Apple iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a: The budget flagship showdown

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

The Google Pixel 5a and the Apple iPhone SE represent the budget device for each brand. Each phone has as many features and specs as possible, but with a few compromises to keep the price down. Typically when we are comparing two phones, both are running Android. In this instance, one is Android, and the other is iOS, which means there are two entirely different ecosystems to consider. So, let's see what we can do to help you find the device that's best for you. 

Apple iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a: More than basic designs

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Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

When a company designs a high-end device, it can go wild with the aesthetics, internal processors, and software features because price isn't much of a restricting factor. Neither of these phones has that luxury. Both are aimed at the budget conscious and were created to provide as much bang for the buck as possible. 

The Google Pixel 5a came out in August 2021, and it stays true to previous generations in the budget lineup. You get a simple design and middling processor, coupled with fantastic software and excellent cameras, all for a reasonable price. Pixel phones rarely battle well in performance categories, but they are great for everyday use and can even handle casual gaming. 

The Pixel 5a continues in the tradition of those before it by offering some of the best software and cameras that can outperform far more expensive devices.

That said, Google doesn't just slap the phones together hoping for a quick buck and offers little in return. The 6.34-inch OLED display looks great in almost any environment and is smooth even at the traditional 60Hz refresh rate. Though it only comes in the Mostly Black colorway, it has a classy look and is very comfortable to hold.

Apple's iPhone SE (2022) sticks with the same design as the 2020 model, which was based off the iPhone 8 from 2017. Here, you get a slim phone with hefty bezels on the top and bottom and a 4.7-inch LCD display. While the design is a bit dated, some may say it's retro. Apple does offer three colors though — Midnight, Starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Google Pixel 5aApple iPhone SE (2022)
Operating systemAndroid 12iOS 15.4
Dimensions156.2 x 73.1 x 8.8 mm138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
Display6.34-inch 60Hz OLED
2400 x 1080px (20:9)
HDR, Gorilla Glass 3, 508 nits
4.7-inch 60Hz LCD
750 x 1334px (16:9)
Retna True-tone, 625 nits
ColorsMostly BlackMidnight, Starlights, (PRODUCT)RED
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Adreno 620
Apple A15 Bionic
Apple GPU
Storage128GB64, 128, 256GB
18W wired charging
Fast charging 18W
Qi wireless charging
Rear Camera 112.2MP, f/1.7
Optical and electronic image stabilization
Dual pixel phase autofocus
4K at 30 and 60fps
1080p HD video recording at 30, 60, 120, 240 fps
12 MP, f/1.8
Optical image stabilization
Autofocus with Focus Pixels
4K video recording at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps
1080p HD video recording at 25 fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps
Rear Camera 216MP, f/2.2
Ultrawide lens
117-degree field-of-view
Front Camera8MP, f/2.0
Auto HDR
Fixed focus lens
83 degree field of view
7 MP, f/2.2
Deep Fusion
Software supportUntil August 2024Up to 2027
SecurityRear Pixel Imprint fingerprint reader
Titan M security module
Fingerprint reader (front-mounted)
ProtectionIP67 water and dust resistanceIP67 water and dust resistance
AudioStereo speakersStereo speakers
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
mmWave: ❌
mmWave: ❌
Ports3.5mm jack, USB-CLightning

Apple iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a: Software, battery, and cameras

Google Pixel 5a Rear 2

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Powering the Pixel 5a is the Snapdragon 765G, which is an efficient chip that does wonders for extending battery life and can handle a ton of different tasks. While it is a mid-range processor, it provides plenty of oomph for typical usage and light gaming. Supporting the processor is 6GB RAM and the single 128GB storage option.

Now, if it's processing power that you want, the iPhone SE owns the Pixel 5a here. In fact, the A15 Bionic inside the iPhone SE beats out what many of the best Android phones have today. Apple has tuned its custom chips to offer excellent daily tasks and gaming performance. While the phone only has 4GB RAM, Apple has proven over the years that it can still get excellent performance out of its phones with less memory than other Android devices. You also get 64, 128, and 258GB storage options.

