OPINION: During a busy I/O demo in which Google teased an update to much of its hardware, the latest mid-range A-series device was announced. And it shows that Google wants to move away from the series focusing solely on the camera.
Google has been making impressive progress lately. The Pixel 6 Pro was the most technically advanced model in the series, and the last few iterations of the A series (including the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5a) have impressed with their affordable price and powerful camera.
But the camera was really the only outstanding reason to buy one of these phones. Yes, the clean software was nice, and the promise of years of updates will appeal to some, but with ever-improving competition from brands like Realme, Oppo, Xiaomi, and more, the cheapest Pixels have been lacking in other areas.
With the release of the Pixel 6a, that has changed. There are no huge camera upgrades here, at least not many obvious ones. The sensors inside the cameras haven’t been updated to match the Pixel 6 and remain the standard ones we’ve seen on Google phones since the Pixel 3. Instead, it seems like Google is shifting its focus from photography to making sure it matches the Pixel 6a. with their more expensive siblings in terms of AI intelligence.
The biggest difference between the Pixel 6a and previous devices is the switch to a flagship chipset in the form of Tensor. It was a Google-designed silicon that debuted with the 6 and 6 Pro, and is specifically focused on boosting the speed of machine learning and AI skills on board the phone. As we also found out by reviewing the Pixel 6 Pro before its release, it offers great everyday performance and performs well in Trusted Reviews Labs tests.
Previous A-series phones tended to use mid-range or low-end Qualcomm chips. These were powerful chips no doubt, but Tensor is much more high-tech, feature-rich, and gives Google more control to add some smart extras. For example, Magic Eraser is a feature that allows you to intelligently remove photobombers and unwanted visitors from your shots and is powered by Tensor.
Another element of Tensor and by extension the Pixel 6a is the Titan M2 chip and security core. According to Google, this makes the phone more resistant to external attacks and activates many of the phone’s security features.
Tensor skills should also help camera performance. So while Google is sticking with the same sensor and hardware technology, the chip’s intelligence allows for some additional features that simply didn’t exist before. For example, how skin tones are rendered and the accuracy of portrait blur. As we saw earlier, these tweaks can only help you so far, but they should at least keep the Pixel 6A on par with other top mid-range phones when it comes to photos.
Google’s approach here isn’t too different from what we’ve seen with Apple and the iPhone SE 2022. This phone, like the Pixel 6a, uses the same high-end A15 chipset as the much more expensive iPhone 13 Pro Max, and instead of changing hardware inside. camera, it uses the capabilities of the chips to improve the software.
While some may lament the lack of any real camera improvements for the Pixel 6a, I think the decision to make it a better all-round phone is the right call and will make this device more enticing to more people.