I put the Pixel 8a and iPhone SE through a 7-round face-off — here’s the winner

Composite image between Pixel 8a and iPhone SE 3.
(Image credit: Future)

I’m a huge fan of midrange phones, primarily because they're not obnoxiously priced the way some flagship devices can be, and they’re still accompanied by excellent features. That's why a Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE comparison is necessary to see which midrange phone is the worthier one to earn your hard earned money.

In my Pixel 8a review, I mention how its new AI features dramatically set it apart from othermid-range phones I’ve reviewed in the last year. They certainly save me time from things myself, like how I use Magic Editor to edit my photos on the go rather than doing them on my computer, or how Call Assist can reliably take phone calls on my behalf when I’m unavailable. The Pixel 8a impressed me so much that it takes top honors in Tom’s Guide best cheap phones list.

Apple’s third-generation iPhone SE might seem like an odd choice to pit against Google’s latest phone, given that it's an older model. But this is a logical matchup, given how the SE is the  only iPhone that closely matches the Pixel 8a when it comes to price — more so with rumors hinting a long delay until the release of the iPhone SE 4. There are reasons why the iPhone SE (2022) can’t be overlooked, which I found out first hand when I shot over 200 photos with the Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE.

I’m excited for this Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE face-off mainly because it will show the difference in performance and features between two budget phones whose releases are separated by a couple of years.

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Specifications

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Pixel 8a iPhone SE 3
Starting price 499 $429
Display 6.1-inch Actua OLED (2400 x 1080) 4.7-inch LCD (1344 x 750)
Refresh rate 120Hz/60Hz 60Hz
Rear cameras 64MP main (f/1.89), 13MP (f/2.2) 12MP (f/1.8)
Front camera 13MP (f/2.2) 7MP (f/2.2)
Chipset Tensor G3 A15 Bionic
RAM 8GB 4GB
Storage 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Battery 4,492 mAh N/A
Charging 18W wired, 7.5W wireless18W wired, 7.5W wireless
Size 6.0 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches
Weight 6.8 ounces 5 ounces
Dust/water resistance IP67 IP67
Colors Aloe, Bay, Obsidian, Porcelain Midnight, Starlight, PRODUCT RED

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Price and availability

Google Pixel 8a in hand.

(Image credit: Future)

The Pixel 8a 12 officially arrived on May 14, 2024, with a starting price of $499 for the 128GB model. That’s the same cost as its predecessor, but those that need more storage than the 128GB base model offers can opt for the $559 model and its 256GB of storage.

Meanwhile, the iPhone SE (2022) launched March 18, 2022 for $429. Unlike the Pixel 8a, that model has a starting storage capacity of 64GB. You’ll have to shell out $479 or $579 respectively to upgrade to the 128GB or 256GB versions of the iPhone.

While they both come available in either your standard white and black paint jobs, I do like how the Pixel 8a has the more charming color options with bay and aloe — whereas the iPhone SE (2022) only has a Product Red option. This one's tough because I do like the charming color options of the Pixel 8a, but the iPhone SE still costs less if you’re wanting to save as much as possible.

Winner: Tie 

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Design

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

I like that both phones are much more compact in size than the flagship models I use, but the iPhone SE is shorter, narrower, and thinner in size, while also tipping the scale much less at 5 ounces (versus the Pixel 8a’s 6.8 ounces). 

While I like these qualities about the iPhone SE, its design is boring by today’s standards. What sticks out are the thicker display bezels on the top and bottom edges of the iPhone SE screen.

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

In contrast, I like the Pixel 8a’s design much more, mostly because of how it’s rounded along the edges and features a cleaner-looking matte back casing. This gives the Pixel 8 a batter, more comfortable grip in the hand while making it less prone to smudges. I’m also a huge fan of the bay and aloe color options because they help make the Pixel 8a stand out from the crowd.

Luckily, both phones feature IP67 rating that give them water and dust resistance — including protection against submersion under water. When it comes to looks, I’m giving the nod to the Pixel 8a because it checks off style, protection, and color variety.

Winner: Pixel 8a 

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Display

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

The disparity between the size of the two phones corresponds to the displays that each one is packing; a 4.7-inch LCD Retina Display with the iPhone SE (2022) and a 6.1-inch Actua OLED display with the Pixel 8a. Right away, I can tell you my eyes gravitate to the Pixel 8a more because it's more detailed and has a brighter look.

