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HomeReviewGoogle Pixel 6a review: Google redefines mid-range phones

Google Pixel 6a review: Google redefines mid-range phones

Design & Handling, Display & Audio, User Interface

Note: This article was first published on 22 July 2022. It was updated on 22 July 2022, 2022 with correct information about the Pixel 4 Series availability in Singapore. The affected paragraph(s) were amended.

Google Pixel 6a.

Is this the mid-range Google phone you've been waiting for?

It has been close to two years since Google launched theirmid-range runaway success, theGoogle Pixel 4a. With the company skipping past the entire Pixel 5 series for our market, the launch of Google Pixel 6a comes hotly anticipated, despite comingfive months after the flagship series, Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, wasavailable. It's not as affordable as its previous mid-range offering, but at S$749, it's a different proposition and more of a Pixel 6 'lite' edition as you'll come to know from our detailed assessment.

To better appreciate the availability of Pixel phones here, let us walk through the history of Pixel launches in Singapore:

Pixel 3/3XL and 3a: Launched in October 2018 and June 2019 respectively, they were sold through Google Store, and through various telcos.Pixel 4/4 XL andPixel 4a: Launched in August 2020, sold through Google Store and selected electronic stores and online platforms. Also sold through one partnered telco.Neither Pixel 5 nor 5a was launched in SingaporePixel 6: Was launched worldwide in October 2021, but was only released here in Feb 2022Pixel 6a: Announced at Google I/O in May 2022, released here in late July 2022

With history of such varied launches, #teampixel fans here can once again cheer that they can get their hands on Google’s 'mid-ranger' here after a nearly two-year wait.

Let us see how “mid-range” Pixel 6a is compared to Pixel 6, and also its predecessors. Below the image, we pit the new Pixel 6a and the Pixel 4a in a specs rundown:-

Family of mid-range Pixels that is and were sold in Singapore (left to right): Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 6a, and Pixel 4a.

Google Pixel 6a Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 6a Google Pixel 4a
Launch SRP From S$749 From S$499
Network: Up to 5G Sub 6GHz
Operating system Android 12 Android 10
Processor Google TensorTitan M2 security co-processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G Octa-core (2×2.2 GHz Kryo 470 Gold & 6×1.8 GHz Kryo 470 Silver) with Adreno 618 GPU
Built-in Memory 6GB RAM (LPDDR5) 6GB LPDDR4X RAM
Display 6.1-inch, AMOLED, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels resolution, 60Hz refresh rate, HDR, 24-bit colour 5.81-inch / 2,340 x 1,080 pixels (443 ppi) / OLED display
Camera Rear:(Main) 12MP, f/1.7 aperture, 1.4μm pixel size, Super Res Zoom up to 7x(Ultra-wide) 12MP, f/2.2 aperture, 1.25μm pixel size, 114° FOVOIS, EISFront:8MP, f/2.0 aperture, 1.12μm pixel size, fixed focus Main camera: 12.2MP, F1.7, AF with dual pixel PDAF, OIS + EISFront camera: 8MP, F2.0Google Night Sight
Video Support (Rear) 4K60FPS, Slow motion 240FPS, OIS
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1, Google Cast, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMOBluetooth 5.0, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AACGlonass, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDouNFCUSB 2.0 Type-C
Storage Type 128GB (UFS 3.1) 128GB internal
Battery 4,410mAh18W wired fast-charging (PD 3.0) 3,140mAh18W Fast battery charging
Dimensions 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Weight 178g 143g

Design and Handling

Pixel fans would likely notice how the Pixel 6a is that it is almost indistinguishable from the Pixel 6. The back sports a nearly identical design as the Pixel 6, even though the flagship variant usesa glass rear while the Pixel 6a sports a 3D thermoformed composite back. Also, the entire Pixel 6 series uses the same camera bar design, similar button layouts, and even similar antenna bands at the sides of the phone. You may reference ourprevious Pixel 6 articleto see the design similarities.

The only difference is that Pixel 6a packs a 6.1-inch screen, whereas Pixel 6 sports a 6.4-inch one. Some may liken the Pixel 6a as a smaller Pixel 6, making it slightly more comfortable to hold.

Looks like a glass back, but no, it’s just a “3D thermoformed composite back”, i.e. plastic. Though not as premium in feel, it's probably more durable by virtue of the material and it looks just as good as the Pixel 6.

This contrasts with the strategy Google previously adopted for their mid-range series. Pixel 4a and 3a used phone backs made with a completely different material and feel, with the intent to clearly distinguish between the budget-conscious handset from its premium variant.

