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Google Pixel 6 vs. Pixel 5a: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 6 Hold Back
Google Pixel 6 Hold Back (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Pixel 6

Google Pixel 6 Kinda Coral Render

The Pixel 6 is the first Google phone with a self-designed processor that brings more powerful machine learning capabilities to the overall phone experience. From processing photos from newer, bigger sensors to Google Assistant and more, everything is cranked up to 11. Even the display is faster with a 90Hz refresh rate. Still, the phone is slightly more expensive, and the design of its camera housing could be a turn off for some.

Pixel 6

Full Google

Fantastic camera upgrades
Fast and smooth performance
Powerful AI features
Jitter-free scrolling
Fun color choices
Slightly higher price
Camera bar is polarizing
In-display fingerprint reader

Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a 5g Product Render

The Pixel 5a is a solid phone that brings a lot of nice upgrades over the Pixel 4a. The cameras and Pixel software are suitable for the price-point. This is an excellent buy if you need a capacitive fingerprint reader and a 3.5mm headphone jack. But with the Pixel 6 available for nearly the same price and significantly improved hardware and software features, the Pixel 5a seems like less of a bargain.

Pixel 5a

5G for less

Excellent battery life
Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
Solid cameras
Offers a headphone jack
OK performance
Boring design and only one color choice
No high refresh rate on the display
Wireless charging is missing
Missing out on many Google AI features

Google has admittedly faltered in the past when it comes to its high-end smartphones. But one area that has seen a lot of success was the mid-range phone sector. This is where the Pixel 5a was targeted — and it made sense. However, with the Pixel 6 series of phones now available, pointed squarely at the flagship market, but with a more mid-range price point, does the Pixel 5a seem like as good of a bargain? Lucky for you, we're here to help sort out this decision so you can find the best option between the Pixel 6 vs. Pixel 5a.

More bang for your buck

Google Pixel 6 Back

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

2021 is when Google really took a significant step towards competing best Android smartphones game by not only making substantial changes to its operating system in Android 12 but also in the overall hardware design and custom processor. When we look at everything that changed between the Pixel 5a and the new Pixel 6, so many things have been improved over every Google phone that came before it. Though it might be concerning to change so much at once, it seems it's all coming together very well.

In our Pixel 6 review, we could see Google put so much thought and time into ensuring that nearly everything that went into creating this new device worked. As a result, the design style of the Pixel 6 is a stark change to what we have gotten from previous Google phones. While the design may not be for everyone with a large camera visor on the back, there are three color choices for the phone and lots of excellent cases.

Pixel 6Pixel 5a
ChipsetGoogle TensorQualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Memory8GB6GB
Storage128GB or 256GB128GB
Dimensions158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm156.2 x 73.1 x 8.8mm
Display6.4-inch, 2400x1080, OLED, 90Hz6.34-inch 2400x1080, OLED, 60Hz
Rear Camera50MP, ƒ/1.85, 1.2μm (wide-angle)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.25μm (ultra-wide)
12.2 MP, ƒ/1.7, 1.4µm, (wide)
16 MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.0µm (ultrawide),
Front Camera8.0MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12μm8 MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12µm (wide)
Battery4614mAh
30W Fast Charging
12-23W Wireless Charging
5W Reverse Wireless Charging
4680mAh
18W wired charging
SecurityTitan M2 Security Chip
In-screen fingerprint sensor
Rear Pixel Imprint
Titan M security module
Weight207g183g
Water and dust resistanceIP68IP67
ColorsStormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta SeafoamMostly Black

The external differences are apparent, and when we look over what Google has put on the inside of these two phones — so are the internal differences. The biggest separation points between the Pixel 6 and Pixel 5a are in the processor and camera departments.

Up until the Pixel 6 series of phones, Google relied on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors like most other Android smartphone makers. These have been fantastic chips, but Google is quickly adding features that use a lot of machine learning and AI power. So, to ensure that there wouldn't be any bottleneck for these processes, Google created the Tensor SoC.

Google Pixel 5a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

This processor allows many new features like Magic Eraser, the vastly improved Live Translate, and much of what Google Assistant does to be handled on the device, rather than requiring an internet connection. Not only does this mean that these tasks will be completed faster, but it also improves security by keeping it all on the phone.

The other major change for the Pixel 6 is the cameras. The Pixel 5a uses the same sensors that have been in every other Google phone since 2107. While those phones have taken amazing photos, the hardware was starting to show some age and fall behind the competition in overall qualities and possible future features.

Google Pixel 6 Water Front Home

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

For the Pixel 6, Google went with a 50MP primary sensor instead of the 12MP used in previous models. This new hardware allows for more information to be gathered, providing the Tensor SoC with even better photos. Now, this doesn't mean that the Pixel 5a suddenly takes terrible pictures, but it does offer a choice for better photography at a similar price.

After taking a photo, and while taking it, we review it on the phone's display. The Pixel 6 and 5a have high-definition OLED panels, but the former brings a level of fluidity that its competition can't match. The Pixel 6 screen provides a 90Hz refresh rate, which means that everything you do on the display will have less jitter and happen much smoother than on the 5a.

Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 6 Pixel 5a Side By Side

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Today, these two phones share very similar prices, and though the Pixel 5a could see some price cuts in the future, for the extra few dollars, the Pixel 6 provides more bang for your buck. If you must have a headphone jack and absolutely refuse to use an in-display fingerprint scanner, the Pixel 6 bests the 5a in nearly every category.

The Pixel 5a does offer better battery life thanks to the lower refresh rate of the display and a slightly larger battery. This isn't to say that the Pixel 6 gets poor battery life, but if you are regularly away from a power source — the 5a may be the better choice for you. However, the Pixel 6 does allow for faster-wired charging and can take advantage of any number of great wireless chargers or pick up an excellent portable charger.

If you are looking to get a new Google phone and have around $600 to spend, for the additional $65 that the Pixel 6 is currently priced at over the 5a, you'll get a lot more phone and more extended software support. Aside from being a better value proposition, there are plenty of reasons to choose the Pixel 6 over the 5a — and in the end, you'll likely be happy you spent the extra money.

Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.