Google Pixel 6a might be the most exciting phone of 2022 — here's why

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022
(Image credit: Google)

We've had more than a week to calm down from Google I/O. You'd expect that my excitement for some of the announcements would have subsided by now, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm more excited for the Pixel 6a than I've been for a phone in a long time.

As things get more and more expensive, I'm glad to see such strong phones that sit on the lower end of the price spectrum. Whether it's the Pixel 5a from last year, the Galaxy A53, the iPhone SE (2022) or even the OnePlus Nord N20, you can get a lot of bang for your buck without going over $500.

What I think will set the Pixel 6a apart from its peers comes down to the hardware. Not only has Google refreshed the A-series design to match the Pixel 6, but your $449 will buy you access to Tensor, the company's in-house chipset designed for AI and machine learning applications. And even though the main camera is the same 12.2MP as the Pixel 5a, I think the 6a will prove to be the best camera phone at this price point.

I was right about Tensor

Tensor is truly a fantastic chip in practice. It allows for the best speech recognition you'll find on a smartphone, plus other smarts like Magic Eraser, nearly instant language translation and faster Live Captions. In fact, the list of Pixel 6 hidden features, many of them made possible by Tensor, is a long one. 

I have never liked using voice-to-text on a phone, but all of that changed when I got my hands on the Pixel 6 Pro. Suddenly, voice texts became much more natural, with the phone able to pick up on subtle cues to input punctuation. That ought to translate right to the Pixel 6a.

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a will also be able to use Magic Eraser, the incredibly powerful photo editing tool that lets you remove background objects from your photos with amazing accuracy. It's not perfect, but for a lot of pictures, it works like a dream. And now Google is upgrading it, letting you change some of the colors of objects in your shots.

Tensor is also a flagship-class processor, meaning that the Pixel 6a ought to run laps around every other cheap Android phone. In fact, it looks like only the iPhone SE (2022) will be able to outmatch it in terms of raw horsepower, but I think the 6a will hold many other advantages.

When I started compiling my wishlist for the Pixel 6a several months ago, I said I hoped to see Tensor. Some called me crazy, so I feel very vindicated about Google's reveal. It's hard to believe that we're going to get this chip for just $449.

I can't wait to see the cameras

Some have expressed disappointment that the Pixel 6a will not have the same 50MP main camera as the Pixel 6. I honestly never expected Google to do this, especially since the company made such incredible use of the same 12.2MP sensor for years, even as recently as the Pixel 5a.

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a will use that 12.2MP sensor for its main camera and a 12MP ultrawide shooter will join it. You might look at the latter and wonder, "Didn't the Pixel 5a have a 16MP ultrawide camera?"

You'd be right in that, dear reader. But the key difference here is that the Pixel 6a's sensor has larger pixels, meaning it can let in more light. That ought to translate to brighter ultrawide shots.

The Pixel 5a wowed me with its photography prowess last year, and the Pixel 6 Pro even more so. I have a feeling that the Pixel 6a will sit somewhere in the middle — it'll have mostly the same sensors as the 5a, but the processing power of the 6.

We should get some killer photos, while the inclusion of Night Sight should give the Pixel 6a a serious leg up over the iPhone SE (2022). Google even pointed this out during the I/O keynote, and it's one of the key differences between the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE (2022).

Pixel 6a outlook

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6a hits general availability on July 28, which is over two months away. That's quite a while to wait for what I think is Google's most important phone this year. In fact, I think the Pixel 6a could be the most important smartphone of 2022. Obviously, I will reserve full judgment for my review, but I think the value proposition on paper is the best we've seen yet — and probably will see for the remainder of the year.

Tensor at $449 has me the most excited, because I've used the Pixel 6 Pro practically every day since it launched. I know what the chip can do and what it unlocks for Android. I'm thrilled that you will be able to get to use it for less than $500, which is a big deal for a lot of people out there.

So you could say that I'm counting down the days until the Pixel 6a comes out. Be sure you stick around for the full review.

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.