Google just launched the Pixel 7a, the latest budget version of its Pixel series of phones. It replaces the Pixel 6a, but this year, the starting price is $500, only $100 less than its older sibling, the Pixel 7. What’s different between the 3 phones, and should you save some money by getting the Pixel 7a over the Pixel 7, or save even more with the Pixel 6a? This comparison will help you decide.
Design & Colors
Starting on the outside, the Pixel 7a’s design is almost identical to the Pixel 7, following Google’s iconic Pixel design that was refined from the Pixel 6 series. Each phone has a different set of colors although all have some variation of black and white. The Pixel 7a comes in 4 colors, with Coral being exclusive to the Google Store. The Pixel 7 comes in 3 colors, and the Pixel 6a also comes in 3 colors.
Dimensions & Weight
In terms of size, the Pixel 7a and 6a share similar heights, widths, and depths while the Pixel 7 is slightly taller and wider to accommodate a larger screen, but also a bit thinner. The odd way they round inches makes it seem like the Pixel 7a is 33% thicker than the Pixel 7, but the mm specs reveal it should only be 0.3mm thicker, which is just over 1/10 of an inch.
When it comes to weight, the Pixel 7a is 98% as heavy as the Pixel 7 despite being a smaller phone, and is 9% heavier than the Pixel 6a.
The display on the Pixel 7a and 6a are both 6.1 inches, while the Pixel 7 is a bit larger at 6.3″. However, all 3 displays have the same resolution of 1080 x 2400, so the pixel density on the Pixel 7 is a bit less. The most important difference in the displays is the refresh rate. The Pixel 6a only has a 60 Hz screen, while the Pixel 7a’s screen is 90 Hz, similar to the Pixel 7. I find scrolling on a 60 Hz screen to not be as smooth as I would like, while 90 Hz makes the animations a lot better, so this is a positive change for sure.
Battery & Charging
The battery size and stated battery life on all the phones are similar, with the primary differences here being support for wireless charging on the Pixel 7a, fast wireless charging on the Pixel 7, which means it can charge up to 20W with the Google Pixel Stand, and no wireless charging support on the Pixel 6a. This is another great improvement for the Pixel 7a over the 6a.
The difference here between the 7 and 7a isn’t really worth much, in my opinion, as the Pixel Stand costs $60-$80, and even has a fan so it may not be completely silent. One potential perk of the Pixel 7 is the ability to charge other devices wirelessly from the phone, but in most cases the phone’s battery life is probably more important than other devices.
Memory & Storage
The Pixel 7a is even more like the Pixel 7 when it comes to memory, as both share 8 GB of ram, compared to just 6 GB on the Pixel 6a. All 3 phones come with 128 GB of storage as well, but on the Pixel 7, you can upgrade to 256 GB for an extra $100.
The rear camera system on the Pixel 7 series saw a huge upgrade from the Pixel 6 generation, particularly in the 50 MP main camera versus the 12.2 MP main cam on the Pixel 6a. Interestingly, the Pixel 7a pushes the megapixel boundary even further with a 64 MP camera that has a 72% larger sensor than the 6a. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean better images than the Pixel 7, which still has a larger sensor and laser detect auto focus, making it better in low light. Some tests have shown there isn’t that much difference in most photos between the 7 and 7a, which could make the 7a the winner, except at night, since it costs less.
The second, ultrawide camera on the Pixel 7 and 6a have the same specs at 12 MP, while the Pixel 7a once again bumps the megapixel count to 13 while having slightly smaller pixels.
The same story continues with the front camera. The Pixel 6a has the lowest resolution 8 MP front camera, while the Pixel 7 increases it to 10.8 MP. The Pixel 7a bumps that to 13 MP, though with the same smaller pixel width as on the 6a compared to the 7. However, the Pixel 7a does lead the pack on the field of view at 95 degrees, which is even more than the Pixel 7, and far more than the Pixel 6. This means you can more easily fit a larger group of people into your selfies.
In terms of camera features, there are a few differences worth noting. In particular, the Pixel 7 and 7a have the Photo Unblur feature, which can take a blurry shot that you can’t retake and try to make it usable. This is probably the killer camera feature of the 7 series.
The Pixel 7 also has a feature called Motion Mode, which is actually the combination of 2 features: Action Pan and Long Exposure. The Pixel 7a only has 1 of these: Long Exposure, while the Pixel 6a has neither. Action Pan lets you create motion blur in the surroundings while keeping a moving subject, like a car or train, in focus. Long Exposure is the opposite: keep the surroundings in focus while creating motion blur for the subject.
Face Unlock & VPN
One of the time-saving security features the front camera enables is Face Unlock, supported on the Pixel 7 and 7a phones, but not the 6a. You’ll have to stick with Fingerprints or another method there.
