Google Pixel 8a Review: A Mixed Bag

Sahil Mohan GuptaMay 13, 2024

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This is not an inexpensive phone by any stretch of the imagination, it is just not on par with the competition.

Google's Pixel a-series phones have always been watered-down cousins of the flagship Pixels. Initially, they were devised for markets like India which are price-sensitive, while retaining the core elements of the Pixel experience. But now the new Pixel 8a has crossed the Rs. 50,000 threshold. 

This is not an inexpensive phone by any stretch of the imagination. If you look at the specifications alone, it is just not on par with the competition. However, Google is promising more localisation in manufacturing and better after-sales service, and in the company’s typical style, the Pixel 8a is still interesting in its own way. Is it worth the hype, especially at this price? 

Design 

The Pixel 8a borrows design cues from the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, so it feels much fresher than the 7a. Gone is the glossy back, and now there is a matte finish which is more understated but also makes it very slippery. Rhe obsidian black unit I have looks boring, though Google offers more whimsical options if you only want the 128GB storage variant. 

The finish of the Pixel 8a is also not the most premium in its class. A lot of plastic has been used in conjunction with Gorilla Glass 3. The bezels on the phone are also huge. 

Display 

Most people these days prefer big screens, but I am old school, and I love this 6.1-inch size, which was also true for the Pixel 7a. It makes the phone feel very ergonomic, especially with its curved edges. 

The screen is a huge improvement in terms of quality. Google has used a POLED panel and what it calls its own Actua screen tech, which means that it is plenty bright and vibrant. 

It is great for day-to-day tasks, which is what matters. There are no glaring issues here. I wouldn’t say it is a mindblowing display because it isn’t  in the same league as the Pixel 8. In fact, less expensive phones such as the OnePlus Nord CE 4 and Nothing Phone (2a) certainly feel equally good, if not better. The OnePlus 12R and Nothing Phone (2) definitely feel superior in terms of display quality. 

The Pixel 8a’s screen has a 120Hz peak refresh rate, but that's not active from the start. It needs to be manually enabled. When active, it certainly elevates the fluidity of the already smooth Google experience. 

Specification

Pixel 8a

Display

6.1-inch Actua display, up to 120Hz refresh rate

Rear Cameras

64-megapixel main wide (f/1.89), 13-megapixel ultrawide (f/2.2, 120°FOV)

Front Camera

13-megapixel (f/2.2, 96.5°FOV)

Processor

Google Tensor G3 with Titan M2 security coprocessor

Memory & Storage

8GB RAM, 128GB/256GB storage

Battery & Charging

4492 mAh, 18W wired charging, Qi wireless charging

Authentication

Fingerprint Unlock, Face Unlock

Connectivity

Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Materials

24% recycled materials, 76% recycled plastic back cover

Software Support

7 years of OS, security updates and feature drops

Software 

The Google experience is the main reason many people buy a Pixel phone. The Pixel 8a ships with Android 14 and is primed for Android 15, which has been teased at Google I/O. It is bloat-free so that you don't get acid reflux when you're using it. The UI is simple, elegant, and amply fluid. Using stock Android always elicits a sense of relief. 

Since last year’s Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, Google has been loading its phones with its own generative AI features. Features like Magic Eraser, Magic Audio Editor, and even the latest Circle to Search are all part of the package with the lower-cost Pixel 8a. In fact, this is now one of the most affordable phones to have these features. 

Google also claims that you get a pretty secure experience with its own Titan chip handling security. The haptic feedback on this phone is absolutely world-class. Google is also promising up to seven years of software updates. This claim is of questionable utility, especially for a phone that starts with only 128GB storage and 8GB RAM. It is also impossible to test at this point. 

Performance 

The Pixel 8a’s delightful user experience is, of course, facilitated by the company’s own Tensor G3 SoC, which also powers the more expensive Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. 

It is fast, reliable, and well, not a battery guzzler. It provides an acceptable level of performance for a phone of its class, which seems like pretty good value for money compared to the rest of the Pixel 8 line. This phone has 8GB of RAM, which might become a bottleneck if you want to use resource-intensive AI tools for more than two years. 

I was not able to run most of the benchmarks that are run in smartphone reviews. Google has disabled benchmarks such as 3DMark and Geekbench, which is a bummer. Going by the history of the Tensor chipsets, its scores would likely have come in vastly behind the latest and greatest SoCs such as the Apple A17 Pro, Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and Gen 3, Samsung Exynos 2400, and MediaTek Dimensity 9300.

The Tensor chip is also not the best for gaming, though Google has made some improvements compared to previous generations, which means games such as Call of Duty Mobile work just fine even at the highest settings. However, sustained performance is not ideal as this phone does get warm. For gaming, the OnePlus 12R jumps out as a better option in terms of value for money.

Call and Network Quality 

Another area of improvement is call and network quality. I had to deal with quite a few call drops on phones with the Tensor G2. And yes, 5G is now enabled out of the box. 

Battery Life

Google has slightly bumped up the size of the battery. It is also bigger than the one in the Pixel 8. Battery life is good enough for someone to get through a hectic day of work with numerous phone calls and chats happening simultaneously, apart from entertainment. 

The Pixel 8a can last 12-13 hours without worry, but it is no road runner. It also doesn't get charged as fast as most of its competitors — either wired or wirelessly. 

Cameras 

Photo and video quality is usually a highlight of Pixel smartphones, and I have been a fan for almost a decade. While the hardware hasn't really changed in a meaningful way compared to the Pixel 7a, there are improvements to image processing which make this easily the best photo taker in its segment. Its photos are attractive and have that contrasty, saturated vibe with a cold tone, which is what the Pixel look is all about. 

This camera’s low-light chops are like witchcraft, especially when one realises that Google is using some dated sensors on the back. Yet, this is the phone you'll probably want to have with you if your budget tops out at around Rs. 50,000 and photography is a priority. 

Video is also an area of improvement, and now 4K 60 FPS is possible. Video quality is very usable, especially in low light. Audio capture, in particular, is pretty good, and if there is an issue, Google's Audio Eraser tool can come in handy. You can also have Google's data centres further enhance the video. 

The Pixel 8a also takes really nice selfies, and generally, portrait shots are amongst the best in the business on the Pixel 8a. Google has also added astrophotography as a mode, which is a nice touch as it was absent on the Pixel 7a.

Verdict

There are lots of small things that I like about this phone — the stereo speakers, the haptics of the phone, and just the straightforward nature of the software. Overall, the usage experience is lovely. Yet, the Pixel 8a leaves me with mixed feelings. This phone isn't without flaws – try shooting a 4K video that goes on for more than a minute in the searing Delhi heat of 40 degrees plus, and this phone will show a message that it is getting too warm. Its fingerprint scanner is just unreliable and face recognition also doesn't work seamlessly. Its build quality is decidedly inferior to other phones it competes with, and the bezels are big, uneven, and ugly. 

The Pixel 8a, even with 128GB storage with the base variant, seems overpriced compared to phones like the OnePlus 12R. It also leaves me with a sense of anxiety because of the patchy after-sales record that Google has had in India. Despite it making improvements of late, it doesn't operate like a seasoned smartphone OEM. 

In fact, many things about Pixel phones seem aimed more at those who love Google and not for the general customer. 

There is a lot to like, but I am afraid that Rs 52,999 might be a bit too much for what's on offer.

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