Google Pixel 6a Review: Get It for the Cameras


Google’s Pixel line of smartphones never really took off in India. Prior to the recently launched Pixel 6a, the last smartphone to reach India was back in 2020, which was the budget Pixel 4a. Prior to that, there was a massive gap with the last devices being the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3XL, which were launched in India back in 2018. Therefore, customers in India who wanted Google’s premium Pixel smartphones never got anything beyond the Pixel 3 series.

Google has now decided to bring its Pixel 6a to India, which is the successor to the Pixel 5a 5G. Compared to the humble Pixel 4a (Review), the Pixel 6a is a big leap forward. There are new features, plenty more power from the flagship-grade processor, and a bigger battery. Its design even looks like it belongs to the more premium Pixel 6 and 6 Pro family.

What’s worrisome though is its price tag in India, along with some strange hardware choices (display, RAM, and more) that don’t really fit into the premium mid-range segment here. I’ve used the phone for several weeks and even made it through the milestone Android 13 update, and here’s what I think about it.

Google Pixel 6a price in India

The first thing about the Pixel 6a that gets your attention is indeed its price tag, which is Rs. 43,999 for the lone 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant. It’s a big leap from the Pixel 4a (Rs. 31,999) which was more of a mid-range device when it launched. Thankfully, the Pixel 6a’s design has improved. It does not look as basic as the Pixel 4a did, and is even available in two finishes – Chalk and Charcoal – in India. Unfortunately, the Sage (green) colour isn’t available here.

Google Pixel 6a design

The Google Pixel 6a’s body is not as premium as the Pixel 6 or the Pixel 6 Pro, but it still has good build quality and an IP67 rating which is good for a smartphone in this price segment in India. The display glass is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 while the rear panel is made from plastic, with an aluminium alloy frame holding all of it together.

While the display of the Google Pixel 6a remained smudge-free during the review period, the rear panel was a smudge and dust magnet and was also susceptible to scratches. The raised camera module, thankfully, has a glass lens covering the two rear cameras, but the rest of the strip which is also plastic is prone to fingerprints. While the raised camera strip looks cool, the dust which keeps gathering above and below it is really annoying and hard to clean. Indeed, this phone is best used with a case.

Google Pixel 6a design side ndtv GooglePixel6a  Google

The Google Pixel 6a looks very similar to the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro

 

There’s a hole-punch cutout in the display and the phone has reasonably thin bezels, save for the bottom edge which is quite thick. Despite being a smudgy mess when using it, I liked the in-hand feel of the Google Pixel 6a as it’s small and light (178g) enough for one-handed use. Those upgrading from the Pixel 4a might find it a bit bigger and heavier, but I feel this larger display is a welcomed change.

Google Pixel 6a specifications and software

The Pixel 6a has the same Tensor processor found in Google’s premium Pixel 6 and 6 Pro handsets. This SoC has been designed by Google and has a maximum clock speed of 2.8GHz. It also has Google’s Titan M2 security co-processor. Unlike most smartphones in this segment that offer multiple RAM options, there’s only 6GB of RAM in the Pixel 6a, and storage is also limited to 128GB with no room for expansion.

Communications standards include Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC and support for the usual satellite navigation systems. The phone is powered by a 4400mAh battery and can charge up to 18W, but it doesn’t ship with a charger in the box. Compared to the Pixel 4a, the 3.5mm headphone jack is missing in the Pixel 6a. The phone thankfully has retained the stereo speakers which sounded fine and balanced but were far from best in class.

I used the Google Pixel 6a with both Android 12 and Android 13. The Android 12 experience was a stuttery mess with random bugs that you would not expect on a premium smartphone, least of all a Google smartphone. The Android 13 update brought some new features to the Pixel 6a, but overall, felt more refined and stable compared to 12.

Google Pixel 6a software Android 13 ndtv GooglePixel6a  Google

The Google Pixel 6a has already received its Android 13 update

 

Android 13 on the Google Pixel 6a introduces some nice cosmetic additions, like a revamped media player with a cleaner layout, themes icons that now extend to third-party apps, and plenty of colour options to choose from when theming your device. In terms of security, all apps now have to request permissions before posting a notification, and access to photos can now be limited to a few photos instead of granting access to the entire Photos app. Android 13 also adds the ability to assign a specific language to a specific app, which is handy especially for users in India.

The new clipboard feature has a nice visual representation of what’s being copied and what’s saved in the phone’s memory, while you go about daily tasks. Simply select and copy text and the same shows up in a preview as a small block at the bottom left corner of your display. Tapping on it even lets you edit text before copying it to another app, which is nice to have. The same applies to images, where copied images can be edited in markup before sharing it elsewhere.

Google claims that its Pixel smartphones will receive updates for at least five years from when the device first became available. Google promises guaranteed Android software updates until July 2025 and security updates until July 2027, which is good to have.

Google Pixel 6a performance

The Google Pixel 6a’s display produced saturated colours when used with the default Adaptive setting but was toned down quite a bit with the Natural colour setting. With a full-HD+ resolution, the display seemed quite sharp with text and images and I did not have any problems viewing it outdoors under direct sunlight. The 6.1-inch OLED panel also supports HDR10+ and did a good job of showcasing the same when viewing supported content. Unfortunately, it’s only 60Hz which is a big drawback for a premium mid-range Android smartphone.

