Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

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The Tensor chipset in the 6A is what sets this midrange phone apart.

The Pixel A-series phone was consistently the top Android phone in its midrange class for a few years running. Things are a little different with the Pixel 6A. For its Pixel phones, Google is reevaluating its priorities, while rivals like Samsung have closed the gap. Although the 6A still offers the finest performance and camera quality for the money, it is no longer as obvious a choice as it once was.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

The 6A, as is customary for the A-series, offers the majority of what the Pixel 6 and, to a lesser extent, the Pixel 6 Pro, have to offer at a significantly lower price: $449 as opposed to the Pixel 6’s starting price of $599. A glass back panel, wireless charging, or a quicker screen refresh rate are not included. However, you do receive the same fundamental features as the top models. In past years, that meant the cheaper models typically had a less powerful processor but the exact same industry-leading camera. This year, that’s not the case; you get Tensor, a processor made just for Google.

Some AI- and machine-learning driven capabilities are made possible by Tensor, including enhanced real-time transcription and HDR video recording at the best resolution and frame rate possible for cameras. However, the chipset mostly improves capabilities that Pixel phones already have, such as live translation, by operating them more effectively so you can use them longer without depleting your battery.

 

Most importantly, it means that you can actually continue using this phone for longer than a few years, which is the average lifespan of a phone that costs less than $500. Only the iPhone SE can match it in terms of pure return on investment value for midrange Android phones. Software upgrades for the SE may be available for a year longer than for the 6A, but the Pixel has a considerably better screen than the SE’s relatively small 4.7-inch display.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

A sign of Google’s future direction for the Pixel series is the decision to keep Tensor as the 6A’s primary feature. Regarding the present, it transforms the 6A into a superb midrange phone. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G has the finest screen for the money; it doesn’t hold that distinction. However, it is the most effective under $500. (at least among options available in the US). It also has a superb camera, has a comfortable size, and simple software, so it should continue to function effectively for many years. That undoubtedly merits an A grade.

Although the Pixel 6A is the smallest of the three phones in the 6 series, the simplest way to describe it is that it is the least substantial. The Pixel 6A appears incredibly little when compared to the 6.4-inch Pixel 6 and the 6.7-inch Pixel 6 Pro. I argue that the phone’s 6.1-inch screen is the best middle ground between a little (read: decently sized) phone and the enormous phones everyone else seems to want, but that’s just me making an argument for myself.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

In comparison to the 6’s 90Hz screen, the 6A’s 1080p OLED panel has a conventional 60Hz refresh rate. After utilising a 120Hz screen for some time, switching back to 60Hz is clearly noticeable. Without the quicker refresh rate to compare it to, I’d never notice that motion appears jerkier and gives the phone a less-than-smooth sensation. The stronger contrast of an OLED is helpful here because LCD screens are relatively widespread in the $500 and below class. While it doesn’t become very bright outside in direct sunshine, it does get bright enough to be useful.

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, which costs $449 as well, is the 6A’s main rival in the US. Although it boasts a 1080p OLED screen, the refresh rate is 120Hz. Additionally, the larger size of 6.5 inches appeals to many people. The 6A outperforms the A53 in a few areas, but Samsung dominates the screen department. Should you therefore choose the A53 over the 6A? It varies.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

In general, the A53 puts more emphasis on features that are on the surface, like that gorgeous screen, but its processor isn’t as quick. Instead of the opposite, it feels more like a low-cost phone with a few upgraded components. Daily performance is only a little bit slower now, and over the next three or more years, it will only get worse. The 6A is the greatest option for longevity and top performance. However, the A53 is a better option if having a large screen is crucial to you and you only want to keep your phone for a few years.

