Last year, Google launched the Pixel 5a just a couple of months ahead of the highly-anticipated debut of the Tensor-powered Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Before the Pixel 5a’s debut, Google’s strategy in the mobile marketplace wasn’t exactly clear and the Pixel 5a felt like a device that just didn’t belong. However, after some lengthy reflection, I realized that the Pixel 5a actually made a whole lot of sense. The budget and mid-range phone markets are the fat middle for the average American consumer and a device like a Pixel 5a, with its decent specs and Google’s camera voodoo, are hot sellers. This is especially true when you can pick one up directly from your carrier for next to nothing so long as you don’t mind those contracts.
While I have no idea how big of a seller the Pixel 5a actually was for Google, we’ve all used one here at the office and I would wager that many consumers are or would be very happy to use this phone. All that to say, Google is about to launch another mid-range smartphone, and this time, it has the potential to shake up the entire Android phone market as we know it.
We don’t have an official launch date for the upcoming Pixel 6a but all signs are pointing to May and Google’s annual I/O developer conference. It may not be officially available in the second week of May but I feel quite confident that Google will give us a release date and all the juicy details about the Tensor-powered smartphone that will be the follow-up to last year’s Pixel 5a. While Google hasn’t confirmed any details, there has been no shortage of leaks and we have a pretty good idea of what this new phone from Google is going to offer.
If the rumors are to be believed, the new A-series Pixel will mimic its flagship siblings from an aesthetic standpoint with the same visor-esque camera bump that sets them apart from nearly every other device on the market. Like it or lump it, the Pixel 6 lineup is a departure from the standard smartphone fare and I absolutely love it.
Now, a fancy design does not a solid smartphone make. That’s where the Pixel 6a gets very interesting. Thanks to some recent Geekbench benchmarks, we now know that Google is using the same Tensor SoC that powers the company’s flagship devices. No, these aren’t the most powerful smartphone chips on the market but they hold their own and I’ve never, not once, felt as if my Pixel 6 was sluggish. It’s a great chipset. Back to the benchmarks, the Pixel 6a with only 6GB of RAM actually bested the Pixel 6 which carries 8GB of memory. The numbers were tight and the Pixel 6 very well may win some in a back and forth but the fact remains that Google’s upcoming “budget” phone should perform as well, if not better than the current flagship models.
I say “if not better” because there is a decent chance that the Pixel 6a may have a 60Hz display in comparison to the 90Hz on the Pixel 6 and that buttery 120Hz on the Pixel 6 Pro. While a higher refresh rate can result in smoother performance, it can also tax your battery and bog down less-powerful SoCs. Given the fact that Google’s Tensor chip has proven itself capable of powering a flagship device, putting this same SoC in a phone with a lesser display should result in better-than-average battery life and hopefully, a zippy user experience.
That said, I still think that Google would be wise to go with a 90Hz display on the Pixel 6a while trimming back niceties in other areas to create a distinct gap between this phone on the premium models. Why? For the exact same reasons that I mentioned in my Pixel 5a article. Since the debut of the Pixel 3a, Google has done very well in the budget-friendly phone arena. By offering up a low-priced, Google-centric mobile device that features the same Google-y design and Google’s leading camera software, the A-series of Pixel phones have quickly become a great go-to phone for the masses.
In my humble opinion, Google should keep the 90Hz screen from the Pixel 6 and removing some of the finer features like wireless charging and perhaps even go with a plastic chassis similar to the Pixel 4a. This should allow the Pixel 6a to stay around that $400-$450 price range that we saw with the Pixel 5a. Honestly, it could even have the camera from the Pixel 5a. Yeah, it’s long in the tooth but let’s be honest, Google’s AI does the heavy lifting and the camera on the 5a is pretty darn good.
This is all speculation on my part and by now, whatever Google has done with the Pixel 6a is done. We will likely see the phone hit the market next month and I suspect that it should be a big hit. The Pixel 6 lineup has been Google’s best selling phone ever and it has created more consumer visibility than any Google phone before it. When the Pixel 6a finally arrives and you can walk into your carrier and grab one for a couple hundred bucks on a promotion, these phones should fly off of the shelves. It’s what Robby once dubbed the Pixel 3a effect.
The only problem Google will have then is figuring out what to do with the Pixel 6. Hear me out. Yes, the Pixel 6 will offer a more-premium smartphone experience. It may or may not have a better display than the upcoming Pixel 6a and you can rest assured that the Pixel 6a will pare back on some of the features. Along with it, the Pixel 6a will have the lesser 6GB of RAM compared to the 8GB in the Pixel 6. Yes, the Pixel 6 will be the better phone on paper but Google’s smaller flagship retails for $599. Chances are good that the Pixel 6a could come out swinging with a $450 price tag. If that’s the case, you can almost guarantee that we’ll see promotions that bring the price of the 6a down to $350 or even less. If history teaches us anything, you may even be able to get a free one through your mobile carrier.
If you can get a Pixel phone for under $400 and you don’t care about high refresh rates, wireless charging, or the latest and greatest camera hardware (keep in mind, Google’s camera software is still amazing even on older Pixels), why spend $600 on the Pixel 6. Now, I personally prefer the Pixel 6 over the Pixel 6 Pro and I doubt that I will take a side step into a Pixel 6a but those looking to get their first Pixel or upgrade from an older A-series device, the Pixel 6a could be the perfect phone. I absolutely believe that Google could have a major hit on its hands if the Pixel 6a comes out without the nagging bugs that have plagued the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. If so, the A-series Pixel lineup could become Google’s mass-selling device that sits on shelves at every carrier and electronics retailer around the county. Maybe I’m dreaming big here, but this could be Google’s move to becoming a bonafide mobile phone maker that could, someday, be a true alternative to buying one of Samsung’s many devices. We shall see. Stay tuned for coverage of I/O and hopefully, plenty of hardware news from Google.