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6 reasons to buy a Google Pixel 6 instead of settling for the Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 6 Pixel 5a Side By Side
Google Pixel 6 Pixel 5a Side By Side (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Google's Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are the hot new Android phones of the moment and with good reason. These are the best handsets Google has ever put out, raising the bar for what we can expect out of a high-end Pixel. But these new Pixels will share shelf space — and plenty of key software features — with the recently-launched Pixel 5a. The 5a is currently available in the U.S. and Japan, with laser-focused upgrades over the 4a and a head-turning price tag of $449.

But beware of false economy: Although the Pixel 5a is a great buy, the Pixel 6 is arguably even more competitive at its $599 base price. The new best Android phone under $600 is so good it's also the best under $800. And that means there are plenty of compelling reasons to take the plunge and get the slightly more expensive Pixel.

1. Faster screen

Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 5a feature Full HD+ screens with around 800 nits of peak brightness, meaning they're plenty sharp and bright.

Don't underestimate the extra smoothness of 90Hz.

The Pixel 6, however, packs a 90Hz AMOLED display, meaning everything you do on the phone looks and feels smoother. It's hard to describe the difference that a high refresh rate makes to the perceived performance of a phone, but imagine going back to the old, laggy phone you might've been using four or five years ago. That's the difference in smoothness you'll see going from a 60Hz panel like the Pixel 5a's to a 90Hz display like the Pixel 6.

The display is the one component you're using almost every time you interact with your phone, and so the faster screen of the Pixel 6 is a worthwhile upgrade.

Google Pixel 6 Water Front Home

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

2. More compelling hardware

Let's be honest, most of the A-series Pixels over the past year or so have been painfully dull to look at, and the same applies to the Pixel 5a. The 5a is available only in "mostly black," a slightly greenish version of the black Pixel 5 with a similar bioresin finish. The Pixel 6, on the other hand, boasts Google's new design language built around the camera bar — the Cylon-style visor around the back of the handset that's instantly recognizable as a Pixel design feature.

The Pixel 6 also comes in more than one color, including more vibrant hues like "sorta seafoam" and "kinda coral" that are more eye-catching than any of the past year's mid-range Pixel phones.

3. Additional charging options

Qi wireless charging is quickly becoming a table-stakes feature for any handset selling above the $500 mark, and Google has included it in its high-end Pixels since 2018. As such, it's no surprise to see that the Pixel 6 also includes wireless charging, this time at up to 21 watts on a supporting pad. The convenience of Qi charging might seem like a small thing, but invest in a few cheap charging pads, and you'll find it changes the way you think about topping up your phone during the day.

Likewise, the Pixel 6 boasts faster wired charging, supporting USB Power Delivery at up to 30 watts. Considering that both the Pixel 5a and 6 have similar capacity batteries, the quicker charging spec will have your Pixel 6 fully charged while the 5a is still chugging from its 18-watt power brick.

Google Pixel 6 Material You Pink Theme

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

4. The power of Google Tensor

The processor of the Pixel 6 is an order of magnitude more powerful than the brains inside the Pixel 5a. Whereas the 5a uses an off-the-shelf Snapdragon 756G SoC — a mid-range part that debuted in early 2020 — the Pixel 6 sports Google's custom-made Tensor processor. As well as offering more general computing power than the Snapdragon 765G and a far quicker CPU, Tensor is built around machine learning performance and enhanced security.

Google Tensor is a serious upgrade from the chip in the 5a.

On the Pixel 6, Tensor enables features like Live Translation of conversations between 43 languages and new Google Photos capabilities like magic eraser. Speaking of which, Tensor's new Image Signal Processor has significantly more number-crunching power than the mid-range Snapdragon chip, helping pull out more detail from your photos, while improving color accuracy.

Google Pixel 6 Camera Bar

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

5. A way better camera setup across the board

The Pixel 6 series includes the first generational camera upgrade in the series' history, built around a new 50-megapixel main sensor. The larger camera captures 150% more light than the older sensors used in previous generation Pixels like the 5a. That means there's more wiggle room for taking great-looking shots in darker conditions or capturing subjects when they're moving around without motion blur.

The new sensor, combined with the Tensor processor, also brings a generational improvement to video capabilities, with more fine detail, better low-light performance, and superior stabilization.

