The Google Pixel 6a is the latest in the A-series line from Google, an affordable phone series that typically takes most of the goods of whatever top-tier phone Google has available at the moment, then cuts a few things and sells at a lower price. This new Pixel 6a is the first to adopt Google’s new Pixel 6 design language and also Google’s Tensor processor, so like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro were over the Pixel 5, this is a big refresh over the Pixel 5a.
Google sent me a Pixel 6a in Sage for review purposes and I’ve been testing it for a couple of weeks now. During that time, I’ve used it daily, tried to find its weaknesses and bugs, and snapped some pictures, all to try and give you the thoughts you are about to read. After all, pre-orders are open and you might be considering one, so let’s talk about whether or not this is your next phone.
This is our Pixel 6a review.
What do I like about the Pixel 6a?
Design/size. The Pixel 6 redesign for the Pixel line certainly gave Google’s phones a much-needed fresh look. The multi-colored backsides and the massive camera bar are now the look of Google Pixels, which has continued through onto the Pixel 6a, whether you like it or not.
For me, the design might not be my favorite, but I do like it for being both different and interesting. For years, we’ve had slab phones with camera boxes (that keep getting bigger) tucked into upper corners of backsides and few differentiating design ideas. At least with Google’s Pixel 6, 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a, you most definitely know that these are Pixel phones.
With the Pixel 6a, you get a phone that’s the smallest of the Pixel 6 line and it fits about as good in my hand as any phone. The 6.1″ display allows for a frame and body that is close to being in the one-handed category. This 6a is light and easy to use, it has a flat display and coated black frame, clicky buttons in easily accessible places, and a composite rear piece that hasn’t picked up a ton of fingerprints. The whole body is slightly smaller than the Pixel 6, for reference.
Speaking of smaller, the camera bar is a lot smaller on this phone vs. the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. That actually adds to my design likes, since it makes the phone easier to get in and out of a pocket, sit less awkwardly on a desk, that sort of thing.
My only real complaint about this design is that the phone can be quite slippery at times. It’s slippery in the same way that the regular Pixel 6 is, because of the semi-flat black coated sides not being as grippy as you might have hoped. Thankfully, this phone is small enough that getting a good grip on it isn’t an issue.
Software. Since this is a Google Pixel phone, you get Google’s Pixel experience on top of Android. I’m a big fan of this software, like I was on previous Pixels and the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. For the Pixel 6a, Google isn’t necessarily doing anything new and is instead continuing on what you’d see from other Pixel 6 devices.
You get Android 12 out of the box, although my review unit needs an update and is months behind. I expect that’ll change the minute Google makes the phone available. Because this is a new Pixel phone running Google Tensor, you’ll get 5 years of security updates and 3 years of OS updates. Outside of Samsung, that’s the best level of support on Android.
As for the software itself, you get to use the custom color and wallpaper styling from Android 12, an always-on display, Now Playing to catch those songs you don’t know the name of, the Pixel Launcher and its simplistic brilliance, and all of the gestures (like double taps, flips, and lifts). Google’s approach to software is to push a pretty exterior with useful add-ons that don’t get in your way or overwhelm. They nail that again with the Pixel 6a.
Performance. With Google Tensor powering its every move, I’ve had good experiences with the Pixel 6a. While I don’t like the low refresh rate display choice, moving from task to task, opening the camera to snap pictures in a hurry, playing some non-intense games, or using my daily combo of Chrome/Twitter/Instagram/Telegram never slowed it.
Google Tensor may not be the most powerful chip in the smartphone business, but Google has it pretty dialed in to handle Google Assistant like no other, process images quickly after you take them, that sort of thing. We don’t do benchmarks for our reviews and instead try to get a feel for our usual tasks and how they differ from one phone to the next. With the Pixel 6a, I never felt like it wasn’t going to handle what I needed it to.
What’s bugging me about it?
Display refresh rate. The Pixel 6a sports the 6.1″ 1080p AMOLED display that I mentioned above, but it really does lack a high refresh rate. You’ll only see content on your screen at 60Hz and this seems like a pretty big omission from Google. I know there are folks who will claim that their eye can’t see a difference between 60Hz and 90Hz, and well, those people are fools. As someone who hasn’t used a 60Hz phone much in the past 3 or 4 years, I can absolutely see one. The jump to 120Hz is even more noticeable, but 90Hz is still a major improvement in overall smoothness you experience on a phone.
The Pixel 6a might be Google’s budget line, but there are plenty of budget phones on the market these days with higher-than-60Hz refresh rates. Motorola, as a quick example, recently release the Moto G 5G with 90Hz and it costs $399 at full price or $299 on many days because of discounts. The Moto G Stylus 5G has a 120Hz display and costs between $499 and $349, depending on the day.
