larger battery also spells problems, particularly in the charging department.
You see, the Pixel 7a still only charges at 18W wired, which means it easily takes 2 hours to get this phone from flat to full.
This is the one key area in which I had hoped Google would improve the A-series and offer at least the 20W charging speeds offered on the flagship devices.
So, the Google Pixel 7a. A departure from Google’s tried and tested formula. At an introductory price point of ₹39,999, the flagship Pixel experience on a budget seems to be missing, but honestly, it’s still a well-rounded Android phone, and the software extras that come with the Pixel are always nice to have.