In Toms’ Guide’s display benchmark testing, the Pixel 8a’s new Actua display delivers an astounding peak brightness output of 1,378 nits — whereas the iPhone SE tops out at a pitiful 596 nits. Under direct sunlight, I can better make out details on the Pixel 8a's display. Adding to that, I also love the vibrant colors and wide viewing angle that the Pixel 8a’s OLED panel offers.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 8aiPhone SE
sRGB126.5114.7
DCI-P389.681.2
Delta-E color accuracy (lower is better)0.240.21
Peak brightness (nits)1,378596

The iPhone SE’s really showing its age here, especially how the display’s colors look more subdued. It's also worth noting that the 60Hz display refresh rate on the iPhone SE doesn’t come close to the flowing look that the Pixel 8a’s faster 120Hz dynamic refresh rate offers.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Cameras

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

Now comes one of the biggest areas that I love judging two phones: their cameras. I’ll be frank, there are few phones nowadays that only feature a single rear camera, and that includes budget models. Yet, that’s exactly what the iPhone SE (2022) packs along — a meager spec’d 12MP main camera. But as I’ve explained numerous times before, never judge a camera on specs alone.

Naturally, the Pixel 8a benefits from being a new release complete with a dual-camera setup that consists of the 64MP main camera paired with a 13MP ultrawide lens. Even though it lacks a proper telephoto camera, the Pixel 8a's 2x zoom photos benefit from help with some pixel binning. I also want to point out that the Pixel 8a also has the added utility of its ultrawide camera — making it more suitable for catching more of the scene than the iPhone SE.  All of these are reasons why it’s one of the best camera phones money can buy right now. 

For a phone that’s more than 2 years old, I’ll admit that the iPhone SE’s main camera still delivers excellent results. The daytime photo above proves this, as the iPHone matches the newer Pixel 8a., I'd even go so far as to say that the iPhone SE looks sharper when I look at details like the speed limit sign. In the shadows, however, I can see that the Pixel 8a is better at brightening up the darker areas in the tree’s branches.

Neither phone offers dedicated macro modes, but I’m still able to take closeups with both camera phones by moving a little bit further back to get the focus just right for this purple flower. When I zoom into the respective shot, I can make out more of the pollen stuck on the end of the stem with the Pixel 8a’s shot — while its colors look more true to life, rather than the oversaturated tones of the iPhone SE 

When it comes to selfies, the Pixel 8a gets my vote mostly because of its wider field of view to fit more of my torso into the frame and how it tones down the highlights so they’re not blown out — like in the bright spots in the far background and sky in the selfie above. The iPhone SE still pulls out decent selfies, but its tighter crop doesn’t make it ideal for group selfies with friends. 

Aside from how the Pixel 8a has the tighter crop with portrait photos with the rear camera, I still much prefer it over the iPhone SE. What’s most apparent in the side-by-side portrait photos above is how the Pixel 8a captures greater detail — like the marks around my face and hairline. 

To test the front cameras, I took a self-portrait, so you can't see an edge the Pixel 8a enjoys over the iPhone SE — the wider field of view for the selfie cam on Google's phone should let you squeeze more people into the shot. Still, in these side-by-side photos, the Pixel 8a keeps everything crystal clear and sharp while also toning down hihglights for a cleaner overall photo.

But the biggest difference between these two phones is how they behave under extreme low light conditions, and for this reason, the Pixel 8a proves its case in being the better camera phone for photography. The tree in my backyard doesn’t have much nearby ambient light around it, but yet the Pixel 8a somehow magically makes it look like there’s a light source illuminating the branches. For as much as the iPhone SE’s main camera does nicely under good lighting conditions, it simply can’t match the Pixel 8a because it’s just dark, which you'd expect since Apple doesn't include a Night mode on its cheapest phone.

Video recording tops out at 4K 60 fps with both phones, but the Pixel 8a is more suitable for the occasion because it doesn't suffer from the jittery look caused by shakes and an unsteady hand when using the iPhone SE.

Gif animation of Pixel 8a Magic Editor.

(Image credit: Future)

Going beyond the better results with the Pixel 8a’s cameras, I also want to point out the AI-assisted editing tools that I use to make my photos and videos look better with the Pixel 8a. For example, the task of removing unwanted background noise from videos I record with the Pixel 8a is normally a tedious task that requires me to use my desktop video editing software, but Audio Magic Eraser now makes it a simple process to do all on the Pixel 8a. There’s also Best Take that lets me select the best shots from my group photos, so that I can choose which faces I like best and blend them all together.