And while the Pixel 6 lacks a dedicated telephoto camera, the upgraded ultrawide sensor lets you capture better-looking wide-angle shots, especially in night-time scenes.

Google Pixel 6 Security Hub

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

6. Longer software support

This one's pretty simple: Because the Pixel 6 uses Google's own silicon, the company can offer security updates for at least five years from the time of launch. That's two more years than you'll get from the Pixel 5a.

Plus, the fact that the Pixel 6's support lifespan for Android version updates ends two months after the 5a means it'll likely enjoy an additional platform update too. When new versions drop, the Pixel 6 should get new Android features up to Android 15, whereas the 5a is only guaranteed to receive Android 14.

Alex Dobie
Alex Dobie

Alex is global Executive Editor for Android Central, and is usually found in the UK. He has been blogging since before it was called that, and currently most of his time is spent leading video for AC, which involves pointing a camera at phones and speaking words at a microphone. He would just love to hear your thoughts at alex@androidcentral.com, or on the social things at @alexdobie.

17 Comments
  • My 6 Pro is on order but I'm getting concerned with the reviews I'm seeing on the in screen fingerprint scanner. For anyone who's used it... thoughts?
  • i wouldn't worry that much tbh
    google is software giant
    and since it's there first iteration of own chips there must be some issues
    but good thing is they are gonna support this hardware for long
    and as i have been pixel user since og pixel
    i know they can fix many things via software updates ...
  • The reviews say that it is not as good as the Samsung reader because it uses older technology, but it works perfectly fine. The downside is that you need to leave your finger on it a little longer and it uses light to read your print so it is bright at night. By no means a deal breaker.
  • It works just like the one on my Oneplus 7T (using light) and I have zero issues with it under normal use. Sometimes it is a pain if my hands are wet. With the Oneplus the fingerprint scanner and face unlock can be used together, so if my hands are wet I use the face unlock. Not sure if the Pixel will do the same.
  • Reason 7, you don't have to live in Japan or the US to be able to buy one?
  • Well...you say it like this and yes, why purchase the 5A IF YOU CAN get a 6!
  • 650.00 with tax is the real price or higher
  • Thanks to Target not having the Pixel Buds (promo item) in stock and them just giving my $99 off instead... and with my Target Red card 5% discount I was able to get the Pixel 6 for 499 AFTER tax. Hard to beat :)
  • I really appreciate that Google put the same Tensor chip in both new models.
  • Don't be an early adopter ever, for any tech. Wait a year.
  • Bingo! Agree completely!
  • You just were just up selling the pixel 5 over the 4 XL last year. Now it's the 6 over the 5a. Lol 🤣
  • Google didn't 'miss' with my 4a 5G. It's still a great phone. I can wait.
  • Confirmed, the new Pixel phones have screen issues... What did I tell you?
  • Rear fingerprint sensor and longer battery life make me lean to the 5a.
    I'm sure we will see some BF deals on the 5a soon.
  • I agree! I'm using the 3a XL right now and I really like this thing but this looks like an opportunity to upgrade at a pretty reasonable price. Not too mention it still has the headphone jack, not a deal breaker but still nice to find when you can!
  • I was planning to replace my Pixel 2XL with a Pixel 6 during the holidays but in August the camera became intermittent so I needed a new phone. I unenthusiastically bought the Pixel 5a. I guarantee you the Pixel 6 screen is not so blazingly faster than the 5a that it's like going back to the phone you owned four or five years ago. That's simply BS. I don't see what's compelling about a raised camera bar as a hardware design feature and "colors" are not hardware. So two of the six reasons are sketchy. Yes, the Tensor processor is a powerful reason to choose the Pixel 6 over the 5a. The camera is another good reason though I wonder if the end results are noticeably better. Can you actually see the difference in photos? Or is it a tech spec that looks great on paper? Magic Eraser sounds like fun but I already have this ability with Photoshop. Wireless charging? Yes, it's a reason but not very important to me. My Pixel 5a battery lasts longer than the Pixel 6 and my "old style" fingerprint reader works more reliably. Normally $449, Pixel 5a will be priced at $399 for Black Friday sales; there are no Black Friday specials on the Pixel 6. Did I wish I had gotten a Pixel 6 instead of the 5a? Yes, but I didn't have a choice. I would not consider the 5a to be settling, especially when you factor in the $200 savings.