Ryan Haines / Android Authority
Google’s Pixel A series has a well-defined formula at the moment. The budget series flirts with flagship features like light, smooth software and advanced camera processing, while cutting a few corners to keep the price affordable. It has worked well so far, with devices like the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5a garnering a lot of praise over the years. Now we have the Google Pixel 6a. It follows most of the rules, but blurs the line between budget and flagship like never before. The Pixel 6a takes some solid strides, but puts almost all of its eggs in the same basket. It’s enough to make me wonder: has Google lost its way with the Pixel A series?
Read our thoughts: Google Pixel 6a review
Rely on Tensor
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
Don’t get me wrong, the Google Pixel 6a is a good phone. It fills a need for anyone who wants a smaller Pixel these days. However, it’s not the slam-dunk value buy that its predecessors were. Rather than balancing mediocre processing power with upgrades across the board, the Pixel 6a is all-in on Google’s Tensor chip. Besides the reworked design, the Tensor chip may be the only update keeping the Pixel 6a ahead of 2021’s Pixel 5a or even 2020’s Pixel 4a 5G.
Learn more: Google Tensor vs Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Google is confident in its own silicon, but the truth is we still don’t know how well Tensor will age. The Pixel 6 series has been riddled with bugs since launch, leading some to jump into calmer waters. The chipset is riddled with reception and overheating issues, and it’s bad enough that our very own Robert Triggs reluctantly gave up his Pixel 6 Pro – a phone he generally loved – after less than a year of use.
Perhaps Tensor’s biggest problem is time, or lack thereof. Google hasn’t had the same opportunity to grow and learn as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 series and Apple’s Bionic line. Yet Google is doubling. Rather than upgrade components like the refresh rate (stuck at 60Hz) or the camera (hello, the Pixel 3’s 12.2MP sensor), Google is betting on its processing power to take the Pixel 6a into the future. It’s a risky gamble given that the Pixel A series is aimed at customers who may not have the flexibility to replace their device once something goes wrong. A mid-tier chip, let’s call it Tensor Lite, may have allowed Google to build a more balanced and less risky Pixel 6a.
Is it time for a Tensor Lite chip that will allow Google to upgrade other components like the camera and screen?
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a mid-range device opt for processing power over general upgrades. Apple’s iPhone SE (2022) packs a brand new A15 Bionic chipset into an outdated iPhone 8 case with disappointing results. Yes, it’s powerful and delivers benchmark results that are essentially off the charts, but it’s an unbalanced experience. The iPhone SE (2022) is small and difficult to use, while the single camera weighs its flexibility like a stone.
Apple’s smallest iPhone is an extreme example, but the Pixel 6a is cut from a similar fabric. It’s betting on a fledgling chipset rather than upgrading the overall package, hoping that, as Cersei Lannister put it, “Power is power.”
The value of value
David Imel / Android Authority
Cersei – not for the first time – could be wrong. Sometimes power is power, but value is power with the Pixel A Series. Unsurpassed value held the Pixel 4a in a special place in our hearts, as it brought the entire Pixel experience together into the smallest and most affordable package we’ve seen in years. Sure, it only had one camera on the back, but the Pixel 4a launched for just $349 at a time when the flagship Pixel 4 was priced at $799.
Now that $450 gap feels like the Grand Canyon as the Pixel A series gets closer and closer to the flagship models. Today, the two start at just $150 apart, and it’s much harder to recommend the budget series at face value. Dropping the extra cash will get you a bigger, more durable screen, faster refresh rate, improved cameras, and wireless charging. On the other hand, the biggest reason to choose the Pixel 6a is that you’re dead set on a smaller phone. We all have our preferences, but it’s hard to give all the value to a smaller device.
The Pixel A flies a little too close to Google’s flagships, ruining its historic value proposition.
The Pixel A series used to cost half what the flagship did without acting like a mini version of Google’s best hardware. Now the lines are as blurry as ever. The Pixel 6a works almost as a flagship, while the Pixel 6 is priced almost as a mid-range device. It’s hard for Google’s phones to exist just $150 apart, and it begs the question: Which pixel will blink first?
Read next: The Galaxy A and Pixel A series ushered in a golden age of budget phones
Is the Google Pixel A Series worth buying?