Google Pixel 6a First Impressions

Posted on July 31, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 21 Comments

My review unit Pixel 6a arrived today, and we spent a lovely afternoon photographing trains before I got home and finally installed and configured all my apps. It was a bit rushed since we had friends visiting and a schedule to keep, but I’m glad I was able to get some real-world experience with the 6a’s retro camera system.

But before we get to that, let me step back for a moment and describe the unboxing. Actually, the pre-unboxing, to invent a term, since my initial reaction to the boxed Pixel 6a and the protective case that Google was nice enough to include was immediate and unforgettable: this is one small phone. No, not iPhone SE (4.7-inch display) small. But certainly iPhone 13/13 Pro (6.1-inch display) small.

iPhone 13 Pro (left) and Pixel 6a (right)

And, I know. I should be used to that size, since I’ve been using an iPhone 13 Pro since late last year. But as I noted in What’s New in Android 13? Not Much, I intended to temporarily switch back to my Pixel 6 Pro so I could spend more time with the feature-complete version of Android 13 that’s now available. And I did so, only to learn that Google would send a Pixel 6a for review. So that lasted about 4 or 5 days, I guess, since the Pixel 6a just arrived this morning.

Anyway, it’s small. It’s something with which I’ve been struggling with the iPhone, which I also feel is a bit too small, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max (with its 6.7-inch display) is too big. On the Pixel side of the fence, Google now offers three flagship-class handsets, each with its own display size: Pixel 6a (6.1-inches), Pixel 6 (6.4-inches), and Pixel 6 Pro (6.7-inches). And so maybe the middle Pixel 6 model is my ideal size, but I suspect many will prefer the Pixel 6a for its more portable form factor. Certainly, the Pro is too big, but I got it for its additional (telephoto) lens.

And to be clear, it’s not just the general size of the device, or its display, that is smaller. It is noticeably less thick than the Pixel 6 Pro—I don’t have a Pixel 6 to compare it to—and the iPhone, and its now-iconic rear camera bump is not as prominent, which, combined with the new lens treatment, really improves the look impressively. But like its stablemates, the Pixel 6a can of course lay on a table or other flat surface and never wobble because that camera bar extends across the entire upper back of the handset.

As with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, the Pixel 6a is available in three colors, and because green is my favorite color, I was delighted that I could request the Sage version, which is what I would buy. It is a very pleasant combination of three colors, top-to-bottom, with a light yellow-green on the top and a pale mint green below the camera bar.

The camera bar, of course, is black, as are the sides of the device, and that creates some nice contrast as well. I also like the materials used everywhere: this is the first Pixel A-series to not include some take on solid polycarbonate, which I loved, but my understanding is that the “3D thermoformed composite back” is, in fact, some form of plastic. And I think it looks and feels great, as does the “tactile alloy frame” that makes up the sides.

There were no surprises in the initial setup. As noted, we had to leave quickly but I was able to get the phone set up with no third-party apps installed before we had to head out. I have also spent time experimenting with the fingerprint reader which, for me at least, has been reliable and fast. We’ll see how that goes over time, but there are reports of some people having weird issues, including a particularly scary one where others can authenticate to your account with their fingers. But that’s not been my experience.

With the case on

Out in the world, I was as impressed by the Pixel 6a’s camera system as I always am when it comes to Pixels. This new entry-level Pixel foregoes the new lenses found in the Pixel 6 Pro (main, telephoto, and front-facing) and Pixel 6 (main) and instead delivers a dual-lens system (with 12 MP main and ultra-wide lenses) on the back that will be familiar to Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 5, Pixel 5a, and some other older Pixels, and combines it with the front-facing lens found on the Pixel 6.

The results were predictable and almost entirely positive. The Pixel 6a took stunning outdoor shots and rich, contrasty shots inside the train we visited. These photos are demonstrably more colorful than anything taken with the iPhone, but most are not unrealistic from an HDR perspective. I’d call them just a bit color-bumped. I really like how they look.

I’ll take more shots, of course, and will compare the quality with the Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro later in the review cycle. But the big differences, of course, are that the Pixel 6/6 Pro both include a new 50 MP main (wide) lens that should be superior to the aging part in the Pixel 6a, and the Pixel 6 Pro includes a 4x telephoto lens that the other Pixels lack. But the ultra-wide—which isn’t wide enough, in my opinion—is common across all three handsets.

When we got home from our train visit, I set out to manually install and configure all of the apps I’d been using on the Pixel 6 Pro. Since people ask, yes, there are easier ways to do this, but I kind of enjoy going through this process and wanted to get a clean install experience anyway. Honestly, it didn’t take all that long, maybe 30 minutes. And now my home screen is pretty much the way I want it, and I can use this everywhere going forward.

And I will. And will report back soon.

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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Google Pixel 6a First Impressions”

  1. yoshi

    I’m so glad you received a review unit. I always look forward to your take on the latest Pixel. I love Pixel phones, but always end up back on an iPhone due to reliability issues. This time I had no plans to buy the 6a but as luck would have it, I received one for free. I’m on day 2 and like it quite a bit but it wouldn’t be Pixel without at least one huge issue. Like many people have reported, my 6a is unlocked when using fingerprints not registered. Only my thumbs are registered but both my index fingers can unlock it. I even handed it to my brother and both of his thumbs unlock it without delay. This is obviously very concerning.

    Paul, have you tested this out yet?

    • yoshi

      Sorry, Paul. You already mentioned that and I missed it.

    • rmlounsbury

      I've tried alt-fingers that aren't registered on my 6a. I haven't had this issue myself either.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah. I did try to unlock it with other fingers on both hands but it wouldn't unlock.

      • leoaw

        Paul, from reports I read, the fingerprint issue depending on the screen protector being used. Do you currently have a screen protector on the phone?

        • mikeharris123

          I have no screen protector and unlocks for me on multiple fingers

          The previous Pixel was terrible for unlocking, but so go far two days in I have had no issues.

          I am hoping that the 13 beta arrives in the next couple of hours

        • yoshi

          I'm not sure if you're referring to the issue I have - almost any fingerprint will unlock it - but if so, I do not have a screen protector on my 6a.

          • leoaw


            Yeah, the early report was the issue only popped up with certain screen protectors. Your configuration would disprove that.

            • yoshi

              It's a massive bummer. And since it's only happening with certain units, I'm guessing the issue is hardware.

  2. wright_is

    The cameras was one of the things that made me finally jump back to the iPhone last year - along with privacy and the inconvenience, once you disable all the Google and manufacturer data vacuuming services.

    I had the Samsung Galaxy S20+ before, but I wanted the cameras from the Ultra - the Plus was the best compromise between screen size, price and the cameras. There was no way to get the top end cameras in the case size I wanted. The same with its predecessor, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, the bigger screen also had the better cameras.

    With Apple giving the iPhone Pro and Pro Max the same camera set-up, I could avoid the overly large display for the more usable and pocketable size of the normal Pro. The first time in about 8 years that I'd gone for the "standard" sized screen and not the overly large versions to get better cameras.

    With the iPhone, you can now chose the size and camera specs you want. With a couple of caveats. The iPhone mini and iPhone have the standard cameras and the Pro (same size as the iPhone) and Pro Max (larger/largest display) having the pro camera set-up.

    I know Sony used to do the same with their normal and compact phones, they'd have the same camera and processor - most other manufacturers put cheaper processors and cameras in their compact devices.

  3. jlmerrill

    My 6A went back. There is a couple of apps that will not work with the 6A that are essential to me. I guess I am stuck with Apple for now.

  4. iAlrakis

    From a design perspective that 'camera bar' looks a lot better than simple bump variations.

  5. htdriver

    I see you're local to me. Nice. I've thought about a Pixel just to play around with it but I've been more of an iPhone person, even working in tech industry.

  6. Michael_Charlton

    My Chalk 6a arrived Friday and it's been mostly great...

    I've managed to get the odd unlock by giving it the bird finger, even though I've only registered thumbs! Actual performance has been brilliant, and I've had no issues with overheating.

    Blind camera test between Pixel 6a and my iPhone 13 Pro saw the iPhone get destroyed on shots of an amazing sunset here in the North of England near Scottish border... literally pulled both phones out of bag and did a point and shoot, with the Pixel giving a nice, natural shot, whereas the iPhone massively boosted colours for some reason (sky definitely wasn't like the photo from the iPhone).

    Obviously not every shot's gonna be this way, but it's a reasonable indicator the Pixel camera setup is good enough for most people.

  7. Chris_Kez

    That is a beautiful train car. Can you imagine traveling like that?

  8. rmlounsbury

    I've had a Pixel 6a for 3 days now and my out of the box experiences haven't been great. I'm not sure if I just have a bad unit or if the forth-coming update will correct any of my issues. That being said, the 6a form factor is absolutely perfect for me. The weight, hand feel, and balance of the device is perfect. The slimmed camera visor also really makes for an excellent looking device.

    I am curious Paul, has you unit had issues with excessive heat (common in interviews and common with my handset)? Also, is the plastic back plate flush to both sides of your unit? Mine has a a clear lip between the plastic and metal rail on one side; but perfectly flush on the other.

    • yoshi

      I've noticed my 6a being warm, but not to an alarming rate so far. Still - compared to my iPhone 13 the heat is definitely noticeable. As far as the build on my unit, everything is flush from what I can tell. That's usually the first thing I look for after the Pixel 5 gap issue.

      • rmlounsbury

        My 6a has gotten uncomfortably hot... enough that it isn't great to hold. I was going to go w/o a case. But if the heating issue doesn't calm down in the August update or once I can get the A13 beta on it; I might have to change that stance.

        My 6a has been a weird experience out of the back. I might have a bad unit.

  9. Plumbobby

    Just curious if you have any interest in using a Surface Duo 2? I'm kind of intrigued by being able to use outlook with flyout emails and calendar meetings, but worried it won't be an actual positive experience which will be important given the cost.

    Is the pixel the way to go in the Android ecosystem? I actually prefer smaller phones so maybe the 6a will be something to consider.

    Thank you for the review! Sorry if my question is off topic.

  10. rycott

    So how long before the Stockholm Syndrome sets back in? ;D