OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Here's the budget phone champ

Tom's Guide
(Image credit: Future)

A OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a face-off may be one of the most surprising phone rivalries of the year. OnePlus has released R series devices before but never outside of India and China. The OnePlus 12R is the first of these phones to get a global launch, giving us the chance to pear the newcomer up against one of the best budget phones out there.

The OnePlus 12R has quickly established its own bargain bona fides. The phone's a scaled-back version of the OnePlus 12, with less impressive specs than its flagship counterpart, but with a less hefty price tag, too.

That sounds like a pretty fair description for the Pixel 7a, which adopts the Pixel 7's chipset and its computational photography features to deliver flagship-quality features in a more modestly priced device.

Neither the OnePlus 12R nor the Pixel 7a will put too big of a dent in your wallet, but which one sacrifices the most to achieve its lower price. This OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a comparison looks at what each device gives up ine exchange for its low-cost and what you wind up with in return.

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Specifications

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OnePlus 12RGoogle Pixel 7a
Prices$499; $599/£649$499/£449
Screen size6.78 inches (2780 x 1264)6.1-inches (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate120Hz90Hz
CPUSnapdragon 8 Gen 2Tensor G2
Rear cameras50MP (f/1.8) main, 8MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 2MP (f/2.4)macro64MP (f/1.89) main; 13MP (f/2.2)
Front camera16MP (f/2.4)13MP (f/2.2)
Battery size5,500 mAh4,385 mAh
Size6.4 x 3 x 0.35 inches (163.3 x 75.3 x 8.8 mm)6 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches / 152 x 72.9 x 9.0 mm
Weight7.3 ounces (207 grams)6.8 ounces / 193.5 grams
ColorsGray, blueCharcoal, Sea, Snow, Coral (Google Store exclusive

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Price and release

The Pixel 7a debuted last year with a $499 price tag for its lone 128GB configuration. That was a $50 price hike from the Pixel 6a, but even with that increase, the Pixel 7a remains one of the best cheap phones under $500.

The OnePlus 12R doesn't hit stores until February 13, at which time you'll pay $499 for the 128GB model. Take note that European shoppers won't be able to find that version. Instead, they'll have to turn to the 256GB model, which costs $599/£649. 

We don't yet know if any carriers plan to offer the OnePlus 12R, though typically OnePlus phones are available primary through retailers like Amazon and Best Buy as well as via the OnePlus website. The Pixel 7a is more widely available, as it's sold not only by Google but also through a variety of wireless carriers. As such, it's pretty easy to find Pixel 7a deals that can save you money on the phone.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Design

Oneplus 12r hands-on

OnePlus 12R (Image credit: Future)

Both phones take their design cues from the more expensive flagship phones they stem from. Like the OnePlus 12, the 12R has a big circular camera array on its back along with curved edges around its display. The Pixel 7a adopts the Pixel 7's horizontal camera that spans the width of the phone. It's got a flatter display with more prominent bezels than what you'll find on the OnePlus 12R.

Which phone has the better look is a subjective call. I tend to prefer the Pixel approach, as the camera bar is distinctive-looking while also stabilizing the phone when you set it down with the display facing up.

Pixel 7a held in hand

Pixel 7a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 7a should prove to be the more durable device, at least when it comes to water resistance. The IP67 rating on the Pixel 7a means it can take a dunk in 1 meter of water without issue. With an IP64 rating, the best the OnePlus 12 can promise is to withstand a splash of water but nothing greater.

The Pixel 7a offers more color options, in the form of Charcoal, Snow and Sea. (A fourth option — Coral — is available when you buy directly from Google.) The OnePlus 12R keeps things simple, with blue and gray designs, though the blue model is very eye-catching.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a 

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Display

OnePlus 12R review

OnePlus 12R (Image credit: Future)

There's no question to which phone has the bigger screen, as the OnePlus 12R's 6.78-inch panel looms over the 6.1-inch Pixel 7a. The OnePlus 12R display shows off more colors, too, though the comparison's a little bit closer when you apply the Natural setting to both phones' screens. Regardless of which mode the displays are in, the Pixel 7a has the more accurate colors, with a lower Delta-E rating. (The closer the Delta-E score is to zero, the more accurate the display.)

