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Sonyia Jobanputra, presenting the Pixel 6a at Google I/O 2022 – photo courtesy of Google

Today at the I/O 2022 conference keynote, Google announced its much-awaited budget Pixel phone, the Google Pixel 6A, the sibling of the flagship Pixel 6 Pro and the Pixel 6 smartphones, released in October 2021.

The key innovations of the Pixel 6 series are the new uber-elegant high-end design and Google’s own proprietary System-On-Chip (SOC) Tensor, a bold move that allows the search giant to stop relying on the Qualcomm Snapdragon hardware.

At just $449, the Pixel 6A launched at a similar price point as its predecessor, the Pixel 5A, while featuring the same Tensor chipset found in the more expensive models 6 and 6 Pro(except for the 6GB RAM vs. 8GB/12GB)!

A recent rumor spotted in the wild claimed that the Pixel 6 Fold may come later in 2022, so the 6A may not be the last sibling of the Google phone gen-6 family.

Google Pixel 6A release date, price, and availability

Pre-orders will start on July 21, and the device will be available for purchase at $449 on July 28, 2022, in three colors, Charcoal, Chalk, and Sage. The Pixel 6A will be sold in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Industrial Design

The Pixel 6A is built on the same new chipset platform and design language as its older siblings, with a clear upgrade in elegance compared to its predecessor, the 5A. On its back, the 6A features the same black camera bar as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, an iconic design feature that makes the new Google phone 6-series stand out in the crowd.

The chassis is encased in a tactile alloy frame, and a 3D thermoformed composite back, which could mean the back cover is made of plastic. It comes in three flavors: Charcoal, Chalk, and Sage.

Display

The 6.1” FHD+ (2400×1080) OLED 60Hz display features an under-display fingerprint sensor, which is a nice upgrade from the back-mounted sensor of the Pixel 5A. Compared to the Pixel 6 (6.4” FHD+), the Pixel 6A’s smaller screen size delivers a higher pixel density of 431 PPI. Opting for a more compact body is probably one of the small trade-offs that allowed Google to keep the same high-end Tensor SoC in the 6A for such a sweet price.

Camera Hardware

The dual rear camera system features a 12.2 MP wide f/1.7 shooter with OIS and a 12 MP f/2.2 ultrawide camera with a 114° field of view (FoV).

On the front, the selfie camera has an 8MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and an 84° FoV.

Camera Features

Real Tone

Real Tone is a photo feature that was introduced last year for Google Photos and the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro cameras. Real Tone allows the camera to render better all skin tones, specifically darker skin tones, which require very different automatic settings than the ones for the light skin tones.

Google is now expanding its Real Tone feature with a new set of filters for Google Photos.

At Google I/O 2022 Annie Jean Baptiste announced that Google is starting  “to use the Monk Skin Tone Scale to build more inclusive products across Google. […] Developed by Dr. Ellis Monk, the scale adds a critical step to our product development and testing to ensure the technology powering our futures works well for everyone. Our research has shown that more people in the US find the Monk Scale to more accurately reflect their skin tone, compared to the current in tone, compared to the current industry standard. This was especially true for people with darker skin tones.

We’re testing the scale globally and in different product settings and will continue to improve it to reflect people everywhere. At Google, we’ve started using the Monk Scale to help improve how we understand and represent skin tone in products in Photo and Search.”

Annie Jean-Baptiste, presenting the expansion of Google Real Tone with the Monk Skin Tone Scale based on the research of Dr. Ellis Monk

Later this month, Google will launch new Real Tone filters that were designed to work well across skin tones and evaluated using the Monk Scale. With Real Tone filters, users can apply the beauty and authenticity of professional editing to their photos with just a few taps.

The new Real Tone developed with the Monk scale will be available for Photos, and I am guessing Google could also upgrade the version used in the Pixel 6-series camera.

Google is sharing its research using the Monk Skin Tone Scale to all developers at skintone.google.

Night Sight

The Night Sight mode enhances the camera performance in low light conditions.

Magic Eraser

Magic Eraser removes unwanted objects or strangers in the background with a few taps. Users can also change any object’s color either to match the color scheme of the scene or to tone down the appearance of an object.

Hardware, security-on-chip, and performance

Featuring the Tensor SoC, the Pixel 6A gets 6GB RAM with 128GB of storage.

The hardware platform for the entire Pixel 6 series, including the 6A, is made of the Tensor processor and the Titan M2 security chip that communicates directly with the Google Tensor Security Core.

The Tensor Security Core, located inside the Tensor SoC, combines a dedicated CPU, ROM, one-time-programmable (OTP) memory, crypto engine, internal SRAM, and protected DRAM. For Pixel 6, 6 Pro, and now 6A, the security core’s primary tasks include protecting user data keys at runtime, hardening secure boot, and communicating with Titan M2. If you are a security geek, you will find more information about Titan M2 here.

At I/O 2022, there were extensive on-stage presentations showcasing the new security and privacy features recently developed at Google to enhance users’ privacy and security across all Google software and hardware products.

On the performance side, Google claims that its machine learning AI runs five times faster on Tensor than on its previous phones’ hardware, while the Titan M2 makes the Pixel 6-series “more resilient to attacks.”

Battery

The Pixel 6a has a very decent 4410 mAh battery capacity, close to the 5000mAh seen in larger smartphones. Google claims a “24 hours” battery life for the “median Pixel user,” which means that most people can probably use it for a full day without worrying. According to Google’s specs, there’s also an “extreme battery saver” mode that could triple the battery life.

If you need to replenish the battery, it can charge at 18W, which is a satisfactory speed in this market segment.

Pixel 6A Competition

The Pixel 6A offers an excellent package of features for its affordable price, putting it on par with the following competitors:

The Samsung A53, launched in March 2022 at about $450, the Moto Edge gen2 launched in September 2021 at $699, now discounted at $449 with 256GB storage, and the OnePlus Nord 2 5G, launched in July 2021 at 399 euros (now priced at about $320).

With a 6.1” OLED 60Hz display, the Pixel 6A is the smallest of the batch, while the Moto Edge 2021 is the largest, with a 6.8” 144Hz IPS LCD. The other two competitors stand at  6.43”, with a 120Hz Super AMOLED for the Samsung phone and a 90 Hz AMOLED for the OnePlus Nord 2. All phones get the same 2400×1080 resolution, and since the Pixel 6A is the smallest device, the display delivers the highest 431 PPI pixel density.

On the camera side, the Pixel 6A features a smaller sensor than the other competitors, with the Moto Edge 2021 featuring the largest one, followed by the OnePlus Nord 2 5G. In mobile photography, sensor sizes are not the only data point we should look at to assess the image quality, other factors such as the f-stop and the image processing software are also critical.

The Google Pixel 6A gets a fast primary lens with an f/1.7 aperture. Additionally, the Google phones are famous for their excellent camera software.

All phones, including the Pixel 6A, feature a dual-camera system with a wide and an ultrawide lens, the Galaxy A53 gets an additional third shooter for macro, and the Nord 2 has a depth sensor.

The best high-end feature of the Pixel 6A is the Tensor chipset, the same processor that powers the more expensive Pixel 6 Pro. That SoC could deliver better performance than the competition in the affordable phone category.

It would be great to see how the Google Pixel 6A performs in the real world. We cannot wait to get our hands on a unit.

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