Google Pixel 8a vs Pixel 9: Should you buy now or wait?

Pixel 9 render and Pixel 8a photo
(Image credit: @OnLeaks/Tom's Guide)

Summer should be about relaxing, but it's a nerve-wracking time if you're considering one of the best phones from Google. The release of a new A Series model from Google typically happens around this time of year, prompting an internal debate among would-be upgrades — buy the new Pixel now or wait for the inevitable flagship release later in the fall?

It's the same dilemma that currently faces anyone impressed by the new Google Pixel 8a. Yes, the phone has debuted to strong reviews — our Pixel 8a review was particularly complimentary, with my colleague John Velasco saying this was the type of phone he'd pay for with his own money. People like the fact that Google kept the U.S. price of the Pixel 8a at $499, while improving the display and adding new AI-powered capabilities thanks to an upgraded Tensor chipset.

But as good as the Pixel 8a may be, it's not the last Google phone arriving in 2024. This fall, we're expecting to see the Pixel 9 — a lot of different Pixel 9 models to be even more accurate. And those phones will almost certainly top the Pixel 8a in terms of new features. (They'll definitely cost more than $499 as well.)

Which brings us back to the debate — get the Pixel 8a now or hold out for the Pixel 9 when Google's new flagships arrive four to rive months from now? You can make the case for either position, depending on what you're looking for in a phone.

Why you should get the Pixel 8a now

The Pixel 8a's price is fixed

Google Pixel 8a in hand.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy the Pixel 8a, and you know what you're going to pay — $499 for the 128GB base model. (If you need more storage, tack on another $60 for the 256GB version.) The Pixel 9 doesn't have that kind of certainty — we won't know the official price until Google's hardware event in the fall.

You'd like to think the Pixel 9 wouldn't cost any more than the $699 Google charges for the Pixel 8. But counting on Google to hold the line on flagship phone pricing isn't always a winning bet. The Pixel 8's price reflects a $100 increase from what the Pixel 7 debuted at in 2022. There's been no rumors of price increases for the new phones, but it's still early in the Pixel 9 rumor cycle.

Going back to the Pixel 8a, it's not entirely accurate to say you know what you're going to pay for that device. Pixel 8a deals can lower your cost from what Google lists, creating an even wider gap between the midrange Pixel and its flagship counterparts. Regardless of what Google winds up charging for the Pixel 9, you're going to save hundreds of dollars by opting for the Pixel 8a now.

Google Pixel 8a: was $499 now free @ Verizon

Google Pixel 8a: was $499 now free @ Verizon
Verizon will let you pick up the Pixel 8a for free, though you'll have to meet a couple conditions to qualify for the deal. First, open a new line of data with Verizon; then, sign up for a qualifying unlimited data plan. The $499 price of the phone will be returned to you as bill credits spread out over 36 months.

The Pixel 8a has the latest Tensor features

Google Pixel 8a in hand.

(Image credit: Future)

Because Google uses the Tensor G3 chipset to power the Pixel 8a, this midrange phone boasts the same feature set found on the current Google flagships. 

Call screening, Magic Editor, and summaries of your voice recordings? They're all part of what a Pixel 8a can do for you, with its chipset's more powerful Tensor core. And not to keep harping on the price, but you're getting those capabilities for a lot less than if you had bought a current Google flagship.

Great battery life at last

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

Recent Pixel phones — flagships and midrange models alike — have struggled to keep pace with other handsets that benefit from increasing battery life. It's not unusual to see Google's devices struggle to hit the average time for smartphones that go through our battery test, in which we set phones to surf the web until they run out of power.

The Pixel 8a is a notable exception, holding out for 11 hours and 21 minutes. That tops the average smartphone by about an hour and 20 minutes on our test, and it also improves on the Pixel 7a's result by around the same amount. This is finally a Google phone where you don't have to worry about running out of power before the end of the day.

The best cameras at this price

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

Don't let the disappointment over the fact that the Pixel 8a made few improvements over the camera hardware and photo-processing capabilities of the Pixel 7a. That devices was one of the better camera phones we've tested, and it means the Pixel 8a is a top performer, too. 

Don't believe us? Check out the 200-photo face-off we conducted between the Pixel 8a and iPhone SE to see how far Google's new phone is ahead of the low-cost competition. Even a similar Pixel 8a vs. Pixel 7a camera face-off shows off the former's photo skills, though the overall results are obviously much closer.