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OnePlus 12RGoogle Pixel 7a
Screen size6.78 inches6.1 inches
Refresh rate120Hz90Hz
sRGB Percentage160.7% (Vivid), 113.2% (Natural)129.8% (Adaptive), 111.7% (Natural)
DCI-P3 color spectrum113.8% (Vivid), 80.2 (Natural)91.9% (Adaptive), 79.1% (Natural)
Delta-E rating0.39 (Vivid), 0.21 (Natural)0.05 (Adaptive), 0.11 (Natural)

The most telling aspect in this display comparison comes down to screen brightness. OnePlus claims the display on the 12R has a maximum brightness of 4,100 nits, though that's a measurement reached under very specific conditions that would be very hard to create in real life. 

Our light meter reading of 1,131 nits was far off from that figure, but it was still brighter than the 931 nits we recorded with the Pixel 7a. Considering we thought the Pixel 7a screen was pretty bright when reviewing it last year, that's a high bar that the OnePlus 12R managed to clear.

Winner: OnePlus 12R

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Cameras

Google Pixel 7a

Pixel 7a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Phones in the $500 price range usually feature a main camera and an ultrawide lens, and that's precisely what you get with the Pixel 7a. The OnePlus 12R throws in a macro sensor to go with its two cameras, and while the macro shots I captured with the 12R turned out better than most of the shots have on other cameras, I consider that additional lens more of a "nice to have" at best.

Really, any camera comparison between the OnePlus 12R and Pixel 7a comes down to that main camera — a 50MP sensor on board the OnePlus 12R compared to a 64MP sensor for the Pixel 7a. The Pixel also boasts Google's photo processing capabilities, while the OnePlus 12R has make do without the Hasselblad partnership that's elevated the camera experience for OnePlus flagships. Honestly, it looks like an uphill battle for the 12R to keep pace with our favorite low-cost camera phone.

And yet, on this shot at a local produce market, the OnePlus 12R turns in the better effort. The tomatoes look bright and shiny, while the avocados look dark and green. In my experience, the Pixel 7a tends to skew dark on many shots, and it's a tendency that doesn't pay off here, as too much of the shot is bathed in shadow.

In a set of dueling cat photos, the Pixel 7a redeems itself a bit. I think my cat's orange tail looks a bit brighter in the OnePlus 12R shot — indeed, all of the orange fur looks good when the OnePlus 12R is on the job. But the different beams of light streaming in from the left side of the photo have the OnePlus 12R giving its shot a warmer cast, to the point where there's a yellowing effect on some of the sheets.

In contrast, the Pixel 7a manages to deal with the light more evenly. There are shadows to be sure, but the white parts of the blanket look more white. It's a more balanced shot even if the colors are more muted and cooler than what the 12R produced.

Getting up close to a rose really drives home the different approaches to color. The OnePlus 12R manages to highlight the pinkish hues on the rose petals. But that's at the expense of focus, as the rose appears much sharper in the Pixel 7a shot. You can even see a few water drops on the petals in the Pixel photo.

I think the Pixel 7a really flexes its computational photography muscles when you try out different settings like night mode. The entire scene is better lit when the Pixel 7a is on the job, while the OnePlus 12R can't overcome the darkness — compare how the apple on the left looks in both shots. I also like that the tiki mugs in the Pixel 7a photo stand out better — particularly the tauntaun mug in the middle where you can really make out details.

The Pixel 7a also benefits from Google's Super Res Zoom capabilities for those times when you need to zoom in without a dedicated telephoto lens. Both phones actually did a good job zooming in on a movie theater marquee from across the street, as text is legible in both shots. But the Pixel 7a also balances the color a bit better so that the details carved into the movie theater's facade stand out a bit more.

I took a selfie in portrait mode to test both that feature as well as the front cameras on both phones. (The OnePlus 12R features a 16MP selfie cam to the Pixel 7a's 13MP front shooter.) My skin tone appears a bit warmer and more natural in the Pixel 7a's effort; I don't mind the OnePlus 12R's brighter look, though the right side of my forehead is dangerously close to being overexposed. Both phones have a decent background blur, though I think the Pixel 7a's blur seems more sophisticated. Also, when I zoom in to left side of my face, it looks as though the OnePlus 12R gave my beard a trim, almost as if it got caught up in the bokeh effect.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Performance

OnePlus 12R review

OnePlus 12R (Image credit: Future)

Neither the OnePlus 12R nor the Pixel 7a features the latest silicon used by their respective flagships. The OnePlus 12, for instance, features the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, while the Pixel 8 models that came out last fall introduced the Tensor G3.

Instead, the two phones in our OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a face-off are using the previous generation of chips. In the OnePlus 12R's case, that means a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the same silicon found in leading Android phones in 2023. The Pixel 7a is using the Tensor G2 first introduced with 2022's Pixel 7.

