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Google Pixel 6a Review | Best Android Phones Under $500

Take-out: Google’s $449 Pixel 6a is an affordable phone powerhouse with a brilliant OLED screen and a sharp camera that processes shots with best-in-class AI. Everything runs on his Tensor chip, the company’s own. This chip is optimized to get the best performance and longest battery life out of your Android phone. In his week using it as his main handset, he found that the synergy between Google’s hardware and software provided fluid visuals for demanding 3D games and seamless multitasking.

Looking beyond the Android landscape, the Pixel 6a will compete with the $429 iPhone SE (2022). These two of his sub-$500 smartphones have flagship-level processors, so they don’t feel entry-level. It remains competitive with mid-range smartphones that cost twice as much as his. The Pixel 6a does everyday tasks better and is the best smartphone of the year.

Google Pixel 6a smartphone

Pixel 6a smartphone

Google Pixel 6a smartphone

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Main Specifications

screen: 6.1 type OLED (2400×1080)
CPU: Google Tensor
Storage: 128 GB (non-expandable)
sheep: 6GB

Comfortable design and bright big screen

The Pixel 6a’s compact body measures just 6 x 2.8 inches and weighs just 0.4 pounds. The elongated candy bar-like shape makes it easy to grab and operate with one hand, and there’s plenty of vertical space at the top for more information. The edges are curved to fit your hand. It’s a welcome addition in this day and age of his iPhone’s chunky square metal housing. When viewed from the front, only the OLED screen and the edges of the aluminum frame are visible. Google cut costs by replacing the Pixel 6’s back glass with a plastic cover.

The left side has the only pinhole for the SIM tray, and the right side has the power button just above the volume rocker. Flipping the phone reveals a signature Pixel camera visor that’s more compact than its more expensive siblings, and while I’ve been using the 6a, I’ve seen very few smudges or scratches, even dropping it from a table or my pants pocket. And after submerging it in a sink to test its IP67 water and dust rating, I had no trouble typing texts or making calls. Its materials may be less durable than the more expensive Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, but the 6A is still a solid phone.

Call of Duty on Google Pixel 6a

Trevor Raab

The colorful 6.1-inch OLED screen delivers an average brightness of 750 nits. This beats most phones in this price range. This large, high-contrast display brings your environment to life with vibrant colors, whether you’re looking at the photos you’ve taken or watching a video. I could focus more on the game I was playing without the distracting notches cutting into my screen space. The first-person field of view in was meant to be nice and wide. The iPhone SE ditches the notch of its larger siblings for a full-screen image, but it feels wasteful on its squashed 4.7-inch screen at 1334×750 pixels (non-HD), with a maximum brightness of 625 nits. The 1080×2400, 60 Hertz OLED screen is better than that, and superficially it’s about on par with the base $799 iPhone 14, save for the fact that it’s not as bright.

Plenty of room to navigate the Android launcher without the Pixel’s bloat. Combined with gesture navigation, it enables smooth operation. Swipe left to view the Google News Feed, drag up to view all apps, and pull down from the top to view the quick menu. Even though the Pixel is limited to the same 60-Hertz refresh rate as the iPhone SE, opening the app tray and swiping through pages felt noticeably faster. Other budget Android smartphones like the Samsung A53 have displays up to 120Hz, but their processing power can’t match that of Google Tensor.

Google Tensor delivers strong Android performance

The octa-core Tensor chip in the Pixel 6a (the same one found in the $899 Pixel 6 Pro flagship) is a beast in theory and in practice. There were no slowdowns and less than a few crashes when switching between demanding apps. Editing video clips was snappy, and I didn’t notice a noticeable drop in framerate even when playing graphics- and resource-intensive games at high visual settings. Pixel uses this extra computing power to not only improve its operation, but also to translate live text and voice, and passively identify songs your device is listening to in the background without draining your battery. It also uses unique features such as Now Playing.

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Both Google and Apple share the same powerful chips in their flagship phones with their entry-level models. This puts Tensor and A15 Bionic head to head. This is the most powerful mobile chip in your phone. In the Geekbench 5 tasking test I used, the iPhone SE’s A15 Bionic delivered single-core and 4546 multi-core scores of 1722 versus 1052 and 2946 on the Pixel. As such, the Pixel 6a dominates its closest Android competitor, the Samsung Galaxy A53. (Scores of 681 and 1778), Apple still has a much more powerful chip. But for most everyday use the difference is minor.

