Should you buy Google Pixel 6 or wait for Pixel 6a?

An image of the Google Pixel 6a alongside the Pixel 6
(Image credit: Fazli Halim)

This is an awkward time if you're in the market for one of Google's Pixel phones. The Pixel 6a, the company's newly announced budget phone, doesn't go on sale for another month, even though we've known about the phone since May. Beyond that, Google has already confirmed that a more powerful Pixel 7 is coming this fall.

And yet, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro remain on the market — two of the best camera phones you can buy, powered by Google's extremely capable Tensor silicon... and seemingly rendered obsolete by phones that aren't even available yet.

If you're in the market for a new phone but don't want to pay the high prices that Apple and Samsung handsets command, Google's devices have always been compelling alternatives. But with the budget Pixel 6a arriving July 28 and the flagship Pixel 7 on deck several months after that, does that mean you shouldn't consider either Pixel 6 model?

It really depends what you're looking for in a phone, how much you're willing to pay and whether you need that new device right away. The Pixel 6a and Pixel 7 both have their strengths, but the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are available right now to fulfill your smartphone needs.

Here's a closer look at whether you should still consider a Pixel 6 or if it makes more sense to wait for Google's other phones.

Why you should wait for the Pixel 6a

The most compelling reason to skip the Pixel 6 and wait for July's Pixel 6a arrival comes down to dollars and cents. At $449, the Pixel 6a costs $150 less than Google's cheapest flagship phone.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 6aPixel 6
Starting price$449$599
Screen size6.1-inch OLED6.4-inch OLED
Refresh rate60Hz90Hz
CPUTensorTensor
RAM6GB8GB
Storage128GB128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras12.2MP main, 12MP ultrawide50MP wide (f/1.85), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2)
Front camera8MP8MP (f/2.0)
Battery size4,410 mAh4,614 mAh
Wired charging speed18W30W

You aren't making many trade-offs for that lower price, either, as you'll see in our in-depth Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6 comparison. The Pixel 6a sports the same distinctive design Google introduced last fall with the Pixel 6 family, with that horizontal camera bar stretching across the back of the phone.

More importantly, the Pixel 6a is powered by the same Tensor chipset found inside the Pixel 6 family. That not only means comparable performance — the Pixel 6 might enjoy a little extra oomph, thanks to its additional RAM — but also machine learning-powered features that had previously been limited to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Google Pixel Event Tensor chip screenshot

(Image credit: Google)

You'll especially appreciate the addition of the Tensor chipset when it comes to the Pixel 6a's camera performance. The camera hardware on the Pixel 6 is much more impressive — it's got a 50MP main camera versus the 12MP shooter on the Pixel 6a, and if you want a dedicated telephoto lens, you'll need to turn to the Pixel 6 Pro. But the software-powered computational photography features that help the Pixel 6 stand out among camera phones will be on hand for the Pixel 6a, as well.

That means you'll be able to enjoy features like Magic Eraser, which removes unwanted people and objects from the background of photos with often incredible results. The Pixel 6a will even introduce an updated version of Magic Eraser that lets you recolor objects so they're not as distracting. 

Magic Eraser in action on a Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That's just the tip of the iceberg, too. Other features like the ability to unblur faces and more accurate skin tones via Google's Real Tone feature are part of the Pixel 6a, too, just as they are with the Pixel 6. Basically, with Google's new budget phone, you can expect most of the Pixel's top features in a less expensive package — why not wait another month for that?

Why the Google Pixel is still a good deal

That doesn't means that everyone should automatically grab the Pixel 6a instead of the Pixel 6. Even if you can put off your phone purchase for another month, there's plenty of reasons to consider the Pixel 6.

That $150 savings is significant, especially these days, but it's not a huge discount from what you'd pay for a Pixel 6. Apply some of the best Pixel 6 deals, and you can reduce the cost of Google's flagship phone. As of this writing, some phones carriers are even offering Google's flagship phone for free with a trade-in when you open a new line of data.

And while you get many of the top Pixel features with the Pixel 6a, the cheaper phone does still require some trade-offs. The Pixel 6a offers a display with a fixed 60Hz refresh rate. Spring for the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, and you can get displays that adjust their refresh rate to 90Hz or 120Hz, respectively.

You'll also notice a difference between the phones when you actually hold them in your hand. The Pixel 6a uses cheaper materials than the Pixel 6, so if the feel of a phone is important to you, the Pixel 6 may be a better option.

What about the Pixel 7?

Thus far, we've focused on comparing the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6, but there's another Google phone to consider. The Pixel 7 arrives later this fall — we'd bet October based on Google's track record for releasing phones. And it figures to be an improvement on all the members of the Pixel 6 family.

Google Pixel 7 pricing at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

That's because the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro — yes, Google's confirmed both models — will feature a next-generation Tensor chip. That likely means improved performance and power efficiency, not to mention more features that benefit from the silicon's machine learning core. Google hasn't spelled out what those might be yet.

In fact, there are a lot of unknowns about the Pixel 7, as Google has only confirmed the new Tensor chipset and shown off the design of upcoming flagships. Camera features, battery life and other specs are only rumors at this point. We also don't know whether the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will retain the respective $599 and $899 prices of Google's current versions. So you could hold out for this fall's flagship devices, only to find out you'll be paying more.

Unless you absolutely want the latest and greatest hardware and don't need a new phone until later in 2022, opting for the Pixel 6 — and even the Pixel 6a — makes more sense than waiting for a Pixel 7... at least until more details emerge about this fall's Google phone.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.