Apple’s still way behind in this area, and the iPhone SE is proof of this because the only features that’s natively offered are just your usual editing tools. I really hope iOS 18 introduces new AI-assisted features because Apple is desperately falling behind in this area compared to Google. And who knows if the iPhone SE will even get them based on how they could require more processing power to run.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Performance

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

This is one area where the iPhone SE doesn't show its age, as the A15 Bionic powering the phone still has some muscle even if it's not Apple's latest mobile silicon. On the Geekbench general performance text, the iPhone SE finishes ahead of the Pixel 8a, even with the latter phone's newer Tensor G3 chipset. Apple's phone can transcode a video clip much faster, too.

That said, the Pixel 8a surpasses the iPhone SE when it comes to graphics performance, churning out more frames per second on the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited test.

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Google Pixel 8aiPhone SE
CPUTensor G3A15 Bionic
Geekbench 5 (single core/multicore)1581/40931718/4482
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (fps)53.750
Adobe Premiere Rush (Mins:Secs)0:560:27

I put in a lot of hours playing Age of Origins on my phones, and the Pixel 8a’s stronger GPU performance combined with its smoother 120Hz refresh rate makes it more satisfying to plan than on my iPhone SE (2022). Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone’s still usable, but it simply lacks the Pixel 8a’s finesse and fluid actions, even with the higher benchmark scores on some tests.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Battery and charging

iPhone SE 2022 Lightning port

(Image credit: Future)

Apple doesn’t officially disclose the battery capacity in the iPhone SE (2022), but it’s certainly not bigger than the 4,492 mAh battery in the Pixel 8a. Nevertheless, Tom’s Guide battery benchmark tests show a big difference between the two phones, as the Pixel 8a achieves a time of 11 hours and 21 minutes — which is mighty impressive against the iPhone’s time of 9 hours and 18 minutes. The 2 hour difference is important because in my real-world experience, the iPhone SE (2022) typically comes short in getting me through a full day of normal use.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Google Pixel 8aiPhone SE
Battery size4,492 mAh2,018 mAh (based on teardowns)
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)11:219:18
Charging speed18W wired, 7.5W wireless20W, 7.5 wireless
Charge % after 30 minutes33%61%

When it comes to charging, the iPhone SE enjoys a slight edge in wired charging speed when you use a 20W charger, and it makes the most of that difference. After 30 minutes of charging, we got a drained iPhone SE to a 61% charge; the Pixel 8a and its 18W charging speed got to 33% in that same time.

If you’re in a time crunch, the faster charging speed of the iPhone SE undoubtedly helps out. But despite this, I would much rather have a longer battery life to offset the need to frequently charge throughout my day.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Software

Screenshots of Pixel 8a AI features.

(Image credit: Future)

The age old question of Android versus iOS is a never-ending battle. Why’s that? Well, it’s because both software platforms continually see updates with new and exciting features — with the Pixel 8a and iPhone SE (2022) reaping the rewards of that new software.

However, after testing and using both phones, I feel that the Pixel 8a has more value due to the fact that it offers much more helpful AI features I’ve frequently come to rely on, along with its class-leading 7 years of major Android and security updates. This gives the Pixel 8a longevity if you were to buy it right now. The AI features play a large role on why I prefer the Pixel 8a over the iPhone SE because it shows how a phone can actually take tedious tasks and streamlines them.

On the flip side, there are features in iOS 17 that I love and can’t get in the Android 14 experience on the Pixel 8a. For example, StandBy mode lets me transform my iPhone SE (2022) into a smart home hub to control all my gadgets at home and a digital picture frame. I anticipate Apple's phone getting more features because it’s rumored to be on the list of devices that support iOS 18.

Winner: Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE: Verdict

Google Pixel 8a.

(Image credit: Future)

Really, I’m not surprised by how this Pixel 8a vs. iPhone SE face-off turned off because two years is such a huge stretch in the world of smartphones. As much as I’m still surprised by what the iPhone SE (2022) is able to deliver against newer phones, it just can’t escape the obvious conclusion that it’s fairly dated at this point when stacked up against a freshly released rival.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Pixel 8a iPhone SE
Price (15 points) 1515
Design (10 points) 97
Display (15 points) 128
Cameras (20 points) 1814
Performance (15 points) 1312
Battery and charging (10 points) 86
Software and special features (15 points) 1512
Total (out of 100) 9074

What really drills home this comparison is that the Pixel 8a and iPhone SE are separated by a meager $70. For the extra money you’d shell out for the Pixel 8a, you get a better screen, stronger cameras, longer battery life, and much better design — so it’s the obvious choice when it comes down to value. You’ll also be able to tap into new AI features that the iPhone SE (2022) simply can’t match at this time, along with greater shelf life if you’re looking to hold onto your phone for a longer stretch of time.

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iPhone SE 2022 back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

iPhone SE 2022 Lightning port

(Image credit: Future)
John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.