Update: An alleged Pixel 6a case leak teases the design and camera changes.
If you're waiting for Google to launch the next version of its budget phone, it sounds like you're not in for long of a wait. Filings with the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. indicate that the Pixel 6a has gone through the necessary regulatory certifications, suggesting an imminent launch.
DroidLife (opens in new tab) spotted the FCC filings, which include four different models corresponding to the Pixel 6a — one of which supports mmWave-based 5G bands while the others work with sub-6GHz-based 5G. We'd guess that the former is intended for Verizon's 5G network, which still uses high-speed mmWave 5G in a number of cities.
Otherwise, the most significant thing about the Pixel 6a showing up at the FCC is the timing. Generally, phones get the regulatory OK a month or so before they make their debut. That's what happened with the Pixel 5a last year — it hit the FCC in July, which was roughly a month before its August 2021 debut.
The Google I/O 2022 conference is set for next month, with the event getting underway May 11. Google I/O usually opens with a keynote, so we'd expect that would be the time to take the wraps off the Pixel 6a.
Such an announcement wouldn't be unprecedented on Google's part. The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL debuted at the 2019 Google I/O before the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain issues pushed subsequent Pixel A series launches to late summer.
Should the Pixel 6a arrive next month as expected, it enters the market for budget smartphones at a very interesting time. Apple just released a new iPhone SE, adding 5G connectivity to its cheapest handset while also keeping the single rear lens on the 2022 model. Samsung's stepping up its midrange game as well with the Galaxy A53, a phone that sports an identical $449 price to the Pixel 5a.
Given that competitive climate, Google may be under pressure to deliver noteworthy upgrades with the Pixel 6a. On that front, the phone maker may be able to deliver — the Pixel 6a is rumored to be getting the same Tensor silicon that powers the Pixel 6 flagships. Also, a new rumor suggests the Pixel 6a display will feature a 90Hz refresh rate, which would certainly trump the iPhone SE's standard 60Hz refresh rate.
Google is also expected to showcase its usual array of computational photography-powered tricks to make the cameras on the Pixel 6a some of the best you can find on a lower-cost phone. Whether or not the Pixel 6a will rank among the best camera phones will have to wait until the phone hits the market.
But as we noted at the outset, with the Pixel 6a getting its regulatory OKs in order, the wait seems like it's going to end very shortly.