The midrange Android phone to buy is the Google Pixel 6a ($449). The phone gets almost everything right, from its vivid OLED display to its excellent battery life, top-tier performance, and solid cameras. You might miss the Pixel 6 ($599)’s slightly better camera hardware, wireless charging, and more durable build, but those are all reasonable trade-offs given the 6a’s lower price. Simply put, if you’re looking for a midrange Android phone, the Pixel 6a is an excellent value and a clear Editors’Choice.
A Sight to Behold
In a sea of similarity, the Pixel 6a stands out. The horizontal camera bar on the back of the phone, which smoothly curves around into the device’s side edges, is a particularly distinctive design element. The bar serves no purpose other than to house the camera module, but we like how it looks. In this regard, the Pixel 6a resembles its higher-end siblings, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro ($899), in that it has a more distinct design than most smartphones in this price range. We like the eye-catching design, especially the Sage color we tested (Chalk and Charcoal models are also available).
The Pixel 6a is smaller than some competing devices, which adds to its appeal. It weighs 6.27 ounces and measures 5.99 by 2.83 by 0.35 inches (HWD). The Pixel 5a (6.15 by 2.88 by 0.35 inches, 6.45 ounces) is similar in size, but the Apple iPhone SE (5.45 by 2.65 by 0.29 inches, 5.09 ounces) is significantly smaller and lighter.
Despite its small size, the 6.1-inch OLED panel has a refresh rate of 60Hz and a resolution of 2,400-by-1,080-pixels. This translates to a 20:9 aspect ratio and a pixel density of 429ppi. The display supports 24-bit color, and the colors look quite good in use. The OLED panel has excellent viewing angles, high contrast, and is visible even in bright sunlight.
A selfie camera with a punch-hole sits near the top of the display. The screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which isn’t the most recent option available but should still provide adequate protection against scratches and breakage. The phone has an IP67 rating, which means it can withstand temporary submersion in water at depths of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) for up to 30 minutes. In comparison, both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro ($899) use top-of-the-line Gorilla Glass Victus and have IP68 ratings, allowing for slightly deeper submersion (1.5 meters, or about 4.5 feet).
The bezels around the screen are thin, which contributes to the phone’s modern appearance, but the back is covered in glossy plastic. In testing, the less expensive material did not attract fingerprints. The phone has a SIM card tray on the left side and a volume rocker and power button on the right. The buttons are simple to use and have a satisfying, clicky feel to them. The buzzing of the haptic vibration motor is also luxurious.
The bottom edge is lined with two speakers and a USB-C port. Even when we played our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” at maximum volume, the stereo speakers did not crackle. They don’t produce significant bass response, as most smartphone speakers do, but the sound quality is still acceptable despite being imbalanced when watching video with the phone held in landscape orientation.
Unfortunately, there is no microSD card slot or 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone. If you’re looking for a midrange phone with a headphone jack, the Moto G Stylus 5G ($499.99) is a viable option.
The 6a has an under-display fingerprint scanner for securely unlocking your phone, which worked flawlessly in our testing. It does require you to keep your finger on the reasonably large scanner for a little longer than you might be used to, but after a few uses, it becomes second nature. The phone does not support face unlock.
Impressive Battery Life
The 4,410mAh battery in the Google Pixel 6a isn’t the largest in the segment, but Google clearly optimized its performance. We put the battery to the test by continuously streaming a YouTube video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to maximum. The phone ran for an impressive 12 hours and 55 minutes, outlasting the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. (7 hours and 15 minutes). However, the similarly priced Motorola G Stylus 5G managed to last roughly the same amount of time (13 hours and 10 minutes).
The device supports 18W wired charging, but wireless charging is not available and is not something we would expect at this price point. For comparison, we charged the phone in 1 hour and 53 minutes. The Pixel 6a reached 14 percent charge in the first 15 minutes of charging, which is about what we would expect from a device with 18W charging.
Google, like Apple and Samsung, does not include a charging brick in the box. That means you’ll need to get your own, and one that supports at least 18W to get the fastest charging speeds.
The Pixel 6a is available in two versions: an unlocked model that can be used on multiple carriers and a locked model that is only available from Verizon. The unlocked model supports T-critical Mobile’s n41/n71 sub-6 5G bands, as well as AT&T’s n5/48/66/77. The phone is available unlocked from AT&T ($2 per month for 36 months), but it will not support the carrier’s mid-band 3.45GHz at launch. The Verizon model supports the key sub-6 5G bands n5/48/66/77, as well as the mmWave 5G bands n260/n261. If you live in a Verizon mmWave 5G coverage area, you should get the carrier-locked model, which costs $499.99 ($50 more than the unlocked model).
