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

The Google Pixel 6a might have been rumored for months, but it was still a pleasant surprise to see Google announce it on stage at Google I/O 2022 in mid-May. While the price remained the same great $450 we've come to expect from Google's A-series of Pixels, the phone itself received a significant visual revamp and a huge bump in performance thanks to the Google Tensor processor.

That's right, the Google Pixel 6a (opens in new tab) uses the exact same processor as the more expensive Pixel 6 (opens in new tab) and Pixel 6 Pro (opens in new tab). To quickly recap, that's Google's first-ever in-house designed processor that specializes in AI performance and general Googly goodness. But there are a lot more changes here than just the innards, as you can quickly gather from the two images you see above.

Google Pixel 6a vs. 5a: Design and display

Google Pixel 6a

(Image credit: Google)

When the Pixel 5a launched, we immediately wondered, "Why does this phone exist?" After all, it looked almost the same as the Pixel 4a 5G in person and on paper, with the only notable differences coming in the form of a larger battery and a water-resistant body.

But that same boring appearance and spec sheet has been totally replaced by the Pixel 6a, the most exciting mid-range phone Google has ever produced. Right from the get-go, the Pixel 6a is a wholly different phone from its predecessors, featuring the stark styling of the more expensive Pixel 6 instead of once again reusing the bland-looking design the Pixel A-series has come to be known for.

The same boring appearance and spec sheet has been totally replaced by the Pixel 6a.

On the back is that unique camera bar that stretches across the entire phone, giving protection to the phone's important camera hardware. It also doubles as a way to prevent the phone from wobbling on a table when placed down — a problem most modern phones with their giant camera humps tend to suffer from. It also lets everyone know which phone you're using since there's simply no other phone on the market that looks like it.

Couple that with a trio of gorgeous colors — particularly that sage color, which makes a glorious reappearance from the Pixel 5 days — and you've got a phone that looks so much more interesting and unique than the Pixel 5a ever could have hoped to be.

Google Pixel 6a cases

(Image credit: Google)

While it looks a lot like the more expensive Pixel 6 on the surface, the Pixel 6a actually comes with one big upgrade over that phone: a different fingerprint sensor (opens in new tab). While we loved the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro when they launched last year, the in-glass fingerprint sensor on those phones, in particular, has been a huge issue for many folks.

Google confirmed to Android Central that it will be employing a different sensor than the Pixel 6, helping to ease fears of another Pixel phone with janky biometric authentication issues. Meanwhile, the Pixel 5a stuck with the tried-and-true rear-mounted fingerprint sensor to alleviate any possible problems that have cropped up with some in-glass sensors over the years.

Both phones feature a lovely 6+-inch AMOLED display on the front but, unlike their more expensive siblings, both phones only feature a 60Hz refresh rate. If you've never used a phone with a 90Hz or higher refresh rate, this probably won't bother you so much, but it's a piece of the puzzle that makes the Pixel 6a and 5a both seem more like mid-range phones. In short, neither phone's display will appear as smooth as a more expensive Android phone.

Google Pixel 6a vs. 5a: Hardware, performance, and battery life

Google Pixel 6a official imagery, woman in chair using the phone

(Image credit: Google)

CategoryGoogle Pixel 6aGoogle Pixel 5a
Price$450$450
SoftwareAndroid 12Android 12
ProcessorGoogle TensorQualcomm Snapdragon 765G
RAM6GB6GB
Storage128GB128GB
Display6.1-inch AMOLED | 2400x1080 (491ppi) | 60Hz refresh rate6.34-inch AMOLED | 2400x1080 (473ppi) | 60Hz refresh rate
ProtectionIP67 water/dust resistance | Gorilla Glass 3IP67 water/dust resistance | Gorilla Glass 3
SecurityIn-display fingerprint sensorIn-display fingerprint sensor
Rear Camera 112MP Main camera12MP Main camera, ƒ/1.7, 1.4µm, 77º
Rear Camera 212MP Ultrawide16MP Ultra-wide, ƒ/2.2, 1.0µm, 118º
Front Camera8MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12μm8MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12µm, 83º
Battery4,410mAh4,680mAh
Charging18W wired18W wired
Connectivity5G (sub-6, mmWave), Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 65G (sub-6), Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 5
ColorsCharcoal, Chalk, SageMostly Black
Dimensions152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9 mm, 178g156.2 x 73.1 x 8.8mm, 183g
AudioStereo sound3.5mm jack, stereo sound

While it doesn't look as sleek, the Pixel 5a actually has something notable that the Pixel 6a lacks: a 3.5mm headphone jack. For years, manufacturers have left these headphone jacks on mid-range and entry-level phones, likely assuming that folks who want to spend less on a phone don't have access to more expensive Bluetooth headphones. Looks like Google has seen enough of a shift in users across the board and decided the headphone jack was no longer necessary.