A refresh rate above 60Hz is no longer a premium tier feature and Google cut a corner here that I wish they wouldn’t have. A 90Hz refresh rate in this phone, with this same price, would have made it a killer value. Instead, if your eyes have already been trained to more smoothness, you’ll feel it on the 6a.
Battery life. The Pixel 6a has a 4410mAh battery and supports wired “fast” charging up to 18W. With a 60Hz display and Google Tensor onboard, I was sort of hoping for a battery champion. Instead, I was getting to bed most nights with 15-30% battery remaining. I did have a few where I looked for a charger in the early evening to make sure I’d get to bed without worry. That’s not bad and is the situation with most phones I test, it’s just not excellent or anything to write home about.
The other thing to note here is that the system only recognized my use as hitting 1.5-3 hours of screen on time each day, which is on the low-end for me. It’s either weirdly keeping track of my usage or my light usage led to this average battery life. Whatever the case, the Pixel 6a was reliable enough to get me through most days, but there were certainly some where I was looking for a charger to make it through the evening.
Camera. I wouldn’t say the camera is “bugging” me so much as I’m just not in love. Typically with Google Pixel phones, I find their cameras to be those that I trust the most and look forward to using. With the Pixel 6a, I’ve found myself hesitating more often and wondering if I should grab another phone when out and about. That’s an odd feeling.
The dual 12MP setup on the Pixel 6a features wide angle and ultra-wide angle lenses. So we’re clear, these are not the cameras you get on the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. If anything, this is closer to the setup you’d find on the Pixel 5a. My understanding is that Google is using the same main 12.2MP sensor that they’ve used in countless phones, so it should be as tuned as any. Surprisingly for me, I actually found the ultra-wide angle to take better pictures at times.
In the series of shots below, I don’t know what it is, but there’s a drabness to the colors, there’s a struggle to perform when lighting conditions aren’t optimal, and there aren’t many I truly like. The shot at the concert with the sun setting and also indoors at the Edgefield Hotel, are not great. If the Pixel 6a camera does excel in an area, it’s probably in portrait mode – look at the bokeh around that basketball. Not bad, right?
I’m wondering if this Pixel 6a could use an update in a hurry. It’s running the April patch, so all of the bug fixes and changes Google made in the big June quarterly update aren’t here. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll push an update at launch with major camera improvements.
Fingerprint reader is bad. It really is bad. I’ve got to assume that it’s the same bad fingerprint reader they put in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro because it often fails to read with multiple presses, is slow to correctly read, or just freaks out and asks for your secure pattern instead of letting you attempt any longer. I know there was an early Pixel 6a hands-on video that tried to sell a greatly improved fingerprint experience and I’m here to tell you that that is not the case.
Maybe we’ll get a new fingerprint reader in the Pixel 7 line. I sure hope so, because using the fingerprint reader on any of the Pixel 6 phones, including this Pixel 6a, is quite frustrating. Fingerprint readers were supposed to make for convenient security, yet there is nothing convenient about these readers.
No headphone jack and no wireless charging. OK, that first one, about not having a headphone jack, isn’t bothering me personally. I haven’t tried to plug headphones into a phone in close to a decade, but I know that some would like the feature still. Google managed to keep the 3.5mm port in the A-series up until this point, so to see it go is noteworthy.
As for wireless charging, this phone doesn’t have it. No A-series phone has to date, so this isn’t surprising. I just want you to know that it doesn’t have it and that while testing I had to unplug all of my wireless chargers to free up a direct-plug experience. It was weird.
Unboxing and tour
Should you buy a Pixel 6a?
For those on a budget and who love the Google Pixel experience, the Pixel 6a is probably going to be a good buy. The $449 price isn’t that competitive in the space, but it is the most affordable Google phone. That price gets you the Pixel 6 design in a smaller, more manageable package, software updates for 5 years, access to Pixel Feature Drops, and a decent set of specs.
The Pixel 6a did disappoint somewhat in battery life and the camera, two areas I hoped it would excel. I also can’t get over the choice from Google to go with a 60Hz display, when others in this category are hitting that 120Hz mark. The fingerprint reader is also…ugh.
Overall, the Pixel 6a is a phone that fits nicely into Google’s line of phones, at least on paper, but it still fails to check all the boxes we wanted.
First Galaxy Z Flip 4 Color Sells Out
The entire suite of new Galaxy products has been up for pre-order since Wednesday and we keep checking to see if any of it is selling out. So far, not much has outside of a single online exclusive color of the Galaxy Z Flip 4, while the Fold 4 and both Galaxy Watch 5 watches can still be had with August 26 launch day delivery.
The first color of the Galaxy Z Flip 4 to sellout is the “Navy” colorway. The pre-configured version with navy is listed now as “out of stock,” plus if you try and use the Bespoke tool to capture a Flip 4 entirely in navy, it’ll show there as soldout too. Interestingly, if you Bespoke tool a Flip 4 and only put navy as a single panel, you’ll get a 3-4 weeks estimate.
