iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a: Which budget phone wins?

pixel 5a (left) and iphone se 2022 (right) laying face down
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a face-off has been on our minds since Apple announced its newest handset. Both phones are champions for smartphone buyers on a budget, offering experiences you’d typically find on more expensive high-end flagship. But it’s photography where the budget devices from Apple and Google truly go head-to-head.

In the premium smartphone market, Apple and Google lead the way on what’s possible with mobile photography. That expertise carries down to their budget devices, as you’ll see below. But the iPhone SE (2022) has a clear advantage right out of the gate with its powerful A15 Bionic processor, while the Pixel 5a makes do with its older Snapdragon 765G chipset. Meanwhile, the Pixel 5a features a much larger display anc dual rear cameras. 

In this face-off, we’ll go over just how these two handsets compare and pit their cameras against each other in order to find the best cheap phone

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone SE (2022)Pixel 5a
Starting price$429$449
Display4.7-inch LCD (1344 x 750)6.34-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPUA15 BionicSnapdragon 765G
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB128GB
Rear cameras12MP (f/1.8)12MP (f/1.7) main, 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera7MP (f/2.2)8MP (f/2.0)
BatteryN/A4,680 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)9:059:45
Charging20W wired, Qi wireless18W wired
Size5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Weight5 ounces6.5 ounces
ColorsBlack, white, redBlack

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Price and value

The iPhone SE (2022) and Pixel 5a are very close in price, separated by a mere $20. Apple’s latest handset starts at $429 for the 64GB model, jumping to $479 for the 128GB and $579 for the 256GB variants. We were really disappointed to see Apple keep a base storage of 64GB when phones like the Pixel 5a come with 128GB.

Speaking of the 5a, there’s only one version: 128GB for $449. Google’s phone includes a second ultrawide camera and a large 1080p display. To get the same storage on the new SE, you’ll pay $30 more than the Pixel 5a, but you also get the beefy A15 Bionic chipset.

This is a hard spot to crown a winner, because both phones offer different values for their respective prices. However, we think the Pixel 5a wins out here because of the extra storage in the base model as well as the second rear camera (and dedicated night mode, which we’ll address later). 

Winner: Google Pixel 5a

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Design

The physical designs of the iPhone SE (2022) and Pixel 5a couldn’t be more different. The new iPhone retains the iPhone 8 body that the iPhone SE (2020) used, which looked quite dated two years ago. Now it looks positively archaic with its massive bezels and a physical home button. 

pixel 5a (left) and iphone se 2022 (right) leaning against stone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But that iPhone 8 body means a metal and glass construction, plus Apple’s Ceramic Shield technology to add some extra durability to all of that glass. The iPhone SE (2022) feels quite premium, even with its dated design. 

Contrast this with the Pixel 5a, which looks like a modern smartphone. It features the older Pixel design with the square camera module and rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, but it sports a near bezel-less display. The front-facing camera sits nestled in the corner in a hole-punch cutout.

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

The Pixel 5a is plastic and a fingerprint magnet like Pixel 4a, but it feels nice all the same. The iPhone SE (2022) definitely has the leg up when it comes to build materials, but both phones are IP67 certified, meaning that they can survive up to 3 feet underwater for 30 minutes. 

When it comes to the actual design, we think the Pixel 5a wins for its more modern look, though the iPhone SE (2022) feels nicer in the hand. But we’ve criticized the new SE for its old school look, so the 5a comes out on top by a hair.

Winner: Google Pixel 5a

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Display

The different designs on these two phones leads to varied displays. The iPhone SE (2022) sticks with a positively tiny 4.7-inch LCD with a resolution of 1344 x 750. By today’s standards, this display is quite lackluster in size and crispness. The Pixel 5a has a larger 6.34-inch OLED panel with a much higher resolution of 2400 x 1080.

pixel 5a (left) and iphone se 2022 (right) leaning against stone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here’s how the phones compare when it comes to color calibration and brightness.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone SE (2022)Pixel 5a
sRGB (%)114.7119.3
DCI-P3 (%)81.284.5
Peak brightness (nits)550501

This is a very close race, with both phones practically the same. The Pixel 5a wins out slightly with better color reproduction, but the iPhone SE (2022) is a tad brighter and has a much better Delta-E color accuracy score. (0 is perfect.)

When compared directly, the Pixel 5a is the stronger display. It’s larger (which may or may not be a positive thing for you) with a higher resolution, plus it’s an OLED panel versus the iPhone SE (2022)’s LCD. That means deeper blacks and punchier colors. So the Pixel 5a wins here.

Winner: Google Pixel 5a

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Cameras

We’ve come to the one place where these two phones will fight the hardest for supremacy. The iPhone SE (2022) features a single 12MP rear camera and 7MP front camera. The Pixel 5a sports 12MP main and 16MP ultrawide sensors, plus an 8MP front-facing camera. Right out of the gate, the Pixel 5a has a distinct advantage over the SE in that it can take ultrawide shots.

Here we see an eagle statue and both phones do a great job. The iPhone SE (2022) produced a warmer shot with stronger shadows, but the Pixel 5a has better details on the eagle’s feathers and beak. It might be a cooler image overall, but it has brighter exposure, even on the trees in the background. Google wins on this shot.

Checking out these beautiful flowers indoors, the iPhone SE (2022) wins slightly because of its brighter yellows and blues, even though both phones are pretty evenly matched for exposure and detail. Both photos are excellent, but we prefer the livelier colors in the iPhone’s picture.

Once again testing the color reproduction indoors, the iPhone SE (2022) produced a better sense of depth, plus the fruit themselves appear brighter. The Pixel 5a gave us a warmer and more comforting shot, but it’s flatter in comparison to the iPhone. It’s also dimmer than we’d like to see.

For portraits, this is pretty much a draw. The iPhone SE (2022) has better details in Mark’s hoodie and face, but the Pixel 5a has a much stronger bokeh effect. The latter’s blur radius is solid, whereas it looks much weaker in the iPhone’s image. But the iPhone SE did a better job with exposure without blowing out the scene and subject. We have to call a draw here because both portraits are great, even though the Pixel is easier to use thanks to its secondary camera.

The night mode contest isn’t much of one at all. Apple made the inane decision to not include Night mode from the iPhone SE (2022) — it was also missing from the previous version — leaving Apple’s phone at a significant disadvantage against the Pixel 5a. 

The Pixel enjoys Google’s powerful Night Sight, as you can see above. The iPhone falls flat with hardly any details, though you can just make out the bench and bushes. The Pixel, however, produced something much brighter, even showing off the bricks of the house and the curtains in the window. The Pixel 5a wins the night mode test by landslide.

Despite a 7MP front shooter, the iPhone SE (2022) did a good job taking a selfie of Mark. The sky is a rich blue with plenty of detail in the contours of his face. But the Pixel 5a did a better job with a softer image with less harsh shadows. The details might be a bit less pronounced, but we think the Pixel did a better job compensating for the lighting conditions.

Both phones are pretty evenly matched in most regards, but the Pixel 5a pulls out ahead not only because of its dedicated night mode, but it also enjoys the dedicated 16MP ultrawide camera for super wide shots like landscapes and big groups of people. Apple put up a good fight, but the iPhone SE (2022) had an uphill battle since it didn’t bring anything new hardware-wise to the table versus the iPhone SE (2020).

Winner: Google Pixel 5a

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Performance

This is one area where the iPhone SE (2022) has a clear advantage over the Pixel 5a. See, the new SE rocks the A15 Bionic chip, which is the current king of all mobile processors. Even the best Android phones struggle to keep up. So the Pixel 5a doesn’t stand a chance with its Snapdragon 765G, which was a mid-range chip even when it was brand new in 2020.

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone in hand at beach

(Image credit: Future)

Whether it’s benchmarks, day-to-day use, or more intense applications like gaming or AI, the iPhone SE (2022) runs laps around the Pixel 5a. Here’s how the two phones compare in our lab testing.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone SE (2022)Pixel 5a
Geekbench 5 (single-core/multicore1718 / 4482581 / 1345
Adobe Premiere Rush (Mins:Secs)0:271:59
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (Score / FPS)8352 / 501678 / 10
3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited (Score / FPS)1943 / 12444 / 3

It’s like the Pixel 5a barely showed up to the race, let alone compete. In Geekbench, for example, the Pixel’s multicore result was lower than the iPhone SE (2022)’s single-core score. That’s telling.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But Geekbench is just one facet of this comparison. In the Adobe Premiere Rush test, where a phone transcodes a 4K video to 1080p, the iPhone SE (2022) did it in less than a quarter of the Pixel 5a’s 2-minute time. And in the 3DMark graphics benchmarks, the SE has the clear and considerable lead — a powerful gaming device the Pixel 5a is not.

It helps that the iPhone SE (2022) uses a flagship-class chip while the Pixel 5a uses a mid-range processor that was old even when the phone came out. But however you look at it, the iPhone SE (2022) wins without question.

Winner: iPhone SE (2022)

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Battery life and charging

For the battery life test, we set a phone’s display to 150 nits of brightness and then task the device to endlessly reload web pages over a cellular connection until it dies. 

iPhone SE 2022 in front of fountain

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE (2022) turned in a result of 9 hours and 5 minutes, which is worse than the iPhone SE (2020)’s 9 hour, 18 minute time. We think this has to do with the new SE’s 5G modem, which drains more power than an LTE-only one. Regardless, this result is below the 10-hour average we like to see from modern smartphones.

Not that the Pixel 5a passed that bar. It clocked in at 9 hours and 45 minutes in our test, which is better than basically any other recent Pixel we’ve tested (including the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro). The bigger 4,680 mAh battery helps a lot, even though it too has a 5G modem. The low-power Snapdragon 765G probably makes a difference, too.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For charging, the iPhone SE (2022) supports Apple’s 20W wall charger and has Qi wireless charging. The Pixel 5a taps out at 18W without wireless charging. The SE recharged to 31% in 15 minutes and 61% in 30 minutes. The Pixel 5a reclaimed 23% and 43% in the same time.

Despite neither phone being near good enough to land a spot on our list of the best phone battery life, the Pixel 5a wins out here since it lasted 40 minutes longer in our testing. The lack of wireless charging is a bummer, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Winner: Google Pixel 5a

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Software

We won’t spend too long here because we already have our iOS 15 review and Android 12 review. We recommend checking those out to see what’s new because these are the software versions that the iPhone SE (2022) and Pixel 5a run, respectively. 

Neither iOS 15 nor Android 12 is better than the other, since it essentially comes down to personal preference. However, we give the iPhone SE (2022) the nod here because it enjoys much longer support. The Pixel 5a is only guaranteed to get three OS upgrades — one of which it already has gotten — and four years of security patches.

The iPhone SE (2022) will likely see updates for five to six years. The original iPhone SE, launched in 2016, received iOS 15 last year, despite it lacking enough power for all of the new features. We expect the newest SE will be the same, potentially getting updates as far as 2027 or even 2028.

Winner: iPhone SE (2022)

iPhone SE (2022) vs. Pixel 5a: Overall winner

iPhone SE 2022 vs Google Pixel 5a cameras

(Image credit: Future)

This is a very close race and both phones put up a good fight. In fact, the devices traded blows on which one came out on top. But we have to crown the Pixel 5a the winner by the slimmest of margins. 

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone SE (2022)Pixel 5a
Price and value (10)89
Design (10)68
Display (15)1012
Cameras (20)1517
Performance (15)159
Battery life and charging (15)1112
Software (5)54
Total score7071

While it lacks the iPhone SE (2022)’s performance chops, the Pixel 5a wins in the camera and battery life departments. It also sports a more modern design and offers a better value for money. Yes, the new SE starts at $20 less than the 5a, but to get the same storage, the iPhone is $30 more than the Pixel.

We can’t wait to see the Pixel 6a later this year. You can bet that we’ll be putting that head-to-head against the iPhone SE (2022). But for now, the Pixel 5a is the best Android phone for the money. That said, it’s hard to go wrong with the iPhone SE (2022), even though it unfortunately lacks Night mode.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.