Google Pixel 6a test: at €459, it excels in photography

Numerama has been testing the Google Pixel 6a, the mid-range version of the Pixel 6 that was released last fall. Smaller, but with the same chip, this smartphone has it all.

If Pixel sales were linked to the quality of its products, Google would have caught up with Samsung and Apple a long time ago. Unfortunately for the web giant, making good hardware isn’t enough to become a hardware giant. Not being able to maintain consistency from one generation to the next, rejecting its products in many versions (storage, color, etc.) or providing enough stock for its suppliers, today Google remains “small” in the smartphone market, despite the recent release From the premium Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones.

To raise the bar, Google will launch the Pixel 6a at the end of July 2022, the mid-range smartphone it announced in early May (oh, a contradiction), priced at €459. This is the successor to the Pixel 4a, our favorite mid-range smartphone for several years. And if you’re wondering where the Pixel 5a went, Google abandoned its launch in France, despite the huge demand for its predecessor (a demand it was never able to meet). Another contradiction, which is strategically pointless… While waiting to see if the Pixel 6a will be easy to find in stores, we tested this promising device for a week.

Stunning photo smartphone

How is Pixel 6a defined? If we want to be very popular, we will explain that it is a Pixel 6 smartphone with a Pixel 5 camera (and €200 less, Pixel 6 costs €649). There are of course other differences that we will include after this first part dedicated to the image.

Because yes, the Pixel 6a’s strength, like all other Pixels, lies in its amazing image quality. We wanted to kick off this test by showing you several shots taken with the device and two 12.2MP (f/1.7 aperture) and 12MP (ultra wide angle, f/2.2 aperture) devices, just to show you what it’s capable of. You will see that at €459, it is far beyond what we are used to seeing.

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The image was taken with the Pixel 6a’s main sensor. Despite the speed of the boat, it is quite sharp and the colors are perfect. // Source: Nomirama
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Portrait shot of a Pixel 6a. Look at the scattering accuracy of completely frozen liquids. You can then set the bokeh effect in the app, everything is default. // Source: Nomirama
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The photo was taken with the Pixel 6a’s main camera. // Source: Nomirama

Of course, on paper, the Pixel 6a isn’t perfect. Its small sensors naturally offer less sharpness than the giant sensors of other flagships (48MP, 50MP, 108MP), like the Pixel 6 itself. But can we really complain about that given the Pixel 6a’s photographic quality? As it stands, Google relies on software algorithms to compensate. A photo previewed in the Camera app rarely has anything like the end result, because Google makes everything you shoot better. A magic trick that photography lovers will hate, but which will delight others. The Pixel 6a makes pretty things ugly. It’s not pure photography, but it’s cool enough to proudly share on social media.

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If taken with the Pixel 6a’s main camera, the details are surprisingly good for such a small sensor. // Source: Nomirama
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This photo was taken at night, with very little light. The Pixel 6a changed reality to make it look like there was light. // Source: Nomirama

Another strength of the Pixel 6a is its ability to edit a photo after you’ve taken it. Do you close your eyes? Don’t panic, the Pixel may have scored an alternate version where your eyes were peeled off. A passerby is included at the last minute, circle it so that Google removes it from the photo. It’s called the “magic eraser” and it’s cool. Also note that Google is working to better take into account different skin tones and not offer a device designed only for whites.

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boats? What boats? // Source: Numirama screenshots

Is Pixel 6a as good at photos as the other Pixel? If the lack of some functionality, such as the Pixel 6’s “Motion” mode, is a pity, we can easily say yes. If you are looking for a good smartphone for taking vacation photos, photographing parties or keeping memories of pleasant events, you will find no better than 500 euros. Perfection isn’t there, especially in the ultra-wide angle where the Pixel 6a doesn’t perform as many miracles as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, but it’s hard to find better value for money at such a price. This is the main reason why we recommend the Pixel 6a over a similarly priced Xiaomi or Oppo, which are usually more powerful.

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The Google Pixel 6a camera module is located on the back, in a rectangular block in the form of a strip. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

What do Pixel 6a and Pixel 6 have in common

In the next two parts, we’ll walk you through what the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6 have in common, and then discuss the differences between them. The two smartphones have a lot in common (as is their design), but they differ in some key points.

