The Google Pixel 6a Is the Budget Android Phone We’ve Been Waiting For

The Google Pixel 6a Is the Budget Android Phone We’ve Been Waiting For

In 2021, Google released the Pixel 5a, a smaller, cheaper and more budget-friendly alternative to its top-of-the-range Pixel 5 Pro. But it never came to Australia. It was a missed opportunity for Google, especially when we take a look back at the reviews we gave the Pixel 3a and 4a.

Back in 2019, we had some pretty interesting things to say about the Pixel 3a, and the 4a? Well, take a look for yourself. Are you picking up that we love a budget piece of tech that runs Google software on Google hardware?

Our colleagues in the U.S. got their hands on the 5a and declared it “the new king of mid-range phones”, we’d argue the 6a should hold that crown. Somehow, the Google Pixel 6a has exceeded expectations and we’re happy to report that after two years, the ‘fucc’ (please see 3a and 4a reviews for the reference) is well and truly back.

The Google Pixel 6a

Google announced the Pixel 6a back in May at its I/O developer conference. The phone shares a design language with its flagship predecessor, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, right down to the polarising camera bar on the back, which houses all the rear-facing camera components.

The Pixel 6a takes a different approach to computing compared to previous generations. Rather than defaulting to mid-tier processor from a third-party chipmaker like Qualcomm, Google has opted for its in-house Tensor CPU, the Titan M2. This way, the Pixel 6a has similar abilities to the premium Pixel 6, including a 5G modem and security architecture, not to mention all those camera smarts that have helped make the A-series a successful smartphone model.

There is a lot that you miss out on by choosing the 6a over its siblings, but, what the 6a has that they don’t is a very enticing price tag.

The Pixel 6 Pro starts at RRP $1,299, the Pixel 6 starts at RRP $999 and the Pixel 6a starts at RRP $749. It is more expensive than the 4a, which launched for a price of $599 (for comparison, the Pixel 4 XL was $1,279 at launch).

Google Pixel 6a specs

  • Display: 6.1-inch FHD+ OLED with 60Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Google Tensor (same brains as the Pixel 6 Pro)
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Rear Camera: 12.2MP (wide) 12.2MP (ultrawide)
  • Front Camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4410 mAh (all-day battery)
  • Connectivity: 5G
  • Colours: Sage, Chalk, Charcoal

These are some nice numbers, and most are an upgrade from the Pixel 4a. There’s also a bunch of software upgrades – a lot of what you get with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Look & feel is better

With the Pixel 6 Pro, I’m constantly activating things I shouldn’t, due to the rounded edges on the phone that are still part of the screen. While I like the size of the Pro (my other daily phone is the iPhone 13 Pro Max), I prefer the return of the thicker device in the 6a. When you consider the protruding camera system on the back of the Pro, the 6a still isn’t as thick. I also prefer the squared-off edges of the 6a. To the naked eye, the phone could get away with looking like the Pixel 6 – something Apple doesn’t do with its budget versions (you know someone is using the iPhone SE 5G when you see that god awful fingerprint button).

Pro features for 57% of the cost

There is a lot you miss out on by going the 6a over the 6 Pro. While you still have 5G, you don’t get mmWave (the Pixel 6 didn’t have this, either). But you still get a lot of the smarts of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

Rushing through them, you can play with the UI like you can on the Pro. Google calls this ‘Material You’, which allows your wallpaper to be more of a ‘theme’, with matching apps to match the aesthetic you choose. Still on the home screen, widgets are there for you to play around with, as are the other software features you get with the latest Android OS.

The fingerprint unlock works just as good as on its siblings, too.

Every time I interview someone, I always use the Pixel 6 Pro to record, as the Google Translate smarts are usually a gun for transcribing. The one interview I did while reviewing the 6a, it was just as good. Again, Google software allows for this, not the phone, so you can expect to able to maximise Live Translate and Assistant Voice Typing like you can on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. The software overload Google gave us with the 6 and 6 Pro carries over to the 6a.

