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We can easily list a ton of reasons why the Google Pixel 6a won AP's best budget phone award in 2022. There are so many of them! While its price is one important factor, what helps it stand out among the best budget Android phones is its superb software and camera experience. There's simply no other smartphone in its price range that can claim to take better photos than the Pixel 6a or provide day-one Android updates.

It's been nearly a year since I first put my SIM card into the Pixel 6a, and I still don't plan to switch to any other phone full-time. The reason? It's the whole package: That beautiful theming engine, the surprises in Pixel feature drops, and all the camera tricks. Everything!

While the Pixel 6a has much to like, it has shortcomings. A few of them are rarely highlighted.

Everything the Google Pixel 6a does better than other budget phones

There's a reason the Pixel 6a received a high score in our review. It's a good phone! It gets you a unique package like no other, and Google's version of Pixel-ized Android plays a big part in that. But other things will make you want to pick up and use your Pixel 6a every morning.

1. The Google Pixel 6a's oh-so-cute size

The bigger, the better, is usually the norm with smartphone screens. But with its compact 6.1-inch screen, the Pixel 6a feels just right. The size nicely fits between the two extremes of the iPhone 13 Mini and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. What particularly works is how narrow the Pixel is. Even with single-handed use, I can easily reach the other side of the phone without weirdly flexing my fingers.

Google Pixel 6a size

Look at the OnePlus 9RT in all its 6.62-inch monstrosity!

And for pulling down the notification shade, there's the handy double tap on the back gesture. For someone who doesn't watch many videos or TV shows on their phone, the Pixel 6a is a perfect match.

2. Its stereo speakers are top-notch

The stereo speakers on the Pixel 6a sound the best of any phone in its class. They're sufficiently loud, sound fuller, and the bass doesn't overshadow other sounds. More importantly, the speakers don't crack at full volume, and the stereo output is balanced between the bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece.

Google Pixel 6a speakers

The Google Pixel 6a

Sure, you can find a better pair on pricier phones, but the Pixel 6a beats everything else in its class, hands down.

3. It takes it easy on killing background apps

There are two kinds of smartphones. Ones that are normal and others that aggressively keep killing apps, sometimes even preventing important notifications from coming through. The Pixel 6a is on the good side of the fence.

Google Pixel 6a comparison

The Pixel 5a (left) and the Pixel 6a (right).

I had little to no issue with notifications being delivered on time, and the phone doesn't jump to kill the apps as soon as they go to the background. The 6GB RAM capacity on the Pixel 6a may seem less than what many mid-range Android phones offer, but with fine-tuned RAM management, it's more than enough.

4. Google Tensor handles performance like a pro

I can't stress enough how exemplary the Pixel 6a is at everyday performance. Quickly switching between apps, opening and closing them, and the animations work without a hiccup. I haven't experienced many frame drops in my regular use, and the Pixel 6a doesn't feel much different from a phone with a higher refresh rate screen, barring quick scrolls.

A part of the snappy performance is due to the flagship-level 5nm Tensor CPU. Google has used the same CPU as the more expensive Pixel 6 series. Tensor benefits stretch to the camera performance, too (more on that later).

Pixel 6a home screen

5. The Pixel 6a learns and improves over time, like a living thing!

Google's software magic that we often speak of is, in part, the operating system's ability to learn and adapt to your usage pattern. The Pixel 6a is an excellent example of that. I had earlier complained about its sub-par battery life. But now I'm happy to report that the battery anxiety is gone, and I don't need midday recharges with my routine use. That happened because the phone learned from my typical usage and adjusted the battery drain accordingly to make the best of the available power.

And those feature drops from Google make Pixel phones even more desirable. Getting new features on a months-old phone and between major Android updates is a treat for all Pixel owners.

6. Its vibration motor clicks!

I don't usually pay much attention to the vibration motor because it's always bad enough on mid-range phones for me to keep it off for most things. But on my Pixel 6a, the haptic feedback is enabled for almost everything. It's sharp and not something that would rattle your desk with a loud buzzing sound.

Pixel 6a in comparison to Pixel 7

7. A Pixel camera never disappoints

Unlike their flagship siblings, the Pixel 6a uses a 12.2MP Sony IMX363. Although it's dated to the current offerings in the market, all your worries evaporate as soon as you launch the camera and tap the shutter button. After all, Google has used the same lens since Pixel 4, and the search giant spent a fair amount of time perfecting the algorithms to get the best of a 12.2MP shooter.

Whether it's about capturing my little one running around or a dark sky full of stars, I can depend on Pixel 6a camera to produce a stunning image. Something I can't say confidently about other mid-rangers and even the flagship ones.

8. IP67 certification gives peace of mind

Most Android manufacturers skip the water and dust resistance on their mid-rangers to save some bucks. That's not the case with Google. The Pixel 6a has the same reassuring IP67 certification as the flagship models.

Whether it's a light rain or a shower, I don't have to worry about picking up a call or answering a quick text on my Pixel 6a. Once you get used to it, the IP67 convenience is hard to let go.

Google Pixel 6a problems that make me want to switch phones

While I can go on about what the Pixel 6a gets right, let's shift gears to the things that have bothered me quite a bit.

1. The Pixel 6a's display is not bright enough

The display on the Pixel 6a just isn't bright enough. When out in the sun, I constantly want to slide the brightness further up when it's already at full. And that's true even indoors, where the phone needs to stay at the 70% level in a brightly lit room for it not to feel too dim.

Although 60Hz is fine on a Pixel UI, you may feel the difference if you are coming from a 120Hz display. Since other brands like Samsung and OnePlus offer 120Hz bright OLED panels in the same price bracket, Google has no excuse to pack the same.

2. A phone shouldn't be this fragile

Rephrasing a popular quote: Plastic is plastic, and plastic scratches (easily).

My Pixel 6a was in its case on my desk for the first few days after it arrived. I occasionally picked it up to check out an Android 14 beta feature. When I was ready to move my SIM cards, I noticed that the phone had picked up a couple of scratches along the top edge of the back (inside the case!) and a few minor ones on the front. After that, I ordered a screen protector to prevent it from worsening.

In a classic JerryRigEverything durability test, we learned that the Pixel 6a's iconic rear visor is made of plastic, with only the camera lenses covered in glass. After a year of use, I can see that exposed area looking ugly with several minor scratches.

3. 'Charging rapidly' is actually a tease

The Google Pixel 6a says "charging rapidly" and "full in 2 hours" in a single line. One of the recent phones I reviewed had 150W charging and would top up entirely in half the time the Pixel takes to go from 80% to 100%.

While 150W charging is a novelty, most phones in the same segment as the Pixel 6a in India come with at least 30W charging (proprietary), with many going for as high as 65W. Even within the standard PD charging realm, Google could've gone for a higher wattage or the newer PPS standard for a better charging speed.

Pixel 6a slow charging

4. The Apple excuse, AKA 'you're holding it wrong'

That's what Apple had to say about the antenna problem on the iPhone 4. But in 2022, it's the same with my Google Pixel 6a. When I cover the top of the phone with my hand, the Wi-Fi signal (5GHz) goes down by one bar. It goes back up as soon as I change the hand position. That happens even when the phone is a few feet away from the router, with only a door between the two.

Even the 4G network strength on both of my SIM cards is not as strong as I've seen on other phones, which worsens in areas with low reception, like an underground train station. The modem inside Google's Tensor chip is weaker than what Qualcomm offers. So, it wasn't a surprise since the Pixel 6 series phones also went through the same ordeal.

5. 'Press firmly on the sensor'

The optical fingerprint scanner on the Pixel 6a was no less than a nightmare to use during the phone's early days. With never-ending failed attempts, I was forced to punch in my PIN more times than I remember doing on any other phone. The September update finally brought a fix to the fingerprint woes. While the situation improved after the update, the issue isn't completely gone.

The Pixel 6a sometimes refuses to recognize my thumb impression. After several tries, I must enter the PIN, which isn't ideal. Even registering my fingerprint again hasn't fixed the issue. We're well into the Pixel 6a's lifecycle, and it's a shame that a basic problem like this remains.

A gray Google Pixel 6a stands atop a camel-color, leather desk blotter.

6. Heating issues

While the Pixel 6a flies through daily tasks, it gets uncomfortably hot during certain situations. When you record a long 4K video or update several apps at once, you may feel warm temperatures on the frame and back panel. To be fair to Google, mid-rangers struggle at such tasks. But it's something I would like Google to address in future updates.

Would I still buy the Google Pixel 6a after using it for a year?

One hundred percent! After spending nearly a year with the Pixel 6a, I can firmly say that this is the phone I'd come back to without a second thought. Pixel phones are filled to the brim with software features, but at the end of the day, it's how the phone feels that matters the most. And the Pixel 6a scores full marks on that front. There has rarely been any occasion where it felt slow. Its dynamic theming gives it a fresh vibe when you change the wallpaper. Could anyone ever get tired of it?

The Pixel 6a won't win any benchmark or speed tests. And that's not even the point here. Google phones are never about chasing cutting-edge hardware. It's all about user experience, and the 6a passes this test with flying colors.

Google has lately been extra generous with offers on the Pixel 6a. While the baby Pixel is a fantastic deal at its full price, it's been discounted by as much as a third on several occasions in the last few months. And at $300 (or even $350), the Pixel 6a is a steal. At this price, it's easy to overlook its minor shortcomings, and we have no reservations about recommending it, even if you have a budget of around $400. But if you want something slightly more premium and don't mind paying a little extra, the Pixel 7 is a perfect upgrade pick for you.

Source: Google
Google Pixel 6a

The Pixel 6a isn't just the best smartphone you can get for $450, it's probably the best value you can get in an Android phone, with a great camera, good performance, and fantastic software features.