Design, UI, Features and Imaging
Note: This review was first published on 11 May 2023.
Artificial Intelligence in your pocket at S$749
Are you in the market for a new mid-range smartphone, but don't want it to be boring?Enter the newGoogle Pixel 7a.
The company’s most affordable Pixel phone series is so full of features, to a point wheredifferences seemed trivial between the Pixel 7a and its mainline flagship Pixel 7, which was a Tech Awards 2023 winner.
The TLDRversion:If your main focus is Material You and Google's most updated AI features at its lowest possible price, the Pixel 7a might be a better pick than the Pixel 7. But make no mistake, it's still a midrange handset in other areas.
The Pixel 7a makes an intriguing offer at S$749 with some hardware and software that match its more expensive cousin. For one, it packs the same processor, security chip (Google Tensor G2 and Titan M2), and LPDRR5 RAM just likethe Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. Second, it has a 90Hz refresh rate for its Full HD (1080p) display, which is on par with regular Pixel 7's resolution and refresh rates. Finally, it has the most updated version of Android 13's Material You out of the box, which also includes some of the software perks that Pixel 7 and 7 Pro users had to wait four to six months via Pixel Feature Drops updates.
That's not even forgetting it has other basic features that nearly match flagship handsets. Sure, it has a pretty low wireless charging rate at 7.5W, but wireless charging is hard to find on budget handsets. So is waterproofing, and the Pixel 7a has a slightly lower but still plenty sufficientIP67 rating to cover your wet weather contingencies. It also has5G network support, so the Pixel 7a's network capabilities won't be obsolete anytime soon.
Does the phone really offer great value for money? What did Google sacrifice to bring us the Pixel 7a at S$749?Can you get better features at an even lower price point? We'll share more later in this review.Let's also not forget that the new Pixel 7a is being offered at the same suggested retail price when the Pixel 6a debuted; so you're getting a lot more on this new a-class Pixel device.
|Google Pixel 7a
|Google Pixel 6a
|Up to 5G (Sub6, mmWave)
|Up to 5G Sub 6GHz
|Google Tensor G2Titan M2 security co-processor
|Google TensorTitan M2 security co-processor
|8GB RAM (LPDDR5)
|6GB RAM (LPDDR5)
|6.1-inch, gOLED, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels resolution, 90Hz refresh rate
|6.1-inch, AMOLED, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels resolution, 60Hz refresh rate, HDR, 24-bit colour
|Rear:(Main) 64MP(Ultra-wide) 13MP, 120° FOVFront:13MP
|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
|(Rear) 4K60FPS(Front) 4K30FPS
|(Rear) 4K60FPS, Slow motion 240FPS, OIS
|Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC
|Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1, Google Cast, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou
|128GB (UFS 3.1)
|4,385mAh18W wired fast-charging (PD 3.0)7.5W wireless fast-charging (Qi-certified)
|4,410mAh18W wired fast-charging (PD 3.0)
|152.4 x 72.9 x 9.0mm
|152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm
Lighter, more compact, and better for smaller hands
We received one Pixel 7a unit in the new Sea colour, which is a soothing, pale blue that’s easy on the eyes. Externally speaking, the main difference between the Pixel 7a and the Pixel 7 is the phones' sizes. Pixel 7a is slightly smaller with a 6.1-inch gOLED display (compared to the Pixel 7’s 6.3-inch AMOLED display).
Adding to that are Pixel 7a'sflat edgesthat are more compact and allows for better one-handed use of the phone. It’s also ever-so-slightly lighter than the Pixel 7 (193g vs 197g). People with smaller hands will definitely appreciate all of this.
The display also now supports a 90Hz refresh rateon top of the standard 60Hz, so that’s a nice trickle-down from the Pixel 7 seeing how older A-series models did not have 90Hz.
Unfortunately, you still get relatively thick bezels on the side of the phone, at around 3mm on the top and sides, with a 4mm bezel on the bottom. The phone itself is also thicker than most handsets at 9mm.
Pixel 7a also adopted a pretty similar Camera Bar design on its back, but we noticed that the material for the Camera Bar is colour-matched to the phone. That's unlike thesilver-, gold-, or grey-tinted options on the Pixel 7 series. Also, instead of a glass back, we have polycarbonate plating which doesn’t feel as premium (even if it looks perfectly fine). That doesn't matter if you plan to use a case and hide the back. Our official silicone case in Jade worked fine to protect the Pixel 7a, although I prefer the phone's default Sea colourisation.
The IP rating has been downgraded slightly to IP67 from IP68 on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, but as long as you’re not planning to submerge your phone in water deeper than 1m for more than 30 minutes, this is pretty much a non-issue.
Clean Android interface with practical new features
For people who enjoy a pure stock Android experience, the Google Pixel phones are some of the best options, and the Pixel 7a is running on Android 13. We’ve covered most of the new features in our Pixel 7 and 7 Pro review, along with Google’s Material You customisation which allows for changing colour schemes, Themed Icons and the like.
