Google Pixel 6a — is this the breakthrough budget phone we've been waiting for?

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

Update: A new leak offers some official-looking renders, giving us a look at the Pixel 6a from every angle

We’re a month out from the arrival of the Google Pixel 6a, the phone that Google previewed during its developer conference in May. And that means while consumers try to decide if the compromises the Pixel 6a makes are worth the lower $449 price for the phone, Google has to consider another possibility: what if people just aren’t interested in budget phones like the Pixel 6a?

Consider the top 10 best-selling smartphones for 2021 compiled by Counterpoint research this past March. You’ll find some familiar names on the list, including seven different iPhones. (The iPhone 12 tops the list of best-sellers, which makes sense since it was out for the entire year and not just a fraction, like the newer iPhone 13 models.) What you won’t find on that list are many budget phones.

Oh sure, the Galaxy A12 — a sub-$200 model from Samsung — checks in at No. 6, and one of the many iPhones on the list is the iPhone SE 2020, which is certainly the type of phone the Pixel 6a hopes to compete with. But that’s it for budget models on a list dominated by premium handsets. It turns out people like having higher-end phones.

Whether they like having Google phones is another matter. You won’t see any Pixel models among the top 10 for market share.

Can the Pixel 6a change that when it goes on sale July 28? (Pixel 6a preorders begin a week earlier on July 21.)  Google’s new phone certainly should compare well against rival budget phones, as our Pixel 6a vs. Galaxy A53 and Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) previews suggest. Compared to those phones, Google may have what it takes to stand out from the midrange crowd.

Google Pixel 6a vs Samsung Galaxy A53

The Pixel 6a (left) stacks up well against the Galaxy A53 (Image credit: Google/Future)

While the Google Pixel 6a has an older camera, and the ultrawide rear camera is only 12MP vs the 16MP ultrawide rear camera featured on the current Pixel 5a, the Tensor chip powering Google’s new phone should make up for those shortcomings. There is also a low-light photo mode, magic eraser and face unblur. Fans of uploading to TikTok and amateur content creators can even shoot 4K videos at 60 frames a second. 

Features like that are increasingly essential for smartphones users of all stripes, and it’s where the Pixel 6a figures to stand out from its rivals. The Samsung Galaxy A53 costs the same as the Pixel 6a, but its chipset likely won’t be able to keep pace with the Tensor silicon powering Google’s phone.The iPhone SE 2022 may take great photos overall, but it lacks a nigh mode on the camera. 

That said, there are some compromises to make when opting for a Pixel 6a. The phone only offers a 60Hz refresh rate, compared to 120Hz on the Galaxy A53. Of course, given the Pixel 6a’s 6.1-inch screen, you have to wonder how much that matters if all you do is watch TikToks and Reels or the latest episode of whatever Marvel show is streaming on Disney Plus these days? Honestly, the answer is probably not.

That still leaves Google with the challenge of attracting smartphone shoppers who haven’t been clamouring for midrange phones up until now. Rising prices all around us may impact that somewhat — if you’re paying more for just about everything, why not consider one of the best cheap phones instead of something pricier? But even if there’s not a mad rush to budget models, it’s still important for Google to offer something like the Pixel 6a.

The Pixel 6a offers another route to get any Google Pixel device into the hands of customers who can also pick from flagships like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. (At $599, the Pixel 6 is a pretty compelling value in its own right when compared to more expensive flagships.) With Apple and Samsung dominating the smartphone market in the U.S., all Google is looking for is a device that gets more people interested in trying out a Pixel. The Pixel 6a very clearly fits that description, and that alone could make the device a success.

Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.