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Google Pixel 7a Review

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Google’s Pixel smartphone family has always found ways to impress, and that’s perhaps never been more true than last year with the Pixel 7 line, which ranks among the best smartphones. It took what the Pixel 6 started and refined it in some crucial ways. However, with the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro shining so bright, the new Pixel 7a has its work cut out for it. While the $500 Pixel 7a serves as a budget model for the Pixel 7 lineup, the higher-end Pixel 7 starts at only $100 more – with a street price that regularly sees discounts taking it well below even the Pixel 7a’s price. So, let’s have a look at where the new phone sits and what it manages (or doesn’t manage) to do to stand out.

Google Pixel 7a – Photos

Google Pixel 7a – Design and Features

The Google Pixel 7a is unmistakably a modern Pixel. It’s boasting the same camera visor on the rear that’s perhaps the Pixel’s most iconic feature. Like the rest of the Pixel 7 line, that visor has received a design improvement that rids it of unsightly seams. The Pixel 6a has a particularly ugly visor up close, so it’s refreshing to see the Pixel 7a steer clear of that error. While the visor on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro sticks out from the back of the phone, the Pixel 7a’s visor protrudes less.

There’s very little about the Pixel 7a to indicate that it’s not just a Pixel 7. The differences are incredibly subtle. To start, the Pixel 7a is just a little smaller, which makes it terribly comfortable in just one hand. It goes for a cozy 6.1-inch display instead of 6.3 inches, but it packs the same 1080 x 2040 resolution as the Pixel 7, which actually gives it an increased pixel density. It’s still an OLED panel with a 90Hz refresh rate, but Google is keeping quiet about its peak brightness, because it’s presumably not hitting the same heights as the Pixel 7’s 1,400 nits. That said, it’s been more than bright enough for everyday use. The bezels on the Pixel 7a aren’t ultra-slim, but they’re not glaring eyesores either.

The subtleties continue with the display’s cover, which is Gorilla Glass 3 rather than the Gorilla Glass Victus found on the Pixel 7, 7 Pro, and plenty of other top-tier smartphones. The frame is still aluminum, but the rear is made of plastic. It doesn’t feel particularly cheap though, and it’s a reasonable spot to save on materials. The frame offers IP67 protection, keeping dust out and allowing for the occasional dip down to 1 meter depths for 30 minutes. Again, that’s a small downgrade from the Pixel 7’s IP68 rating.

An under-display fingerprint scanner and facial recognition sensor are both still on board for the Pixel 7a. Both are just as snappy as they are on the non-A models, which is quick enough that I often don’t even realize the phone’s already unlocked from spotting my face before I get my thumb on the fingerprint scanner.

Previous A-models skipped out on wireless charging, but the Pixel 7a finally includes it. It’s a slightly tempered version though, charging at just 7.5 watts instead of the 20 watts available on the Pixel 7 and lacking the ability to reverse wireless charge. Even wired charging gets a small downgrade, peaking at just 18 watts instead of 20 watts, but it’s a difference few are likely to notice.

Considering that the design offers largely small downgrades from the Pixel 7, I’d say it’s purely the inferior phone in this respect. It could have had its place as the smaller-hand model, but it’s not really trimming all that much. Even though it has a smaller screen, it shaves a meager 3.6mm off the height and a negligible 0.3mm off the width – the cost of thicker bezels. It’s also a hair thicker.

Google Pixel 7a – Software

The Google Pixel 7a comes running Android 13 with the same flavoring on top as the Pixel 7 line. It keeps things largely simple with an emphasis on style, as showcased by Google’s Material You color theming. This tries to create a unified color scheme platform-wide, making the phone’s software feel more personal. Unfortunately, Google’s version of Android 13 is also on the more restrictive side and doesn’t optimize screen space the best, particularly compared to the utilitarian One UI from Samsung.

The home screen will only display a 5×5 grid of apps or smaller, and it takes a chunk at the top of the display to dedicate to the date and At a Glance (a feature that displays various types of relevant information – package delivery, calendar events, and such). Google search and Assistant is also pegged to the bottom of the home screen. Third-party launchers can get around some of this. I’m still not impressed with Google’s space use in the quick settings shade, though, which uses overly large buttons, limiting how many settings I can actually access quickly: 4 at first and 8 when fully expanded. By contrast, One UI (and earlier Android versions) shows 6 quick settings and screen brightness at first and 12 when fully expanded.

Google Pixel 7a – Gaming and performance

Google’s not giving the Pixel 7a a downgraded performance profile compared to its bigger siblings. The same Tensor G2 chip powering the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro is nestled away inside the Pixel 7a. It has less material to spread its heat into, but even with Genshin Impact running at full settings for upwards of a half hour, it doesn’t feel uncomfortably hot. It definitely gets quite warm, and I measured a peak around 106.5 degrees Fahrenheit on the display, but it wasn’t scorching my hands.

Meanwhile, the performance on offer from the Tensor G2 holds up to everyday use perfectly well. I hardly noticed a hitch throughout my use of the phone. It pulled open apps, browsed sites in Chrome, and scrolled Twitter like a champ. It doesn’t have the beefiest gaming chops, with some noticeable dips and hitches running Genshin Impact at maximum settings, though it was smooth enough to still play the game just fine.

Even if this is Google’s budget phone, the experience using it never feels lower-end, thanks to the speed available. The processing power combined with a responsive display really makes for smooth operation. Connectivity is also up to speed, with Wi-Fi 6E providing plenty of bandwidth for cloud gaming or streaming while 5G networking keeps the bandwidth up on the go. I was perhaps most pleased to see that even the USB-C port isn’t subtly downgraded, instead maintaining the same USB 3.2 level seen on the Pixel 7. Plenty of cheap phones skimp and opt for bog-standard USB 2.0, which makes transferring files unbearably slow.

The 4,385mAh battery inside the Pixel 7a can go the distance. It’s a little bigger than the Pixel 7’s, though smaller than the Pixel 7 Pro’s, but it only has to contend with a 6.1-inch screen. All-day battery life with casual use is easily attainable, and I never felt like the phone was sucking down too much charge while idle or under light use – something I’m constantly wary of from my Pixel 7 Pro.

Google Pixel 7a – Camera

The Google Pixel 7a upgrades from the cameras found on last year’s Pixel 6a, but don’t expect the same camera system as what the full-fat Pixel 7 is packing.

Here are the cameras the Google Pixel 7a includes:

  • 64MP (binned to 16.1MP) Wide, 0.8-micron, f/1.89, PDAF, OIS, 80-degree FOV
  • 13MP ultrawide, f/2.2, 1.12-micron, 120-degree FOV
  • 13MP Selfie (12.2MP actual), 1.12-micron, f/2.2, 95-degree FOV

Google Pixel 7a – Main Camera Samples

If there’s one thing Google consistently gets right, it’s the cameras. And the Pixel 7a does not disappoint. Between the main sensor and the ultra-wide, the Pixel 7a captures true-to-life footage even in challenging scenarios. I never catch it seeming to over-saturate or over-sharpen the photos. And with a 64MP sensor, the main camera can even crop in for a functional 2x zoom that holds up surprisingly well.

Google Pixel 7a – Ultrawide Camera Samples

The cameras pass one crucial test as well – the main sensor and ultra-wide feel like they’re more or less the same camera running different lenses. The ultra-wide suffers from a bit of noise in dark environments, but for outdoor scenery during the daytime, it looks great, and appears very similar to the main sensor with sharpening and color that matches. I’ve seen plenty of phones, even expensive ones, with a great main sensor complemented by an ultra-wide camera that looks downright awful next to it.

Google Pixel 7a vs Pixel 7 Pro Camera Comparisons

Even though the Pixel 7a is using different cameras than the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, it compares quite well. With side-by-side images from the main sensor of the Pixel 7a and 7 Pro, I can’t see any distinct differences. The Pixel 7 Pro has its 5x telephoto sensor to set it apart, but the Pixel 7 doesn’t.

Flipping around front to the selfie camera, it captures color with a similar feel to the rest of the system, and it manages decently well in bright and dim conditions without getting too noisy.

Verdict

The Pixel 7a is a great mid-range phone. It’s got high-tier processing, especially for AI-enhanced features like voice dictation, and holds up in everyday use. Its cameras even keep up well with the standard Pixel 7. Its most notable downgrades are in the design, which has some cheaper materials. The only thing holding it back is that the almost entirely superior Pixel 7 regularly sees discounts down below the $500 MSRP of the Pixel 7a. So unless you can’t wait for a deal on the Pixel 7 or find the Pixel 7a with a big discount, there’s little reason to choose this model over its big (but not really bigger) sibling.

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