I have never used or reviewed a Google Pixel phone till now. So when the opportunity came to review the new Google Pixel 6a, which is actually coming to India this time, I wanted to take this phone for a spin. My objectives were two: one, figure out why the camera was getting so much attention and praise and, two, check out Google’s own vision of Android.
The Google Pixel 6a ships in a small box not much thicker than the phone itself. The Nothing Phone (1) too has shipped in a box like this, underlining how this is going to be the future of at least top-end Android phones where the charger is not something you should anymore expect in the box. Even as most of the companies innovate on the charging technology they will also spin it off as a separate thing to sell.
The phone itself is stylish with a pretty unique look thanks to the black camera band on the back. The glossy surface will show your fingerprints up nicely, but that’s something you will learn to live with. The edges are smooth and offer a good grip, making this one of the handiest phones I have handled in a while. This is also because the screen is 6.1 inches, which is actually a compact phone these days.
The screen might not boast a lot of extra pixel muscle, but is still sharp and bright and works well in all light conditions. The audio quality is pretty good too and I could even feel a bit of bass coming through despite the ambient noise of where I was.
The Pixel 6a is powered by the Google Tensor processor and this seems to offer the phone an advantage when it comes to integrating seamlessly with the Android software and using the artificial intelligence layers mostly natively in regular activity. The phone can handle all functions pretty well and did not heat up even once in the few days I used it before this review.
But the beauty of this integration is when you use some of the AI features the Pixel 6a has ushered in. The most stunning for me was the magic eraser tool in the photo editing tab. This lets you remove a person or item in a frame you have just captured. The AI determines what to put in the place of the subject you have removed. It is mind-blowing stuff, especially when it works on the device without any need to access the web.
Then there is live transcription and translation, both life-saving tools on a lot of occasions. The accuracy of the transcription is above the industry average in my books, and I’m someone who uses a transcription tool almost daily.
The material design user interface (UI) is simple but effective and works well without becoming a hurdle by itself. It is good to see this is how Google envisions Android through partners might have their own take on it. A lot of the new widget styles are fun too, like with the clock that moves even the dates around.
It was the camera however that had me intrigued the most. And this is not even a phone that packs three or four lenses to impress you even before the first click has been framed. Google has packed just two 12MP cameras in the rear, one of them a wide angle, to get the job done.
As you raise the camera to click you can see the level bar come up and give you haptic feedback if you hit 0 degrees. A small thing that goes a long way to ensure you have the right photo.
The phone does pretty well in low light. But the image takes a bit of time to load afterwards, suggesting that the processor is working overtime to patch the frames and make it look better.
With every click, you feel there is something happening before you get to see the photo. But this is not an over-processed mess like we are used to in many of the cameras these days. In fact, the Pixel 6a has one of the most natural shots in a smartphone I have used. You can also see the software come into play when you use the digital zoom feature to reduce the noise in the final image.
The Google Pixel 6a also has one of the best battery performances in town. The 4410mAh battery lasted almost 48 hours for me with regular use and towards the end, I switched on the battery saver mode to squeeze in more. There is also the extreme battery saver mode with can make the last 10% of the battery work for a few hours, though with limited app features. With this, I could get about 90 minutes of juice from the last 6% of the battery, though with just Gmail and Maps working. Of course, one can live with that in extreme circumstances.
On the flip side, the phone needs you to have steady hands in low light, since the night mode takes a few seconds to lock the final frame. Also, while framing shots there is a lot of noise visible which can put you off. But thankfully these don’t appear in the final results. In the short time, I used this phone, I could not find any other issue with it.
At Rs 43,999, the Google Pixel 6a stands in line to compete with the likes of the OnePlus 10R and Nothing Phone (1). But since Google Pixel phones don’t come regularly into India, the range will have to compete also for mind space and peace of mind when it comes to new customers.
That said, this is a complete phone that can easily become your daily driver. This is pretty much the reference design for Android in the coming year and a joy to use. And that is a good reason why this phone makes great sense for those who love Android. But yes, this phone is one where the software shines over the hardware.