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Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Which budget phone wins?

google pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Picking a winner in a Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 means choosing a side in the battle for the best cheap phone. Both handsets released in 2022 clearly court bargain hunters who want phones that pack an impressive list of features without a price tag that’s just as immense.

But phones deliver on that promise, starting with the Pixel 6a. Google’s latest phone follows the lead of the Pixel 6 by adopting a new Google-built Tensor processor. The result is a phone that adapts many of the Pixel 6’s best features, but for a lower price. No wonder the Pixel 6a immediately found a place on our list of the best phones.

But the Pixel 6 faces a formidable competitor in the iPhone SE, which is cheaper and boasts a more powerful processor than Google’s phone. It also has a head start on the Pixel 6a, having hit the market several months before Google’ phone arrived.

Which phone comes out on top in our Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) face-of. Choose your side, because we’re about to break it down.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Specs

Google Pixel 6aiPhone SE (2022)
Price$449$429
Screen size6.1 inches4.7 inches
Refresh rate60Hz60Hz
CPUGoogle TensorA15 Bionic
RAM6GB4GB
Storage128GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras12MP wide; 12MP ultrawide12MP
Front camera8MP7MP
Battery size4,410 mAh2,018 mAh (based on teardowns)
SoftwareAndroid 12iOS 15
ColorsSage, Chalk, CharcoalMidnight, Starlight, Product Red

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Price and availability

Apple and Google both offer high-end flagships with prices to match, but the iPhone SE and Pixel A Series phones give the two companies a chance to compete for budget-minded shoppers. It's certainly continued with the iPhone SE 2022, which undercuts the Pixel 6a by $20, the same price gap that existed between the iPhone and the Pixel 5a.

Apple sells its phone for $429/AU$719. That compares to the Pixel 6a’s price of $449/AU$749. While the Pixel 6a costs a little more, you could argue that it’s a better value as you get 128GB of storage for that starting price. The iPhone SE's base model has only 64GB of storage; to upgrade to 128GB, you'd pay $479/AU$799.

The best iPhone SE deals can lower that cost. Our Pixel 6a preorder guide includes the latest deals, too, before Google’s new phone goes on sale July 28.

Both phones are available from all three major carriers in the U.S. The Pixel 6a is available in more countries than its predecessor, with the U.K., Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. (India will follow later this year.) In contrast, the iPhone SE (2022) enjoys global availability.

Winner: iPhone SE (2022)

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Design 

If you saw the iPhone SE 2020, you know exactly what the iPhone SE (2022) looks like. You get a Touch ID sensor on the bottom bezel and a chunky bezel up top to house the selfie cam — the same look as 2017's iPhone 8. The back of the phone features a single camera lens, just like before. It’s true the latest iPhone SE is 4 grams lighter than its predecessor, but good luck detecting that just by holding the phones in each hand.

iPhone SE 2022 display outside in sunlight

iPhone SE 2022 (Image credit: Future)

While the iPhone SE (2022) looks familiar, the Pixel 6a goes in a different direction from its predecessor, instead adapting the look that Google introduced with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro last fall. Now, the back of the Pixel 6a features a horizontal camera bar stretching across the phone (and keeping things pretty stable when you set the Pixel 6a down on its back). Above the cameras, you get a brightly colored strip of plastic with a more muted variation of that color on the strip below.

Google Pixel 6a review

Pixel 6a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both phones feature IP67 water and dust resistance. The iPhone SE lacks the Ceramic Shield glass used by Apple’s flagship phones, but it’s still held up pretty well in drop tests. The Pixel 6a trades the Gorilla Glass Victus found on the Pixel 6 for Gorilla Glass 3.

You can unlock either phone with a fingerprint sensor, though in the case of the Pixel 6a, it’s an under-display sensor. The iPhone SE’s Touch ID sensor is part of the home button beneath the display.

Neither phone really offers a rainbow of color choices. The iPhone SE is available in Midnight (black), Starlight (white) and a Product Red option. You can get the Pixel 6 in Chalk, Charcoal and Sage.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 fingerprint readers

The fingerprint readers on the iPhone SE (left) and Pixel 6a (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Which design you prefer comes down to personal preference, but we feel the Pixel 6a offers a more modern look. The chunky bezels on the iPhone SE feel out of place in this day and age.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Display

The iPhone SE 2022's familiar design means it retains the 4.7-inch LCD panel of its predecessor. And like the iPhone 13 nor the iPhone 13 mini, it's got a fixed 60Hz refresh rate — a feature Apple reserves for its iPhone 13 Pro models.

Fast-refreshing displays remain limited to Google's flagship phones, as well, with the Pixel 6a using a 60Hz panel. So Google's phone passes up the chance to get a leg up on the iPhone.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 displays

Pixel 6a (front) and iPhone SE (rear) (Image credit: Tom's Guiide)

At least the Pixel 6a offers more screen real estate than the iPhone SE, as Google equips the device with a 6.1-inch panel. Google uses an OLED panel for the Pixel 6a, compared to the LCD screen on the iPhone SE (2022).

As a result, the Pixel 6a screen can get a bit more colorful when you enable its color-boosting model, capturing 131% of the sRGB color spectrum to the iPhone SE’s 115%. Turn off that mode, though, and the displays are much more comparable, with the Pixel 6a registering a reading of 111%. In that natural mode, the Pixel 6a is a shade more accurate than the iPhone SE, with respective Delta-E color accuracy ratings of 0.2 and 0.21, respectively. (The lower the number, the more accurate the colors.

Google Pixel 6a display showing Turning Red

Pixel 6a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

What really solidifies the Pixel 6a’s display advantage over the iPhone SE is how bright it is. We measured the Pixel 6a’s peak brightness at 778 nits versus 550 nits for the iPhone SE. It’s certainly much easier to see Google’s phone when you outside in the sunlight.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Cameras

After adding a second lens to the Pixel 5a, Google retains a dual-lens setup to the back of the Pixel 6a. The difference here is that Google has opted for a 12MP ultrawide angle sensor instead of the 16MP sensor on the Pixel 5a, though the 6a’s sensor is larger to let in more light. The main camera on the Pixel 6a remains a 12MP shooter.

There's no change to the camera hardware on the iPhone SE 2022. You get a 12MP lens as before, with no ultrawide shooter to expand the kinds of shots Apple's phone can pull off. Fortunately, a better processor than the one in the 2020 edition of the phone — more on that below — powers camera features like Smart HDR 4 for handling tricky lighting and Deep Fusion for calling out more details. The iPhone SE also supports Photographic Styles, which lets you change the look of your photos on the fly.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 cameras

iPhone SE (top) and Pixel 6a (bottom) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

All told, it’s a pretty fascinating match-up of cameras, with the winner of this particular section of our Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) face-off establishing itself as the best camera phone for less than $500.

Photos shot by the Pixel 6a and iPhone SE (2022) are pretty evenly matched, as you can see in this shot of a meatball sandwich photographed indoors. The iPhone SE does a better job handling the light streaming in from a nearby window, as there’s some overexposure in the upper right corner of the Pixel 6a shot. Colors appear more vibrant in the iPhone photos as well.

If the iPhone SE enjoyed a slight edge on that last photo, the Pixel 6a establishes itself here with richer colors, particularly on the wood panelling of the vegetable stand. Overall, colors are pretty even, though. We crop these photos for better comparisons, but it’s worth noting that the Pixel 6a has a slightly wider viewing area for a more detailed shot.

Night mode is a more difficult comparison between the two, because Apple inexplicably doesn’t include a dedicated night mode for the iPhone SE — the only phone in its lineup to lack such a feature. You can see the consequence of that in this photo of stuffed animals taken at night. There was enough overhead light for the iPhone SE to capture a photo, but it doesn’t have the deeper colors and more detailed background of the Pixel 6a’s photo.

I also think the Pixel 6a has the edge in portrait shots, based on this photograph of me. Google’s phone has better separation between me and the background, particularly around my beard. The iPhone SE also makes my face appear redder and warmer than it actually is; the Pixel 6a’s more muted skin tone is the more realistic recreation.

You once again have to look at my mug to test out the selfie cams — 8MP on the Pixel 6a, 7MP for the iPhone SE’s camera. This one’s not really a contest, as the iPhone SE couldn’t handle the setting sun on the right side of the shot. The background is blown out, and if you could see the full picture, you’d see how overexposed the upper right corner is. The Pixel 6a did a much better job handling the harsh lighting for a better balanced shot.

The Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) camera comparison doesn’t stop with side-by-side photos. The Pixel 6a also supports the same computational photography-powered features found on the Pixel 6 phones, including those powered by the device’s new Tensor chip. That means a feature like Magic Eraser, where you can remove extraneous people or objects from a photo with a tap, is available to the Pixel 6a. Google even updated Magic Eraser for the Pixel 6a to add a camouflage feature that lets you change the color of objects in the background or foreground so that they don’t distract from the subject.

While the iPhone SE does support some of the iPhone 13 camera features that we mentioned above, Cinematic Mode is not one of them. That’s where you can adjust the focus of your videos on the fly, just like you were shooting a Hollywood movie. But with no extra lens on the back of the iPhone SE, Cinematic mode is a no-go.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Performance and 5G

Like most performance face-offs between one of Apple's phones and an Android device, this one tilts heavily in Apple’s favor. But there’s an intriguing new development in the Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) version of performance comparisons.

As is its wont, Apple has equipped the iPhone SE with the A15 Bionic, the most powerful of its in-house chips at the time the phone came out. It’s also the same chipset that powers the iPhone 13 family, so you’re getting flagship-caliber silicon in a handset that costs $429.

iPhone SE 2022 playing racing game

iPhone SE (2022) (Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE (2022) benchmarks illustrate just how powerful this phone is, thanks to the A15 Bionic. It can keep up with the iPhone 13, meaning it easily outperforms the best Android phones — even the Pixel 6a and its new Tensor chip. The Pixel 6a may outperform other midrange Android devices like the Galaxy A53 on the Geekbench 5 benchmark, but the Pixel 6a’s multicore score of 2,918 is well behind the iPhone SE’s 4,482 result.

Similarly, in graphics testing using 3DMark’s Wild Life Unlimited benchmark, the iPhone SE produces a score of 50 frames per second, which beat out the Pixel 6a’s 41 fps result. Our real-world editing test in which we transcode a video using Adobe Premiere Rush was also an iPhone triumph, as the iPhone SE performed the task in 27 seconds, beating the Pixel 6a by 22 seconds.

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

But there's more to Google's Tensor chipset than performance. Google designed the chipset with an emphasis on machine learning. That, in turn, has powered some helpful new experiences on the latest Pixels like live audio dictation for text messages and advanced call screening features. Those capabilities are included on the Pixel 6a, and they really help the phone stand out, even if the iPhone enjoys a big performance edge.

Both the iPhone SE and Pixel 6a support 5G connectivity, though there's a caveat in the case of the iPhone SE. It doesn't support mmWave-based 5G, so it can't take advantage of Verizon's super-fast 5G connections. The phone does work with C-Band 5G, which Verizon is increasingly using to deliver faster 5G, and there's no problem with the sub-6GHz 5G networks that AT&T and T-Mobile have built out. The Pixel 6a Verizon sells supports mmWave, though Verizon charges $499 for its version of the phone — a $50 premium over the standard Pixel 6a.

Winner: iPhone SE (2022)

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Battery life and charging

The iPhone SE (2022) didn't do much to improve upon the battery life of its predecessor, turning in a worse time on our battery test. We have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power, and the iPhone SE (2022) turned in a time of 9 hours and 5 minutes. That's not only worse than the average smartphone by nearly an hour, it's 13 minutes less than the last iPhone SE lasted.

Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 rear cameras

Pixel 6a (left) and iPhone SE (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That gave the Pixel 6a an opportunity to show the iPhone how it’s done, but unfortunately, Google’s new phone wasn’t up to the task. Maybe it’s because the Pixel 6a's 4,410 mAh cell is actually smaller than the 4,680 mAh power pack in the Pixel 5a or that the Tensor chip draws a lot of power. Whatever the reason, the Pixel 6a turned in a woeful time on our battery test, averaging 6 hours and 29 minutes.

Our battery test is pretty demanding, and real-world use of the Pixel 6a suggests that things aren’t as dire as our result would suggest. Still, it’s very clear that iPhone SE users will still have plenty of power left when Pixel 6a owners need to start looking for a charging cable. 

The iPhone SE (2022) still charges at 20W, which is better than the Pixel 6a's 18W speed. As a result, the iPhone SE battery recharges a little bit faster.

Winner: iPhone SE (2022)

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Software and special features

The iPhone SE (2022) ships with iOS 15, while the Pixel 6a debuts with Android 12. Upgrading to Android 13 when the full version comes out later this year will be easy on the Pixel 6a, though you could say the same thing about the iPhone SE and iOS 16.

With the Pixel 6a, Google promises five years of security updates, but software updates are limited to just three Android updates. That's a contrast to Apple, which offers much longer support for its phones. The original iPhone SE came out six years ago, and it can still run iOS 15, for crying out loud.

Google Pixel 6a on bench

Pixel 6a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

So it’s a clear slam dunk for the iPhone, right? Not exactly. The Pixel 6a enjoys an edge here because of all those features the Tensor chip makes possible. Whether it’s quickly editing selfies to remove photo-bombers or easily navigating through menus on phone calls, the Pixel 6a is capable of features that few other phones offer. Apple’s no slouch when it comes to equipping its phone with on-board smarts, but the Pixel 6a really takes the prize here.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Verdict

By the narrowest of margins, the Pixel 6a tops the iPhone SE 2022 in our face-off. And you could credit that Tensor chip for the win.

Tensor enables the software experiences that make the Pixel 6a a unique phone — and one that costs much less than the Pixel 6 devices that also benefit from Tensor. Throw in Google’s traditional strength of producing top-notch camera phones, and you can see how the Pixel 6a grabs the title of best cheap phone overall.

Google Pixel 6aiPhone SE (2022)
Price and availability (10 points)78
Design (10 points)86
Display (15 points)1311
Cameras (20 points)1815
Performance and 5G (20 points)1720
Battery life and charging (15 points)811
Software and special features (10 points)109
Overall (100 points)8180

That’s not to say the iPhone SE didn’t come close to overtaking the Pixel 6a. The iPhone boasts a pretty good camera of its own (if only it had that missing night mode!), and the performance gap between this handset and Android devices speaks for itself. You can also get the iPhone SE for less than the Pixel 6a, though you won’t be getting as much on-board storage with Apple’s phone.

The iPhone SE (2022) is an excellent midrange phone, especially if you’re committed to the Apple ecosystem. But the Pixel 6a delivers just a little bit more, which is why we’d take Google’s latest over Apple’s least expensive phone. 

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

  • sgodsell
    There is no comparison. The Pixel 6a will be much better than that archaic relic called the iPhone SE, which looks just like the iPhone 6 from back in 2014. The battery is pathetic on the iPhone SE. We don't know the size of the battery on the Pixel 6a, but battery life has always been stellar on the Pixel a devices. This new Pixel 6a is suppose to come with 2 rear cameras, and we already know the iPhone SE only comes with 1 rear camera. The screens for the last few years on the Pixel a devices have been OLED displays, and they are always Full HD+ resolution. Where as the iPhone SE have never come with OLED, or Full HD+ resolution displays. Pixel a devices come with the superior USB-C ports. Plus this is the first Pixel a device that will come with a flagship processor.
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