This coming week could introduce us to the Google Pixel 6a, if rumors about Google's launch plans for its next budget phone are to be believed. Google's hosting its annual Google I/O developer conference starting on Wednesday (May 11), and a lot of Google watchers believe the Pixel 6a will be one of the stars of the event's opening keynote.
Screen size: 6.2-inch OLED
Refresh rate: 60Hz or 90Hz
Rear cameras: 12MP main; 12MP ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP
Battery size: 4,800 mAh
Wired charging speed: 30W
Introducing a lower-cost version of its Pixel phone during a developer conference isn't out of character for Google. After all, that's where the original Pixel A-Series phone, the Pixel 3a, made its debut in 2019. And a number of signs have emerged strongly suggesting a phone launch is imminent, not the least of which is the Pixel 6a showing up recently at the FCC for regulatory approval.
Should the Pixel 6a arrive as expected, it's coming into a crowded market for affordably priced midrange models. Apple has already introduced the $429 iPhone SE (2022), which undercuts the price of the currently available Pixel 5a by $20. There's also the matter of Samsung's Galaxy A53, which actually edged out Google's current budget flagship in our Galaxy A53 vs. Pixel 5a face-off. So the Pixel 6a has some work cut out of it, if Google wants this to be the sub-$500 phone we recommend.
Fortunately, Pixel 6a rumors suggest that Google's not sitting back on its laurels. A number of big changes are rumored for the upcoming phone, and if those rumors pan out, the Pixel 6a could rapidly rise up the list of best cheap phones.
Here's what you need to know about what's potentially coming to the Google Pixel 6a ahead of that phone's launch, and how likely that change is to happen.
1. A brand new processor
Previous Pixel A-Series phones have used Qualcomm's Snapdragon silicon, usually from the chip maker's 6- or 7-series lineup of midrange chipsets. They've delivered solid if not spectacular performance, but nothing that's caused previous models to really stand out.
That could change with the Pixel 6a, which is in line to get the same Tensor system-on-chip that Google included with last fall's Pixel 6 phones. Tensor isn't necessarily a powerhouse itself, trailing the A15 Bionic that Apple uses in the latest iPhone SE in benchmark testing. But Tensor comes with a dedicated machine learning core that drives many of the unique capabilities found on the Pixel 6.
These ML-inspired features include the Pixel 6's ability to screen incoming calls and transcribed dictated text messages on the fly, even with the correct punctuation. Should Google add a Tensor chipset to the Pixel 6a, those capabilities would be available in the budget phone, too. And that would give Google a leg up on the Pixel 6a's sub-$500 competition. Right now, we'd be willing to bet that the addition of Tensor to the Pixel 6a will be the budget phone's most noteworthy feature.
2. A new design
The processor inside of the Pixel 6 wasn't the only thing to change about that phone. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro also sport a distinctive look, with a horizontal camera bar that stretches across the width of the phone. Admittedly, it's not a universally loved look, but it certainly helps the latest Pixel flagships stand out amid a sea of fairly identical smartphones.
The past three iterations of the Pixel A-Series phone haven't been known for their looks, either, but that could change should Google introduce a Pixel 6-inspired make-over to the Pixel 6a.
This is more than wishful thinking on our part. Leaked dummy units and renders suggest the Pixel 6a is taking its design cues from the Pixel 6. And that would certainly be consistent with how Google had handled the look of its past budget phones, drawing on the more expensive flagships for inspiration. As with the Tensor chip rumor, we think this one's likely to happen.
3. A bigger battery compared to the Pixel 5a
It's been a long time since a phone from Google landed on the best phone battery life list. The Pixel 5a certainly missed out last year, turning in an average result on our battery test, in which we have phones surf the web until they run out of power. The Pixel 5a lasted for 9 hours and 45 minutes when we tested it. A good time is closer to 10.5 hours, while a great time hits the 11.5-hour mark.
We won't know if the Pixel 6a can improve on the Pixel 5a's performance until we get a chance to test the phone. (And, of course, Google needs to announce the phone first.) But one rumor suggests that Google's taking steps to bolster battery life on its budget phone. Reportedly, the Pixel 6a will feature a 4,800 mAh power pack.
That would be a modest upgrade over the Pixel 5a's 4,680 mAh battery. But assuming better power-management features from the Tensor silicon, even a little increase to battery size might help the Pixel 6a outlast its predecessor.
You should be able to charge the new Google phone more quickly at least. That same rumor promising a bigger battery also points to a boost in wired charging speed, from 18W to 30W. That's a little harder to believe, just because Google might prefer to differentiate between its flagship and budget devices.
4. New photo features
First some bad news about the cameras on the Pixel 6a — they're not changing much the Pixel 5a's. Unofficial specs at this point claim that the Pixel 6a will feature a 12MP wide angle camera and a 12MP ultrawide angle lens; those compare to 12MP and 16MP sensors for the Pixel 5a. The megapixel count on the ultrawide angle may be rumored to drop, but pixel size could increase for the Pixel 6a, which means the phone will be able to let in more light for sharper pictures.
Even if that's the only hardware change to the Pixel 6a's cameras, things still should be all right, since the Pixel 5a ranked among the best camera phones, particularly for a device that costs less than $500. The real benefit would be the Tensor-powered photo features that appear on the Pixel 6a, such as the Pixel 6's Magic Eraser tool for removing unwanted objects or people from the background of photos. Other Pixel 6 photo features like the Motion Mode blur effect may not make their way to the Pixel 6a, some leakers claim. We hope that particular claim is off the mark.
5. A fast-refreshing display
This potential Pixel 6a is up in the air, with different leakers backing different rumors. In the one corner, you have rumors that claim the Pixel 6a's display will feature the same 60Hz refresh rate as the Pixel 5a. However, another rumor has picked up steam as we get closer to the Pixel 6a launch, claiming that the new phone will pick up a 90Hz refresh rate, just like the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 Pro would continue to be Google's only phone with an adaptive 120Hz screen.
It's hard to tell which rumor has it right at this point. Boosting the refresh rate on the 6a would give it a leg up on the iPhone SE, which uses a traditional 60Hz panel, while also trying to keep up with the Galaxy A53 and its 120Hz screen.
On the other hand, you can see why Google might want to reserve a fast refresh rate as a feature for its flagship devices, especially if the Pixel 6 is going to remain $120 more expensive than the Pixel 6a. In other words, stay tuned to see which direction Google goes with its display.
Pixel 6a outlook
Assuming rumors of a Google I/O launch aren't off the mark, we won't have to wait long to see which of these key Pixel 6a rumors will become a reality. We'll also be watching closely to see if Google holds the line on the Pixel 5a's $449 price with its new phone.
Pricing rumors suggest that the Galaxy 6a is likely to cost the same as its predecessor, which would mean that it would also match the price of the Galaxy A53. The iPhone SE would continue to be the lower cost option, but as the above features would imply, there's more to the Pixel 6a than just its likely sub-$500 price tag.