Let’s start with the design. The Pixel 6a is not an exact copy of the Pixel 6, as it is a more “compact” version. With its 6.1-inch screen, compared to the original model’s 6.4-inch screen, Google’s mid-range smartphone is a lot more fun to handle than its bigger brother. We can always criticize it for having too large bezels, which makes it a little wide in the hand, but the 178g makes up for it well. It’s a fun smartphone to handle, without being a “small” device. Don’t get me wrong, 6.1 inches is still large.

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Pixel 6 on the left and Pixel 6a on the right. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

The second common point between the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6 is its “internal” processor: the Google Tensor chip. It’s the third device he’s entitled to after the two Pixel 6s at the end of 2021. This “custom” chip, designed by Google engineers, has a very special look. Presented as “top of the range”, it includes elements that match the best Snapgragon chips of 2019-2020, while developing certain aspects of AI much more. Thanks to her, the Pixel 6a can translate video or call content in real time, transcribe an audio recording or recognize a song without having to open Shazam. It is very important to see Google supply its less expensive smartphone with the same chip as its more expensive smartphone, as Apple with its iPhone SE.

However, we wanted to return to a lie that can be found in several places in Google’s connection to its pixels. The brand presents its smartphone as the first “100% Google”, which amounts to saying the iPhone is “100% made in the USA”, as it is imagined in Cupertino. The pixels may use the Google chip, but they are not made by Google (only Samsung and TSMC can produce such complex chips). Other components of the Pixel 6a (screen, battery, modem, etc.) also come from other suppliers. This marketing slogan bothers us because it is wrong and some people around us have fallen into the trap. Samsung is arguably the only manufacturer that is able to get close to the 100% promise internally, but even that it can’t.

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Pixel 6a recognizes music all the time, and also has an optical fingerprint sensor. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

Other points in common between the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6: it’s waterproof (IP67 here, the device has stood our boat pretty well), always (we’ve always finished the day above 30%), you’ll receive several years of updates, you have a very colorful Android interface, and no Still ridiculous, it’s only found in the 128GB version. If you want to take a lot of photos, you’ll have to buy cloud storage. If you want to store a lot of games, then you should buy another smartphone.

What the Pixel 6a won’t do

Now let’s move on to the game of differences, which is not easy at first glance. After several days of use, several were discovered.

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Pixel 6 on the left and Pixel 6a on the right. Its camera module is thinner. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

What’s clear is the Pixel 6a’s lack of liquidity, despite the Google Tensor chip. How do we explain it? The smartphone suffers from the small amount of RAM (6 GB) and above all from its 60 Hz screen. When you get used to 90 Hz or 120 Hz, the return is painful, the system animation is less beautiful. If you’re coming from an old device, you probably won’t notice anything.

Another change that pissed us off, but we easily admit it’s a matter of habit: There’s no wireless charging on the Pixel 6a. It’s pretty stupid, especially since some of its competitors, like Nothing Phone (1) or iPhone SE, are taking advantage of it. It must be charged with a USB-C cable, bearing in mind that the charger is not provided in the box. The rest of the changes are minimal, like the lack of an “action” mode in the camera, but we already told you about that.

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Google Pixel 6a has an OLED screen. // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

The last point, rigidity. It’s a problem we didn’t expect with the Pixel 6, as its slightly curved curves make it very fragile. Two of the Numerama editorial staff have the Pixel 6, and they both broke it by dropping it. Given the design of the Pixel 6a, we don’t see how this couldn’t happen again (especially since Gorilla Glass is less solid). A word of advice: put a wrap and a protective film on.

judgment

Under the €500 mark, the Google Pixel 6a is undoubtedly the best smartphone on the market. Gifted with photography, it offers a very well-balanced combination of beautiful design, good OLED display, satisfactory performance, one-day battery life and long term updates. It would be more easily recommended than iPhone SE or Nothing Phone (1), two of its direct competitors. Of course, in terms of technical characteristics, there are a lot of devices (Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, etc.) that perform better. But the Pixels are meant to be more “a lifestyle,” not necessarily focused on Qualcomm’s latest processor or supercharged death-killing.

Let’s also answer another question: which device to choose between Pixel 6a and Pixel 6? The second is more complete, but costs an additional 200 euros (649 versus 459 euros). For us, the answer is obvious, the Pixel 6a is Google’s best value for money. It lacks a few details just to be flawless.

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