Review: Google’s Pixel 6a is the best phone under $500 you can buy

Google’s Pixel 6a is a rare example of a mid-range phone that keeps the essentials and ditches the superfluous.

As a rule of thumb, a mid-range phone you buy today is roughly on par with a flagship phone three to four years ago. Rarely has there been a better example of this than Google’s new Pixel 6a. For €459 you get a phone with a lot of performance, good cameras, a good display, decent storage and the all-round feel of something that will last a while.

I’ve been reviewing the entry-level 6.1-inch Google’s Pixel lineup for over a week and it’s hard not to recommend it. It’s not perfect, as I’ll explain below. But as a cell phone under 500 euros? It matches the best that Samsung, OnePlus and Oppo have to offer. It’s also good competition for the new Nothing Phone (1), which happens to be at almost exactly the same price point.

Here’s what you need to know about it.


Google’s Pixel 6a comes in three available colors

1. Cameras

The Pixel 6a’s dual rear cameras (12-megapixel wide and ultra-wide) are very, very good for a phone at this price point. They’re barely half a step away from the flagship Pixel 6 cameras, which are excellent. The only real downside is the lack of a zoom lens, although only the Pixel 6 Pro has it in Google’s lineup.

In my testing, I gave the still camera 8.5 out of 10 and the video camera 8 out of 10. When taking photos or recording video, it’s easy to see that Google is still banking heavily on its “computed photography” advantage to deliver a balance of color and light that will please most people. While it’s right most of the time (which makes it an excellent point-and-shoot phone for most people), it’s not flawless. I didn’t always prefer it as it overly softened my skin in selfies no matter what mode it was in. There are also occasional blurry transition zones around objects that Google tries to sharpen or emphasize.

As for the video, it’s generally excellent, although I did find a few traces of judder that stabilization couldn’t quite optimize.

It’s worth noting that the Pixel 6’s “wow” feature called “Magic Eraser” is also present on the 6a. This allows you to circle an object in each photo you take so that it is removed. It will even suggest, slightly Stalinist, people in the photo that you might want to remove. The phone then tries as cleanly as possible to render a cohesive background, as if the subject weren’t in the photo at all. In many cases it works very well. In some cases it’s clumsy, leaving a swirling blur of where the subject was.

2. Battery life

The Pixel 6a has a smaller battery than the 6 or 6 Pro, but it matches the smaller display. I didn’t find it a problem to spend an entire day with, which I couldn’t say about previous years’ Pixel phones.

3. Display

The Pixel 6a’s 6.1-inch display is said to be the junior version of Google’s current trio, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. Tech-wise, the Pixel 6a doesn’t have the buttery smooth refresh rate of either the 6 (90Hz) or the 6 Pro (120Hz). But it’s still very silky to use and scroll with. This is something that few phones fully master, regardless of their spec sheets: all I can think of is the iPhone and flagship premium models from well-known Android brands that really deliver. (Nothing’s Phone (1) I recently reviewed isn’t quite as good, despite having a higher refresh rate.)

Otherwise, the 1080p display with 429 nits of brightness is more than sufficient,

4. Design and Appearance

There was a time when Pixel phones were dull and boring. The 6 Series was the first to really change that. While I think the corners of the phone are a bit pointy for my pockets, Google has made the devices visually distinctive for the first time, with a protruding “camera bar” on the back, ostensibly to house the beefed-up camera lens system. This sets it apart from most black records out there. The Pixel 6a’s speakers are also pretty decent for a mid-range phone.

5. Motor and storage

A big benefit of the Pixel 6a is that you get the same powerful “Tensor” chip system as the larger, more expensive models. This is a very good thing as it is very fast and allows for fairly advanced computed photography as well as helping to extend battery life. While the Pixel 6a’s RAM is 6GB – compared to the 8GB of the Pixel 6 and the 12GB of the Pixel 6 Pro – I found it to be powerful enough for whatever task I had.

6. Disadvantages

The under-screen fingerprint reader here isn’t quite as reliable as I’d like – I’ve often had to use the number unlock method after a few failed attempts. There’s also no face unlock, which makes the problem worse. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, although those days are long gone. And as is now common with most smartphones, you no longer get a charging plug inside, just a cable.

7. Verdict: Should You Get One?

Overall, this is a tough recommendation. If you’re really picky about your cameras, or absolutely need a bigger display or more storage, I could see why you might pass this on. Otherwise it’s actually a great phone. For the money it’s very hard to do better. Review: Google’s Pixel 6a is the best phone under $500 you can buy

Fry Electronics Team

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