After a year off, Google’s mid-range Pixel A series is returning to Australia this year with the Pixel 6a now available for pre-order.
Last year’s Pixel 5a only went on-sale in the US and Japan, but the Pixel 6a is a return to broader availability around the globe. The new model is the first time that the Google Tensor processor is being used in their mid-range phones and it’s also changing design to match the Pixel 6 series. As usual it comes loaded with the latest version of Android and a load of Pixel specific features.
Priced at $749, the Pixel 6a fits more into the range of ‘Super mid-range’ phones but comes with a decent hardware spec and a load of Pixel specific features that only Google can offer.
Google sent over a 128GB Chalk coloured Pixel 6a and case for review, I’ve spent a week with the Pixel 6a and here’s how it went.
Hardware and Design
As with most of their A-series Pixel phones previously, the PIxel 6a is compact. There’s a 6.1” OLED display on the front which is slightly larger than the Pixel 4a but slightly smaller than the Pixel 4a with 5G – but keeps it on track for those wanting a smaller device than the full Pixel 6/6 Pro and the smaller size really does feel quite nice in the hand.
The OLED display is decent enough, though with a 60Hz refresh rate it’s starting to feel a little dated, with a number of manufacturers bumping up to 90Hz in this range. It’s bright enough inside and in the sun and definitely responsive enough.
There’s the familiar button layout of volume rocker and power button on the right, with the combination of screen and button placement making one-handed use quite easy. The buttons have a satisfying ‘clicky’ feel to them so you know when you’ve pressed them.
The rear of the phone is made from a ‘3D thermoformed composite’ which is a little warmer to the touch than the Pixel 6 series and is fingerprint resistant, so no smudges show up.
The review unit I have is in the ‘Chalk’ which is fairly nice, though you can also get it in Charcoal or Sage – and that sage colour, which we first saw on the Pixel 5 is quite striking in the promo images.
The Pixel 6a also has the similar look as the Pixel 6 series with the horizontal camera bar on the rear. The raised edges of the camera bar do present a small area for dust to accumulate, but it’s far less of a bump than the Pixel 6.
One missing feature from the Pixel 6a is the rear ‘Pixel Imprint’ fingerprint scanner, with Google option for an in-display sensor like the Pixel 6 series. Just like the sensor on the Pixel 6 series it works just fine, but is slower than I’d like especially after using in-display fingerprint scanners from OPPO and Samsung.
There’s stereo speakers, but unfortunately no headphone jack on the Pixel 6a, so you’ll have to use a USB-C headphone adapter in the USB port on the base or Bluetooth headphones.
Overall, Google is moving towards the new design brought in by the Pixel 6 series and one we’ll see again soon on the Pixel 7 later this year. If you like compact phones though, the Pixel 6a is definitely more comfortable if you have smaller hands.
Performance and Connectivity
The big story for the internals of the Pixel 6a is of course the Tensor processor which first launched in the Pixel 6 series last year. It’s a capable processor, and it’s paired with 6 GB LPDDR5 RAM and 128 GB storage UFS 3.1 storage which performs quite well.
There is of course some room for improvement with memory as apps have to reload if you haven’t used them in a while, but overall at this price point it is what you expect.
The Pixel 6a also includes the Titan M2 security chip which provides the secure boot and protection for on-board security keys, giving you an additional layer of security.
The phone is of course 5G compatible, though only sub-6GHz with no mmWave support – but with mmWave still very much only available in very few places this isn’t a huge deal. 5G on the Pixel 6a is fast and connects well with no dropouts that I’ve experienced.
For more local connectivity there’s Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E with MIMO though the Wi-Fi 6E is not enabled in Australia for some reason. We may see more on this later in the year though, so stay tuned.
There’s Bluetooth 5.2 with dual antennas which was quite decent, improving connection to the Pixel Buds A-series which have been a little hit and miss of late but maintained a solid connection while reviewing the phone.
You get some NFC action of course with Google
Wallet Pay Wallet fully supported and for location you get full support for GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS which works really well.
Google has included a 4,410 mAh battery inside the phone, and as with many modern phones there’s no charger included in the box. You do get a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box to replace any worn out cables you’ve got on hand.
In terms of charging, the phone supports 18W ‘Fast Charge’ with the option to use Google’s 30W charger if you purchase one from the Google Store, but it will only charge at 18W. Like previous A-series Pixel phones, there is no wireless charging option unfortunately.
