Google Pixel 6a review: For camera performance and latest software
Google's Pixel phones have been the most desired devices for those who like pure Android experience, early OS updates and of course, great cameras. For some reason or the other, most of the Pixel smartphones never made it to the Indian shores through official channels. If I remember right, the last one released here was the 4a. And though the Pixel 6 did not bother to show up, the newly launched Google Pixel 6a has. The Pixel 6a has a handful of things in common with the 6, but at the same time, the company has cut a few corners to make the phone more affordable. But has Google cut a corner too many to impact its overall value proposition? Let's find out.
Polished design, good display quality but low refresh rate
For starters, I liked the compact design (for today's standards) of the Pixel 6a. The build quality is quite solid thanks to the metal frame, and the phone feels great in hand. The phone is IP67 rated dust and water resistant as well. What I did not like was the use of a glossy polycarbonate (plastic) back that is a smudge/fingerprint magnet, and also prone to scratches. If you are someone who uses a phone cover/case, then it should not be an issue. Another design aspect I wasn't too pleased with was the placement of volume rockers and the power button along the same edge. Most of us are used to having them on the opposite edge, and out of habit, I kept pressing the volume down key when looking to press the power button. The phone has an in-display fingerprint scanner, and the placement of that is spot on, making it easy to access without stretching the thumb much. The SIM tray is present along the left edge while a USB-C port and a speaker can be found at the bottom of the phone. The 6.1-inch Full HD+ OLED display is quite sharp, and protected against scratches by a layer on Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It supports HDR and the color reproduction is lively without going overboard. However, the refresh rate is limited to just 60Hz. One can live with that but that's not a corner the company should have cut. Even budget phones these days offer 90Hz fresh rate if not 120Hz or 144Hz that upper midrange phones flaunt.
Hardware may seem modest on paper, but packs a punch
The Pixel 6a is powered by Google's Tensor processor, which may not be as powerful as Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips, but is still potent enough for an upper midrange phone. Based on the synthetic benchmarks, I would place its performance somewhere between the Snapdragon 870 and 888 SoC. Strangely, you get just one variant of the phone with 6GB RAM and 128GB UFS 3.1 storage. There is no card slot to expand the storage, as is the case with most phones in this budget. The day to day performance of this phone was quite good. Be it day to day tasks, switching between multiple apps, photography or gaming, things were totally smooth. In usual operations like browsing or chatting or even playing music or videos, the phone barely heats up. It does get noticeably warm if you keep clicking photos or recording videos for a few minutes at a stretch or indulge in 30 minutes of gaming, but nothing alarming there either. This phone has dual speakers, one behind the earpiece and the other along the bottom edge - as is the design norm these days. They are fairly loud and offer a nice balanced output with decent stereo separation. You do not get a 3.5mm headphone jack here but the phone is Bluetooth 5.2 compliant to pair with wireless earphones and speakers. The dual-band Wi-Fi compliance is quite broad with support for a/b/g/n/ac/6e standards. The call quality and reception were perfectly fine during our testing.
Android 13 with clean UI; good battery backup, slow charging
We received the Google Pixel 6a with Android 12, and just a few days back, it received the Android 13 update. As you expect from Pixel devices, you get the pure Android experience without any bloatware, and now with the Material You design. Android 13 can be a separate article in itself, so I won't venture too deep now. All I can say is that the UI looks polished and totally lag free. Whatever few chinks existed in Android 12 on this phone seem to have been ironed out in the Android 13 update. The camera software offers some cool tools to edit images on the go, or rather edit objects and people out of captured images. The two I would like to mention are Magic Eraser and Camouflage. The former lets you remove objects or photo-bombs from the images within seconds by simply circling them. It doesn't always work perfectly, but it's a great tool to have nonetheless. Camouflage works more subtly by changing the color of certain objects in the image to blend in rather than act as a distraction. The battery backup here is pretty neat. The phone packs a 4,410mAh battery that easily lasts between a day for heavy usage to a day and a half of moderate use. These figures are perfectly fine, but I cannot say the same about charging times. Firstly, the company doesn't bundle a charger along with the phone. Secondly, it only supports 18W fast charging (if we can call it fast in this age). It takes a good two hours to charge the battery fully. I did try a few different chargers with it, but the end result was in the same ballpark. It doesn't support wireless charging either.
Excellent camera performance for the segment courtesy of software optimization
While a lot of brands have taken the 'more-the-merrier' approach to the number of cameras on their phones, Google has stuck to two at the back of the Pixel 6a. And again, not with fancy megapixel figures but just two 12MP cameras, with the main one supporting optical image stabilization (OIS) and the second being an ultrawide lens with 114-degrees FOV. Having said that, these two can outperform many with significantly higher megapixel count. Many people think the camera performance is all about the sensors used, but in reality, the software plays an equally important role. The Pixel phones have been a shining example of that over the years, and the 6a is no less. The images captured with the main camera have close to natural colors, excellent contrast and very little noise. The detail and dynamic range are top-notch. This applies for most low light shots too, thanks to the Night Sight mode that the phone automatically switches to in dim light. The portrait shots remain best in the business with near perfect foreground and background separation. You cannot adjust the level of blur, but frankly, there is no need to. The 12MP ultrawide camera is quite impressive too with great colors and decent dynamic range. While the performance is not at par with the main camera, it is one of the better ultrawide cameras you get on phones in this budget these days. There is no dedicated telephoto camera on the Pixel 6a, but the 2X zoomed shots captured using the main camera are perfectly usable. This phone can record 4K videos at 30 and 60fps and 1080p videos up to 240fps. You get OIS and EIS support to reduce the shakes. While the recorded videos are good, I wouldn't call them category defining. The 8MP selfie camera gets the job done pretty well with natural skin tones, and can click surprisingly good portrait shots too.
If camera performance matters above all else, look no further
The Google Pixel 6a is priced at Rs. 43,999 in India with a one year warranty, and officially available on Flipkart. As I mentioned earlier, you only get the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant of this phone. I am not too happy with the pricing, and it needs to be a lot more competitive. Ideally, it should have been in the mid-Rs. 30,000 range. The phone can be spotted for that price on Amazon India, but I don't think those are selling through official channels, and warranty might be an issue. While I quite liked the phone and its camera performance, it does lack a few things. Things like a high refresh rate display and faster charging would have made it more complete. At its current selling price, there is a long list of phones that offer faster processors, better displays and much faster charging. But of course, their camera quality may not necessarily be as good as the Pixel 6a, and not to forget about the guaranteed Android updates for the next few years.