Pixel 6a leak could be bad news for Google’s next budget phone

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

The Pixel 6a is rumored to be close to launch, and we may even get our first look as early as next month's Google I/O. But when it does arrive, it may be missing at least one camera feature found on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

That's according to Android developer Kuba Wojciechowski, via XDA Developers, who delved into the code for the Pixel Tips app found on Pixel phones and discovered an exclusion around the Motion Mode that Google's current flagships have access to. 

Wojciechowski found that Pixel Tips is programmed to offer advice about Motion Mode to all phones in the “PIXEL_2021_EXPERIENCE” category — which is to say anything with the first-generation Tensor chip found in the Pixel 6 and almost certainly the Pixel 6a. However, there is also an exclusion for a device called “bluejay” — which is reportedly the codename for the latter.

That suggests that while the Pixel 6a may have the computational grunt to run the feature, the camera hardware might not be physically capable. We’ve previously heard that the Pixel 6a may use an older camera sensor than the Pixel 6, and this is some strong evidence pointing in that direction. Though if that is the case, then it’s strange that design leaks show the distinctive camera ‘visor’ appearing on the new phone: perhaps it’s just there for show.

Not that this will be a fatal flaw for the Pixel 6a even if it is true. Motion Mode — a feature that allows the Pixel 6 to combine multiple photos into one via machine learning for the illusion of motion blur — is a nice-to-have extra, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. 

Plus, while it would be disappointing to see a downgrade in the camera specs, we are still talking about the 12.2MP Sony IMX363 sensor, which was used to great effect in three Pixel generations, and as recently as the Pixel 5. These phones have always punched above their weight in terms of camera performance, and there’s no reason to believe the Pixel 6a will be any different in that respect when it arrives later this year.

And of course Google was always going to have to cut corners in order to make price cuts on the Pixel 6a — and the camera is one obvious place to do that. Given that recently leaked benchmarks indicate that the phone could offer the same processing performance as the full-price offering, a backwards step in camera tech seems a reasonable compromise.

We'll hopefully find out one way or another when Google I/O 2022 starts on May 11, so keep your browser set to Tom's Guide for all the latest news as it happens.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.