Charging takes almost two hours to reach 100% charge from absolutely flat, though if you charge overnight this won’t matter much and you can take advantage of the adaptive charging options which can be better for your battery health in the long term by letting you slowly charge, ensuring it’s fully charged before your alarm goes off in the morning.
All up, the Pixel 6a has a decent, all-day battery and will charge well over night but the lack of a faster charging is a little disappointing.
Google has been using the same dual 12/12.2MP rear camera setup we find on the Pixel 6a for several generations now, basically, if you’ve used the Pixel camera before you’ll know just what to expect.
That’s not to say it can’t be improved and It is starting to show its age in the face of newer flagships. That’s not to say it’s not a good camera, because the photos are great quality in all manner of lighting conditions, but when put up against higher end devices there’s certainly an argument for Google moving on from this setup next year.
The Pixel camera uses a lot of computational photography to achieve its signature look in all manner of lighting conditions. You can get great shots during the day in good light, as well as in slightly overcast conditions or using Night Sight.
The secret to Google’s camera goodness has never been about the hardware, because they get great shots out of this platform and they add even more with great camera features like Magic Eraser which lets you remove or Camouflage objects or people in the background. There’s also Real Tone which means people with all skin tones are represented authentically as they appear in real life.
Video too gets the same great live HDR+ processing at up to 4K which makes things like Blue Sky or Green Grass pop. There’s also speech enhancement for improved audio on your video.
Of course a phone from Google is going to launch with the latest version of Android on-board, so booting up you’ll find Android 12 but an update to Android 13 is just around the corner.
The review model is slightly behind on the security updates but rest assured there will be monthly security updates delivered, with Google promising 5 years of updates on this front.
Part of these monthly updates will include enhancements to the Pixel experience through Feature Drops each month, which can be as minor as new themed wallpapers, through to fairly significant improvements like battery widgets, Night Sight in the SnapChat app, Live Caption call typing on Pixel 6 and loads more. It’s a bit of a fun surprise to see what Google delivers each month on top of these security updates.
Of course Android 12 includes the updated Material You design language for Android which they first launched in Android 11. With Material You, you simply select your wallpaper and let the system do the work matching themed Icons and Dynamic Colours for apps like Calculator, Camera and even your lock screen – and also your widgets.
The At a Glance widget, which is front and centre on the phone when you boot it up has also seen some recent improvements including offering a view of your Nest Doorbell feed, as well as showing battery levels for Bluetooth devices you have connected – this is all on top of the usual weather info, calendar alerts for upcoming appointments and travel and more.
There’s other bonuses with a Pixel including the Recorder app which can both record audio, as well as transcribing it on the fly making it a great companion for any meetings you need to take minutes for. You also find this great voice interactions in the Google Assistant with commands now easier, and you can also start dictating in apps with your natural speech and watch as it accurately transcribes it in your favourite apps.
On the Google Assistant front, there’s a feature which I’ve begun using a lot more: Quick Phrases, which negates the need for saying ‘Hey/Ok Google’ to summon the assistant. Now you can simply do things like ‘Stop’ or ‘Snooze’ for an alarm, or ‘Answer’ or ‘Decline’ when a call comes in. It’s super accurate and very cool.
Overall, the Android software on a Pixel is really where it’s at on phones with the Pixel series showing off the best of what Google can do with their OS.
Should you buy it?
The Pixel 6a is the most up-to-date and affordable Pixel on the market, making it a great option for anyone who wants the best of Google, without paying the price for a Pixel 6.
There’s some competition at this end of the market though, with Samsung’s Galaxy A73 and even the now older Galaxy S20 FE, as well as the Moto Edge 30 Pro which recently launched and includes the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and even wireless charging.
There are starting to be some niggles in the hardware set for the Pixel A series though, the camera hardware needs an update, wireless and faster charging would be great but at the moment they’re still working quite well.
The secret for Google though is their software and the continued support offered for the Pixel phones. You’ll see 5 years of security updates with the Pixel 6a and at least 3 version updates – and they’ll come in a timely manner as well, so no waiting around for skins to be updated before they roll out.
I’m a sucker for a Pixel phone and the Pixel 6a refines the design language of the Pixel 6 series and offers a more budget friendly option for those wanting to keep up with the best that Google can offer on the software front – and if that’s what you’re after, the Pixel 6a definitely delivers.
The Pixel 6a is available for pre-order now in Chalk, Charcoal and Sage for $749. Pre-order
now from the Google Store, JB HI-FI, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Officeworks and Harvey Norman. Google Pixel 6a will be on-shelves from July 28.