Google Pixel 6a review: Another great mid-ranger

The $449 Pixel 6a is another great mid-ranger from the search giant, complete with almost flagship-level performance and great battery life.

Google made another great Pixel A-series phone. I’m sure you’re all used to hearing that every time there’s a new A-series, but there’s a reason Google makes a majority of its Pixel money from that line of phones: they’ve been consistently good for years, and the 6a won’t be bucking that trend.

Priced at $449, the 6a will launch on July 28th. Preorders go live today, and you’ll have the choice of three different color options: Charcoal, Chalk, or Sage like I have. It’ll be available from the Google Store as well as the big three US carriers. For a limited time, Google will offer free Pixel Buds A-Series when you preorder the device.

I had the opportunity to review the Pixel 6a for CNN Underscored, so if you’d like to read my full thoughts on the device, you can head over there. In this piece, I thought I’d summarize my experience with the phone and give you an idea of where I’m landing with it.

To me, the Pixel 6a has the potential to become the new default Android mid-ranger. Sure, there are phones in this price range that might offer slightly better specs or outperform the 6a in specific areas, but because of how well-balanced the 6a’s experience is, the device might as well become the new starting point for shoppers who need an Android phone under $500. It’s just that good.

Google Pixel 6a
A great phone for under $500
If you need a reliable Android phone for under $500, the Pixel 6a won't disappoint.
Design
8.5
Display
8
Performance
8
Camera
7.5
Battery
8.5
Software
8.5
Pros
Great performance thanks to Google Tensor
Nice AMOLED screen
Great battery life
Premium design
Cons
Cameras are great for a mid-ranger, but starting to show their age
Display locked to 60Hz
No wireless charging
8.2
Where to Buy

Design & Display

The design of the 6a is terrific, with a nearly identical appearance to the standard Pixel 6 with its aluminum rails and glass exterior. Google isn’t using the fancy Gorilla Glass Victus in this case (you’re left with the aging Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and unbranded 3D glass on the back), but it still makes for a very appealing form factor. It’s also a great size thanks to the 6.1-inch screen.

Speaking of which, the display on the 6a is really solid. It’s an AMOLED panel so you get inky blacks and vibrant colors, and it boasts a Full HD+ (2400×1080) resolution that’s plenty sharp. What I don’t like is its inability to get bright enough to see outdoors, and the auto brightness is also pretty slow and clunky. It’s also locked to 60Hz, and because I’m used to looking at 90Hz and 120Hz panels, I’m gonna call this a downside. There’s similarly-priced phones on the market with faster refresh rates, so I’m a little disappointed Google didn’t include it.

Performance

I wouldn’t necessarily call it flagship-level performance, but the Pixel 6a is certainly one of the fastest mid-rangers you can get. It’s thanks to Google’s inclusion of its Tensor processor, a chip that can also be found in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. It’s only paired to 6GB of RAM which I blame for the lack of 1:1 performance between the three Pixels, but it certainly gets the job done. Only occasionally would the device choke (such as in the camera app).

Cameras

These are Pixel cameras, through and through. So much in fact that Google decided to include the same 12.2MP main lens it’s been using for nearly four years now. It’s paired to a 12MP 114-degree ultra wide camera, and the results are what you’d expect: contrasty, colorful photos in almost any light setting. Compared to the Pixel 6’s 50MP camera, you don’t get as much detail or as much light, but they’re good enough (which is nice to say since this is the first Pixel A-series phone not to get the same cameras as its more expensive siblings).

Battery

The 4,410mAh battery lasts all day. I never struggled to get through a full day of use during my week and a half with the Pixel 6a. I regularly ended nearly 16-hour days with 30-35 percent left in the tank. There’s no wireless charging, so you’ll have to use the included USB-C cable which can supply up to 18W fast charging (assuming you have a brick that supports it, since google doesn’t include one in the box anymore).

Software

I’m still a sucker for the Pixel experience. I know that other UIs from other companies have gotten better over the years (namely Samsung who’s impressed me a lot lately), but using Android 12 on the 6a reminded me yet again why the first Android phone I reach for is always one with a “G” on the back of it. Everything is silky smooth and aesthetically pleasing, and features like Material You and Now Playing continue to delight me. I did run into a few bugs during my review period (some apps would hang, others would stutter when opening, UI elements could act a little funky at times), but it seems that that’s sort of a tradition with new Pixel phones.

The 6a will get five years of software updates from Google, and it seems that Android 16 will be the last major version of Android it’ll get since generational updates will stop after three years. That lines up with what we expect from the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, so at least you won’t get gipped in the software department despite spending considerably less money for the 6a.

Conclusion

It’s hard to hate on the Pixel 6a almost at all. Sure, I have some gripes with it, but at $449, the experience you get is almost unmatched. While other companies focus on only making certain parts of their mid-rangers great, Google wants the whole phone to be as balanced as possible, and that’s what you get with the 6a.

To read all of my thoughts, visit CNNUnderscored.com.