Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022: Which should you buy?

The sub-$500 category is a hotly-contested battleground, with most manufacturers rolling out enticing options. The iPhone SE 2022 was introduced earlier in the year with the A15 Bionic and the same design as its predecessor, and Google's answer to that is the Pixel 6a. The phone is significantly more powerful than the 5a, and comes with the best cameras in this category. Let's find out how the iPhone SE 2022 holds up against the best that Google has to offer.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Design and screen

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Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The Pixel 6a carries the same design aesthetic as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, including a wide camera bar at the back that houses the two sensors and the LED flash. The design makes the phone look just that little bit more premium, and while Google went with a polycarbonate back, the mid-frame is made out of aluminum, and it is sturdy.

The Pixel 6a has a fresh design that's in line with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro; the iPhone SE 2022 looks outdated next to it.

The matte finish on the mid-frame makes it easy to hold and use the Pixel 6a, and I prefer its size to the larger 6 Pro. The weight is balanced well, and the cameras don't protrude too much at the back, so there isn't a wobble when the phone is laid flat on a surface.

While Google went with a refreshing new design for the Pixel 6a, the iPhone SE 2022 used the same design as its predecessor. So what you're basically getting is a phone that looks identical to the iPhone 8, with huge bezels around the screen and a physical Touch ID button at the bottom. The phone is milled out of aluminum, has a glass back, and there's wireless charging — a feature that isn't available on the Pixel 6a. Both phones have IP67 dust and water resistance, and I haven't run into any issues in this area.

The iPhone SE 2022 is lightweight and is ideal for one-handed use, but the tiny screen is a limitation; you don't get much in the way of usable screen real estate. Continuing with the screen, the 4.7-inch IPS LCD panel has decent colors, but it doesn't measure up to the Pixel 6a's 6.1-inch OLED panel. The Pixel 6a has much better color vibrancy and contrast levels, and because of the razor-thin bezels, you get a much bigger screen in a chassis that's just 14mm taller than the iPhone.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The screen on the Pixel 6a has a 60Hz refresh, and while that would have been an issue against any other Android device in this category, the iPhone SE has the same limitation. This isn't a huge problem if you're already using a phone with a 60Hz panel, and while I would have liked to see Google go with 90 or 120Hz, the screen itself is great and it is ideally suited for streaming content.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Hardware

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The A15 Bionic on the iPhone SE 2022 makes it the fastest overall phone in this category, but the Pixel 6a isn't far behind. While Google went with mid-range Qualcomm hardware in the past, the Pixel 6a is powered by the 5nm Google Tensor  — the same as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro — and it is fantastic. It blazes through day-to-day tasks, delivers lag-free gaming even with demanding titles, and is a joy to use.

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CategoryGoogle Pixel 6aiPhone SE 2022
OSAndroid 13iOS 15.7
Display6.1-inch 60Hz OLED (2400x1080), Gorilla Glass 34.7-inch 60Hz IPS LCD (1334x750), Ion-strengthened glass
ChipsetGoogle Tensor, 2 x 2.80GHz Cortex X2, 2 x 2.25GHz Cortex A76, 4 x 1.80GHz Cortex A55, 5nmApple A15 Bionic, 2 x 3.22GHz Avalanche, 4 x 1.80GHz Blizzard, 5nm
Storage128GB64GB, 128GB. 256GB
Rear camera 112.2MP f/1.7, 1.4um pixels, PDAF, OIS12MP f/1.8, PDAF, OIS
Rear camera 212MP f/2.2, 1.25um pixels, 114-degree wide-angle
Connectivity5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
Ingress ProtectionIP67 dust and water resistanceIP67 dust and water resistance
SecurityIn-screen moduleTouch ID
AudioStereo sound, USB-CStereo sound, USB-C
Battery4410mAh, 18W wired charging2018mAh, 20W wired charging, 15W wireless charging
Dimensions152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm, 178g138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, 144g
ColorsSage, Chalk, Charcoal Black, White, Red

While the iPhone is a true powerhouse, the screen size is a limiting factor when gaming. Another issue with the device is that the base variant has just 64GB of storage, so you need to shell out an additional $50 to get the 128GB variant. The Pixel 6a, on the other hand, is sold in a single model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

The Pixel 6a also scores big on the battery front, with the phone featuring a large 4410mAh battery that manages to last well over a day even with heavy use. By contrast, the iPhone SE 2022 barely lasts a day with medium use, and that's again down to its diminutive size; it's packing a 2018mAh battery that's tiny by today's standards.

