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Google Pixel 6a review: This phone has a lot to offer, but there’s a catch

No, it’s not just the silly pricing.

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Google Pixel 6a review: This phone has a lot to offer, but there’s a catch
Google Pixel 6a is priced at Rs 43,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Google was probably sick of all the “you don’t buy a Pixel for its hardware; you get it for its software (experience)” jokes, so it made its own chip— Tensor.

We’re kidding. Tensor was made because, apparently, no other chip in the market today was powerful enough to handle Google’s massive data crunching –AI/ML— ambitions. The strategy has worked wonders for Apple. Just like Cupertino, the Mountain View company isn’t keeping it locked to one or two devices, at least at the time of writing. You get it in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro as well as the relatively more mainstream Pixel 6a. A second-generation version is on the way with the upcoming Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.

PERFORMANCE & CAMERAS

The 8-core Tensor chip — which is based on a 5nm manufacturing process— has two high-performance Cortex-X1 cores (@2.80GHz), two mid cores (@2.25GHz), and four high-efficiency cores (@1.80GHz). It is an interesting combination. By choosing to go with two Cortex-X1 cores, Google is making it abundantly clear that it is prioritising machine learning tasks over raw power— this is also emphasised by the use of the older Cortex-A76 middle cores. Tensor makes a strong comeback on the GPU front with the 20-core Mali G78, at least on paper.  

Google Pixel 6a review
The back is made of plastic, the frame is metal. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Spec-nerds would be quick to point out, this combination is similar to the Exynos 2100 – seen inside the Galaxy S21 phones – in many ways and while Google hasn’t made it official, talk of the town is, Tensor was co-developed with Samsung. But we digress.

Tensor is actually named after the Tensor Processing Units (TPU) Google uses inside its data centres which is to say that it has a miniaturised version – mobile TPU—of it. That’s its main highlight. This gives Google’s custom chip extra leg-room for tasks like real-time language translation for captions and performing text-to-speech without an active internet connection. It improves image processing, too, and allows for photography chops like Magic Eraser. More importantly, all of this— or at least most it— can happen on the device itself more efficiently so you’re doing it faster while also sharing less data with Google while doing it.

There is also the Titan M2 security chip that’s providing another layer of protection.

Google Pixel 6a review
The screen tops out at 60Hz. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

This is all future tech in the palm of your hand, really, but there’s a flip side to it, too. The benefits of such an approach are not always quantifiable. Google isn’t making any tall claims about real-world performance, — gaming for instance— the kind of stuff that would appeal to an average buyer and it’s easy to tell why. The Pixel 6a isn’t designed for topping benchmarks. It throttles when pushed and gets warm at the slightest of workloads.

Also Read | Google Pixel 6a hands-on review in PHOTOS: Quick first look at design, specs, features, and more

Even in terms of long-term software support, Samsung has bested Google. The Galaxy A53, say for instance, will get four years of major OS updates. Pixel 6a will get only three, though both guarantee five years of security updates. It is –still— advantage Google when you talk about new updates and features being rolled out faster than any other Android phone that you can think of but that is not to say that Samsung is slow or anything (it’s become remarkably fast in the last year or so) and even then, whether or not this could be a deciding factor for many buyers is debatable.

The Pixel’s chart-topping feature has always been the camera. The Pixel 6a is no exception.

Google Pixel 6a review
The Pixel 6a has dual cameras. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Unlike most Android phones, the Pixel 6a takes consistently good photos, regardless of lighting and conditions. It is impressive – and tad hard to believe— how Google is able to pull off such fantastic details using the same old 12.2MP sensor year after year especially in the time of crazy 200MP camera phones. The rich and contrasty “Pixel look” makes dull photos look full of life without going overboard or anything. But the sensor is clearly showing signs of aging and competition has started to catch up. This is especially true in low light photos. There’s nothing wrong with the kind of photos that the Pixel 6a takes when lighting is less than ideal but it’s no longer, best in class. The Pixel 6a struggles with exposure and overall noise reduction in such cases.

Google has added another 12MP ultrawide angle camera in this phone which is nice to have for a wider perspective. On the front, the phone has an 8MP camera that shoots near true-to-life selfies across lighting scenarios with occasional softness when the intensity of light goes down.

DESIGN & DISPLAY

With software and cameras out of the way, let’s dig into the Pixel 6a’s other hits and misses.

Easily the most striking aspect of the Pixel 6a is its design. It looks nothing like anything else in the market and that’s not easy. You get a dual tone finish and what Google calls the “camera bar”. The frame is made of metal. The back is plastic. Aside from the fact that it can get a bit slippery, we have only good things to say about the Pixel 6a’s build quality— it feels solid and refreshing. The phone is also IP67-certified. There is no headphone jack or micro-SD card slot, though, and storage tops out at 128GB.  

Google Pixel 6a review
There is no charger in the box. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

You get a 6.1-inch OLED display with a 1080p resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 in this phone. Those are typical midrange specs, though Google for some curious reason, has chosen to go with a 60Hz panel which feels dated for a phone in 2022. It’s not slow or anything but it surely pales next to literally every other competing device. Rounding off the package are a hole punch cut-out at the centre and an in-screen fingerprint reader for biometric authentication— this is slow and iffy.

Battery life is respectable 1-day for a phone with 4,410mAh battery inside but we have to say that we were expecting it to be better. There is 18W charging support with no charging brick in the box.

GOOGLE PIXEL 6A | SHOULD YOU BUY IT?

The Pixel 6a, as you can probably tell after reading this review, has a lot to offer. But unlike the iPhone SE – a phone with very similar ambitions— Google’s phone is landing smack in the middle of intense competition. Then when you factor in the price – Rs 43,999 for 6GB/128GB— which is just silly, you’re left puzzled wondering who is this phone for?

Google Pixel 6a review
Pixel 6a price in India is just silly. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Google is playing to its strengths and banking heavily on its slick software experience, now, with the added power and potential of its Tensor chip. The promise of getting new features before anyone else is also a big selling point. But they are also edge cases and some of the rival phones –especially from Samsung, Realme, Motorola, and others — are already giving the Pixel 6a a run for its money. That and the way that Google has priced it make the Pixel 6a a collector’s item rather than the mass-market product it was meant to be.

PS. In a surprising turn of events, Flipkart –which is the official sale partner of Google— has dropped the price of the Pixel 6a to Rs 34,199, round about just two months after launch. You can get it for even cheaper, for as low as Rs 27,699, with eligible bank cards. The price drop and offer are applicable from September 23-September 30 only. You can read more about it here. If you’ve been eying the Pixel 6a all this time, this would be the best time to get it.     

ProsCons
Compact design60Hz panel and iffy fingerprint reader
Fast performanceThrottles, gets warm when pushed
Slick softwareTops out at 128GB, no micro-SD card slot
Good camerasNo charger in the box
Nice haptics, loud speakersPricey
Good battery life

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