I enjoy this time of the year. It’s when the big tech companies finally start to show us what they’ve been working on.
Google, as always, has beaten Apple to it in the smartphone stakes, announcing both the Pixel Fold and the Pixel 7a. You can expect my full review of the former as soon as I get my hands on it, but I’ve had my mitts on the Pixel 7a for the last week.
Is Google’s latest budget smartphone worth the £50 price hike over the Pixel 6a? And how does it stack up against the Pixel 7? Is it all a bit too close for comfort?
Let’s find out.
Pricing and specs
The Pixel 7a costs £449, which is £50 more expensive than its predecessor. However, for that, you get quite a phone – at least on paper.
The 7a packs in the latest Google Tensor G2 chip, 8GB of RAM, a 6.1-inch display, and a 64MP main camera system. There’s just one storage option on the table, which is 128GB, but there are some tasty upgrades including a 90Hz refresh rate (that should keep the critics at bay, finally), a more premium design, and wireless charging.
At first glance and when placed side-by-side with the Pixel 6a, the Pixel 7a looks like a very tempting upgrade. But how does that spec sheet manifest itself when you put Google’s latest budget device to use in everyday life?
Design and display
As noted, the Pixel 7a is a deceiving device when it comes to design, fit, and finish. It looks and feels far more premium than its relatively modest price tag suggests it should.
I’m a fan. As much as I liked the Pixel 6a’s relatively understated design, it didn’t feel particularly special. The Pixel 7a is a handsome device by comparison and provides that immediate buyer satisfaction; it feels like you’re getting a lot for your money as soon as you unearth it from its box.
The only downside is how magnetic the rear plastic back is when it comes to dust, smudges, and fingerprints. It’s a YouTuber tech reviewer’s worst nightmare and as lovely as that faux glass finish might look, it gets grubby way too quickly. To counter this, we do at least have a camera housing that doesn’t appear to scratch quite as easily as the one on the Pixel 7 Pro.
Moving onto the display, and it’s a lovely thing. Anyone upset about the lack of a high refresh rate screen on previous ‘a’ series Pixels should now be satisfied with this 90Hz panel, and it’s plenty sharp and bright enough, to boot. The fact we now get both a fingerprint reader and face unlock means that nothing is left on the table.
Performance and battery life
If you know me, you know that I don’t bother with long-winded, in-depth benchmarking on smartphones. I don’t play games on them either, so my assessment of the Pixel 7a performance is typically ‘everyday user’.
For that use case (which is, I suspect, how the vast majority of people will put this phone to use) it absolutely ‘slaps’, as the kids say. The combination of that speedy Tensor G2 chip and the fact that this is the purest version of Android you’ll find on any smartphone makes the Pixel 7a a brilliant performer.
The Pixel 7a happily continues the trend of providing flagship performance for a fraction of the cost. It never lags, stutters or warms your thigh due to overexertion.
The battery life isn’t quite flagship, mind. It’ll get you beyond a day, but that’s pushing it; you’ll find yourself reaching for a charger faster than you would with the Pixel 7 or Pixel 7 Pro. Standby time is impressive, though, so if you’re a light user, this could take you into nearly two-day-battery territory. The inclusion of wireless charging is also very welcome, even if it is rather slow.
I’m a huge Pixel camera fan. There’s just something about the way these devices process images that sits very nicely with me. They’re contrasty, moody, and full of character; I can spot a Pixel photo a mile off.
I’d argue that Pixels are fast becoming one of the few smartphones with a recognisable photo signature. Everything else seems to be heading in the same direction in terms of photo processing.
The Pixel 7a’s 64MP camera system produces some wonderful images. I’ll let you be the judge of them because this is such a subjective topic, but for me, it’s up there with the best of them.
The video performance on the Pixel 7a isn’t up there with the iPhone (nothing is) but it’s great for the asking price. It produces a decent 4K image with admirable dynamic range – you can’t ask for much more at this level, and I doubt users of the ‘a’ series Pixels do anything more than capture life’s moments. The stabilisation is a matter of taste, though – it’s very fake gimbal-like in the way it shifts robotically as you pan, but it’s workable.
Pixel 7a vs Pixel 6a
If you’ve had your eye on the Pixel 6a for a while, the good news is that you’ll probably pick up a serious bargain now its successor has arrived.
That said, there are quite a few differences between the two phones. The 7a features the latest generation of Google’s Tensor chip, a couple more gigabytes of RAM, wireless charging, face unlock, and a significantly improved camera system.
For me, the fact that the Pixel 7a is a generation ahead and offers those genuinely beneficial extras makes the £50 uplift in price worth it. But if you’re not that fussed about those additions and just want an awesome low-cost phone with the best Android experience, the Pixel 6a arguably cannot be beaten at its price point (while you can still buy it, of course!).
Pixel 7a vs Pixel 7
The increased price brings the budget Pixel 7a fascinatingly close to the mid-range Pixel 7. There’s now just a £150 price difference between the two, which is small enough to raise several questions.
Eyebrows will raise further when I reveal that both devices share the same chip, identical memory, and a 90Hz display.
There are some differences, though. The Pixel 7 offers two storage options – 128GB and 256GB, whereas you’re stuck with the former on the Pixel 7a. The Pixel 7 display is marginally bigger, too (6.3 inches versus 6.1 inches), and it has slightly better water and dust resistance.
While both phones have wireless charging, the Pixel 7 features a speedier 20W compared to the 7.5W charging on the Pixel 7a. As noted, you’ll get longer from a full charge on the Pixel 7, too (although not by much).
However, one of the biggest differences on paper is the camera system. The Pixel 7a has a different and larger sensor than the Pixel 7 (64MP versus 50MP), although the latter has bigger pixels and a slightly larger aperture for better light capture. In reality, though, there’s very little between them unless you continually A/B the same photo. No one does that apart from reviewers.
The choice between the Pixel 7a and the Pixel 7 is pretty simple. If you want more storage, you get the Pixel 7. If a slightly more premium build quality and a marginally bigger display – along with faster wireless charging and better water resistance – matters, you get the Pixel 7.
If none of that stuff bothers you, just get the Pixel 7a.
The Pixel ‘a’ series continues to impress. The price hike will bother some, but I still think it’s very tricky to find anything close to what the Pixel 7a offers at this level – particularly given the unfettered Android experience that’s baked into Google’s device.
It feels as though Google has added just enough to the Pixel 7a to make the 6a feel like yesterday’s news for all but the most budget-conscious buyer. The comparison with the Pixel 7 is almost too close for comfort, but £150 is still a fair chunk of cash that can be spent on something else if you’re happy to forgo the relatively minor upgrades on offer from Google’s mid-range smartphone.
I won’t lie – I was worried about the Pixel 7a. Would it live up to its predecessor’s budget brilliance while asking for more investment from its users? The answer is a resounding “yes”.
Before you go
Join my Substack newsletter for tips on becoming a profitable, happy online creator!
What about the display brightness – what are the differences between them?