Smartphone releases tend to follow a predictable pattern, where manufacturers launch their flagship models first, followed by a more affordable option a few months later. And to achieve a lower price point, handset makers remove some elements present in the original model, resulting in lower performance, from a slower processor, an IPS screen instead of a high-end OLED display, or an average camera module, among other things.
The Google Pixel 7a breaks this trend, despite releasing a full seven months after its flagship brethren, with impressive specs, including using the same processor. In fact, the Pixel 7a actually outperforms the original Google Pixel 7 (not including the Pro variant) in certain aspects, which is an impressive feat for a lower-end alternative.
Compared to the existing 197 gram Pixel 7, the Pixel 7a is smaller and lighter, measuring 72.9 x 152.4 x 9.0mm, and weighing 193 grams. It comes in three colours – Snow, Charcoal, and Sea – because white, black and blue sound too pedestrian. The new Sea looks great, offering a premium feel, and all use the same materials as its bigger sibling. The 6.1-inch Gorilla Glass Victus display is encased in an aluminium frame, while the rear boasts a fingerprint-prone glass back. It looks and feels just as good as the 6.3-inch Pixel 7, proving that budget-conscious consumers won’t have to compromise on quality.
The Pixel 7a’s slightly smaller frame is due to its 6.1-inch 2400 x 1080 OLED screen, at 429 PPI, which quickly adapts to lighting conditions, and is easily readable under bright sunlight. Unlike the budget Pixel 6a, which had a capped refresh rate of 60Hz, this has a refresh rate of 90Hz, matching its generational Pixel 7 cousin. Even when compared to the 120Hz Pixel 7 Pro it’s difficult to distinguish any difference in screen quality – the on-screen colours are crisp, and the majority of content is a feast for the eye. The display could be brighter, though, as it is visibly dimmer than the Pixel 7. If you’re the type that enjoys watching YouTube on their phone, the speakers project clear sound from the top of the phone, via the same ear speaker for calls, and two downward-firing speakers at the base of the phone. Although the Pixel 7a is a tad small to share the screen with a partner, the screen has great viewing angles with no visible colour shift even when viewed from the side.
At the heart of the Pixel 7a is Google’s Tensor G2 chip, which has been powering their phones since 2021’s Pixel 6. Despite being a more budget-friendly device, the Pixel 7a packs the same processor and 8GB of RAM as the flagship model. While the Tensor chip might not measure up to competitors like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 on paper, it performs well for most tasks in day-to-day use. Menu navigation may bring some slight delays, however, so the experience might not quite match the seamlessness of Samsung’s top-tier offerings.
Nonetheless, the Pixel 7a offers a smooth user experience for general web browsing, texting, and emailing right out of the box. Similar to the Pixel 7 Pro, it’s likely that the Pixel 7a will maintain its performance months down the line with regular use, although it may not handle more demanding tasks. Overall, it should do well for general use and taking photos and videos.
Photography has long been a strong suit of the Pixel devices, although the recent changes to Google Photos have made visual content capture on Pixel devices less compelling. The Pixel 7a features a 64MP main camera, and a 13MP ultrawide camera, again an improvement over the Pixel 7’s 50MP main and 12MP ultrawide. The upgrade, while welcome, hardly affects real-world performance, with our sample shots showing only negligible differences in image quality between the two phones. This is largely due to Google’s superior software processing, which has always been the backbone of the Pixel’s camera system and continues to produce great results on the Pixel 7a.
As far as we can tell, both the Pixel 7a (slide image to the right) and Pixel 7 (slide image to the left) produce similar shots and have been able to showcase textures well. When using the Pixel 7a for photography, Google didn’t shave off any corners and users can expect the best of the tech in the Pixel family of devices.
While it might not have a triple camera array, the Pixel 7a is more than capable to leverage on software to close the distance. The Pixel’s Super Res Zoom is just one of the many features made available to the budget device so there’s little trade-off once again for keeping the bank account happy.
Here’s a gallery of more visuals to check out the Pixel 7a’s capabilities –
Visual quality-wise, it’s hard to find much fault with these images especially if you’re focused on using these images for social media. While the camera photography space is competitive, there’s the pricier Pixel 7 Pro available as an alternative. The real downside in 2023 is how much space is needed for the modern era of social media and content creation. In the past, getting a Google Pixel meant getting unlimited storage on Google Photos which is also shared with Gmail and Google Drive. This means that with the rise of short-form video, all that space could go really fast if not properly curated. Having a great camera would be moot if you’re running out of cloud space which is something to be mindful of down the road.
Compared to the Pixel 7, the 4385 mAh battery on the Pixel 7a drains at roughly the same pace under similar usage patterns. For heavy work-related and social media phone usage, a mid-day charge is required. Typically, the phone would be off the charger by 7 am and would require another charge around 2 pm when it reaches the halfway mark. One should expect a good 12 hours of battery life at most before the battery goes flat. Fast charging is a must for most smartphones today, and the Pixel 7a is able to reach the 50-percent battery mark in around 25 minutes. The 7a even has a slightly larger battery capacity than the Pixel 7 (4355 mAh), which is unusual for a budget device.
It’s surprising to see the budget device match (and at times outperform) its mainstream brethren, especially given the attractive price tag of S$749. Priced very competitively, the Pixel 7a is a great option for anyone looking to join Google’s official hardware family. Its specs and real-world performance are comparable to the original line of devices, making it difficult not to recommend the Pixel 7a over the Pixel 7, which costs S$999.
Could this mark the end of the regular Pixel option as a whole? With the addition of the Google Pixel Fold to the mix, Google may look to cut the middle option and focus on providing the same level of performance at a much-reduced price to maximise resources. It speaks of Google’s prowess that a budget option can match and even surpass the vanilla Pixel device option at an attractive price tag, and it’s definitely praiseworthy if the brand can maintain this balance for its future offerings.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
While it might be classified as a budget phone, the Google Pixel 7a goes much further than that. Admittedly the Tensor G2 is not a top-tier processor but Google has made it go the distance by optimising the software side to ensure a smooth user experience. The biggest win here is the affordable price tag in allowing prospective Android users to experience the best of the platform without being shortchanged when it comes to the overall hardware.
Aesthetics - 9/10
Build Quality - 9/10
Performance - 7/10
Value - 9.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10
Gerald currently straddles between his love of video games and board gaming. There’s nothing that interests him more than trying out the newest and fanciest gadget in town as well. He dreams of publishing a board game sometime in the future!