Google offers a VPN service for it’s Google One subscribers, which starts at $2 per month. On the Pixel 6a and other devices, you’d need to pay for Google One to use its VPN or choose another VPN service, but the Pixel 7 and 7a allow you to use VPN by Google One for free, without a subscription. A VPN encrypts your communications while you are out and about, making it less likely to be intercepted by bad actors, especially if you are accessing sensitive information like your bank account using public Wifi (which I do NOT recommend), so this is a nice perk for the Pixel 7 and 7a.
In terms of audio, there aren’t many spec differences between the 3 phones. All phones have stereo speakers, but the DXOMark Audio score for the Pixel 7 is surprisingly lower than for the Pixel 6a, primarily in playback. Maybe there’s a bonus to a thicker phone after all? The Pixel 7a hasn’t been scored yet, but I think most people listening for sound quality would be using headphones or earbuds. In that case, the Pixel 7 has support for Spatial Audio, which lets you get a surround sound effect when wearing headphones or earbuds and watching movies with 5.1 or higher audio tracks.
All 3 phones have a top microphone and bottom microphone, but the Pixel 7 also has a rear-facing microphone, so sound recordings and video sound may be slightly better.
Chip & Performance
Since it’s a last generation device, the Pixel 6a uses the first-generation Google Tensor chip, while the Pixels 7 and 7a use the newer Google Tensor G2. Benchmarks show the Pixel 7 and 7a performance to be basically the same, as expected, but the Pixel 6a also has very similar performance as well. That’s because the Tensor G2 chip doesn’t make huge performance strides, but focuses on more AI-driven experiences and camera features like Photo Unblur.
One area where performance is better on the Tensor G2 chip is sustained performance. The Pixel 7 series of phones can run faster for a longer period of time compared to the 6 series. If you want drastically better performance, however, you’ll need to wait for the Tensor G3.
Since the Pixel 7 and 7a are one generation newer, they both come with Android 13 by default, while the Pixel 6a launched with Android 12. Of course, you can upgrade to newer versions as they are released, but Google only promises major Android version updates for 3 years, and security updates for 5 years from the phone’s release. That means the Pixel 6a may stop getting new Android versions after July 2025, while the Pixel 7 goes until October 2025. The Pixel 7a being launched in May of 2023 should last until May 2026.
If we look at the release history, major Android version updates are usually released in the second half of the year, with version 14 expected in 2023. Since the Pixel 7a and 7 run the same generation chip and naming, I would expect them to both get updates at least through Android 16, while the Pixel 6a could stop at Android 15.
When it comes to phone pricing, many stores and service providers have deals for trade-ins or signing up for new lines of service. That makes these value comparisons more difficult to evaluate, but we’ll stick with the retail pricing differences for this analysis.
Let’s take a look at the price of each model and compare it to the differences. The Pixel 6a is the cheapest at $350, the Pixel 7a jumps up to $500, and the Pixel 7 is at $600.
For $150 more, the jump from Pixel 6a and Pixel 7a gets you: 1) A 90 Hz display, 2) Wireless charging, 3) 8 GB of ram instead of 6, 4) Face Unlock, 5) free VPN by Google One, 6) the Google Tensor G2 chip, 7) better cameras, whether it’s the 64 MP main camera or 13 MP ultrawide and front cameras, 8) Photo Unblur and Long Exposure photo features, 9) an extra year of Android OS updates, and 10) a heavier phone without any screen size benefits.
For $100 more, going from the Pixel 7a to Pixel 7 gets you: 1) a larger 6.3-inch screen, 2) ability for the phone to charge other devices wirelessly, 3) slightly better IP68 dust and water resistance vs IP67, 4) the option to upgrade to 256 GB of storage, which is another $100 extra, 5) slightly better cameras, 6) a rear-facing microphone to make 3 instead of 2, 7) Spatial audio support, and 8) potentially worse speaker quality, at least compared to the 6a if not the 7a.
The Winner Is…
So should you buy the Pixel 7a, splurge for the Pixel 7, or save some money and go for the Pixel 6a?
Analyzing the price to feature differences, I would say the Pixel 6a to 7a upgrade is substantially better, especially the 90 Hz display, convenience of wireless charging and face unlock, and the better cameras. However, the differences between Pixel 7a and 7 aren’t really that meaningful.
Therefore, I would personally choose to get the Pixel 7a. But I would look for some deals to reduce the price. Just be careful not to get locked into expensive carrier contracts if you don’t actually need all those features. It’s still far cheaper to buy the phone outright and pay $10-$20 a month for service than to pay for the phone over time as part of a $50+/month contract for 2-3 years.