The Google Pixel 8a is the Pixel phone I’ve been waiting for

A render of the Bay blue Google Pixel 8a.
Google

It’s that time of year once again — time for a new Google Pixel phone. Google officially announced the Pixel 8a this week, and the phone is exactly as the rumors predicted. It has a slightly refined design, a new chipset, and an improved display.

At first glance, the Google Pixel 8a might come off as a bit boring. It’s a budget smartphone that’s technically inferior to its Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro siblings from 2023, and compared to the Pixel 7a, it’s not all that different. It can be easy to dismiss the Pixel 8a, but when you consider all of its specs, features, and unchanged price, I don’t think there’s anything boring about it. In fact, I think it’s pretty damn exciting.

Subtle (but important) upgrades

Render of Google's Tensor G3 processor.
Google

The Pixel 8a is not a revolution for Google’s budget smartphone strategy. Much of the Pixel 8a was carried over directly from the Pixel 7a, and it shows. However, the upgrades Google did make are — in my opinion — critically important.

The biggest of these is the Pixel 8a’s chipset. Powering the phone is Google’s Tensor G3 chip — the same one found in the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. For reference, last year’s Pixel 7a was powered by the Tensor G2.  In my experience, Google’s Tensor G2 is a bad chip.

Although I never used the Pixel 7a, I did use the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. I had nothing but a bad experience with both of them — and I chalk it all up to the Tensor G2. From app crashes to user interface bugs to poor battery life to rampant overheating, neither phone was one I could rely on. Other people had far better times with Google’s second-generation chipset, but I was never quite so lucky.

Comparatively, the Tensor G3 is a much more reliable chipset. It’s certainly not perfect, and it trails behind competing chips from Qualcomm and Apple, but it’s leagues more dependable than the previous G2 chip. I’ve used the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro a lot since their release in October, and they’ve been perfectly reliable smartphones — offering good performance with infrequent bugs, little-to-no crashes, and much less worrisome overheating. Bringing that enhanced stability to the Pixel 8a is a massive win, and it makes me far more comfortable recommending the phone than I was with its predecessor.

A render of the Google Pixel 8a with its scree turned on. It's against a light blue background.
Digital Trends

I’m also happy to see Google has upgraded the Pixel 8a’s display. Last year, Google went from a 60Hz refresh rate on the Pixel 6a to a 90Hz one on the Pixel 7a. This year, Google has given us another refresh rate improvement, with the Pixel 8a offering a 120Hz display. It’s the same refresh rate found on the more expensive Pixel 8 models, and combined with the more reliable Tensor G3 chip, that should translate to a much smoother overall experience.

There are other welcome upgrades, too. Between the larger 4,492 mAh battery and more efficient chipset, Google’s estimating a 15% improvement in battery life compared to the Pixel 7a. The display is also quite a bit brighter this time, offering up to 2,000 nits of peak brightness instead of 1,000 nits. As far as software updates are concerned, the seven years of promised Android upgrades, security patches, and Feature Drops are just as good as Google and Samsung’s flagship phones.

When you put it like that, the Pixel 8a doesn’t sound so boring after all, does it?

If it ain’t broke

Someone taking a phone call on the aloe Google Pixel 8a.
Google

To be clear, there are plenty of other areas where Google didn’t improve the Pixel 8a compared to the Pixel 7a. But the aspects of the phone Google left unchanged don’t feel particularly worrisome.

Take the cameras, for example. Just like last year, the Pixel 8a has the same 64-megapixel main camera, 13MP ultrawide camera, and 13MP selfie camera. Those aren’t jaw-dropping specifications, but as a reminder, the Pixel 7a already takes pretty incredible photos. Another year of similar image quality — paired with some new AI photo-editing tools — doesn’t sound bad at all. The IP67 rating is also unchanged, and while not as strong as the IP68 rating on more expensive phones, it’s difficult to get genuinely upset about it.

I also don’t hate that the charging options haven’t changed, even if 18W wired charging and 7.5W wireless charging are far from snappy. And compared to the 80W wired charging offered by the OnePlus 12R, there’s no doubt Google had room for improvement here. However, if this was one of the sacrifices that had to be made for a newer chip and a faster/brighter screen, I’m OK with that — especially because of the next thing we have to talk about: the price.

The wow factor

A photo of someone holding the Google Pixel 8a.
Google

Despite the better chip, nicer display, bigger battery, and longer commitment to software updates, the Google Pixel 8a still costs the same as the Pixel 7a. It’s $499 for the 128GB storage model, and if you need more room, there’s now a 256GB option available for $559. Leading up to the Pixel 8a’s release, there was a lot of discussion about a possible price increase. But that didn’t happen, and given all of the upgrades Google has delivered, it’s honestly pretty incredible.

The Google Pixel 7a was a good foundation for a midrange smartphone. The Pixel 8a has taken that foundation and fixed what needed work (the chipset, display, battery life, and software updates), kept what didn’t need changing (the cameras and charging options), and did all of that without increasing the price. If you ask me, this all has the potential for the Google Pixel 8a to be one of 2024’s best smartphone values.

So, no — I don’t think the Google Pixel 8a is a boring smartphone. Does it visually look very similar to last year’s Pixels? It sure does. Are its specs an odd mishmash between the Pixel 7a and Pixel 8? Undoubtedly. Does all of that sound like the makings of an incredible $500 smartphone? I certainly think so. Google is often at its best when it’s making a phone within a certain price constraint, and given what we’ve seen of the Pixel 8a so far, it looks like the Pixel phone I’ve been waiting for — one that’s affordable, reliable, and packed with solid specifications. If you ask me, that’s worth getting excited about.

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