Where the iPhone SE 2022 ekes out a tiny lead is with charging; it has wireless charging and 20W wired charging, with the Pixel 6a limited to 18W wired charging. That said, the Pixel 6a squarely takes this one thanks to the large battery.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Cameras

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The Pixel 6a gets a 12.2MP f/1.7 camera at the back alongside a 12MP f/2.2 wide-angle lens, with Google reusing the same hardware as the Pixel 5. So although the device misses out on the new sensors that debuted on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, it has a strong foundation. The iPhone SE 2022 also uses the same 12MP module that we've seen in the past, and it has a single lens — you don't get a wide-angle camera here.

What's more egregious is the fact that the iPhone SE 2022 misses out on Night mode. This is a standard feature on even budget phones, and its omission makes the camera less useful in low-light situations. The Pixel 6a doesn't have any such shortcomings; it uses all of Google's latest software tuning efforts and comes with a decent number of features, including Magic Eraser.

The Pixel 6a fares much better in daylight shots, delivering great dynamic range and saturated colors that look great. But it's in low light where the phone truly comes into its own. The camera hardware combined with Google's software prowess allows the Pixel 6a to take phenomenal photos at night, and it holds its own against the best Android phones.

The lack of Night mode or a wide-angle lens limits the usability of the iPhone SE to an extent, but it does manage to deliver usable shots most of the time. The resultant shots tend to be overly saturated, and colors aren't accurate. 

The biggest issue with the iPhone SE 2022 not having Night mode is that when there's little to no ambient light, the device takes too long to dial in on a subject. This isn't an issue with the Pixel 6a, but the fact that the iPhone SE is limited in this area is frustrating. 

Of course, there's also no wide-angle lens on the iPhone SE, and you're limited to just the 12MP module. This is again not a problem on the Pixel 6a, with Google adding a 12MP wide-angle lens that takes stellar photos. 

Overall, the Pixel 6a has the best overall cameras, and while the iPhone SE has a lot of potential, there are a few too many drawbacks. 

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Software

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

There's a lot to like on the software front with both phones. The Pixel 6a launched with Android 12 but made the switch to the stable Android 13 build, and the iPhone SE in running iOS 15.7 — it hasn't received the iOS 16 OTA yet. 

While Android 13 doesn't bring a lot of changes, there are a few visual tweaks to the Material You aesthetic, and a few new privacy-focused features like a secure photo picker. There is no bloatware here, and the Material You design makes the interface feel fresh and colorful. Google also has a few exclusive features — like Now Playing that identifies songs playing in the vicinity — that are only available on the Pixels, and that makes the software stand out a bit more.

The iPhone SE has plenty to offer as well, and it should switch to the iOS 16 build shortly. iOS 16 has a slate of new features that bring it closer to Android. That said, there are errant ads throughout the interface, including services like Weather, News, and so on.

As for software updates, the Pixel 6a will get three platform updates along with five years of security updates. The iPhone SE will get at least five platform updates, and it is firmly in the lead here. Google really should offer more updates considering it is finally using custom hardware in its devices.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

There isn't much ambiguity here. While Google made a few questionable choices with previous Pixel A phones, the Pixel 6a is its best showing in this category by some margin. Other than the panel being locked to 60Hz, I don't have any drawbacks with the device, and having used the best mid-range phones this year, I can say with some confidence that the Pixel 6a is the best overall choice in this category.

It's an easy choice: the Pixel 6a is the best overall mid-range phone right now, delivering huge gains over the iPhone SE 2022.

There's just a lot to like with the phone; Google has once again delivered outstanding cameras, the clean software with zero bloatware is a delight to use, and the battery lasts well over a day. These are the areas that truly matter, and Google managed to deliver in every single one. The icing on the cake is the Tensor hardware that holds its own against every other device under $600.

The iPhone SE 2022 has a lot to offer, and the A15 Bionic makes it the fastest phone in this category. That said, the design just doesn't hold up in 2022, and the tiny screen is a big limitation for everything from streaming to playing games. If you're already used to iOS and want something that looks and feels familiar, then sure, the iPhone SE 2022 is a good recommendation. But if you want the best that this category has to offer, you should pick up the Pixel 6a.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.