5 ways Google Pixel 8a can beat the OnePlus 12R

Google Pixel 8a leaked render from @OnLeaks
(Image credit: OnLeaks/SmartPrix)

It won't be long before the Google Pixel 8a arrives, assuming that Google sticks to its normal schedule of showing off its budget device during the Google I/O conference taking place some time during the spring. But when this year's Pixel A Series phone does show up, it will face a decidedly different landscape for budget devices.

Google usually finds its midrange phone at the top of the list when it comes to a more affordable handset that also delivers some premium capabilities. This time around, somebody beat the Pixel 8a to the punch, and that's the OnePlus with its OnePlus 12R offering.

I reviewed the OnePlus 12R and came away delighted with how closely it mirrors the features available through the OnePlus 12, while costing a fraction of that flagship phone's price. In the U.S., you can pick up a OnePlus 12R for $499 — or $300 less than the OnePlus 12. Naturally, you have to make a sacrifice or two when you take that much off the price, and in the OnePlus 12R's case, that means the Hasselblad camera branding that catapults the OnePlus 12 into the company of the best camera phones. Other downgrades, like a slightly older chip, aren't that big a hardship at all for the OnePlus 12R.

That $499 price for the OnePlus 12R is significant in another way — it matches what Google charges for the Pixel 7a. Assuming the Pixel 8a's cost is in the same ballpark, it means Google's next phone will be in direct competition with the OnePlus 12R for any Android user hoping to find the best cheap phone under $500.

In our OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a face-off, Google's phone finished on top, but only just barely. If Google's looking to keep its hold over upstarts like the OnePlus 12R, the Pixel 8a is going to have to deliver in some key areas. Here's how Google can maintain its edge with the Pixel 8a.

Deliver better battery life

OnePlus 12R review

(Image credit: Future)

It doesn't help Google's case that one of the weakest aspects of recent Pixel phones is perhaps the OnePlus 12R's greatest strength. But, armed with both a 5,500 mAh battery and a pretty power-efficient Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, the OnePlus 12R lasted for 18 hours and 42 minutes on our battery test, placing it near the top of our best phone battery life list.

The OnePlus 12R's time was also more than 8.5 hours ahead of the result the Pixel 7a turned in on that same test — and that was with the Pixel 7a's adaptive refresh rate turned off to conserve power. We're hopeful that Google finds some way to squeeze more battery life out of the Pixel 8a, and the fact that the Tensor G3-powered Pixel 8 models turned in improved battery times over their predecessors makes us think we could see a longer-lasting budget phone from Google this time around.

Wow us with AI

google pixel 7a over oak table

(Image credit: Tom Pritchard/Tom's Guide)

Speaking of the Tensor G3, we already know it's not going to match the performance of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 which controls the OnePlus 12R. That knowledge comes from the benchmarks during our Pixel 8 testing to know that Google's silicon lags behind the Snapdragon in everything from overall performance to graphics rendering. Since the Pixel 8a is all but certain to feature the Tensor G3, don't look for any gains there.

But Google's phones definitely offer more AI-powered features than what you'll find on board the OnePlus 12R, and that will help the Pixel 8a distinguish itself from other budget phones, as it will be able to do the same things that other Pixel 8 models can. That means generative photo edits that let you move around and resize the objects in photos as well as some very impressive call screening capabilities.

That said, we hope the Pixel 8a doesn't just replicate the Pixel 8's AI capabilities but moves them forward in some way. An enhanced capability here or there would show that Google's on-board smarts were continuing to evolve (with any improvements also finding their way to the existing Pixel 8 models, too, naturally). It would also whet our appetites for whatever Google's working to add to the Pixel 9 flagships later this year.

Widen the camera performance gap

Pixel 7a held in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I used OnePlus 12R and Pixel 7a photo comparisons in my evaluation of the new OnePlus phone, and we already know that the older Pixel is the superior camera phone option. The Pixel 8a can be the better camera phone just by standing in place.

But I don't think Google should settle for just that. Whatever camera improvements Google made to the Pixel 8 should influence what it does with the Pixel 8a. Give the ultrawide lens a wider field of view. Improve image processing to make colors more vivid. And, of course, adapt features like Best Take that let you swap in different faces for your group shots to improve the overall look of the photo. This is Google's chance to put all midrange phone makers on notice — not just OnePlus — that if you want to position your lower-cost handset as a camera phone, you're going to have to out perform Google to do it.

Make the display brighter

OnePlus 12R review

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus 12R's 6.78-inch display promises the same 4,500-nit peak brightness found on the more expensive OnePlus 12. We did not manage to get anywhere near that figure with our light reader — we'd assume it's achieved under very friendly conditions that you're unlikely to recreate outside of a lab. But the OnePlus 12R's screen is still plenty bright, as I had no problem making out details on the display even in glaring sunlight.

The OnePlus 12R display also happens to be brighter than what we recorded with the OnePlus 7a — 1,131 nits on OnePlus' phone compared to 931 nits for the Pixel 7a. That's going to put pressure on Google to make the Pixel 8a display a bit brighter, but this is the area where phone makers find themselves throwing down with each other these days. 

Longer software support

Google Pixel 7a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 7a gets three years of guaranteed Android software updates, matching what OnePlus promises for the OnePlus 12R. (Google does provide an additional two years of security support for its phone, while the OnePlus 12R receives just one extra year.) As far as midrange Android phone support goes, that's not bad — at least until you remember what Google did last fall with the Pixel 8 release.

The Pixel 8 now gets seven years of software and security support, a length of time that will let you hold on to your phone until the start of the next decade if you so desire. And while many people may not ending up using a phone released in 2023 as the 2030s dawn, giving them that option is a user-friendly feature that allows you to upgrade when you want to, not a when a software support scheme decides you have to.

I don't know what the secret sauce is that lets the Pixel 8 upgrade to any Android update that comes along between now and 2030, but I imagine it has something to do with that Tensor G3 silicon. Since the same chipset figures to power the Pixel 8a, perhaps Google could once again adjust its support policy accordingly.

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Philip Michaels

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.