Google Pixel 6a – Google just showed Apple how to make a better, cheap phone

I’m an iPhone enthusiast at heart, having used Apple’s smartphone in one form or another since the days of the iPhone 3G. And for a long time, the iPhone SE was my go-to model, thanks to its compact size and equally low price. I bought the original iPhone SE when that phone first came out and used it until its charging port died.

A new model, the iPhone SE (2022), was released this spring, but if I was looking for a phone right now, it wouldn’t be my pick for a new device. And the $429 device would definitely not be my pick for the best cheap phone under $500. Instead, if I was looking to save money on a budget phone, the one I’d go for would be Google’s all-new Pixel 6a.

That’s not necessarily a blow to the iPhone SE, which remains a solid option for many people, even with its flaws. Instead, my recommendation is more reflective of everything Google has achieved with the Pixel 6a. Google has simply added more value to its sub-$500 phone, showing Apple what it takes to create a more compelling budget device.

As our Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE (2022) showdown reveals, choosing between these two phones comes down to which one makes the least distinction between a budget device and a flagship phone. Right now it’s the Pixel 6a.

Google Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE: A tale of two phones

You wouldn’t necessarily think that if you judge a phone by its surface. When I hold the Pixel 6a in one hand and the Pixel 6 in another, it’s pretty easy to tell which is the cheaper device, and not just because the Pixel 6a has a smaller screen. The plastic feel of the Pixel 6a is noticeably different than the glass back of the Pixel 6. It’s very clear where Google saved money to offer the Pixel 6a at such a low price.

Google Pixel 6a and 6 side by side on a bench

Pixel 6a (left) and Pixel 6 (right) (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Personally, however, I’m fine with a budget phone that looks like a budget phone if its most crucial specs match what I’d get from a more expensive device. In my experience, that’s exactly what you get with the Pixel 6a.

Apple is trying something similar with the iPhone SE (2022). After all, this phone runs on the same A15 Bionic chipset found in the current iPhone 13 lineup. Buy the SE, the argument goes, and you get the same global performance as Apple’s most expensive handsets – and with 5G connectivity to boot. It’s a compelling case for a phone.

iPhone SE 2022 phone back

(Image credit: future)

The problem is that the iPhone SE shares few other attributes with the rest of the iPhone line. Its design is straight out of 2017, with sturdy bezels that feel out of place in a world with edge-to-edge screens. The iPhone SE continues to offer a single camera, and it’s one with a night mode for better low-light photos. As with the Pixel 6a, you have to cut corners somewhere to get a cheaper phone, but Apple is asking for a lot of compromises in return for the iPhone SE’s lower price.

What the Pixel 6a does well

Compare that with what Google did with the Pixel 6a. Aside from the cheaper hardware, the new phone mirrors the distinctive look of the Pixel 6 that Google showed off last fall, with a horizontal camera bar running the length of the phone’s back. The Pixel 6a has an under-display fingerprint sensor, just like the Pixel 6. (In fact, the 6a’s sensor is much more responsive.) Even the front camera is in the same spot on the phone’s screen .

The Pixel 6 has a main camera with better resolution – 50MP versus 12.2MP for the wide lens of the Pixel 6 – and the Pixel 6 Pro incorporates a telephoto lens to trump the dual camera setup of the Pixel 6a . But the Pixel 6a still leverages Google’s expertise in computational photography to produce some really great images – so great, in fact, that we think the Pixel 6a is the best camera phone under $500. It certainly surpassed the iPhone SE when we put the phones head-to-head.

In the most significant similarity of all, the Pixel 6a features the same Tensor chipset used by Google in the rest of the Pixel 6 line. also available for less on the Pixel 6a. to remove photo-bombers from your photos. That’s a pretty compelling feature set for a budget phone.

If there’s a flaw in Google’s approach, it’s that the price difference between the $599 Pixel 6 and the $459 Pixel 6a isn’t as big as the $250 gap between iPhone SE and iPhone 13 mini, the next cheapest iPhone with an A15 Bionic chipset. Rather than getting a Pixel 6a, some buyers might be tempted to pay for the Pixel 6 and its better camera and bigger screen. I’m sure Google will cry all the way to the bank.

The important point here is the different ways Apple and Google have approached their budget phones. Apple clearly wants more distinction between the iPhone SE and its flagship device. Google is clearly less concerned with this. There’s certainly a business case to be made for Apple’s approach, but I know which phone offers the most value to potential owners, and it’s not the SE.

Comments are closed.