Google Pixel 6a could get the Pixel 6’s best feature

Alleged Google Pixel 6a renders
(Image credit: 91mobiles / OnLeaks)

Update: U.K. readers who can't wait for the Pixel 6a can now get the Pixel 6 on sale for Black Friday, with iD Mobile offering it for just £27 a month and £19 upfront.

There's a good news/bad news situation on the latest specs leak for the Google Pixel 6a. It looks like Google's next budget phone will feature the same Tensor chipset just introduced to the Pixel 6 flagships, but the main camera won't be as powerful.

That's the word from 9to5Google, which credits the news on the Pixel 6a's main camera to information in the Camera app discovered by its APK Insight Team. According to the report, the Pixel 6a is going to use a 12.2MP Sony IMX363 primary sensor, which is what previous A series Pixels have used. That was also the main camera in the Pixel flagships until the Pixel 6 switched to a 50MP sensor for its main shooter.

In addition to the increase in megapixels, the Pixel 6 sensor is also larger than what previous Pixels have used, so it lets in more light. If the Pixel 6a opts for the smaller Sony IMX363 sensor, you won't see that same benefit in low-light shots.

On the one hand, it would make sense that a flagship phone would use a better camera setup than a lower-cost budget phone. But Google hasn't always operated like that. Instead, its Pixel A phones have often relied upon the same camera sensors and features found in the flagship Google phones. Based on this rumor, it seems like that policy is coming to an end with the Pixel 6a.

Other cameras on the Pixel 6a will reportedly match what the Pixel 6 offers. That includes the 12MP ultrawide angle lens on the back of the phone along with the 8MP front camera. And as we saw from Pixel 6a renders that have emerged this month, the upcoming phone is expected to adopt the horizontal camera bar that makes the Pixel 6 look so distinctive.

The Google Pixel 6 Pro (in black) and Google Pixel 6 (in coral) laid next to each other on wooden decking

Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the Pixel 5a and Pixel 6 rank among the best camera phones we've tested in the past year. You'd expect the Pixel 6a to also put up a good fight against other budget camera phones when it's slated to come out next year, but it seems possible that it could fall short of the Pixel 6's picture quality.

The Tensor news in the 9to5Google report is more encouraging. The Pixel 5a runs on a Snapdragon 765G chipset, though that phone debuted before Google introduced its own Tensor system-on-chip. With the Tensor able to keep up with Snapdragon 8 series silicon, you'd expect a big jump in performance for next year's Pixel 6a. More importantly, Tensor enables a lot of machine learning-powered features, such as improved call support and on-device dictation. We're eager to see if those features make the cut for the Pixel 6a.

We could be in for a wait before we find out. While the Pixel 3a debuted in the spring of 2019, both the Pixel 4a and 5a arrived in August. It's unclear if Google will stick to that timeline for the Pixel 6a next year.

And for those looking to get a Pixel sooner than the 6a's eventual release, there are some Black Friday phone deals going on. These include the Pixel 5a for $349 as well as the Pixel 6 with a decent discount at Best Buy, depending on your carrier. And be sure to check out our best Black Friday deals for the latest discounts.

Philip Michaels

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.