If wired headphone support is a requirement, you can always use a great USB-C audio adapter to turn that USB Type-C port at the bottom into a 3.5mm audio jack at any time. The Pixel 6a doesn't support wireless charging, though, so you won't be able to charge and listen with a wired pair of headphones at the same time unless you get a special adapter that allows both.

Despite having a 3.5mm headphone jack, the Pixel 5a actually has a larger battery than the Pixel 6a. This is notable because, for years, manufacturers have told consumers that they need to remove the jack to fit more components inside — one of which often included a larger battery.

Pixel 6a's Google Tensor SoC is anywhere from 40% to 70% faster than the Snapdragon 765G.

Splitting hairs aside, the battery in the Pixel 5a isn't actually that much larger. At 4,680mAh, it's on the larger side for any phone battery. Because of its mid-range SoC — that's the term for the CPU, graphics processor, and other important components — that larger battery translated into easy two-day battery life for most folks.

The Pixel 6a's slightly smaller 4,410mAh battery probably wouldn't be noticed if both phones were using the same processor. The problem is that they aren't — the Pixel 6a uses a much more powerful Google Tensor processor — and, even still, it's also about 200mAh smaller than the Pixel 6's battery. Most likely, this means you'll get a full day's battery life out of the Pixel 6a instead of two days like you would get with the Pixel 5a. We'll have to reserve final judgment for when we have one in our hands, though.

But that Google Tensor processor advantage can't be taken lightly. While it almost certainly won't get the battery life of the Pixel 5a, the impressive processing speed improvement could be totally worth it for most users. Based on benchmarks and performance of the best Android games, the Pixel 6a's Google Tensor SoC is anywhere from 40% to 70% faster than the Snapdragon 765G found in the Pixel 5a. Now that's a massive upgrade.

Google Pixel 6a vs. 5a: Cameras and video

Family taking a selfie with the Sage Google Pixel 6a

(Image credit: Google)

If you're just looking at the spec sheets, the camera upgrade on the Pixel 6a isn't obvious at first. From what we know so far, the Pixel 6a uses the same sensors as most Pixel phones — that means 12MP sensors instead of the 50MP sensors in the Pixel 6. The big difference here is the Google Tensor SoC (opens in new tab) inside.

With Tensor, Google is deploying amazing tools like Magic Eraser (opens in new tab), which uses Tensor's onboard AI processing to identify objects in photos and help you erase the ones that shouldn't be there. Google is also using Real Tone (opens in new tab) in its processing to ensure that all skin tones are represented accurately in pictures no matter the lighting conditions.

Additionally, improved Night Sight computation and impressive tricks like Face Unblur are why the Pixel 6 family is the best phone for parents (opens in new tab). In a nutshell, even when your kids or pets are moving around, the Pixel 6 family is guaranteed to take a better, clearer shot than other phones on the market thanks to the fact that it can identify objects and faces and prioritize those moving subjects over the rest of the photo.

It's also packing the same front-facing camera as the Pixel 6, ensuring that even your selfies look better than ever before. 

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

Google Pixel 6a lifestyle photo

(Image credit: Google)

Come July 28, the Pixel 6a is almost assuredly going to be the mid-range phone to beat. With Google Tensor under the hood, you're guaranteed an incredible camera experience that makes the phone feel like it should cost a lot more than it does. It's also using a much more powerful processor than the Google Pixel 5a's Snapdragon 765G, meaning everything from apps to games will run significantly smoother and load quicker.

U.S. customers can enjoy the extra speed that mmWave 5G brings, too, while the Pixel 5a only supports sub-6 5G. Lastly, the boring style from the Pixel 5a has been replaced by the sleek and unique Pixel 6 family design, ensuring everyone around you knows exactly which phone you have — even if you didn't spend the extra $150+ to get the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro.

Overall, if you're considering getting in on the Pixel action it's best to wait for the 6a's debut. While the 5a isn't a bad phone by any means, the 6a is better with more advanced features and a sleeker design.

Nicholas Sutrich
Nicholas Sutrich
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu