Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: Which compact phone is right for you?

Google has been hard at work as it attempts to impact the smartphone market more with its Pixel lineup of phones. The Pixel 7 series is the company's current flagship, and we've already covered how Google's latest devices stack up against the Galaxy S23 series. But what about the Pixel 6a powered by the same Tensor chip as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro?

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: The elephant in the room

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The home screen of the Google Pixel 6a with wallpaper from Backdrops

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

We would be remiss if we went through comparing the Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a without mentioning the price first. Ignoring any potential trade-in deals or other ongoing sales, there's still quite a discrepancy between these two devices.

Samsung's Galaxy S23 with 128GB of storage is priced at $800, meanwhile, the Pixel 6a comes in at an incredible $449. Of course, there are deals to be had, as you'll likely be able to save some cash on the Galaxy S23 by trading in your old phone or upgrading a line through your carrier.

$799 vs $449 shouldn't be this close.

Just to get an idea of where the Pixel 6a sits on the market, at the time of this writing, Google's budget-friendly option can be had for just $249, unlocked. Chances are, you would have a rather difficult time getting an unlocked S23 for the same price.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: Breaking down the specs

Google Pixel 6a fingerprint sensor and lock screen

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

On the surface, it might seem as though there are a lot of similarities when comparing the Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a. That's understandable if you're looking for the best Android phones that don't use massive displays. However, as soon as you look at the rest of the specs, it becomes immediately clear that one of these phones stands apart from the other in pretty much every other regard.

Both Samsung and Google have implemented a 6.1-inch AMOLED display, with the Galaxy S23 gaining an edge with its variable refresh rate that can be set to automatically adjust between 48Hz and 120Hz. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with the Pixel 6a, as it's "stuck" with a 60Hz refresh rate. It's not surprising considering Google's strategy, but it would've been nice to have a 90Hz panel at least.

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CategorySamsung Galaxy S23Google Pixel 6a
Display6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display (1080x2340), 120Hz refresh rate (48-120Hz), Up to 1,750 nits6.1-inch AMOLED, 2400x1080 resolution (429 ppi), 60Hz, HDR10+
ChipsetSnapdragon 8 Gen 2Google Tensor (1st generation)
Storage128GB, 256GB128GB
Rear Camera 150MP Wide-angle, f1.8, 85°12MP, ƒ/1.7, 1.4μm pixel size
Rear Camera 212MP Ultrawide, f2.2, 120°12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.25μm pixel size, 114-degree FoV
Rear Camera 310MP Telephoto (3x), f2.4, 36°N/A
Selfie Camera12MP, f2.2, 80°8MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12μm pixel size, 85-degree FoV
Battery & Charging3,900mAh, 25W wired, 15W wireless4,410mAh, 18W wired charging
Connectivity5G (sub-6, mmWave), Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi 6E5G (sub-6, mmWave), Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 6E
ProtectionIP68, Gorilla Glass Victus 2IP67, Gorilla Glass 3
Dimensions70.86 x 146.3 x 7.62mm, 168.1g71.8 x 152.2 x 8.9mm, 178g
ColorsPhantom Black, Cream, Green, LavenderChalk, Charcoal, Sage

Moving onto processing power, the Galaxy S23 is powered by the all-new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, which is a modified version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. This has been paired with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage or 256GB of UFS 4.0 storage. The reason we point this out is due to the fact that the Pixel 6a is only available with 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage.

In an apples-to-apples comparison, these two match up with the read/write speeds, though Samsung does gain an edge. Since nobody seems to believe in expandable storage with microSD cards any longer, it might play a part in your decision if you have the ability to pay more for additional storage.

If you want even better performance, get the Galaxy S23 with 256GB of storage.

By this point, it definitely looks as though the Galaxy S23 is winning easily over the Pixel 6a, but battery life is one area where Samsung falls short. The Galaxy S23 is equipped with a 3,900mAh battery, whereas the Pixel 6a utilizes a 4,410mAh cell. While the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 promises better optimization and efficiency, the Pixel 6a with its Google Tensor chip and the bigger battery is definitely the way to go if you need as much juice as possible.

Keeping on the battery kick, one area where you might be disappointed with the Pixel 6a is the charging. Charging speeds are limited to 18W, compared to the 25W maximum speeds of the Galaxy S23. Additionally, you won't be able to use the best wireless chargers with Google's budget phone, while the S23 supports up to 15W wireless charging along with Wireless PowerShare.

The Android 14 logo on a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Lastly, we wanted to mention the state of software updates for both Samsung and Google. Because it was released in 2022, the Pixel 6a shipped with Android 12 out of the box and will continue receiving major OS updates until 2025. On top of that, Google has promised regular security updates for the Pixel 6a until July 2027.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S23 ships with Android 13, complete with Samsung's One UI 5.1 software interface. Samsung has committed to releasing four years of major Android updates, with the last major release to come with Android 17 in 2026. And as for security updates, the Galaxy S23 will receive its last update in 2027, meaning that the end-of-life for both phones will come around the same time.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: Design

All colors (Phantom Black, Green, Violet, Cream) of the Samsung Galaxy S23

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

If you're a fan of small phones, then your best bets are the Galaxy S23 and Pixel 6a, as both of these devices feature a 6.1-inch display. This makes it much more comfortable and pocketable compared to the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 6.8-inch display or the Pixel 7 Pro's 6.7-inch screen.

Both Samsung and Google are using a combination of aluminum and glass, but Google managed to cut back on costs by relying on plastic for the back plate. Meanwhile, you won't find any plastic on the Galaxy S23, opting for glass on the front and back to go along with the aluminum frame.

One of the biggest complaints about Samsung phones in recent years has been the severity of the curve found on the display, and the Galaxy S23 helps to quelch those concerns a bit. Along with flattening out the display by 30% on the S23 Ultra, all three S23 models sport slightly more rounded edges.

Google Pixel 6a home screen

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Pixel 6a is essentially the same design as the Pixel 7, complete with the camera bar across the back. However, Google read the room before introducing its drastic redesign with the Pixel 6, offering a phone that has subtle curves on the edges. This is also paired with a flat display, making for quite an enjoyable experience.

While Google's camera bar might seem a bit odd, it's definitely a striking design choice and one that we're big fans of. Samsung, on the other hand, has opted for a more reserved (read: boring) design, removing the unique camera housing from the Galaxy S22. Instead, we're left with just a rather basic layout for the triple camera setup on the Galaxy S23. On the bright side, this does help tie the design of the entire Galaxy S23 series together across all three models.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: What about the cameras?

Camera viewfinder on the Google Pixel 6a

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

No matter what price you pay, you'll likely want a smartphone that can capture great pictures, and both the Galaxy S23 vs. Pixel 6a deliver. The Galaxy S23 sports a triple camera setup, headlined by a 50MP wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture. This is combined with a 12.2-inch ultra-wide lens along with a 10MP telephoto camera.

While sharing much of the DNA of the Pixel 6, there is one area that's not the case with the Pixel 6a and that's the camera hardware. The Pixel 6a opts for a dual-camera system with the same ole' 12.2MP main wide-angle lens paired with a 12MP ultrawide camera.

Close-up of the camera sensors on the Samsung Galaxy S23

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

There's little doubt that the Galaxy S23 can outperform the Pixel 6a in most cases. However, Google's software prowess still pays big dividends despite the vastly-outdated hardware. And while the new Camera Assistant features hope to play a big role in the flexibility of the Galaxy S23, the Pixel 6a is still arguably better if you just want a "point and shoot" camera.

Shutter lag is still prevalent across all of Samsung's flagship devices, with the company stating this has to do more with the processing than faults in the software. Camera Assistant even includes toggles to try and speed things up a bit for you, but it still falls quite short of the competition. So as long as the conditions are perfect, and your subject isn't moving, the Galaxy S23 is the way to go, but even with older hardware and one less camera, the Pixel 6a is arguably going to be the more reliable choice.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a: Which should you buy?

Dbrand's TMNP Donatello skin on the Google Pixel 6a

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

On the one hand, you might think that it's comical to compare the Galaxy S23 vs. Google Pixel 6a, as one device is obviously more powerful and more "feature complete" than the other. However, while the Galaxy S23 has the latest and greatest chipset from Qualcomm, a triple camera setup, and will receive one additional major Android update, it's not that cut and dry.

Even ignoring the ongoing sales and deals, the Pixel 6a at just $449 is an incredible value. We do wish it provided a display with a faster refresh rate, and the fingerprint scanner is in desperate need of an upgrade. However, Google's software prowess is still top-notch, providing features such as Magic Eraser, in addition to camera processing despite the inferior camera hardware.

If you're on a fixed budget, then the Pixel 6a is the way to go, coming in at slightly more than half the price of the Galaxy S23. This leaves you plenty of room to grab one of the best Pixel 6a cases, a cheap Android tablet, and still have room to spare.

But if you want the best that Samsung has to offer in a "compact flagship," you won't be disappointed with the Galaxy S23. The only recommendation that we would make is to pick up the version with 256GB of storage. Not only is this version faster than the 128GB model, but since you can't use a microSD card, you'll want to ensure you have as much storage as possible.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks and tablets

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.