How the awesome Pixel 6a tells Google’s gripping story on Android

With the full launch of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro in October, the July reveal of the Pixel 6a (some nine months after the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro) might seem like a late addition to last year’s portfolio. Where does the Pixel 6a fit into Google’s smartphone plans over the next few years? How does it tell the story that Google wants to portray? And how can it make the device one that consumers will want to buy?

The Pixel 6A is not for the Six family, but for the Seven family

First of all, it is clearly one of Google’s smartphones. With the launch of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google managed to define a unique physical look for its smartphones. The camera bar both offered symmetry in construction, drew attention to the orderly arrangement of camera lenses, and offered a simple solution to both the “desktop tilting” seen in phones with a island of camera lenses, and a comfortable physical ridge to help hold large armored devices.

Google relied heavily on the capabilities of the Pixel camera when launching the device, and the camera bar ensured that a “this camera is different” message was in place. Still, the Camera Bar’s greatest benefit is that it identifies the Pixel in popular culture, much as Apple’s notched iPhone was a visible silhouette.

Which leads to the Pixel 6A. While it’s remarkably late for the Pixel 6 family, arriving at the end of July compared to the launch of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro nine months prior, it will go on sale when the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 7 are fully launched and hit shelves. . With the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro likely removed from the product lineup, Google is going to have a strong “tiered” profile of a smaller device in the 6a, the regular device in the Pixel 7, and the flagship Pixel. 7 Pro .

That makes it a better mix than the Pixel 6 Pro and the discounted Pixel 6 which are nearing their end of retail life competing on price with the Pixel 6a.

The Pixel 6a is one of the six hits

Still, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are an important part of the Pixel 6a story. We had the feeling that the Pixel 6 and especially the Pixel 6 Pro had crossed a ceiling when they were released last year. There was more public recognition, there were more network deals, and there was more mainstream press coverage; in some cases, the Pixel 6 pro has become the natural comparison to the iPhone rather than Samsung’s Galaxy S21.

These Pixels also saw Google debut its mobile Tensor chip, giving Google a silicon platform on which it could operate in a much more Apple-like way. It could customize the internal workings of the chipset to enable more efficient processing in a number of areas such as machine learning. One obvious area where this had a positive impact was camera processing and post-production editing of footage – and yes, we go back to that camera bar’s value as an identifier of the difference in the handset .

The Pixel brand over the past year is well established in a number of areas. The Pixel 6a takes that success and seeks to translate it to the mid-range market. Previously, the mid-range market was where the Pixel 4 and Pixel 5 handsets were. That wasn’t the case with the Pixel 6 family…until now.

The Pixel 6a established the new smartphones in one of the most competitive spaces.

The Pixel 6a as a signpost

Unlike Apple’s iPhone team, which only has to justify any map changes, Android is a much more interesting landscape. It’s not as fractured as many make it out to be; the vast majority of manufacturers look to Google’s additional services to complement the open source Android offering before adding their own UI layer, apps and services to their own handsets.

But the space is essentially overseen by Google. That’s not unusual, after all the personal computing space has a similar relationship with Microsoft and Windows… the base operating system is offered, some services are bundled together that manufacturers need to take, and the rest is a process design, innovation, decisions and interactivity.

Of course, in recent years, Microsoft has defined its own vision for Windows via the Surface hardware platform with a feeling of “we think it works great…” hanging in the air.

Now translate that to the Pixel platform, and you can see Google using Pixel to indirectly talk to manufacturers about what it thinks a smartphone should be. Last year’s Pixel 6 Pro defined the flagship, the Pixel 6 in the so-called “flagship killer” space, and now with the Pixel 6a, Google has the “mid-range” definition in the market as well.

Notably, the Pixel 6a retains the same high-end processor as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro…although Google has the advantage of using its own chip design and not having a large SKU to choose from. Still, the idea of ​​keeping as much processing power on the handset – useful for machine learning-intensive tasks – is front and center.

Following the September update, the Pixel 6a comes with Android 13 and the promise of OS support for three years and continuous security updates for five years. Google wants the Pixel 6a to show that long-term support, especially on security issues, should be the norm, not the exception, even at this price point.

It’s also worth noting the domains that Google sacrificed. The screen avoids the rush of fast refresh technology instead sticking to 60Hz refresh, and RAM is shrunk to 6GB.

The camera is also physically downgraded, leaving the 50-megapixel sensor for the larger phones instead with the same 12-megapixel sensor found in the Pixel 3, 4 and 5 handsets. processing, thus retaining the more powerful chip to enhance images instead of the physical options.

I wonder if Android 13 is biased towards these options…

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Google’s Pixel 6a is more than just a good mid-range smartphone, it’s probably the best smartphone under $399 this year and it’s challenging the competition to match it.

It certainly offers excellent value for money for consumers, who are choosing a handset that is the clearest implementation of Google’s vision for Android. Of course, each manufacturer is going to take their own devices in their own directions, but they can’t stray too far from the path laid out by the Mountain View team.

The Pixel 6a is just as important as a signpost as it is a smartphone.

Now find out how Google’s Pixel Watch will help redefine the smartwatch space…

Disclaimer: Google UK provided a Pixel 6a for review.