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Google Pixel 6 vs Pixel 5a: Which new Pixel will be best for you?

pixel 5a vs pixel 6
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A Pixel 6 vs Pixel 5a comparison is just what you need if you're trying to figure out which new Pixel phone may be right for you this fall.

The budget-friendly Pixel 5a is already available to buy, and it ranks as one of the best Android phones you can buy. That’s not a surprise — the Pixel 5a has a lot going for it, including offering the best camera experience under $500.

But the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are in the wings, waiting to take the Pixel line to a whole new level. From improved camera hardware to Google’s own Tensor system-on-chip, we expect great things from the upcoming Pixels. In fact, we anticipate that the Pixel 6 Pro with its triple lens setup will contend for the title of the best camera phone overall.

As we gear up for Google’s next phone announcement, this Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6 face-off looks at how the phones stack up based on what we know as well as Pixel 6 rumors. The Pixel 5a does a lot right for $449, and whether the extra unknown premium for the regular Pixel 6 (let alone the Pro) is worth it remains to be seen.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Price and availability

Right now, the only place you can get a Pixel 5a officially is through the Google Store or the Google Fi carrier. There’s only one model that costs $449. Furthermore, the Pixel 5a is limited to the US and Japan.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We don’t know Google’s plans for the Pixel 6, but we certainly hope that there will be much wider availability. There have been rumblings that Verizon, the only major carrier to carry the Pixel line, has stopped working with Google. The Pixel 6 already has an uphill battle to fight, and it’ll just be worse if the phone isn’t available in carrier stores.

We also don’t know the Pixel 6’s or Pixel 6 Pro’s prices yet, but Google has said they’ll be premium-priced products. What that actually means isn’t clear, but we’d warn you that this could mean upwards of $999 or more. It’s possible that the Pixel 5a’s $449 price point might be even more attractive once Google officially launches the Pixel 6.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Design

The Pixel 5a kept the same safe design language that the Pixels have thus far been known for. Google’s function-over-form mentality isn’t a bad thing, but the Pixel 5a is not a pretty phone. It’s a plastic slab in an off-black shade with the Pixel square camera module and fingerprint sensor. That’s it.

Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

Google has already teased us with the Pixel 6’s radical new design, which we’d previously seen in leaks. The new phones will have a centered front-facing camera in a hole-punch cutout (versus being in the left corner like the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, 5, and 5a) and a camera bar spanning the width of the phone. This bar will replace the square camera module that we’ve had since the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL in 2019.

The Pixel 6 is also set to have a tri-tone color scheme, a far cry from the single color options on the last three Pixels. And it looks like Google is going back to fun colors — the Pixel 5 took a break from the interesting colorways, with a soft sage color as the only alternative to black. New colors would help the Pixel 6 stand out in the sea of Android phones.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We expect that the Pixel 6 will have a metal frame and glass back, which will be very different from the Pixel 5a’s polycarbonate body, though, to be fair, that is a budget phone and no one expected premium materials. Overall, the Pixel 6 should feel like a high-end device.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Displays

The Pixel 5a rocks a 6.43-inch FHD+ OLED display with a 60Hz refresh rate, which we quite liked in our review of that phone. It has decent colors, nice brightness, and the larger size is great for movies and games. It’s by no means on the same level as the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the OnePlus 9 Pro, but at more than half the cost of those phones, the Pixel 5a’s display is rather good for the money.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google has confirmed that there will be two Pixel 6 models, a regular one and a larger Pro. The former is rumored to have a 6.4-inch OLED FHD+ display with a 90Hz refresh rate. The Pixel 6 Pro should have a 6.7-inch OLED QHD+ display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

On paper the only difference between the Pixel 5a’s display and the Pixel 6’s rumored one is the refresh rate (60Hz vs. 90Hz), but we’ll need to get display benchmarks and anecdotal, side-by-side comparisons to make a final call if the Pixel 6’s screen is a huge upgrade or not. 

