Hands on: Google Pixel 6a is a mid-range phone with compromises

July 22nd, 2022 | by Wilson Wong
Hands on: Google Pixel 6a is a mid-range phone with compromises
Cellphones
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The Pixel 6a comes in various colours. PHOTO: Handout

If you loved the look of the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro but hesitated because of the price, the S$749 Pixel 6a out in Singapore now is a more wallet-friendly alternative.

Outwardly, it resembles its better-endowed siblings, but I feel that the Pixel 6a’s weight feels more balanced in hand over the Pixel 6 Pro’s more top-heavy design, which features a huge camera module.

Up front, the new phone’s 6.1-inch Full HD+ OLED is plenty good, even in bright sunlight. While the screen refreshes at ‘only’ 60Hz, it is more than enough for most users.

Despite not having the best refresh rate, the Pixel 6a’s screen is still good. The size is handy too, though just a tad thicker than the Oppo Find X5 Pro. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The glass back is a staple with modern smartphones these days. Good thing the fingerprint smudges are not as obvious here. The camera module is not as thick as the Pixel 6 Pro so the new phone is not top heavy. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The Pixel 6a has the same Tensor chip as the bigger siblings but only comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. Judging by the specs, the synthetic benchmark should be lower than the Pixel 6 which has 8GB RAM and Pixel 6 Pro which has 12GB.

Despite the weaker specs, the Pixel 6a performs well for my typical day-to-day usage with social media access, music listening, and video streaming, during my tests.

Even when I did a photo and video test session for four hours, the phone still lasted the day easily. The new adaptive battery and extreme battery saver modes in the Pixel 6a help restrict rarely used apps from being run or activated.

However, I am not very enthusiastic that the phone has only 128GB of storage space. Sure, Google wants its users to upload photos and videos to the cloud, but Google has stopped offering unlimited Photos storage space to Pixel owners since late last year. 

The cheaper Pixel 6a comes with only two camera lenses – an ultrawide and a normal wide-angle for the camera system. The camera app offers 2x zoom so the image is create from digital rather than telescopic zoom. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

A 8-megapixel selfie camera, 12.2-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera may seem anaemic compared to modern flagship phones like the Vivo X80 Pro and Oppo Find X5 Pro. 

Their 50-megapixel sensor for both their main and ultrawide cameras make the Google phone seem underwhelming, at least on paper. This is where Google’s computational imaging algorithm comes in handy. 

The images and videos from the Pixel 6a are perfect for sharing on social media. The smartphone’s landscape photos and food shots are sharp and well exposed. Portraits are also good with good skin tones and post-editing beautification that does not look too fake.

The bokeh effect in portrait mode is quite natural looking. Note the gradual effect being applied from the foreground to the background. Skin tone is a bit saturated too but it is acceptable. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
While the Pixel 6a is able to use computational imaging techniques to capture both sunrise and indoors, the problem is the amount of digital noise being captured. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
While shooting a video, you can take a photo too. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Alas, this is still a mid-budget phone. The camera app has no manual controls to engage in more creative shots. The 2x zoom is digital, so do not expect high-quality zoom shots, either.

The panorama mode is not exactly class-leading either, especially when you have a human subject in the photo that gets distorted. The images I took also exhibit a fair amount of digital noise. Things to take note of, though if you’re after snapshots, these may not matter as much.

This is a still shot during video capture. Not bad at all, considering the complex lighting situation. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
Sunset here is well captured. A tad over-sharpened, though. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The issue with computational imaging is that the High Dynamic Range (HDR) effect can be gaudy to look at. Thankfully, it is not too bad here but the greens are a tad too saturated. I would also have thought there would be some distortion correction but the corners have some distortions. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The Pixel 6a shines when it comes to food photography. The colours are vibrant and the image is sharp. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The selfie camera is good with good subject extraction when applying the bokeh behind. Pity that the florescent green hue is not corrected. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The main reason users would get Google’s Pixel smartphones is the ecosystem that comes packaged with the device. Google Pay, Drive and other Google services work out of the box once you register your account. And you have frequent Android OS updates, which you will get early. 

The mid-priced Pixel 6a is not going to be class-leading but it has a more manageable size than its larger, costlier siblings, and the phone is generally a joy to use.

Video shot on the Pixel 6a. VIDEO: Wilson Wong

If you expect a great smartphone camera system, the latest Pixel may not be what you’re looking for. That said, at S$749, the smartphone may not be cheap but it does feel more expensive than it is.

The Pixel 6a is not a clear winner, yet it may attract users who appreciate Google services and a solid phone without emphasising too much on camera performance.

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