Having said that, featuring the same design decision as the Pixel 6 meant inheriting some of the ergonomic problems that we previously encountered.Pixel 6a uses the same,slightly confusing button layout that can lead users to lock the phone on accident when trying to adjust the volume. When trying to lay the phone flat on its back, Pixel 6a also cannot do so due to the camera bar. However, the Pixel 6a does have a milder tilt, given how the camera bar doesn't protrude as much as its flagship alternatives.

Slightly slimmer camera bump than Pixel 6.

Also, the Pixel 6a is the first mid-range Pixel phone with an under-display fingerprint sensor, instead of the back-mounted, lower-costphysical biometrics sensor found on older Pixel A devices.

Not forgetting the display: the Pixel 6a sports a 6.1-inch, Full HD+ (2,400 x 1,080 pixels resolution) OLEDpanel topped off with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It doesn't differ much from thePixel 6 beyond its refresh rate (90Hz for Pixel 6, 60Hz for Pixel 6a) or its smaller real estate of 6.1 inches.

60Hz refresh rate is noticeable, however, so there's no liquid-smooth animations when other mid-range alternatives like Samsung Galaxy A53 and Oppo Reno 7 can have higher refresh rates. Also, Pixel 6a uses regular Corning Gorilla Glass 3 glass for protection, while Pixel 6’s gets the tougher, more scratch-resistant Gorilla GlassVictus.

Another slight difference is Pixel 6a's IP67 rating for water and dust resistance. It loses slightly to its flagship sibling’s IP68 rating, but not by much. While we have previouslydunked IP67-rated phones in swimming pools before, we advise readers not to try, for there is no warranty coverage on such folly.

Just like its flagship counterpart, Pixel 6a's dual speakers are located at the bottom side of the phone. Audio quality is acceptable but not breathtaking. We proffer the same audio advice given for Pixel 6: get yourself a pair of Pixel Buds Pro or other personal audio gear. Unfortunately, Google has finally ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack forthe Pixel 6a, so wireless audio is your next best option. (Editorial note: As suggested by our forum user caterham7, another 'best option' would be a USB-C to 3.5mm dongleif wired personal audio is preferred).

UI and Features

Being a Pixel phone means getting cutting-edge Android OS updates from Google. More importantly, you get to enjoy the purity ofstock Android 12 experience. To top it off, in recent Android releases, Google reserved some nifty features exclusively for the Pixel line, as well as launching new features periodically throughout the first few years of the Pixel phone’s lifetime.

Much of thestock Android 12 experience has been covered in the Pixel 6 article, in which they also apply to the Pixel 6a from the user experience perspective. We will, however, revisit various Pixel-exclusive features to see if there’s any parity with its flagship counterpart or whether there are feature improvements since our previous review.

Magic Eraser

One of the game-changing photo-taking features is Magic Eraser, also known as the photobomber-remover. This feature, baked within the Google Photos app, can 'automagically' (automatic + magical)analyse photos that are taken, identify photobombers that should be removed, and users can just select and those people will be automagically removed.

What's great is how Magic Eraser also works on photos taken on other phones that arebacked up to Google Photos. You can even remove photobombers from pre-covid travel photos!However, the user can only use the Magic Eraser feature on a Pixel 6 series phone; other phones (or even older Pixels for that matter) do not work.

While we would like to think of the rationale being linked to some optimised processing in Google Tensor Chip powering the Pixel 6 family, the fact remains that there wasbriefly a time whena quick workaround allowed other Android users to use Magic Eraser, which makes us wonder if it is just a sussy business decision instead.

To show how Magic Eraser can also be applied onphotos taken with other phones or cameras, here’s a Magic Eraser attempt using photos taken atGoogle I/O 2017, about five years ago.

Without Magic Eraser.

With Magic Eraser. It also automatically brightens the photo.

Having tried other photos in our library, we found Magic Eraser most effective on wide landscape photos, especially ifpeople in the background appear small (relative to the photo's perspective). For significantphotobombers taking up most of your shot, Magic Eraser fails quite badly. The feature attempts to erase them, but in doing so, leaves weird smudges and patches.

You can see the weird smudges on the pink boards adjacent to Canton Paradise; a person was standing there and he covers too many pixels from the photo perspective.

Live Translate

One new feature introduced in Pixel 6a (as well as Pixel 6 and 6 Pro) is Live Translate for messaging apps. By turning this feature on, Android will automatically overlay a translation option for users whenever messages from other languages are received.

This is convenient as users no longer need to copy and paste text into Google Translate mid-conversation. Currently, it is only available on a small suite of messaging and social mediaapps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger lite. Telegram is notably absent for now.

Ownself messaging ownself.

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