The iPhone SE (2022) isn't out in the wild yet, so it's tough to say how its battery will fare in the real world. However, if we look at the previous iPhone SE, you can expect about a day of use before needing to charge the device. As for the Pixel 5a, it offers excellent battery life. Even with heavy usage, you can easily expect a day's worth of battery, and up to two days with light use.

Both phones can get you topped up with relatively fast 18W charging. You'll connect with the Pixel 5a via the standard USB-C connection and Apple's Lightning connector on the iPhone SE. However, you also charge wirelessly on the iPhone, not with the Pixel 5a.

If you need to be sure you have the most powerful budget smartphone, then the only choice is the iPhone SE.

Aside from communication devices, smartphones are commonly the only camera people own. That means it needs to be good, and both of these have excellent cameras. iPhones have long had great cameras, and the SE continues that. However, the single sensor on the back is less flexible than the system available on the Pixel 5a and also lacks a night mode.

Just as Apple's smartphones have a reputation for good photography, so do Pixel's. The 5a brings along Google's computational photography magic to provide some of the best pictures from any smartphone — budget or not. The device also offers a secondary sensor on the back to allow ultra-wide shots. You'll also get Google's excellent nighttime photography mode in Night Sight.

Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple)

Both smartphones will crank out solid photos in well-lit areas. But even then, which phone takes better images can be subjective. Google's Auto HDR tends to take punchier and brighter photos, while iPhones have traditionally aimed for more natural-looking images with muted color palettes.

Lastly is the software. Like we mentioned before, the Pixel 5a runs Android 12 with Google's new design language, called Material You. While Google makes and sells the Pixel 5a, the bulk of the phone's internals don't come from Google's design labs. This means that even though the software gets some features exclusive to the phone, like Now Playing and the exceptional Call Screen, its ability to provide long-term software support is limited. 

Three years of software support is nice on the Pixel 5a, but it's not nearly as good as the five or more the iPhone SE will get.

Apple gets plenty of praise for support like this, and it can do it because it owns and designs nearly every facet of its phones. The Pixel 5a is due to get software support until August 2024. This isn't terrible, but it can't hold a candle to the 5+ years the iPhone SE will get. 

We asked how old users' phones were in a recent poll, and the results were relatively even between people with phones up to three years old and those with older devices. So, the Pixel 5a meets the typical lifespan for most owners, but it won't get much more than that. That said, the iPhone SE is starting out with a five-year-old design, and in five more years, it might look really dated, and the 4.7-inch screen could seem tiny.

Apple iPhone SE (2022) vs. Google Pixel 5a: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Ultimately, when spending under $500, both of these are excellent small phones. The Pixel 5a is typically $450 and can sometimes be on sale for less. When shopping for the iPhone SE, it starts at $429 with 64GB of storage. While that price is great, the storage is very low and could cause some issues down the road. To step up to the same 128GB as the Pixel 5a, you'll need to add on $50 for a total of $479. This is still a good price for a phone with the iPhone SE's potential, but it's close to getting out of the budget range.

If you are looking for a first phone or are willing to change operating systems, you need to consider what features most interest you and what ecosystem you spend most of your time in. If you already use an iPad or Mac, the iPhone SE will integrate wonderfully. You'll end up with a smaller display, likely less battery life, and a dated design, but you will have longer software support, a good camera, and one of the most powerful phones on sale.

The Pixel 5a offers solid performance, great battery life, and some of the best cameras around. You'll also get a smartphone that has some of the most impressive AI features thanks to the Pixel exclusives Google builds into Google Assistant. But you won't get extended software support for nearly as long, there's no wireless charging, and you'll have a less powerful processor. Both phones are excellent options for the price, but it'll depend on what you value most before spending your money.

Chris Wedel
Smart Home Writer
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.