What makes a Pixel phone a Pixel phone? Is it that it runs stock Android? Has a great camera? Or that it gets software updates quickly? Historically, it’s been a little bit of all of the above, but starting with the Pixel 6 series, there’s a new feature at the forefront of the Pixel identity, Tensor. If you need evidence, then look no further than the new Pixel 6A. A few years ago, a Pixel phone meant having one of the best smartphone cameras available on the market, up there with Apple and Samsung, whether you bought the high-end version or the cheaper A series device.
That’s not the case with this year’s 6A. The Pixel 6 and Pro use a new 50-megapixel sensor for their main cameras. But the 6A uses last year’s 12-megapixel sensor. Instead, Google is going all in on Tensor. Its custom-built processor is the defining feature of a Pixel phone, while the camera takes a backseat. It’s a hint at what Google’s priorities are for future developments. And it also happens to make the 6A a very good mid-range phone. Just like in previous years, the 6A is essentially a paired-down version of the Pixel 6 and, to a lesser degree, the flagship 6 Pro.
Compared to the Pixel 6, the 6A is a little smaller with a 6.1-inch screen instead of 6.4 inches with fewer high-end features like a standard refresh rate rather than a 90 Hertz screen, no wireless charging, and a plastic back panel rather than glass. Oh, and it’s cheaper, $449 compared to 599. You also get a little less RAM and slightly less robust water resistance. Also, it happened. Google got rid of the headphone jack on the 6A, the last holdout in the Pixel series. He had a good run, buddy. The 6A also looks merely identical to the 6 and 6 Pro with its pronounced horizontal camera bump, black rail, and the two-tone color treatment. The color options are a little less interesting.
There’s just white, black in this sort of sage, no kinda coral here. It comes with 128 gigs of storage and six gigs of RAM, which is too less than the base configuration of the Pixel 6. Size is maybe the biggest differentiator between the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6A. Pixel 6 is definitely a big phone with a 6.4-inch screen. The 6.1-inch screen on the 6A is still relatively big, but it feels much smaller even though the size difference is only a few millimeters here and there. You can kind of use it with one hand, which I appreciate.
There’s another difference here that you can’t see on the surface, the in-display fingerprint sensor. It’s one of the features that a lot of 6 and 6 Pro owners have criticized as slow and inaccurate, especially compared to Samsung’s flagships. The 6A uses a different sensor, but I can’t say I’ve seen a huge difference. Sometimes, it feels a little faster, but it occasionally trips up and asks me to re-scan my finger. I wouldn’t expect a mid-range phone to have a lightning-fast in-display fingerprint sensor. So it’s a little easier to excuse on the 6A than the 6 Pro.
Just don’t expect a night and day difference if that’s something you disliked about the Pixel 6, and you were hoping that the 6A would do better. The 6A may be smaller, but thanks to Tensor, it’s just as mighty as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Performance is snappy for day-to-day stuff like jumping between apps, typing out emails, and scrolling social media. It even handles heavier tasks like 3D rendering and graphics-heavy gaming well. And there’s very little camera shutter lag, not true of every mid-range phone. This is flagship performance from a phone that costs half as much as a flagship.
Including Tensor also means that the 6A gains its machine learning and AI-driven features like live on-device transcription that’s more accurate and less power hungry than previous versions. There are also some new features in the phone app to estimate hold wait times and transcribe numeric menu options, so you don’t have to listen to a prerecorded list over again.
More importantly, it means the pixel 6A gets the same software support lifespan as the 6 and 6 Pro, including five years of security updates. It’s also equipped for whatever Tensor-based AI features Google may add in the future. Battery performance on the 6A is good, and that tight integration between software and hardware is at least partly responsible. With lighter use, I can get through a day and a half on a single charge, and a full day of heavy use is no problem.
There’s relatively fast 18-watt wire charging, but no charger included in the box. It may be different from what the 6 and 6 Pro offer, but the Pixel 6A’s camera system is still really good for a mid-range phone. There’s just a main stabilized standard wide lens and an ultra-wide on the rear panel, which is just fine. No mediocre macro and depth sensors here. Photos in good light are contrasty with a slightly cool color tone. Google has put a lot of emphasis on its improved skin tone processing, and portraits look good with flattering colors.
It’s not front and center anymore, but a high-quality camera is still very much part of the Pixel identity. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro were Google’s first step toward a new identity with machine learning and AI-driven features at the forefront, and the 6A is following right behind. Google wants its phones to be known for more than good cameras. Putting Tensor in the 6A says it’s much loud and clear. The 6A gets a lot right. Battery life is very good. Day-to-day performance is excellent.
And, of course, the camera is still topnotch for the mid-range class. It doesn’t offer the best screen in its price bracket. That honor goes to the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G and its 6.5-inch OLED with a 120 Hertz refresh rate. But the 6A is undoubtedly the better choice for clean software and flagship-worthy performance. It’s a Pixel 6A.