To compare signal quality between the Pixel 6a and the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G, we drove to an area with questionable T-Mobile coverage (a mix of LTE 4G and 5G). According to our previous research, the Pixel 6 uses a Samsung modem, and the Pixel 6a uses the same underlying hardware. In our tests, the 6a did not outperform the A53. If you live in an area with poor cell signal and want to maximize your chances of staying connected, the Samsung Galaxy A53 is likely the better choice.
We also tested the Wi-Fi performance of the two devices. We tested download speeds near the router, across the apartment (with a couple of walls in between), and at the router’s maximum range using a 5GHz Comcast XFi gateway. In all of these tests, the Pixel 6a had a stronger Wi-Fi connection, though the difference was most noticeable closer to the router. In the nearby test, for example, the Pixel 6a (327Mbps) had twice the download speed of the Galaxy A53 (152Mbps). Because the Pixel supports the faster Wi-Fi 6 standard, it achieves much faster peak speeds than the A53’s older Wi-Fi 5 radio.
The call quality is excellent. Everyone we spoke with said we came across as clear and crisp through the Pixel 6a’s mic. The peak volume of the earpiece was measured at 73.7dB, which is slightly lower than average; most phones average around 80dB. With a reading of 91.2dB, the speakerphone was closer to average. That falls within the typical 90-100dB range.
Google claims that the phone’s dual Bluetooth 5.2 antennas will provide a stronger wireless connection to accessories, but we didn’t notice much of a difference in our testing when compared to devices with a single Bluetooth antenna. The 6a also has NFC and full Google Pay support. We had no issues accepting NFC payments.
Quality clear Photos
If there’s one thing Google’s phones consistently get right, it’s the cameras. Pixels have a reputation for producing high-quality photos due to their high-quality hardware and computational photography algorithms.
Nonetheless, the Pixel 6a’s cameras aren’t quite as good as those of the higher-end Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. The 12.2MP dual-pixel primary shooter on the 6a, for example, cannot produce as much detail in shots as the 50MP primary sensor on the Pixel 6. The 6a, on the other hand, shares the same 12.2MP ultra-wide sensor as its more expensive siblings. The photos taken with the ultra-wide lens are generally good, but the main lens provides better image quality.
Photos taken in natural light look fantastic, as one might expect. In low-light conditions, the hardware and software demonstrate some cool Google software tricks. Google’s Night Sight mode, for example, enables the phone to capture impressive images in low-light situations where other smartphone cameras struggle.
When compared to the Samsung Galaxy A53, the Pixel 6a’s photos appeared more natural, whereas the A53 had brighter shots with a little more contrast, as is typical for Samsung phones. We prefer the Pixel’s more true-to-life photos, but both phones deliver respectable performance for the price.
The 8MP selfie camera takes adequate photos, but it falls short of the main camera in terms of quality. Portrait mode can be used to add artificial depth and background bokeh, and Night Sight can be used to capture selfies in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.
Face Unblur, Magic Eraser, Real Tone, and other advanced editing features from Google are included with the Pixel 6a. These characteristics are what make taking and editing photos on a Pixel so enjoyable. The Face Unblur feature particularly impressed me. I took a picture of myself while moving the camera back and forth at a relatively high speed; despite this, the image was blur-free. Magic Eraser is a useful tool for removing unnecessary background detail from your photos (such as random people). It is effective.
Another area where the Pixel 6a excels is video recording. It can record 4K video at 30 or 60 frames per second, which is better than most phones in this price range. Many devices are limited to 4K or 1080p at 30fps. To keep videos smooth, the Pixel includes basic optical image stabilization.
Updates Done Right
As expected, Google provides excellent software support for its phones. The Pixel 6a will receive five years of security updates and three years of major software version updates, according to Google. You can rest easy knowing that your phone will be up to date for several years, though Samsung does provide an additional year of major software upgrades to its top devices.
The Pixel 6a comes with no bloatware; it is the epitome of a stock Android 12 experience. That’s fine with us, and we especially like Google’s gorgeous Material You theming options, which let you customize the phone’s appearance to your liking, including wallpapers, font colors, and more. On the 6a, Android 12 feels snappy and quick; we never had to work against the OS.
The Midrange Leader
Google has outdone itself with the Pixel 6a, the follow-up to the excellent Pixel 5a, as it only improves on its predecessor’s strengths. A premium design, powerful hardware, a beautiful display, excellent battery life, and solid cameras are among the highlights. The phone’s cellular performance could be better, and we’d like to see a power adapter included, but those compromises are reasonable given the low price. Apple fans should consider the slightly less expensive iPhone SE (for more information on how these two phones compare, see our head-to-head comparison), but Android fans should look no further than the Google Pixel 6a, which easily earns our Editors’ Choice for midrange smartphones.