Google Pixel phones have become synonymous with excellent cameras – it’s in their DNA. Pixels have also long been one of the best devices for consistent software updates, from version upgrades and Pixel Drops that add new features to monthly security updates that keep the phones safe. So it’s disappointing when these pillars start to crack.
The Pixel 6A is the latest from the company. It’s an excellent smartphone and arguably the best bang for the buck at $449. It has a great screen and offers fantastic performance. It also packs a pretty good camera, but the days when the camera on the mid-range Pixel handily outperformed its competitors are over. Same with software support: the new Pixel has a good level of support, but what’s on offer isn’t the best package it used to be. Competition in this mid-range price range is increasing, so while I wouldn’t normally nitpick about the little things, I have to these days. Outside of the US, there’s a staggering number of great, affordable phones to choose from. And here in the United States, companies like Samsung are giving Google a run for its money in the mid-priced Android market.
I must reiterate that the Pixel 6A has many strengths and I have enjoyed using it for the past few weeks. The size is a big reason. Its 6.1-inch screen is only slightly larger than the Pixel 5, putting it on the smaller spectrum of most smartphones these days. It’s just really easy to hold and use, and the power and volume buttons on the recycled aluminum frame are satisfyingly clickable.
It also comes in sage! Forget the boring black and white phones, go for the green ones. Phones that stand out with beautiful designs are important, and Google is one of the few companies that doesn’t limit good design to the more expensive handsets. That said, note that the screen uses the older Gorilla Glass 3, which may be more prone to scratches than other phones. A screen protector is a good idea, but luckily you don’t have to worry about the back cracking as it’s a plastic composite. (It definitely doesn’t feel like the cheap plastic on many budget and midrange phones.)
A long-standing issue with Pixel phones has been screen brightness. It’s always been difficult to see the screen clearly when you’re in the sun, but that’s been fixed here. The screen rattles all the way to 800 nits in high-brightness mode, and I’ve had no trouble reading on it these sweltering hot days.
It’s a shame that the screen is stuck at a refresh rate of 60 Hz. Most phones in this price range have adopted 120 Hz displays, such as the Nothing Phone (1) and the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. I noticed this immediately when I switched from the Nothing phone; Gone were the buttery smooth scrolling animations. But I got back to 60 Hz pretty quickly and it’s all right. Again, I’m nitpicking here. Similarly, the Pixel 6A doesn’t have wireless charging, nor a MicroSD card slot or headphone jack — features not everyone needs, but would have been nice to have as they’re available on phones with similar prices.
The Pixel 6A makes up for those shortcomings with a flagship processor — the same Tensor chip that’s in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro — meaning you’re getting the best-performing Android phone for the money (in the US at least). I haven’t seen this phone slow down or stutter yet, and I can’t say the same for Samsung’s Galaxy A53 5G. This Pixel didn’t struggle when I was installing it and downloading all my apps, a process that freezes many midrange phones for a few minutes, nor did it slow down during intense matches in Apex Legends Mobile.