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Google Pixel 8a review: Wait for sale

Google Pixel 8a review: Wait for sale

Google Pixel 8a

Let me preface this review by saying the Google Pixel 8a is a perfectly fine mid-range phone. But I have to wonder, what's the point of the Pixel 8a? It's certainly not cheap enough, especially with this year's S$50 price bump over the Pixel 7a, to appeal to more budget consumers. And if you're already looking at a S$800 phone, why not just spend a bit more for the much better (hardware-wise) Pixel 8, which is often discounted to around S$800 or even less?

Quick specs

  • 6.1-inch OLED screen (2,400 x 1,080 pixels, 120Hz)
  • Google Tensor G3 chip with 8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage
  • 64MP main camera, 13MP ultra-wide, 13MP selfie
  • 4,492mAh battery

The Pixel 8a has a similar design as the others in the series, particularly the distinctive raised camera bar at the back. Compared with the other Pixel 8 phones, the Pixel 8a's corners look a bit more rounded, while the screen bezels are slightly thicker. Being a mid-range phone, it unsurprisingly has a plastic back instead of a glass one. My Porcelain review set has a frosted white finish that looks good, and is not too slippery. It's rated at IP67 for water and dust resistance, like the Pixel 7a. The other Pixel 8 phones are IP68, though.

The Pixel 8a is also rather handy, thanks to its compact 6.1-inch OLED screen. The refresh rate has been bumped up from 90Hz to 120Hz compared with the Pixel 7a. This is nice, but I feel the bigger impact here is the screen brightness, which is now up to 2,000 nits. That's almost as bright as the other Pixel 8 models, and makes the display very legible under the sun. You can unlock the phone using the in-display fingerprint sensor or with Face Unlock.

Google Pixel 8a
The Pixel 8a (left) and the Pixel 8 (right). The Pixel 8 has a slightly more prominent camera bump. Credit: Vincent Chang/Can Buy or Not

Powering the Pixel 8a is the same processor as the flagship Pixel 8 Pro, the Tensor G3. Hence, the performance is good, especially for a mid-range phone — I certainly didn't feel any difference when switching between the Pixel 8 Pro and the Pixel 8a. Apps opened promptly, and games ran smoothly. The phone does warm up during gaming, but not warm enough to be worrisome. The haptics also felt very similar to the other Pixel 8 phones.

More importantly, practically all the AI features on the other Pixel 8 phones are available on the Pixel 8a. From fun ones like AI-generated wallpapers to photography features like Best Take and Magic Editor to the latest ones like Circle to Search. They are all there on the Pixel 8a, and they work just as well as the flagship version.

In addition, the Pixel 8a will get — in a future update — Google's Gemini Nano AI model, which can be used to enable on-device capability for Summarize in Recorder and Gboard Smart Reply. You can still download the Gemini app from the Play Store, which will replace the Google Assistant as the primary assistant. This means Gemini pops up when you say Hey Google. But Gemini can't do the smart home stuff yet, like turning on your lights, so the phone reverts back to the Google Assistant when that happens. It all feels a bit schizophrenic at the moment.

Google Pixel 8a
The corners are rounder and the bezels are thicker compared with the Pixel 8 or Pixel 8 Pro. Credit: Vincent Chang/Can Buy or Not

In terms of camera features, there are some differences — Pixel 8a lacks Macro Focus and Action Pan — perhaps because the 8a uses the same cameras as the Pixel 7a. But despite having different primary and ultra-wide cameras, the Pixel 8a produces photos that look mostly indistinguishable to the Pixel 8 Pro. Photos taken in good lighting conditions look really similar between the mid-range and the flagship phones. Even selfie photos are almost the same in terms of the skin tone, and details.

It's only when you take a distant shot that the telephoto lens on the Pixel 8 Pro shows its worth. Even with Super Res Zoom (up to 8x), the faraway shots from the Pixel 8a don't look as vibrant or as sharp as the ones taken by the Pixel 8 Pro. And as mentioned earlier, there's also no macro mode for taking close-up shots with the Pixel 8a. Night mode is generally good, with no overblown highlights, though there's still some noise and smearing. In short, most users would be fine with the Pixel 8a's camera for day to day use.

See Also
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Compared with the Pixel 7a, the Pixel 8a has a slightly larger battery (4,492mAh, up from 4,385mAh). I can usually get a day's use, even without charging at the beginning of the day. I'll update here again once I have finished testing the battery life. The wired charging speed (18W) is the same as the Pixel 7a, and remains slower than the other Pixel 8 phones.

On its own, the Google Pixel 8a is a good deal at S$799/S$899 (128GB/256GB). You get the same Tensor G3 processor with almost all the AI features, a bright 120Hz OLED screen, Google's well-tuned cameras, and seven years of software updates. But the Pixel 8 offers better hardware, with a street price of around S$800. If you can find the Pixel 8 for cheap, you pick it 100% the time. Else I suggest waiting for the Pixel 8a to go on sale. The Pixel 8a is available for pre-order from the Google Store (free case and S$150 store credit if you order by May 21), as well as Shopee, Lazada, and Amazon SG.

Note: Review unit provided by Google.

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