I've been using a Pixel smartphone for several months now, and while it's not my favorite smartphone, nor is it even my primary device, I do enjoy what I can get out of it. As the top-of-the-line flagship from Google, the Pixel 6 Pro is quite impressive in both form and function. Then the Pixel 6a launched, and I was pretty surprised with what Google has achieved with this device, which is why I've been trying to convince my friends to ditch their old Pixels and finally upgrade.
I have a few friends who work in the gaming industry, and I noticed that some are still using older Pixel devices. Two of them have the Pixel 3, while one is still holding on to his Pixel 2.
These phones aren't terribly old per se, but none of these devices are supported by Google anymore. Support for the Pixel 3 officially ended in late 2021, although it's received some minor updates here and there; this latest one resulted from the ongoing 3G shutdown. But the Pixel 2 lost support in 2020, meaning it's gone some time without any updates from Google. Not to mention, they're all on pretty old hardware.
So would any of my friends consider upgrading to the new and relatively inexpensive Pixel 6a?
Holding onto the past
I started by asking some of my friends why it is they're still holding on to the older devices. My friend Evan says that his Pixel 2 XL just works. "It's as simple as it just working and doing everything I need a phone to do. I can still access all my regular apps, it still takes good pictures, it still lasts me all day. It doesn't have any weird issues like my [Nexus] 6P where it would randomly turn off and die."
I admit I was pretty surprised by his response, especially hearing that an Android phone released in 2017 was still able to last him all day. That said, with Google's recent partnership with iFixit, even Pixel 2 owners are able to swap out parts and extend the life of their devices. I was even more surprised to hear that he would gladly take advantage of this, saying, "I'd rather extend what I've got."
My friend Patrick also has no complaints about his Pixel 3 XL, saying he hasn't seen a meaningful reason to upgrade. "Aside from small UI oddities, my Pixel 3 XL is servicing me well," he tells me. My friend Kyle shared this sentiment, who said that while he normally upgrades every two years, "I remember being unimpressed by the Pixel 4 and Pixel 5, so I kept waiting for something new."
What about FOMO?
So it became pretty clear that Google's hardware just wasn't cutting it for my friends. But what about the software? As I mentioned, these phones are no longer being supported by Google, which can technically leave them vulnerable. This isn't really something that consumers generally worry about when it comes to their phones, but Google has made such a point to update its Pixel devices every month — like clockwork — that I'm sure my friends might miss getting new patches and features. Turns out not so much.
"It's a little disappointing that I don't get new features," Evan said. "But at this point, I don't even know what I'm missing out on."
Patrick seemed almost relieved that he was no longer getting updates. "Maybe I feel slightly unprotected since I won't be getting security updates or something," he told me, sounding almost unsure. "But I typically found updates to the Pixel 3 XL very low impact on my experience. In some ways, I'm honestly kind of happy I don't get update notifications anymore."
Granted, he and Kyle received the Android 12 update last year before support ended for their phones, which gave their devices a new lease on life right as Google pulled the plug.
Meanwhile, Kyle was not as happy that his phone isn't supported by Google anymore, a fact that may seemingly drive him away from the Pixel and Android altogether. "[It] definitely matters and definitely pisses me off," he said. "Actually, it's one of the leading reasons why I'd consider an iPhone." He said that while he "hates" Apple and its walled garden, he appreciates the amount of support Apple provides for its devices and the fact that they seem "very unbuggy and fast."
Considering the Pixel 6a
Seeing where my friends were, I couldn't help but ask them about the Pixel 6a. After all, the Pixel 6a offers many of the best parts of its flagship Pixel 6 counterparts, from the sleek new design to the Tensor chip powering the device. Sure, the camera hardware isn't much of an upgrade from what they have, but Tensor seems to more than make up for that, putting it nearly on par with Google's flagships.
Not to mention 5G and the price. A $449 mid-range smartphone with flagship performance is an easy steal. For that price, you're getting a 6.1-inch OLED display (at 60Hz, yes, which is no different from what my friends have now), the latest Android features, and software support for up to five years, including three OS upgrades. Aside from Samsung, you'll be hard-pressed to find this kind of support from any of the best budget Android phones on the market.
It's by no means a perfect phone, and some issues need to be ironed out, but I do believe that it's one of the best-value smartphones out there.
So what do my friends think? Evan seems tempted but isn't in the market for another phone right now and is content holding onto his Pixel 2 for a bit longer. "I thought about it. It looks neat," he told me. "I think right now I'm in a 'necessary purchases only' mode, so unless my phone is literally broken, I'm not looking to get a new one. Maybe the Pixel 7 will be cool enough to get. The longer I keep my current phone, the more value I get out of it anyways."
Ahead of the launch, Kyle was already asking me about the Pixel 6a rumors, wondering if he should get the regular Pixel 6 or wait for the 6a. I told him he should wait until the 6a was announced to make up his mind, and it seemed that may have been the right call when I recently asked him if he would consider buying the device.
"Definitely!! It's my top choice right now, but I've seen mixed reviews, so I am still needing to look into it more or wait for Pixel 7 this October." Kyle explains that he is curious about the next-gen Tensor chip, saying that first-gen products are "always a bit meh." He is also on the fence about switching to Samsung, although I may be partially responsible for that after my constant rants about how I prefer One UI 4 over the Pixel's Android 12 UI. However, he admits not being used to Samsung's flavor of software and notes that the phones are a bit pricey in comparison.
Meanwhile, Patrick has no interest in the 6a, and it seems he might also be more interested in the Pixel 7 when it launches this fall. "I'm not typically one for the lighter, inexpensive device versions," he explained. "When it comes to phones and upgrading, I'll put out the cash if I feel like it's a really meaningful and impactful upgrade for me. I guess since originally getting my 3 XL, I haven't felt like any of the newer devices would improve my experience significantly to warrant a purchase."
Did Google shoot itself in the foot?
So, it seems there's some mixed interest in the Pixel 6a among my Android-laden friends. This is partly because Google's past software support has kept its devices going long enough that they didn't see the point in upgrading. However, it also doesn't help that Google is expected to launch its next-generation flagship Pixels in mere months, a small gap compared to the roughly nine months between the Pixel 6 launch and when the 6a hit the market.
I wouldn't necessarily say that Google shot itself in the foot by launching the 6a so late in the year; after all, it's giving consumers another price point to consider. But unless the new devices are going to be ridiculously marked up, consumers might rather spend the extra hundred or so bucks to buy Google's next flagship phones.
Despite its shortcomings, I still think the 6a has fantastic value, and anyone looking for a relatively inexpensive Android phone should consider getting it. Google seemingly did a much better job at giving a mid-range smartphone the flagship experience than Apple did with the iPhone SE (2022). If I wasn't so stuck on Samsung and didn't already own the Pixel 6 Pro, this would probably have been my next phone.
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Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.