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Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: What are the differences?

A composite image of an official Google Pixel 6a render and a real-life image of the Pixel 6.
(Image credit: Google/Tom's Guide)

In this Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6 face-off, we'll break down the key differences between Google's cheapest Pixels. With the Google Pixel 6a now here, it's time to see whether it's still worth buying the original Google Pixel 6. There's a decent price difference between the two, but is it better to save your money or spend it to get some extra features?

While we've yet to test the Pixel 6a (it was only just announced at Google I/O, after all), signs are pointing to it being among the best cheap phones, just like the Pixel 5a before it. The Pixel 6, meanwhile, is one of our picks for the best phones overall, thanks to it offering a great balance of premium features for a lot less than its rivals. But with some of those features being shared with the 6a, is the case for buying the Pixel 6 weakened?

We'll be answering those questions in this Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6 breakdown, where we'll detail of all the key specs and features. Be sure to check back once we've tested the Pixel 6a, however, as we will no doubt have plenty more analysis to add, and take a look at what the differences are between the Pixel 6a and the Pixel 5a.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Specs

Pixel 6aPixel 6
Starting priceTBC$599
Screen size6.1-inch OLED6.4-inch OLED
Refresh rate60Hz90Hz
CPUGoogle TensorGoogle Tensor
RAM6GB8GB
Storage128GB128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras12.2MP main, 12MP ultrawide50MP wide (f/1.85), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2)
Front camera8MP8MP (f/2.0)
Battery size4,410 mAh4,614 mAh
Wired charging speed18W30W

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

You can buy a Pixel 6 right now from a variety of carriers, starting at $599/£599/AU$999 for 128GB of storage. Some of the carriers may ask for more though, since they use a specific form of 5G that doesn't come on the default version of the Pixel 6.

The Pixel 6a goes on sale on July 28, for the price of $449/£399/AU$749. That's a $150/£200/AU$250 difference which could matter to users with tight budgets. However, for a jump up from a budget phone to a flagship one, it's not a huge of a disparity.

More importantly for U.K. and other users outside of the U.S. and Japan, Google's actually selling the Pixel 6a in its usual range of countries. Bet you're glad to know you're not reading this face-off in vain, right?

Make sure to check out the best Google Pixel 6 deals and how to preorder the Google Pixel 6a if you want to buy either.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Google Pixel 6: Design

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google)

The Pixel 6 established Google's new design language for its phones, with the big camera bar stretching across the width of the phone. There's also a flat display with a central punch-hole camera and under-display fingerprint sensor. We see this too on the Pixel 6a, although it's a little smaller overall, and it uses a plastic back instead of glass.

Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Google)

For colors, you have the choice of Stormy Black, Sorta Sage or Kinda Coral on the Pixel 6, which is a small selection but should please most people. On the Pixel 6a, you can have Charcoal, Chalk or Sage paint jobs. It's another small selection, but without an option as lively as the orange Pixel 6.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Display

The first difference to note in the screens on these two Pixels is their size. The Pixel 6 stands at 6.4 inches, while the Pixel 6a is a bit smaller at 6.1 inches. 

The second is the material. The Pixel 6 uses Gorilla Glass Victus, currently some of the toughest available glass for smartphones around. The Pixel 6a uses the older Gorilla Glass 3, which is still much stronger than regular glass, but it may scratch and break more easily than what you get on the Pixel 6.

Finally, the refresh rates differ. The Pixel 6a has a basic 60Hz refresh rate, while the Pixel 6 uses a smoother 90Hz display. Other than that, the two share the same underlying OLED technology and FHD resolution.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Cameras

At least on paper, there's a few similarities between the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6a camera arrays. Both phones use the same 12MP ultrawide camera on the back and 8MP selfie camera on the front. The sole difference here is the main camera sensor, which is 50MP on the Pixel 6 and 12.2MP on the Pixel 6a. That could result in a detail and brightness advantage for the Pixel 6's shots.

Google Pixel 6a reveal at IO 2022

(Image credit: Google )

In terms of photography tricks, both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6a offer things like Magic Eraser to remove unwanted parts of an image or face un-blurring to restore detail to moving people's visages.

Google Pixel 6 camera module

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google showed off a new Magic Eraser feature with the Pixel 6a that allows you to recolor objects to make them less distracting without removing them. We'd assume this will come to the Pixel 6, too, via an update, as it would be weird to offer an advanced feature like this on only the cheaper model.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Performance and 5G

Google surprised us last year by unveiling the proprietary Google Tensor chipset for the Pixel 6 series. And now this chip has come to the Pixel 6a, offering flagship-grade performance in a cheaper device.

Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Well, almost. The Pixel 6a offers less RAM (6GB) than the Pixel 6 (8GB), which could impact its overall power. How much remains to be seen until we put the Pixel 6a through some benchmarks and see what it scores.

On the subject of memory, by default the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6a offer the same 128GB of storage. However that's the only option for the Pixel 6a, while anyone in need of extra room can grab 256GB on the Pixel 6.

For 5G, both the Pixel 6a and Pixel 6 offer sub-6GHz 5G by default, with mmWave on offer on certain models. Getting access to mmWave may cost you extra (an extra $50 for the 6a on Verizon), and may require you to buy it locked to a specific carrier, but it's there if you want or need those higher speeds.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Battery and charging

You'll find a 4,616 mAh battery in the Pixel 6 were you to take it apart. In the Pixel 6a, it's a 4,410 mAh cell. Neither the Pixel 6 nor the old Pixel 5a were great on battery life, and with a smaller battery than both, the Pixel 6a could struggle, too. Let's cross our fingers that Google's worked out how to make that Tensor chip more efficient.

You can charge the Pixel 6 at up to 21W with a wired charger. The Pixel 6a keeps the old 18W standard of the Pixel 5a, which is about what we'd expect from a phone of this price. Wireless charging remains a Pixel 6 exclusive, though.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Google Pixel 6: Software

You'll find Android 12 installed on both the Pixel 6 and 6a. However, with these being Pixels, you'll be able to try out Android 13 on them in the near future and likely several future generations of Android too.

Google promised five years of security support for the Pixel 6, keeping that commitment for the Pixel 6a. Google did not specify how many years of platform updates we can expect, but the Pixel 6 got three years. That could mean the Pixel 6 will last you longer than the Pixel 6a, or vice versa, depending on if Google prioritises the Pixel 6a's more recent launch or the Pixel 6's flagship status when deciding to end platform update support.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 6: Outlook

The Pixel 6a looks to have done a good job at distilling the core parts of the Pixel 6 into a package that's about two-thirds the price, so if you want the best bang for your buck, the Pixel 6a seems like the phone to go for. That is, assuming we don't find anything terribly wrong with it when we review it.

On the other hand, some of the features that the Pixel 6 has, but that the Pixel 6a doesn't, could be deal-breakers. The Pixel 6 offers a larger, smoother display, a higher resolution camera, extra RAM, the option of extra storage, a larger battery and faster charging, which are all quite desirable features.

If you want at least a couple of these, and you can afford to stump up the difference, you may be better off going for the vanilla Pixel 6 instead of its less capable cousin.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.