The Pixel 6A adopts the whole design aesthetic that Google debuted with the Pixel 6 series, not simply the 6’s CPU. It has a little smaller horizontal camera hump on the back panel, but otherwise has the same standout style. Not that I adore it. The calming sage green on the back panel contrasts so sharply with the black rails and camera bar. When the design first appeared on the 6 and 6 Pro, I didn’t mind it. But over the past year, I’ve grown to dislike it more and more, and I have a hunch it won’t hold up over time.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

The 6A has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but no card port for expansion. There is only one variation, and it has 2 GB less RAM than the Pixel 6 base model. This doesn’t appear to have an effect on performance in normal use. As I switch between tasks, the system feels responsive, and apps open in the background long enough for me to not get frustrated.

In comparison to the A53 5G, it also performs well on demanding tasks. While there are occasional missed frames, the phone plays graphics-intensive games like Genshin Impact quite smoothly. The camera app also responds quickly, even when taking multiple portrait mode pictures simultaneously. I can quickly shoot four portrait mode photos with the (pre-Tensor) Pixel 5A and 6A before they need to buffer and lock out the shutter button. The 6A allows me to resume shooting in approximately a second while the 5A takes a full four to five seconds to review the images. That might make the difference between getting the photo you want and letting the moment slip by while your shutter button is greyed out. Additionally, it goes well beyond what I would anticipate from the majority of midrange smartphones, and Tensor is undoubtedly instrumental in this.

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Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

There has been a lot of conjecture around the Pixel 6A’s fingerprint sensor, particularly in the vein of “maybe it won’t be as horrible as the one in the 6 and 6 Pro.” I’m not sure how much better it is. When comparing the 6A and the 6, I occasionally notice that the 6A sensor reacts more quickly. However, it frequently has the same speed as the Pixel 6. Additionally, it seems equally likely to ask me to rescan my fingerprint or press my finger down somewhat harder. In any event, the Galaxy S22’s sensor feels a little bit quicker than either of the Pixels’ does. Samsung’s sensor is ultrasonic rather than optical, so when you use it, your dark bedroom won’t be blinded by light. I’m sorry to inform that you will be disappointed if you were hoping that the Pixel 6A will fix that flaw.

The haptics on the 6A are good. They are undetectable but comforting as you tap and type. However, when the phone is sitting on a wooden table and a notification activates the vibration, something about the design of the phone—I strongly believe the camera bump—makes it sound as loud as a foghorn. Across the entire house, I can hear it. I reduced vibrations but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. When I wasn’t using the phone, I suppose I’d just get used to finding a soft surface to set it down on. Or provide a rational argument for it.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

The Pixel 6A has a relatively tiny 4,410mAh battery, but its excellent battery performance is likely due to the close cooperation between its hardware and software. It easily handled a full day of heavier use with some gaming and a conference call, and it took me through a day and a half of moderate use. It’s large battery power coming from a small battery.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

The Pixel 6A has a little lower water resistance grade (IP67) than the IP68-rated Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, although not significantly. That is superior to most phones at this price point and comparable to the Galaxy A53 5G. (The Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G doesn’t have a water resistance certification.) The headphone jack, which was present in the Pixel A-series for a long time, has been eliminated, which is the bad news. Also absent from the box is a charger. These are currently becoming just as hard to find as headphone jacks.

The 12-megapixel f/1.7 main camera on the Pixel 6A is a carryover from the Pixel 5A with a few Tensor-enabled advantages. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro’s 12-megapixel ultrawide camera is good but not particularly noteworthy.

The fact that the 6A doesn’t use the 50-megapixel sensor from the Pixel 6 is more symbolic than anything else because, in practise, the images produced by the new high-res sensor aren’t noticeably superior to those from the older camera. Photos taken with the 6A resemble those taken with a Pixel camera in terms of contrast, white balance, and vibrant colours that don’t go overboard with saturation. You’ll enjoy the 6A’s camera if you like the look of Pixel photos. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G can make you happier if you favour warmer tones. On the 6A, Tensor makes a few fascinating camera functions available. While they are occasionally useful, these features are not good enough to cause you to reconsider how you prefer your photographs to be edited.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

Face Unblur is one of these capabilities that is very stunning. Cameras must utilise slower shutter speeds in low light to obtain a bright enough exposure. It becomes quite difficult to capture your subject in focus if they move even slightly. Face Unblur combines information from the main camera’s brighter exposure with that from the ultrawide camera to produce a final image with the appropriate brightness and, in theory, a clear view of your subject’s face.

Face Unblur operates automatically, and you won’t be aware of its usage until after the fact. It also works! If you look closely, the results are still a little soft and noisy, but there is no noticeable motion blur. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t seem to work in portrait mode, though, as that’s how I typically photograph my child.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

The usage of HDR during video recording is another feature that Tensor makes possible, even at the greatest frame rate and resolution setting: in this case, 4K / 60p. However, the distinction is slight. I used the Pixel 5A to record a backlit video at 4K/60p and compared it to the Pixel 6A using the same settings. Compared to the 5A film, the 6A restores a little more detail in the highlights, but I’m not sure I’d see the difference if they weren’t side by side.

Motion Mode is a Tensor feature that is included on the 6 and 6 Pro but absent from the 6A. The reason it isn’t enabled, according to Google spokesperson Rebecca Pineiro, is due to “hardware variances” between the 6A and the 6 and 6 Pro. This function imitates the artistic blur effects produced by long exposure and panning photographic techniques, which normally require time, specialised gear, and practise to master. Both effects can be reproduced accurately by the 6 and 6 Pro with just one stroke of the shutter. It stinks that the 6A can’t utilise it, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

However, for a midrange phone, the 6A offers a comprehensive set of photography options, and in terms of pure capabilities, it remains the finest in its class. Although Tensor introduces a few intriguing new features, the 6A’s camera already has a solid base.

Since the initial releases of the software were problematic, early adopters didn’t exactly have the best experience with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro when they first launched with Android 12. Google appears to have resolved its Android 12 difficulties, at least on the Pixel 6A, with Android 13 just around the corner. I’ve been using the phone as my primary device for the past few weeks without any glaring problems or bothersome oddities. I had no trouble making calls, using Bluetooth headphones to listen to Spotify, taking pictures and videos, or getting around town. Of course, it is stock Android, so there aren’t any extraneous apps or features that clog up the user interface. (Pay attention, Samsung.)

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

and 6 Pro will both receive five years of security upgrades. Google declined to disclose for us how many OS platform updates the 6A will receive, although three are promised for the 6 and 6 Pro. Samsung promises four OS upgrades and the same five years of security patches for the A53, which is a fairly robust update programme. While Samsung tends to put its phones on a less regular update schedule as they become older — just two security patches a year for the oldest supported handsets — the Pixel should receive monthly updates from Google for the duration of its life.

Of course, 5G is also available. For $50 more, Verizon will offer a phone that supports ultrafast millimetre Wave 5G. The version of the 6A sold by Google and other merchants will only support sub-6GHz 5G, which is OK because that variant of 5G is rapidly developing and millimetre Wave is generally considered to be a fraud.

Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review
Midrange parts, Tensor smarts: Google Pixel 6A review

One strategy for creating a midrange phone is to construct it like the Pixel 6A, which is a flagship phone with some of the nicer features stripped off. The alternative strategy is to spend a little more on certain nice-to-have features, like a quickly refreshing screen, but incorporate a less expensive chipset and make some performance trade-offs. Samsung went along that path with the Galaxy A53.

At least in my opinion, Google’s path makes sense. The Pixel 6 series of smartphones stand out with their odd form and unique technology. They are phones for those who seek devices that can perform some truly remarkable things. The Galaxy A53 is quite unique. It’s for someone who is interested in getting the biggest and greatest display possible for their money and is willing to forgo some processing power in order to do so. I am aware of the group I fall into, and I assume you are as well.

Therefore, the 6A is simple to recommend if a really large screen is not a concern and you prefer a properly sized phone that might actually fit in your pocket. It has superb performance, a dependable camera system, amazing battery life, and it will continue to get regular software updates for many years. For $449, that’s difficult to beat.

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