The Google Pixel 6a is just a smaller version of the 6 and 6 Pro and costs accordingly less. In some ways, it redefines the mid-tier for value and performance. But in others, Google’s strict adherence to pure Android and lack of hardware customisation holds it back.
Pixel is the pure Android phone of choice and one of the first to receive Android 13. I feel comfortable with Pixel phones. They always work well, with no baked-in spyware, a decent camera, and a good user experience. The Pixel 6a does not disappoint although its dual camera 12MP camera on paper looks under-speced, it is not too far removed from its sibling’s 50MP cameras that bin to 12.5MP.
We strongly advise you to buy a genuine model with Australian firmware.
It is easy to identify the Australian version – under Settings, About Phone, and Regulatory Labels, there is an Australian RCM C-tick mark. There is also an RCM C-Tick on the box. They use unique Australian 5G sub-6Ghz and 5G low-band frequencies, requiring local activation first.
It is now in two parts – a summary and a separate 300+ line database-driven spec, including over 70 tests to back up the findings. It also helps us compare different phones and features.
We use Fail (below expectations), Pass (meets expectations) and Exceed (surpasses expectations or is the class leader) against many of the items below. We occasionally give a Pass(able) rating that is not as good as it should be and a Pass ‘+’ rating to show it is good but does not quite make it to Exceed.
You can click on most images for an enlargement.
It may be a glass slab, but the Glastic (Plastic) back and a prominent camera bar are standouts. It is a little slippery in hand and can slip off the table when charging, so take care and use a bumper case. The Glastic back can scratch fairly easily, so avoid any keys in the same pocket.
At 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9 mm x 178g, it is excellent in hand and will be attractive to those wanting a smaller phone.
It is a good, quite bright, daylight readable screen, but it is not a perfect OLED. For example, it can play back HDR10+ content, but that requires over 1000 nits – this has 780, so it is not as bright. You won’t notice that for streaming as it is limited to FHD HDR content; that is fine.
It is colour accurate for sRGB and DCI-P3 but only for 8-bit, 16.07m colours – not the wider Rec.2020 1.07 billion colours. Brightness is slightly uneven, especially on the bottom and left sides, with a slight blue tint.
Overall, it is fit for purpose but a little slow for gaming.
The Google-designed Tensor Chip is based on a Samsung Exynos 2100 (same as the Galaxy S21-series) using Samsung’s Exynos 5123 modem. It is heavily optimised for mobile applications for Google’s AI and ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning). These include speech recognition, language translations, computational photography, power efficiency, security, and Google’s claim of up to 80% faster than Pixel 5.
We have a few issues with this SoC, which are exactly the same as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. It won’t run several industry standard tests like GFX Benchmark Manhattan 3.1 battery test. It won’t run the Geekbench 5 OpenCL test (it runs on every other smartphone except Pixel).
Still, it is a powerful processor in a mid-range device.
6GB is all you need, and Android 12 handles memory management well.
Storage is non-expandable, 128GB (99GB free) UFS 3.3 (fastest available), and that is where we feel the Pixel is let down. Simply put, it is not for videographers, photo editors, or power users that need speed or space. There is no mountable micro-SD or large external USB-C SSD support either. It will access flash drives only as cut, copy, and paste of data.
We also got some variable results in data transfer tests. We use CPDT (Cross Platform Disk Test) to measure sustained performance – not the ‘BS’ peak performance you may achieve for a microsecond burst.
Read times varied from 197 to 1008MBps with no explanation for why (all tests have all apps closed).
This throttles between 43 and 50% at 100% load for 15-minutes. If you run the test longer, the device gets too hot.
To put that in perspective, video editing, rendering, and even video playback will see you quickly lose 50% of the power. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro were almost as bad at their release, but back in January, after firmware updates, this had dropped to 19/24%, respectively.
This reflects a poor thermal design that firmware updates cannot fully fix.
This has a Wi-Fi 6E AX chip, but it is not enabled in Australia (same as Pixel 6 and 6 Pro) despite the standard being approved a few months ago for use here.
However, it does connect nicely to Wi-Fi 6 and records maximum 2400Mbps speeds out to 5 metres. At 10 metres, it drops to 1633Mbps – still extremely good.
It has BT 5.2, NFC and dual GPS (<4m accuracy) – all above spec.
But again, it is let down by the USB-C 3.1 connection that does not support mountable drives and does not have alt DP for HDMI cable connection to monitors and TVs. You have to settle for Chromecast.
Test: Using a Boost Mobile (Telstra retail network) sim at 1km line-of-sight from Telstra tower. Expressed as -dBm (lower is better) and Femtowatts (fW) or picowatts (pW or 1000fW) where higher is better.
Like the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, it only finds the closest telco tower at -90dBm and gets a variable signal from 1 to 6pW. It cannot find the other four nearby towers.
The poor result reflects the Samsung 5123 5G Modem (used in Samsung phones with the Exynos 2100 SoC). It does not have the same antenna signal strength as Qualcomm modems, which always find four towers at usable signal strengths.
The Pixel 6s is city/suburbs phones where you can get strong coverage from multiple towers.
The 4410mAh battery is a little smaller than the typical 5000mAh phones. It does not come with a charger, and you need to use one that can supply 9V/2A/18W to charge at the maximum speed. Most USB-C PD chargers should do that, or at best, you will get 5V/2A/10W slow charging.
Charge time is 1 hour and 47 minutes – OK and tolerable. However, slow charging takes that to 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Battery life is variable, and we can only give estimates because it could not run two important battery tests (PC Mark 3.0 battery Test and GFX Bench Manhattan 3l1 battery test).
A 1080p video loop at 50% brightness/sound in aeroplane mode lasted 16 hours and 4 minutes. GFX T-Rex (a gaming graphics test) lasted 9.66 hours. Accubattery predicts 18 hours maximum.
The bottom line is that battery life is nowhere near the 24-hour claim. However, that is based on ‘testing using a mix of talk, data, standby, and limited default features which disables various features, including 5G’.
Our best estimate is that heavy users will get up to 12 hours of use and typical users up to 18 hours.
It has the typical stereo forward firing earpiece and down-firing bottom speaker. It uses a pair of Cirrus Logic CS35L41 amps that can output up to 5W each at 10% THD. It has no EQ, Dolby Atmos or Hi-Res support.
BT is 5.2 and has SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs; however, we could not get the latter to work.
The maximum media volume is 84dB with a bit of distortion. Hands-free quality is good, and the mics are effective, but it is not loud.
The sound stage is narrow, and Dolby Atmos test tracks did not expand that.
Note: Frequency response is from 20Hz to 20kHz
The sound signature is almost identical to the 6 and 6 Pro. It verges on analytical (bass/mids recessed, treble boosted), which is crisp but overly harsh and unpleasant for most music. You can read more about How to tell if you have good music (sound signature is the key).
There is no EQ, pre-sets, or support for Dolby Atmos or other spatial music.
It is a little slippery in the hand, and the back Glastic scratches fairly easily (no keys in your pocket, please). Use a case. The front is the older Gorilla Glass 3 (6/6Pro have GG Victus 7), but it is fit for purpose. The IP rating is 67 – 1metre for 30 minutes. See Waterproof phones – fact or fiction (smartphone guide)
Android 12 – secure and soon upgradable (Exceed)
Google calls the Android 12 UI ‘Material You’, chock full of themes and styles. You can retain the old three-button navigation if you wish.
Several exciting features revolve around voice and translation. You can voice type (Hey Google, Type) and send a message. It can live translate from a foreign language (Live Caption) or a camera image. It has 55 offline and 104 online languages. Or it can be an interpreter between two languages both ways.
A new Privacy dashboard helps you identify and control what apps have permissions. A security hub offers all device security tools in one place. Emergency settings determine a car crash and can send an SOS.
And best of all is the excellent OS and security patch policy – See What are the official Android OS and Security update policies? (guide) and no bloatware!
This is a tried-and-true setup with the Sony IMX363 sensor dating back to the Pixel 2. The main difference is the Tensor SoC’s extra processing power. This means faster focus, more AI processing and a better night mode.
DXOMark has tested it and ranks it at 130 – 21st along with Apple iPhone 12Pro Max/13/mini. The Pixel 6 Pro scores135 (8th), and the 6 scores 132 (10th). Interestingly it is well up from the Pixel 5 at 120 or 44th place, yet it uses the same sensor. The bottom line is it is a pretty good camera now with the extra SoC power.
Its strengths are very good point-and-shoot computational photography and excellent OIS/EIS video stabilisation. Its weaknesses include the ultra-wide lens/sensor lacking details; there is some noise in almost all light conditions and a loss of finer detail in low light.
Regrettably, the front 8.1MP selfie camera is average at best, and AI tends to try too hard to match skin tones.
We say – It is the perfect point-and-shoot camera.
While I really like the 6 Pro, there is little to discriminate between it and the 6a in everyday use. You can see where the 6 Pro’s extra lenses work better but as Pixel is all about computational photography, there is not the gulf I expected.
Similarly, while Qi charging is mandatory for me, the 6a 1 hour and the 47-minute charge did not phase me.
The screen is smooth (even though it is only 60Hz😉 – who cares apart from gamers?), and I like the pocketability of the 6a.
But it has a few issues that will affect power users.
Overall, it is a phone that Joe and Jane Average would be happy to own. With Google’s pure Android and generous update policy, it is a winner. Read What are the official Android OS and Security update policies? (guide).
Frankly, its biggest competition comes from the Pixel 6, Google Pixel 6, and 6 Pro revisited – (smartphone after the January 2022 update). It is $999, another $250, but if you want pure Android from a US company, this is probably the pick.
If you do spend $999, you need to look at the Motorola Edge 30 Pro is the value flagship king (smartphone review). Motorola (Lenovo) uses a light My UX user interface over Android.
But there are some very strong competitors offering more
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