The software performance, in terms of overall smoothness, improved drastically after the Android 13 update. Multitasking with 6GB of RAM was also not a problem. Still, the software did not feel as fluid compared to the experience you get on other similarly priced smartphones thanks to their high-refresh rate displays.

Google Pixel 6a display front ndtv GooglePixel6a  Google

The Google Pixel 6a’s OLED display has a standard 60Hz refresh rate

 

The fingerprint sensor on the Google Pixel 6a had a major security bug when we first received the phone back in July. We were able to unlock the phone even with an unregistered finger. This was later fixed with a software update. I did have some trouble unlocking the phone once Android 13 was installed, but re-registering my fingerprints solved the issue. However, it wasn’t always reliable as it refused to unlock at times, despite repeated attempts, forcing me to key in the security PIN.

The Google Pixel 6a scored 7,07,603 points in AnTuTu along with 1,047 and 2,923 points in Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests, respectively. In terms of graphics performance, the phone managed 60fps and 52fps in GFXBench’s T-Rex and Car Chase tests. These results are on par with most premium smartphones that the Pixel 6a will compete with, including the the Xiaomi 11T Pro which did perform better in graphics benchmarks.

While synthetic benchmarks did paint a pretty picture, the Google Pixel 6a did take a hit with real-world gaming performance. Call of Duty: Mobile worked best at the High graphics and High framerate settings. Performance took a hit after playing the game for about 15 minutes on the Very High settings, after which the game began to lag and stutter. The Pixel 6a fared better with more casual games. The phone did not heat up much while playing, but did get quite hot when recording video outdoors. Serious gamers should steer clear of this one.

The Google Pixel 6a lasted 13 hours and 12 minutes in our HD video loop battery test, which was a bit lower than what I expected keeping in mind its standard 60Hz refresh rate display. I managed to get about a day’s worth of battery life with heavy use which included about an hour of gaming, and around 30 minutes of camera usage.

Avoiding gaming or camera use entirely got me about a day and half of battery life. This seemed pretty good for a casual user but not for power users. Since the phone does not come with a charger, I plugged it into a 61W USB PD charger, which took the phone one hour and 50 minutes to fully charge. This was quite slow compared to devices like the Realme GT Neo 3 (150W) and the OnePlus 10R 5G Endurance Edition, which support 150W charging.

Google Pixel 6a cameras

The Google Pixel 6a packs in a modest camera setup compared to the other smartphones in this segment. There’s a 12.2-megapixel primary camera (with OIS) and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera at the back, and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. The camera interface remains similar to what we have seen on previous Pixel smartphones, with quick settings hidden under a gear icon.

Thanks to the Tensor processor, we have software features like the Magic Eraser tool that lets users erase or camouflage unwanted objects in an image. The results aren’t perfect, but the feature is handy when you really need to clean up that perfect Instagram-worthy shot.

Google Pixel 6a Magic eraser ndtv GooglePixel6a  Google

The Camouflage option in the Magic Eraser tool seemed to do a more subtle job compared to the Eraser option

 

Photos captured in daylight were sharp and clear with good dynamic range and the usual contrast-heavy look that Google’s Pixel smartphones are known to deliver. I liked that I could adjust the white balance and exposure of the photos using the sliders in the viewfinder before taking the shot, but these only showed up when I tapped the screen to focus.

Google Pixel 6a daylight camera samples: (top to bottom) Primary camera, ultra-wide-angle camera, selfie camera (tap to see full size)

 

Google’s decision to go with tried and tested sensors (the primary camera comes from the Pixel 3), along with its heavy machine learning optimisations, manages to capture a lot of details. This applied to both the primary and the ultra-wide-angle cameras. The ultra-wide camera was definitely one of the more usable ones I’ve seen on a smartphone at this price point and captured quality images with good dynamic range in all kinds of lighting conditions.

Selfies came out sharp and clear in daylight but appeared a bit soft and with less detail in low light. Edge detection was spot on in Portrait mode and so was the dynamic range.

Google Pixel 6a low light camera samples. (top to bottom) Primary camera, ultra-wide-angle camera (tap to see full size)

 

In low light, the primary camera captured sharp images with good dynamic range. By default, it automatically switched to Night Sight, taking longer exposures when needed. Videos captured at 1080p were average at best with a cropped view and mild purple fringing. 4K videos had the best details and dynamic range. Low-light video quality was average and 60fps footage had a lot of noise.

Verdict

At Rs. 43,999, Google’s Pixel 6a sure gets the job done for casual users and mobile photography enthusiasts. Google’s gamble of going with a high-end processor but cutting corners in some areas such as design, display, and system memory seems to have paid off.

However, power users looking for premium build quality, solid gaming performance, faster charging, and a fluid software interface will need to look at competing smartphones instead. The Xiaomi 11T Pro (Review) (starts from Rs. 39,999), the Oppo Reno 8 Pro (Review) (at Rs. 45,999), and the OnePlus 10R Endurance Edition (Review) (Rs. 39,999) are all excellent alternatives to the Pixel 6a.

There’s also the Google Pixel 6 which is currently available unofficially (without warranty) at around Rs. 43,500 and is definitely better value than the 6a thanks to a 90Hz display, an IP68 rating, 8GB RAM, 50-megapixel primary camera, and a bigger battery along with wireless charging.

The Google Pixel 6a is by no means an all-rounder, but it is still a very unique offering that should appeal to buyers who are willing to put good camera performance and timely software updates above everything else.


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