That gives the OnePlus 12R an edge and not just because its system-on chip is relatively newer. Google doesn't really design its silicon with blazing performance in mind, instead concentrating on the chip's Tensor core and all the AI-driven features it can support. In contrast, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 was the first Qualcomm chipset to really make Apple's best-in-class silicon work hard to stay on top.

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OnePlus 12RGoogle Pixel 7a
ChipsetSnapdragon 8 Gen 2Tensor G2
Geekbench (single core/mulitcore)1553 / 51351401 / 3368
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (fps)84.441.1
Adobe Premiere Rush (Mins:Secs)1:090:56

We can see what those different approaches translate to when comparing benchmark numbers. The Pixel 7a keeps it close on Geekbench's single-core test for general performance, though the OnePlus 12R still has the better number. On the multicore test, though, OnePlus' phone easily outpaces what the Google device can do. 

It's a similar story on the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited graphics benchmark, where the OnePlus 12 posts the frames per second as the Pixel 7a. Only in the video transcoding test does the Pixel 7a redeem itself, finishing the task 13 seconds quicker than the OnePlus 12R.

Winner: OnePlus 12R

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Battery life and charging

OnePlus 12R review

OnePlus 12R (Image credit: Future)

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset in the OnePlus 12R isn't just a performance boost — it's also won renown for its power management features. Those are very much in evidence in our battery life test, where the OnePlus 12R posted the second-best time we've ever recorded.

Specifically, the OnePlus 12R lasted 18 hours and 42 minutes when we had it surf the web over cellular until its 5,400 mAh battery ran out of power. Only one other phone has lasted longer, and that's just by 6 minutes. In contrast, the Pixel 7a's 10 hour and 5 minute result, while in line with the average smartphone, is more than 8.5 hours behind the OnePlus 12R. Battery size plays a little part in that disparity — the more compact Pixel 7a only features a 4,385 mAh power pack — but mostly, it's the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside the OnePlus 12R making sure that the OnePlus 12R's battery sips power and doesn't gulp it.

The Pixel 7a does offer wireless charging support, a feature missing from the OnePlus 12R, but that's just about the only edge the Pixel enjoys when it comes to charging. In the U.S., the OnePlus 12R can charge at 80W seeds with the included charger. (It's even faster outside the U.S.) The Pixel 7a is limited to 18W wired charging.

It won't surprise you to learn that the OnePlus 12R fares much better in our wired charging test. After 30 minutes of charging the drained phones, the OnePlus 12R was up to a 96% charge. The Pixel 7a was still at 43% after half-an-hour.

Winner: OnePlus 12R 

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Software and special features

Google Pixel 7a

Pixel 7a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At a time when other phones are touting their AI capabilities, OnePlus has been strangely silent on that front. Yes, some AI features like AI-powered summaries of phone calls and generative photo editing tools are coming to the OnePlus 12 flagship, but only those sold in China for right now. The OnePlus 12R appears to be left out in the cold.

AI is the Pixel 7a's calling card. Not only does Google's phone let you easily navigate phone menus when dialing 800-numbers, but its built-in voice recorder can recognize when different people are speaking as it transcribes your recordings. That's before we even get to marquee features like Magic Eraser for removing unwanted people and objects from photos and Photo Unblur to clean up out-of-focus faces.

Both the OnePlus 12R and Pixel 7a promise three years of software updates. But Google provides two additional years of security support for the Pixel 7a; the OnePlus 12R's security support stops after four years.

Winner: Google Pixel 7a

OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a: Verdict

A OnePlus 12R vs. Google Pixel 7a face-off is a very close battle, and really it comes down to what's more important to you when you're looking for a smartphone. If performance and battery life are what you value the most, the OnePlus 12R is the better choice. The Pixel 7a is the better camera phone, though, and its AI-powered software features make the phone feel more future-proof.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 OnePlus 12RGoogle Pixel 7a
Price (10 points)910
Design (10 points)68
Display (15 points)1412
Cameras (20 points)1518
Performance (20 points)1714
Battery life and charging (15 points)1512
Software (10 points)710
Overall (100 points)8384

In the end, the better quality photos and more sophisticated features push the Pixel 7a ahead of the OnePlus 12R in my book. It also helps that the Pixel 7a has better water resistance and, to my eye anyhow, a more stylish design. I like a lot about the OnePlus 12R and I'm glad that OnePlus expanded the release for its R series phones if this is the kind of device we can expect. But ask me for a recommendation for a phone under $500, and I'm going to point you to the Pixel 7a on the strength of its camera.

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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.