If rumors about Google's smartphone plans prove true, we're going to see a Google Pixel 6a at some point this month. And frankly, Google's budget phone couldn't be arriving at a better time.
With costs on the rise and money getting tight, there's no better time for a sub-$500 phone that promises flagship-quality camera performance to hit the market, and that's precisely what we're expecting from the Pixel 6a. Should it ship this month, Google's new phone would also arrive just after the iPhone SE (2022) and Samsung Galaxy A53 have made their debuts, setting up an intriguing clash of reasonably priced handsets.
We're likely to find out about the Pixel 6a's fate very shortly. Google is reportedly planning on showing off the phone at Google I/O — CEO Sundar Pichai confirmed that new hardware will be part of the annual developer's conference, which gets underway May 11.
Google's A series hones have always been positioned as lower-cost editions of the flagship Pixel series. That's likely to continue with the Pixel 6a, though this time around, that could mean the new phone adopts the Tensor system-on-chip that Google introduced with last fall's Pixel 6 lineup. If so, that means a slew of new features could find their way to the Pixel 6a.
Here's a closer look at some of the Pixel 6 features we hope to see on the Pixel 6a — some of which are tied to Tensor and some of which aren't.
To be clear, you can get Magic Eraser — one of my favorite things about the Pixel 6 — on Pixel phones running Android 12, including the Pixel 5a. But doing so is a convoluted process involving sideloading and APKs. It's probably within the skillset of the average Android user, but why bother with that nonsense when you can just get a shiny new phone with the Magic Eraser tool already waiting for you?
And you'll find Magic Eraser a very useful addition to your phone. As I discovered when putting Magic Eraser through its paces, Google's smart photo-editing tool can easily remove unwanted objects or people with a simple tap in most cases. There are some limitations — Magic Eraser's automatic suggestions can be overly aggressive and some edges can look a little jagged post-editing — but overall, Magic Eraser is an easy tool to use that can really spruce up your photos. It will be a welcome addition to the Pixel 6a, should Google include it.
While we're on the subject of Tensor-powered photo-editing tools, the Pixel 6 introduced a handy Face Unblur feature which you can use to do exactly what the name implies. The feature uses both the main lens to gather in light and the ultrawide angle camera to capture the right amount of exposure for a clear photo, even if your subject moves at the last moment. And if you're taking a photo of child, chances are they will.
The Pixel 5a shipped with two rear lenses, and the Pixel 6a is rumored to be doing the same, so there's no hardware limitation to supporting Face Unblur on Google's upcoming phone, particularly if there's Tensor silicon powering the device. Face Unblur is the kind of feature you'll be happy to have on your device.
There's one other Tensor-powered camera feature on the Pixel 6 worth mentioning, and that's HDRNet. The feature applies HDR effects to video capture so that colors are more vivid while tones look more accurate. HDRNet supports 4K video at 60 frames per second.
That may sound like the kind of high-end capability Google reserves for its flagship phones, but we still think it would be a great addition to the Pixel 6a. In a word of vlogging and TikTok videos, video capture is more important than ever, even for budget phones. (Especially for budget phones, one might argue.) Bringing HDRNet over to the Pixel 6a would give Google's phone a big edge over rival midrange handsets, potentially making the Pixel 6a the go-to device for capturing high-quality video on a budget.
After Magic Eraser, I think my favorite addition to the Pixel 6 was the ability to dictate accurate texts in the Messages app, and have the Google Assistant copy my words perfectly, right down to the punctuation. We're a decade-and-half into the era of phones without physical keyboards, so anything Tensor can do to improve dictation is very much welcome.
Tensor supports other contextual typing features, too, like recognizing who you mean when you refer to a friend with the same name as another friend. You're also able to include emojis, just by using the sound of your voice.
These are fairly complex AI features that work simply and dependably, exhibiting the power of Tensor's machine learning core. If Google's chip is coming to the Pixel 6a, including these voice-powered capabilities is a no brainer.
That Pixel 6 camera bar
Enough Tensor talk — let's turn to other Pixel 6 features that I'd like to see trickle down to the Pixel 6a. The most obvious one would be the Pixel 6's distinctive look.
Prior to the Pixel 6, Google's phones were never going to place high in any beauty contests, and that was especially true of the A series devices with their stripped-down design. While plain-looking phones are often the trade-off you make for a lower price, it doesn't have to bee that way, and the Pixel 6 shows us how.
I love the horizontal camera bar on the back of the back of the Pixel 6. Not only does it make Google's flagship stand out from other phones, it serves a practical purpose as well. When you see the phone on its back, there's no wobble caused by an oversized camera array — the Pixel 6's camera bar stretches from one end of the phone to the other, bringing balance to the device.
Go with cheaper materials to keep the Pixel 6a's price down if you must, Google. But bring the camera bar to your cheaper phone and give the Pixel 6a some badly needed style.
Another trade-off Google insists you need to make for a lower-priced phone involves wireless charging. The Pixel flagships offer it, the A Series phones do not.
I don't know if Google plans to reverse tha decision — the current Pixel 6a rumors suggest they won't — but the iPhone SE (2022) does. (In fact, that feature was even supported by the previous iPhone SE.) That would seemingly put pressure on Google to bring the Pixel 6a up to the iPhone's standard, especially since another would-be rival — the Galaxy A53 — doesn't offer wireless charging.
It's time for the Pixel 6a to take the fight to its competitors, and adding wireless charging would help that cause.