Pixel 7a arrived almost half a year after the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, but being late to the party has its perks. The phone supports plenty of new features right out of the box that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro owners had to wait months for (via occasional Pixel Feature Drops firmware updates).
Some of these features include Clear Calling, which helps reduce background noise on the other end of the call while enhancing the speaker’s voice so you’ll hear the other person more clearly. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t work with VOIP calls, but for normal voice calls, I did notice that even with the other person in a noisy environment, it didn’t leak over into the call much.
Another such feature is the addition of transcripted speaker labels to the phone’s Recorder app. Do note that you will have to turn on the Back up & Sync feature for this option to show up, so if you’re uncomfortable with uploading your recordings to the cloud, you won’t be able to use this.
Anyway, we tried this out by playing two different videos with varying intervals of time between each play and pause. When given enough time between people speaking, the phone does a decent job assigning each segment to an individual speaker. However, if the second person starts talking too quickly after the first person, the first few sentences might be attributed to the first person instead.
We also tested this feature with various challenging accents, ranging from Irish, American, Singaporean and more. While the overall accuracy wasn’t too bad for American speakers, we found more errors when testing with a Singaporean accent. We noticed this accent inconsistency previously in our Pixel 7 and 7 Pro review, so there’s certainly still space for Google to improve here.
To seal the deal, some features from the mainline Pixel 7 series managed to make their way into the Pixel 7a. One of the biggest ones would be the option for Face Unlock, offering you facial recognition phone unlocking as an alternative to the under-display fingerprint sensor.
Face unlocking is obscenely fast, with the Pixel 7a unlocking in less than half a second once the phone is lifted up to a registered face. It won’t work if you have a mask on, but that’s where the fingerprint unlock comes in, which is also speedy (although neither as fast nor as convenient as Face Unlock).
Another quality-of-life addition to the Pixel 7a is wireless charging. While we can debate endlessly about the efficiency of using wireless chargers, it remains a fact that plopping your phone onto a wireless charger in the dark is more convenient than having to fumble around with a cable.
The 8GB LPDDR5 RAM in the Pixel 7a also played a significant role in making the Pixel 7a run smoothly and without any hiccups.
Something that mid-range phones don’t typically get is a hardware-based secure element. We’ve seen them in flagship phones, like Samsung’s Knox Vault, Apple’s Secure Enclave and Google’s own Titan M2 security co-processor.
But this Titan M2 chip is also available in the Pixel 7a, soyou don’t have to compromise on your digital security even if you’re not paying extra for a flagship. It’s a very nice move on Google’s part, and doubly so when not many phone makers offer added security right out of the box without nickeling-or-diming its customers.
Google has updated the camera lens array in the Pixel 7a, with a new 64MP main lens and 13MP ultrawide lens with a 120° FOV, packed away in a slightly thinner Camera Bar compared to the mainline Pixel 7 duo.
If you’re wondering why the Pixel 7a’s main camera has a higher megapixel count compared to the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro (50MP), it’s because the Pixel 7a’s 64MP camera has a lower light sensitivity at 100% compared to 154% on the Pixel 7 and 206% on the Pixel 7 Pro.
This means that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro can capture more light per pixel, which can affect both photo quality and ease of capture. The Pixel phones utilise pixel-binning (a process of combining data from multiple pixels into a larger pixel to capture more light per pixel), so don’t be surprised if you notice that the resulting photos out of the Pixel 7a are 16.1MP by default.
Even though the camera hardware might feel like a slight downgrade from the Pixel 7,Google has kept most of the existing software features like the Magic Eraser,which uses AI to detect unwanted elements in a photo and removes them.
As always, the Magic Eraser feature is best used with small objects in the background rather than with larger humans that might be blocking a good chunk of the frame. It worked well in the first example, removing people who were at the top of the stairs without any obvious marks. In the second example though, you can see clear smudges where the people were.
Additionally, new software features from the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro have been introduced, such as Photo Unblur and Long Exposure, which weren’t available on last year’s Pixel 6a. We tried out the Photo Unblur with this mildly blurry group selfie, which fixed it by sharpening the image as needed.
There’s no telephoto lens on the Pixel 7a, similar to how it’s missing from the Pixel 7. This means your digital zoom is capped at 8x, and it’s not particularly fantastic when it comes to capturing all the details with all that digital processing.
Google claims that the Pixel 7a’s Night Sight is faster and better than the Pixel 6a’s and that the Night Sight mode will also help to reduce blurry photos. It might be a minuscule difference that we’re unable to really feel. Still, Night Sight is a strong selling point of a Pixel phone, and low-light performance is fantastic with crisp and clear images, even if it's not the most vibrant among all night-capable shooters.
For general photos in normal lighting conditions though, the images you get out of the Pixel 7a are excellent. The colour rendition is accurate, there’s plenty of detail and the photos are vibrant and eye-catching.
Pixel 7a photo samples
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