Pixel 7a owners may not see much of a reason to upgrade to the new model based on camera performance alone, but if you've got an older Pixel or some other low-cost phone, the Pixel 8a is the best camera phone you can buy for less than $500. It even holds its own against Google's current flagships.

Why you should wait for the Pixel 9

You'll get more options to choose from

Leaked image of Google Pixel 9 lineup in gloved hands

(Image credit: Rozetked)

Another colleague of mine, Tom Pritchard, really likes the Pixel 8a, even though he's not going to get one. Instead, he's holding out for the Pixel 9 Pro, which will have the dedicated telephoto lens not found on the A series phones from Google.

Good news for Tom — he's apparently going to have two choices to pick from. Not only is Google rumored to be making a compact version of the Pixel 9 Pro, but the model with the larger screen will now be known as the Pixel 9 Pro XL.

And that's not all. We're expecting four different Pixel 9 models this fall. Besides the standard Pixel 9 and the two Pro options, the Pixel Fold is apparently getting brought into the flagship lineup, where a new version will be released as the Pixel 9 Pro Fold. That's a lot of different types of phones and while all cost more than the Pixel 8a — a lot more if you're talking about the foldable — there's a chance one of those models might be more appealing to you than the single Pixel 8a.

There's a new Tensor in town

If you're impressed by what the Tensor G3 in the Pixel 8 series phones can do, wait until you get a load of the Tensor G4. That's the new chipset rumored to power the Pixel 9 series, and if past Tensor releases are any indiction, we'll have new AI features that are possible specifically as a result of that silicon. (That said, the rumor mill is pretty quiet about new AI features enabled by the Tensor G4 at the moment.)

AI capabilities are rightly the center of attention with the Tensor system-on-chip, but a new version also means that performance and power management features are possible. Indeed, one early rumor tips the Tensor G4 to benefit from better heat management features, which woul pave the way to better performing handsets that last longer on a charge.

Camera improvements

Pixel 09 renders from OnLeaks and 91Mobiles

(Image credit: @OnLeaks / 91Mobiles)

Pixel 9 camera rumors have been few and far between, with the biggest tip being a claim that the Pixel 9 Pro might add a variable for its main camera. Despite the radio silence, we'd be very surprised if Google went from the Pixel 8 to Pixel 9 without making some change to the cameras, given how key digital photography has been to the success of past models.

It doesn't necessarily have to be hardware changes. Google could make improvements to photo processing that allow the Pixel 9 models to produce sharper photos than their predecessors, including the Pixel 8a. There's a strong possibility of more sophisticated photo editing features finding their way to the Pixel 9 through the Tensor G4 update.

We're taking a leap of faith here. But as good as the Pixel 8a photo experience is, it's a safe bet that you're going to get more capable camera phones by waiting for the Pixel 9.

Pixel 8a vs. Pixel 9 outlook

The decision on buying a Pixel 8a versus waiting for the Pixel 9 may be decided by factors out of your consideration. If you need a new phone right now or just can't pay more than $500 or so for a device, the Pixel 8a is not only your best choice, but your only option. Good news that it's such an appealing one.

If you've got aa bit more flexibility in terms of what you can spend, it may pay to wait just to see what the different Pixel 9 models offer and what Tensor G4 features become available. But if you prefer to jump on the best value available right now, it's hard to imagine a more attractively priced phone than the Pixel 8a.

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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.

  • kdarty
    This is an easy one. If you are willing to spend $1,000 and/or are used to always buying the Pro model then hold out for the Pixel 9 Pro. If you have no desire to spend that much and would prefer "best bang for the buck", but the Pixel 8a, you won't be disappointed.

    With the deals and good trade-in values, the Pixel 8a will be incredibly affordable so if price and value are important to you, go 8a.

    But if you are like me and always make use of the premium features and can rationalize the price difference, hold out for the 9 or 9 Pro.

    Keep in mind, when the 9 is released, Figure will likely provide really good trade-in values which can help with your purchase. For example, I got $400 back on my trade-in of my Pixel 6 Pro when I bought my Pixel 8 Pro and Google was giving out a FREE Pixel Watch 2 so it was worth it to me.
  • ZeroChill
    Don't buy either if these if you can help it. They shouldn't even be making the 9 unless their plan is to continue to damage the Pixel line's reputation. They should have skipped 9 and went straight to 10 when the new chips are ready and made sure all the hardware is good and stable.