The only other item with even a slight delay is the goofy burgundy Fold 4, but it appears to be sticking to the advertised 3-4 week delivery. I wouldn’t actually consider it much of a delay.
Whatever the situation is here, I’ve got to admit that I’m surprised that more of the new Samsung devices aren’t soldout or with extended shipping times. As of right now, all four of the main Flip 4 colors will arrive on time (see here), as will the three main Fold 4 colors (see here) and the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro in all configurations (see here).
Compare this launch to the Galaxy S22 from earlier in 2022 and they couldn’t have hit differently. Samsung’s dates for the exclusive online colors of the S22 Ultra started slipping almost immediately, which we know first hand because of Tim’s struggles to land one. Within a week, the dates further moved with estimates a full month out or even later.
We’ll keep an eye on shipping times over the next week or so to see how this launch changes. Will the situation start to match the Galaxy S22 launch or are the minor improvements in this year’s foldable line-up not enough to get people to bite? In my first couple of days with the Flip 4, I can tell you that the phone is very much like the Flip 3, but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the hell out of it.
Telegram’s Big Update is for the Emoji Lovers
A new update is rolling out to Telegram today and it is all about emoji. If you love emoji, custom emoji, animated emoji, or any other type of emoji, you are in for a special treat.
Telegram announced its new Emoji Platform “where anyone can upload custom packs with unique art styles and characters for Telegram Premium users.” Folks can use these uploaded custom emoji packs in messages or captions, plus premium users are getting access to another 10 emoji packs.
To make it more obvious that all of these new custom and animated emoji are available, you’ll see the sticker shortcut in the message box turn into an emoji shortcut as you type. That shortcut leads to a new emoji panel, where you’ll see suggestions and be able to browse your various packs. To make things (potentially) easier, typing shortcuts like :smile or :lol will give you all of the available options too.
And finally, custom emoji can be interactive in 1-on-1 chats, so “any user can tap to play synchronized, full-screen effects” from all of the emoji you spam off to friends.
For iOS users, there are new sticker, GIF, and emoji panels “with separate tabs for stickers, GIFs and emoji – just like on the Android, desktop and web apps.”
In other Telegram Premium feature news, users will find a setting that allows them to control who is able to send them voice and video messages. The options now are Everyone, My Contacts, or Nobody.
There are additional controls that will let you choose specific people or groups, and of course, you can always convert audio messages in to text. The settings for all of this are in Settings > Privacy and Security > Voice Messages.
The last new feature for Premium users is an option to “share the experience with friends, family and coworkers by sending them a prepaid subscription for 3, 6 or 12 months – at a discount.” To do so, you can tap on the profile image of someone in a chat, then the 3-dot menu to “Gift Premium.”
These updates appear to be rolling out right away, as I’ve already seen the update on Android.
First Early Galaxy Watch 5 Pro Review Arrived
Of the two new Galaxy Watch 5 models announced, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is the one we’re most interested in. Not only is Samsung marketing it as an “outdoors” watch for the active type, they also gave it “Pro” name, as if it packs a number of extra features over the regular model. We don’t have one in for review (we did order one) yet, so we’re doing that thing we often do with Samsung launches – looking elsewhere for early impressions.
Thanks to Ray from DC Rainmaker, one of the best at reviewing sports watches, we have a first early Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review to analyze. He took the watch for a run to test GPS and heartrate accuracy, as well as battery life. The video he posted also compares some features of the Watch 5 Pro to the Watch 5, in case we didn’t do a good enough job of that earlier in the week.
The takeaways from this early and not-at-all-final review, show that the new Compass feature might have some initial issues, GPS accuracy is not bad and performs far better than the Apple Watch Series 7, heartrate accuracy was quite good after a slowish start, and that GPS battery life is probably closer to half of what Samsung is advertising. Daily battery without GPS is likely closer to 2.5 days vs. the 3.5 days advertised. Again, these are all early, first look numbers that could change over the coming weeks with more testing.
The video also dives into “Pro” features here and laughs a bit at what that even means because there aren’t really any pro features when you compare to other outdoor-focused sports watches. And I would tend to agree with that. In fact, Tim and I were joking earlier in the week about Samsung’s forced “outdoors” push for this watch, when almost nothing about the watch makes it better for outdoors than other Samsung watches except for GPX support and backtracking when navigating. These are not “pro” features and the rest of the watch is just the same as the Watch 5. It’s just silly branding.
Anyways, we’ll have our Watch 5 Pro soon enough and will do out own testing. If you were trying to decide now to get in on this awesome pre-order promo ($50 credit, free Charger Duo, and $240 off trade-in) , give the video below a watch.
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