Swiping through the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro feels a lot better than the 6a, which is more ‘jolty’ than the seamless feel you get the other two. Navigating out of a photo in your gallery, for example, you can’t ‘flick’ away the pic to close full-screen mode on the 6a like you can with the 6 and 6 Pro. Refresh rate is noticeable but not a deal breaker.

But how’s the camera?

Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro come with the same 50-megapixel main cam and 12-MP ultra-wide cam, while the Pixel 6 Pro features a bonus telephoto cam with a 4x optical zoom, which made it the first Pixel to ever sport both a telephoto and an ultra-wide lens.

The 6a, however, has a primary 12-MP Sony IMX363 camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS) and a secondary 12-MP Ultra Sony IMX386 ultra-wide camera. The front-facing camera is also a wide-angle sensor: an 8-MP Sony IMX355 with an 84-degree field-of-view and fixed focus capabilities. Here’s how they compare (left is the Google Pixel 6 Pro and right is the Google Pixel 6a):

google pixel 6a
Standard 1x zoom shot (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Moving closer, without zoom:

google pixel 6a
Up close, no zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Portrait Mode on each (thanks to my fabulous model Ky):

google pixel 6a
Portrait mode 1x zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

And Portrait Mode on 2x zoom on each:

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Portrait mode 2x zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

You can see the difference in the two camera systems, but the 6a isn’t terrible.

Camera with night mode, no zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

It’s when you zoom, however, that the colour depth of the 6 Pro is unmatched.

4x zoom vs 2x zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Night Mode defaulted for the above two photos, but it doesn’t really showcase the capabilities. Here’s outside at night with Night Mode.

Night Mode, no zoom (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The colours are better in the 6 Pro, again, but these pairings really go to show just how much of the photo capturing is handled by Google software.

Lastly, selfie cam, (I’m so sorry for my head):

Selfie cam (left 6 Pro, right 6a). Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

TL;DR: I’m blown away by the camera on the Google Pixel 6a.

The 6a gets a lot of the camera features, too. One of the premium bell and/or whistle the 6a gets is Google’s Magic Eraser feature. Magic Eraser is basically a way to remove a photobomber (we dive into it more over here).

I suppose I should comment on how it handles calls, you know, an actual phone thing: it handles them well, thanks. Speaker phone could be louder, but otherwise the line was clear each time I tried it. Also, it’s not great as a speaker, but it’s fine if you’re sitting on your lounge doomscrolling TikTok.

Battery bang for your buck

The battery on the Google Pixel 6a lasted almost 30 hours – I wasn’t using it as much as you would, given I just completely ran out of time to sign into everything I use daily. But from full charge, streaming Netflix non-stop (and very loud), the phone refused to die, even after 6 hours it still had 35 per cent battery left. Google reckons when you turn on ‘Extreme Battery Saver’, the battery can last up to 72 hours. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging.

Two years without the ‘a’ series and it still ‘fuccs’ harder than ever

There’s no denying the Google Pixel 6 Pro is the best phone out of the three, but for 57 per cent of the cost of the Pro, you can walk away with a phone that behaves much the same. If you had $1,500 to spend on a phone, and you want absolute perfection, I’d encourage you to scoop up the Pixel 6 Pro (or wait for the Pixel 7 Pro). But if you’re looking to spend less than $800 on an Android that packs some serious punches, it’s hard to look past the Google Pixel 6a.

I’ll soon post my comparison of the iPhone SE 5G to the Pixel 6a as it’s clear both phone makers are acutely aware there’s benefit making a more affordable option. In a world where ‘mid-range’ increasingly means $1,000, phones like the iPhone SE and Google Pixel 6a are important. The Google Pixel 6a absolutely fuccs.

Sage, Chalk, Charcoal. Image: Google

Where to buy the Google Pixel 6a

The Google Pixel 6a will set you back $749. Pre-sale has already started over on Google’s website, and over here you’ll find preorder deals from Australia’s major telcos.

Telstra Pixel 6a plans:

Vodafone Pixel 6a plans:

Optus Pixel 6a plans:

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you’ll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the tables above. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.