Bargain-hunting smartphone shoppers got a bit of bad news this week in the form of the latest Google Pixel 7a rumor, with a pair of prognosticators forecasting a price hike for the upcoming budget phone over last year's model.
Both 9to5Google's Max Weinbach and Front Page Tech's Jon Prosser believe that Google is going to charge $499 for the Pixel 7a. While that's still under the threshold for our best cheap phones rankings — just barely — it would be a $50 increase over what Google charged for last year's Pixel 6a.
It's not going out on a limb to say that no one likes paying higher prices, especially at this point in time when the cost of everything seems to be inching upward. But the Pixel 7a's rumored price hike doesn't bother me the way a higher price tag normally would. In fact, I think there's an argument to be made that if Google delivers the rumored additions to its next midrange phone, the Pixel 7a could offer more value than any of its predecessors.
Pixel 7a: What came before it
To understand why that may be the case, we need to revisit the Pixel 6a, which rightly won praise for balancing cost with features. For $449, you got a phone with the same Tensor G1 chipset that powered Google's more expensive flagships. The Pixel 6a also adopted the distinctive look of the Pixel 6 while offering a pretty bright display in a fairly compact design.
But the true value of the Pixel 6a came from its camera performance. For a $449 device, the Pixel 6a took excellent pictures. Put it up against a more expensive handset, as we did in our Pixel 7 vs. Pixel 6a camera face-off, and you could spot some differences in quality, but not enough to make you feel short-changed if you opted for the less expensive device. There's a reason why the Pixel 6a earned a spot in our best camera phone rankings.
As adept as the Pixel 6a has proven to be in capturing images, though, it's really Google's software that's doing the heavy lifting here. The Pixel 6a's camera specs — a 12.2MP main camera and a 12MP ultrawide lens — are fairly pedestrian, especially at a time when rival budget phones are turning to bigger camera sensors.
Megapixels certainly aren't everything when it comes to mobile photography, but when Samsung equips its new Galaxy A54 midrange phone with a 50MP main camera, that's going to put pressure on the Pixel A-series phones and their 12MP sensors to keep up.
There are other areas where the Pixel 6a falls short of the competition, at least on paper. We live in an age where plenty of inexpensive phones offer screens with fast refresh rates, such as the Galaxy A54 and its 120Hz display. The Pixel 6a remain stubbornly stuck at 60Hz. Like other phones in this price range, the Pixel 6a doesn't offer wireless charging, one of the compromises Google makes to offer its phone at a lower price.
Pixel 7a rumored upgrades
It seems like the Pixel 7a is going to go about things differently, at least if the most intriguing rumors about the upcoming phone turn out to be true.
Start with that display, which will allegedly feature a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling. Now that wouldn't match the Galaxy A54's superior refresh rate, but it's a step in the right direction. And it will give the Pixel 7a a faster refreshing screen than a lot of Apple handsets — not just the budget iPhone SE 2022 but the flagship iPhone 14 as well.
Wireless charging is also on the docket for the Pixel 7a, at least according to rumors about the phone's capabilities. If that's true, it would fill in one of the missing features from past Pixel A-series phones and also help Google's new handset stand out from similarly priced Android devices.
But one of the most noteworthy changes could involve the Pixel 7a's cameras. Google is reportedly upgrading the main shooter. We've seen dueling reports — some say it will be 50MP like the Pixel 7's camera, others say it will be a 64MP sensor — but the bottom line is that the Pixel 7a appears likely to come with a main camera that captures more detail and lets in more light. Combine that with the Tensor G2 chip all but certain to power the new phone, and this could be a very formidable camera phone, even if it does cost $50 more than last year's model.
Those are three pretty substantial changes. If they all come to pass, to me that easily justifies a $50 price increase given the extra value the Pixel 7a would offer over its predecessors.
Pixel 7a outlook
Even if you balk at paying the Pixel 7a's likely higher price, you may not be totally out of options. It sounds as if Google might be keeping the Pixel 6a around, presumably for a discounted price. Even though it may lack some of the higher-end capabilities reportedly coming to the Pixel 7a, Google's current budget model is still a compelling device — even more so if you're paying less than $400 for it.
As I've said, all this depends on the features that actually make it on to the Pixel 7a. We'll find out soon enough what those are, as rumors point to Google previewing its new phone at the Google I/O 2023 event May 10 and then putting it on sale immediately after.