Has Google lost its way with the Pixel A series?

Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Google’s Pixel A series has a well-defined formula at this point. The budget series has key features like light, smooth software and advanced camera processing while cutting some corners to keep the price affordable. It has worked so well so far, with devices like the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5a garnering plenty of praise over the years. Now, we have the Google Pixel 6a. It follows most of the rules but blurs the line between budget and pioneer like never before. The Pixel 6a takes some solid steps but puts almost all of its eggs in the same basket. Enough to make me wonder: Has Google lost its way with the Pixel A series?

Read our thoughts: Google Pixel 6a review

Trust in Tensor

Google Pixel 6a Home Screen
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Don’t get me wrong, the Google Pixel 6a is a good phone. It fulfills a need for anyone who wants a smaller Pixel these days. However, the purchase value of the slam was not the same as its predecessors. Rather than balancing the mediocre processing power with cross-board upgrades, the Pixel 6a is entirely housed in Google’s Tensor chip. Besides the reworked design, the Tensor chip is arguably the only update that keeps the Pixel 6a ahead of the Pixel 5a of 2021 or even the Pixel 4a 5G of 2020.

Learn more: Google Tensor vs Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

Google is confident in its own silicon, but the truth is we still don’t know how far Tensor has come. The Pixel 6 series has been riddled with bugs since its launch, prompting some to jump aboard in search of calmer waters. The chipset is rife with reception and overheating issues, and it’s bad enough that Robert Triggs reluctantly abandoned his Pixel 6 Pro – a phone he generally loved – after less than a year of use.

Perhaps Tensor’s biggest problem is time, or lack thereof. Google hasn’t had the same opportunity to grow and learn as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 series and Apple Bionic line. However, Google is doubling its size. Rather than upgrading components like the refresh rate (stuck at 60Hz) or the camera (hello, the Pixel 3’s 12.2MP sensor), Google is betting on its processing power to move the Pixel 6a into the future. It’s a risky bet, since the Pixel A series is aimed at customers who may not have the flexibility to replace their devices once things go awry. A mid-tier chip, let’s call it the Tensor Lite, may have allowed Google to build a more balanced, less risky Pixel 6a.

Is it time for a Tensor Lite chip that allows Google to upgrade other components like the camera and screen?

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a mid-range device opt for processing power rather than extensive upgrades. Apple’s iPhone SE (2022) packs an all-new A15 Bionic chipset into the old iPhone 8 chassis with disappointing results. Yes, it’s powerful, and delivers benchmark results essentially off the charts, but it’s a lopsided experience. The iPhone SE (2022) is small and awkward to use, while its single camera weighs on its resilience like a stone.

Apple’s smallest iPhone is a stark example, but the Pixel 6a is cut from a similar piece of cloth. It’s betting on a small chipset rather than upgrading the overall package, hoping “strength is strength,” Cersei Lannister said.

value value

Google Pixel 4a phone appeared on hand 5
David Amell / Android Authority

Cersei may – not for the first time – be wrong. Sometimes power is power, but value is power with the Pixel A series. The unmatched value of the Pixel 4a has earned a special place in our hearts, as it condenses the entire Pixel experience into the smallest and most affordable package we’ve seen in years. Sure, it only had one rear camera, but the Pixel 4a launched at just $349 in an era when the flagship Pixel 4 cost $799.

Now, that $450 gap feels like the Grand Canyon as the Pixel A series gets closer and closer to the flagship models. These days, the two start at just $150, and it’s very difficult to recommend the budget series at face value. Dropping the extra money gives you a bigger, more durable screen, faster refresh rate, improved cameras, and wireless charging. On the other hand, the biggest reason to choose the Pixel 6a is that you’re not working on a smaller phone. We all have our preferences, but it’s hard to put the full value on a smaller device.

The Pixel A phone gets a little too close to Google’s flagships, which spoils the historical value it offers.

The Pixel A series used to cost half what the flagship did without being a miniature version of Google’s best hardware. Now, the lines are as blurry as ever. Pixel 6a phone works approx Like a flagship, while the Pixel 6 is priced approx Like a mid-range device. It’s hard for Google phones to be just $150 away, and that begs the question: which Pixel flashes first?

read the following: The Galaxy A and Pixel A series heralded a golden age for budget phones

Is the Google Pixel A series worth buying?

231 votes

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