Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: What's different?

google pixel 6a and pixel 5a composite shot
(Image credit: Google/Tom's Guide)

The Google Pixel 6a is now official, with Google officially unveiling the phone during the Google I/O 2022 keynote. And with that phone's unveiling, the Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a comparisons are sure to begin.

It's only natural. While you might wonder how the Pixel 6a differs from the Pixel 6 that clearly inspired its new look, finding out what's changed from the Pixel 5a is just as important, as the 6a is taking that older phone's place in Google's lineup.

The cheaper version of the Pixel 5 arrived last August in select markets, and proved itself to be one of the best affordable phones around. It's certainly the best camera phone for less than $500, and those are pretty big boots to fill. 

So now we know just about everything about the Pixel 6a, how does it compare to the Pixel 5a? Our Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a comparison has the answers.

 Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Specs 

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Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Specs
Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 6aPixel 5a
Screen size6.1-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)6.43-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate60Hz60Hz
CPUGoogle TensorSnapdragon 765G
Rear cameras12.2MP (f/1.7), 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide12.2MP (f/1.7), 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera8MP (f/2.0)8MP (f/2.0)
Battery size4,410 mAh4,610 mAh

 Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Price & availability 

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

Pixel 6a preorders open on July 21, ahead of the phone's July 28 release. The phone will cost $449 and will be available in three colors: White, black and mint green. The phone will also be on sale in the U.K. for £399, while in Australia it will sell for $749.

Also $449, the Pixel 5a is available now, having first launched last August. Unfortunately the phone was only ever released in the United States and Japan. So anyone from Europe, Australia, or even Canada can’t go out to their local phone store and buy one for themselves.

Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Design and display

best google pixel 5a cases

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a takes things a little bit differently from the Pixel 5a, and actually reduces the screen size to 6.1 inches from last year's 6.34-inch panel. Resolution (2400 x 1080) and refresh rate (60Hz) haven’t changed this year, which is a shame, though we suspect that this may have been done to save both battery life and costs.

From a design perspective, the Pixel 6a and 5a couldn’t be more different. The Pixel 5a is rocking a  classic stripped-down Pixel design, while the Pixel 6a looks more like the Pixel 6. In fact, at a glance, the Pixel 6a could easily be mistaken for the Pixel 6, and we suspect you’d have to put the 6 and 6a side by side to really discern the differences. 

That means you get the same two-tone design and super-thin bezels, though the redesigned camera lenses look similar to those shown on the Google Pixel 7 teaser. However, like the Pixel 5a, the back appears to be made of plastic rather than glass.

Not only does that mean you have the rectangular camera lens module, rather than the dice-like square of the 5a, the Pixel 6a has lost the rear physical fingerprint scanner as well. Instead, the Pixel 6a places its fingerprint sensor under the front display, just like the Pixel 6.

Don’t expect a 3.5mm headphone jack this year, however. It seems the Pixel 5a was the final hurrah for that particular feature, which is MIA on the Pixel 6a.

 Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Cameras 

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a packs in a dual-rear camera array, with a 12.2MP (f/1.7) wide-angle lens alongside a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide shooter. According to Google, its new phone will be able to record 4K video at up to 60 FPS, and slo-mo at up to 240 FPS. On the front is an 8MP (f/2.0) camera at the top of the screen, with the ability to record at 30 FPS in 1080p.

The Pixel 5a’s rear camera setup is also made up of two lenses, a 12.2MP (f/1.7) main lens, and a 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide lens. The dual-lens approach was a first for an A-series Pixel. Up on the front is an 8MP (f/2.0) shooter, nestled in a hole punch. That can be found in the corner rather than centered at the top of the display.

On paper the Pixel 6a’s camera isn’t wholly different from last year’s model, save for the change in megapixels on the ultrawide angle lens. But as we’ve seen with Google (and Apple) phones in the past, there’s more to good photography than hardware with big numbers. 

The Pixel 5a’s camera performance proved to be pretty darn good for a sub-$500 phone, and we’re expecting great things from the Pixel 6a. The hardware may not look more impressive than last year, but Google has consistently shown that its camera software can make just as big an impact.

Plus, with the Tensor chipset, and its AI-powered computational photography capabilities, there should be plenty of tricks that the Pixel 6a can pull off. But until we actually get to test its shooting capabilities for ourselves, we can’t say how much better (or worse) the final results will be. 

 Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Performance and 5G 

the google pixel 5a case is the best google pixel 5a case

(Image credit: Google)

Like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, The Pixel 6a comes with Google’s homemade Tensor chip. That means performance has been better optimized for Pixel handsets, something that wasn’t possible to the same extent for Pixels running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. 

In short, Tensor offers improvements to machine learning, computational photography, security and energy efficiency. From a processing standpoint, Google has built Tensor to ensure apps can take advantage of multiple parts of the chip at the same time, ensuring better performance.

The Pixel 5a arrived before the Tensor chipset did, turning instead to the Snapdragon 765G. That was certainly a competent chipset, but not one that is going to win any serious performance contests. The Pixel 5a is a lower-priced phone, after all, and compromises have to be made.

Luckily, the 5a proved perfectly capable in general day-to-day operations, working in tandem with Google's Android software to offer a surprisingly smooth experience for a phone with a 60Hz display. That said, the Pixel 5a did struggle with some of the more intense gaming titles like Genshin Impact or Asphalt 9 when we tested the phone.

So, Tensor gets the advantage, and Google claims that the Pixel 6a will be five times more powerful than the Pixel 5a. 

Google confirmed that the Pixel 6a will also have the same 5G as the other phones in the Pixel 6 series. So while the Pixel 5a only had support for sub-6Hz 5G networks, the Pixel 6a has the ability to connect to mmWave 5G. (Verizon says it's offering the Pixel 6a, though this mmWave-equipped version costs $50 more, at $499.)

This could mean that the Pixel 6a’s 5G will be behind the times a little. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have an older Exynos 5123 modem, which has shown itself to be less efficient and more power-hungry than newer models. So keeping 5G switched on isn’t likely to be friendly to your battery life.

Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Battery life and charging 

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a is set to come with a 4,410 mAh battery, which is 200 mAh smaller than the 4,610 mAh battery that came in the Pixel 5a last year. Of course the 6a has a slightly smaller display, meaning the screen won’t need quite as much power to stay on.

At the time of its launch, the Pixel 5a featured the biggest battery that had ever been seen in a Pixel phone. That’s since changed, after the launch of the Pixel 6 Pro, but it did prove that Pixels didn’t have to let us down in the battery department. Of course, with a tested battery life of 9 hours and 45 minutes, the 5a proved to be pretty average compared to the battery life of other smartphones.

The smaller battery in the 6a suggests that we may be set for another average battery. Still, Google claims that the phone offers over 24 hours of battery life, or 72 hours with extreme battery saver switched on. We’ll have to see how it fairs in our own testing regimen before we can say how accurate that claim is.

Official specs also say that the Pixel 6a has fast charging, but only up to speed of 18W. That’s the same as the Pixel 5a, and means the Pixel 6a won’t get any benefit from the 30W fast charger Google launched alongside the Pixel 6 series. 

There is no mention of wireless charging, suggesting it’s not available on the Pixel 6a. That's hardly a surprise consider past Pixel A Series phones have also skipped out on wireless charging support.

Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Software and special features 

The rear of the Google Pixel 5a showing the camera module, against a background of pink flowers

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 6a is set to launch with Android 12, and will be upgradable to Android 13 when that software update arrives later this year. The Pixel 5a is no different, but is only eligible for three years or Android and security updates. The Pixel 6a will get five years of security updates, just like the Pixel 6, but will presumably only get three years of Android version updates.

The Pixel 6a will also be coming with a bunch of Pixel exclusive features that debuted on the Pixel 6 series. That includes Real Tone, which captures more realistic-looking skin tones particularly among people of color. Other features include Night Sight for low-light photography and the Magic Eraser tool that removes unwanted people and objects from photos. Magic Eraser has been given an upgrade this time around too, giving users the option to change the color of any distracting objects within view.

Thanks to the inclusion of Tensor, the Pixel 6a will also benefit from real-time translation — all which happens on device, even with no active data connection.

Google Pixel 6a vs Pixel 5a: Outlook 

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a is remarkably similar to the Pixel 5a in a lot of ways on paper, but it’s also proven itself to be a very different phone. Rather than rocking the classic uniform look of the Pixel A series, the Pixel 6a has adopted a look that wouldn’t be out of place at a gathering of Pixel 6 models. 

The most notable Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a change is the inclusion of the Tensor chipset, a flagship chipset that enables a lot of great features the Pixel 5a could never hope to accomplish. Whether it’s machine learning, enhanced security from the Titan M2 module, or translating speech in real time, the Pixel 6a should be able to pull of things beyond the Pixel 5a's abilities.  

It’ll also be interesting to see how Tensor affects the 6a’s shrunken battery pack, and what it means for cameras that are virtually identical to the ones on its predecessor.

However the Pixel 6a is still an A-Series phone, and like the Pixel 5a that means compromise. As much as the Pixel 6a has in common with the flagships, it has just as much to share with the 5a, whether that’s comparatively slow charging speeds, lack of wireless charging, or a 60Hz refresh rate that seems somewhat inadequate in 2022.

Of course ,we’ll find out a lot more about the Pixel 6a once it launches in July. Only then will we know just how much it has in common with the Pixel 5a.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.