Browsing the web, viewing pages, viewing animations, and launching apps are virtually identical on the phone. In fact, sharper text and visuals look better on the Pixel’s larger 2400x1080p screen. But when I open the video editor, there is a power gap. The Pixel can export an edited video clip in 46 seconds, while the iPhone SE renders the same clip in just 22 seconds. And when unzipping resource files for heavy apps like Diablo Immortal and Call of Duty Mobile, the iPhone SE ran at a speed of 5 megabytes for every 1 megabyte of the Pixel for faster installations.

google pixel 6a display

Trevor Raab

Gaming on the Pixel 6a is super smooth and scored well in the 3DMark GPU Wildlife Test graphics benchmark test. This shows that the phone’s average of 40.5 frames per second is 89% better than all other device results. On high settings, Call of Duty Mobile occasionally experienced stuttering when multiple animation effects (such as sparks flying and coat tails wagging) strained the phone. However, in-game graphics performance was solid, on par with mid-range Androids, without significant drops or artifacts. Meanwhile, the iPhone SE averaged 46 FPS in the same test. When I was using my iPhone, I didn’t have the occasional visual glitches that I had with the Pixel. That phone’s smaller screen may not be the most immersive, but the SE’s power is undeniable. As a gamer, I was never intrigued by this gap. Expect 4K at 60 FPS on larger TVs. However, on phones with smaller screens, the difference is negligible. I prefer gaming on the Pixel’s big, bright screen. This gives you a better window into the virtual world.

When it comes to battery life, the Pixel lasted a full 24 hours in real-world usage like sending messages throughout the day, having a quick gaming session, and browsing social media feeds. But in a battery drain test that constantly streams live video and commentary data at 20% brightness, the Pixel lasted 8 hours and 43 minutes from a full charge.

A camera for content creators

Pixel’s wide and ultrawide rear 12-megapixel cameras take full advantage of Google’s image processing technology for sharp, punchy colors. In the photo below, you can see how the camera brings out the richer red of the pepperoni slices and the sharper background text of the umbrella in the background. The iPhone SE’s single camera, on the other hand, isn’t slouch, but its warm tones make the shot look filtered. It accurately relayed vivid colors like the dark black of the t-shirt that made it. Moving on to low-light photography, the lack of night-sensor hardware on the SE made dark photos taken without flash too noisy to use. The Pixel 6a’s Night Sight is crystal clear, extracting an impressive amount of color from a nearly pitch-black room.

→ Google Pixel 6a & iPhone SE camera sample

Pepperoni pizza on outdoor table

Pixel has more shooting types and modes. Tensors also extract details from images, making them less likely to be lost in shadows or bright lights. Also, unlike the iPhone SE, you can shoot in RAW format, which gives you more freedom in editing. The Pixel’s built-in editing tool isn’t Photoshop, but the phone has similar AI-assisted tech like Magic Eraser. With this tool, you can easily draw circles or quickly remove objects with just a tap. I used effects for the clean results provided and removed distractions such as wires, light bombers and ground debris. But sometimes it fills the replaced area with a distracting pattern or leaves visual goofiness like the reflection of the cut-out object (you can see it on the paper towel below). Other phones require third-party apps to remove unwanted objects from images, and they do much worse.

use eraser on google pixel 6a

Trevor Raab

Use the Eraser Tool on Google Pixel 6a Photos

Trevor Raab

Pixel captures video at up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, or 1080p at up to 240 FPS. This is better than most budget phones. And at closer to $500, these devices top out at around 4K30. The fixed clip I shot without a tripod had no jitter, but the Pixel has pan and translation stabilization options. I’ve found these modes to be effective, removing the vicious bobbing in clips I shot while jogging. However, this technique crops the capture and stabilizes the footage, so it compresses the export to 1080p resolution. The iPhone, on the other hand, offers competitive 4K 60, but with poorer zoom-in performance and fewer shooting modes.

verdict

The Pixel 6a is the best Android phone you can get under $500. Its optimal size and balanced power cut through everyday tasks and run the latest games. Google’s strategic cuts allow for a premium display and camera, so it doesn’t feel like a compromise. But if you’re someone who sets graphics to max or edits videos frequently, the speed and strength of the iPhone SE (2022) with its A15 chip is unmatched. For people, the Pixel 6a’s larger screen, sleek body, and powerful dual-lens camera are a better choice.

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