That said, the Pixel 6 Pro’s display looks like it’ll be a massive upgrade over the Pixel 5a’s. Not only is the resolution rumored to jump to 1440p, but the Pro could have double the refresh rate. All that together spells a significant upgrade.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Cameras

Whether flagship phone or midrange model, where Pixel devices absolutely shine is in the photography department. Google has long pushed the envelope on what’s possible with smartphone photography, and even though other manufacturers have seemingly caught up, the Pixel 6 could push things even further with powerful hardware and the AI chops for the computational side. 

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Google )

The Pixel 5a uses the same 12.2MP main sensor as its predecessor, but Google added a 16MP ultrawide lens to the budget phone. This significantly enhanced the Pixel 5a’s photography capabilities, making it the best camera phone for less than $500.

The base model Pixel 6 is rumored to have a huge 50MP main sensor paired with a 12MP ultrawide. While megapixel count isn’t the be-all-end-all (as Google has repeatedly shown throughout the Pixel line’s lifespan), the extra resolution will further add to the professional appeal of the Pixel 6’s photos.

Google Pixel 5a review

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The Pixel 6 Pro is rumored to add a third 48MP telephoto lens with 4x optical zoom. Google already has one of the best digital zooms with what it calls Super Res Zoom (which uses AI to clean up a zoomed-in image), so we’re excited to see what far distance pictures the Pixel 6 Pro can take. Between the dedicated telephoto lens, Super Res Zoom, and the AI enhancements with the new Tensor chip, the Pixel 6 Pro could rival even the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s zoom capabilities.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Tensor chip and specs

Speaking of Tensor, Google’s new in-house system-on-chip has us really excited. While the Pixel 5a uses a Snapdragon 765G, the Pixel 6 will be the first Pixel to not use a Qualcomm chip. In fact, Tensor stands to push the envelope on AI and machine learning applications, making the phones very powerful in that regard.

google pixel 6 tensor

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6 is rumored to have 8GB of RAM while the Pro could have 12GB of RAM. The Pixel 5a makes do with 6GB, which is fine for most applications. 

Let’s go back to Tensor. This new chip could allow Google to make the closest thing to an iPhone with rumors suggesting that the company might support the Pixel 6 for five years or even more. That’s unheard of for Android phones. Apple is well-known for supporting its iPhones for several years (with its 2015 phones set to get iOS 15 this year). 

In terms of 5G, we fully expect the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro to support both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G networks, just like the Pixel 5a does.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Batteries and Pixel Stand

The Pixel 5a has the biggest battery to date in any Pixel phone at 4,630 mAh. That has translated to real-world improvements over previous Pixel phones in terms of battery life. But the Pixel 6 Pro is set to take that one step further.

Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

The smaller of the new Pixels is rumored to have a 4,614 mAh battery while the Pro could have a huge 5,000 mAh power pack. If Tensor is a power-efficient chip, the Pixel 6 phones could last a while on a charge. We’ll have to get them in our lab for full testing, though.

Furthermore, a leaked listing for a new Pixel Stand hints that the Pixel 6 could get faster wireless charging (which the Pixel 5a lacks altogether). We’ve also heard rumors that the Pixel 6 could support 33W charging, which would be a huge improvement over 18W charging on the 5a. 

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 6: Outlook

Google Pixel 5a review

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We’ll have to wait until we have the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro in hand to make a final judgment, but it’s looking like the new phones will offer a lot of upgrades over the Pixel 5a. That’s to be expected, but Google’s current budget offering gets the job done for most people quite well at $449. It’s definitely a strong camera phone.

Google has warned that the Pixel 6 will be a “premium-priced product,” so the 5a’s sub-$500 price might become even more attractive in the face of the new phones’ MSRPs. It might be hard for a lot of people to justify a Pixel 6 when the 5a does such a good job at most tasks. But hardcore Android fans might choose to spring for the Pixel 6 or Pro, and Google is supposedly planning to really push the new phones. We’ll see how well that works out.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter.