Cell phones have come a long way since the days when their coolest feature was the ability to play Snake—and, unfortunately, so have their price tags. So, when Google released the Pixel 6a, a phone that boasts a 24-hour battery life and the same Tensor chip as its premium Pixel 6 Pro, for just $449 (or $399 on Amazon), I had to test it out. And test it we did: From dropping it, splattering water on it and tossing it loosely in my tote (sans protective case), to snapping photos, producing TikToks and streaming podcasts until the battery begged for mercy, I put it through its paces to see just how well it performs. (Spoiler: I was delighted by the results.)
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The Pixel 6a is lauded for its IP67 protection, a number based on Ingress Protection ratings—essentially, a gauge of how well a device is protected from dust, sand and water seeping into it and destroying it. At IP67, it should be relatively dust-proof and can handle some immersion in water of up to 1 meter for a short period of time. Accidentally setting it down in water on your table? It wiped off, no issue. Place it USB-C port-side-down in a cupholder with cookie crumbs and water droplets for 5 minutes? Totally fine. Texting in a light drizzle? No issues, other than occasionally wiping the screen.
The other major issue many of us have is, well, dropping the phone. And since the Pixel 6a features a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen, I wanted to see how well it could handle our day-to-day drops (which, sadly, the first two happened more than once…outside of testing).
While the iPhone 13 boasts 12-megapixel front and rear cameras—and rear cam on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro reach 50 megapixels—you won’t find quite as high quality in the 6a. But for your day-to-day Instagramming and TikToking, you probably won’t notice. The 12.2-megapixel wide and ultrawide rear cameras capture crisp, vivid images, as does the 8-megapixel front cam.
The stock camera app features Night Sight, which takes remarkably bright images even in low light, without as much noise and fuzz as you’d typically get, and Portrait mode puts your subject into crisp focus—though the border around a person can sometimes be a little off, revealing that the blurred background isn’t the result of a photographer’s skill so much as it is the product of technology.
When transferring all of my phone’s old files—including 44 GB of apps, photos and videos—I received a storage warning, which concerned me, but I wound up having plenty of space. The Pixel 6a has 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of storage, and I haven’t experienced any lag, no matter how many apps I have running. (Plus, I back up my photos and videos to Google Photos, so I don’t have to keep as many on my phone and don’t have to play that, “Do I delete this or that?!” game every time I want to indulgently snap a new pic of whatever I’m eating.)
If you’ve used an older Pixel—say, the 4 or a previous edition—there’s one feature you may miss: The back button at the bottom of the screen. You simply swipe right instead, but that can take some getting used to.
While there’s no wireless charging, like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, its USB-C charger is pretty speedy, going from zero to a full battery in about two hours. Once unplugged, I snapped photos, recorded video, listened to an hour-long podcast, texted and answered emails (and OK, mindlessly scrolled my socials)—without getting a low-battery warning by the evening. With normal use, it seemed to last about 22 to 23 hours before dying.
If you’re looking for a solid phone that can keep up with an on-the-go, continually-scrolls-Instagram-when-she-should-be-doing-anything-else lifestyle—without killing your budget—this is it. It’s durable, dependable and chic (and right now, on Amazon, it’s $50 off).
However, if you’re an aspiring photographer who, uh, prefers a phone to a DSLR—or you really need a ton of storage—you might want to spring for a more premium phone. But for me, it’s just right.
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