Ever since the “a” series Pixel phones was launched back in 2019, the line has been quietly successful with consumers. After all, you’ll get many of the Pixel’s great features at just a fraction of the price. Likewise, you’ll be able to enjoy that same concept with this year’s Google Pixel 7a.
There is a bit of a difference with this year’s edition though, in a good way. Google has added a couple of new features to the Pixel 7a that close the gap even more to the regular Pixel phone, making it an intriguing proposition for potential buyers.
Design and Build
As you would expect, the Pixel 7a’s design takes after the Pixel 7, and if you took a glance at the two side by side, you might struggle to identify which is which. Once you have your hands on it though, you’ll be able to tell what they did to make the device more affordable.
It uses a plastic back instead of the regular edition’s glass implementation, but Google has done exemplary work with it here to keep it visually similar. Besides that, the phone gets a lower IP67 water/dust resistance (compared to the 7’s IP68 rating) and is just ever so slightly smaller than the Pixel 7, but that may work out better for those with small hands.
In fact, the Pixel 7a still retains much of the Pixel 7’s premium materials, such as the use of metals for the rails and the camera frame, as well as the satisfyingly tactile buttons at the side — you are pretty much getting close to the same level of build quality to the regular phone.
Though our unit is the bland black variant, the Pixel line has always been noted for its cool-looking colourways, and the Pixel 7a is no different. Currently, you can have a pick of the light-blue “Sea” colour, in addition to the aforementioned black option and the white variant.
The Pixel 7a has a 6.1-inch screen that uses an OLED panel — that is all standard from the previous Pixel 6a, but now, Google has upgraded the refresh rate to 90Hz.
It is turned off by default, but once you’ve toggled it on, the 90Hz makes a world of difference when using the phone. Scrolling is dramatically smoother and more visually pleasing, trumping any hit to the battery’s performance.
As for the display itself, the screen remains excellent. With the OLED panel, colours show off very well and are beautifully vibrant, making it great to watch media. The phone can also produce a decent amount of brightness, and I’ve not had trouble using it outdoors.
The same Tensor G2 chip powers the Pixel 7a, and the performance I’ve experienced while using the phone has largely been outstanding. Apps don’t lag when loaded up; likewise, the phone does not slow down when many apps are open in the background. Honestly, it handles as well as an upper-midrange phone.
Of course, while performance for the Tensor G2 chip is great, the main highlight of getting a Pixel phone is because of its software quirks. Everything good from the Pixel 7 is also present here — you get the excellent Google features like the Assistant, Transcription, and Photo Editing tools, plus Material You, which helps make everything in the UI aesthetically similar to your wallpaper.
Another major feature of the Pixel line is its camera performance. The Pixel 7a receives an upgraded 64MP primary camera and 13MP ultrawide camera, meant to give the phone that extra boost in image quality.
Suffice it to say, the Pixel 7a is still a photography master. If you capture shots in good lighting, images come out with that familiar Pixel contrast look — usually great for showing off the blue skies and greenery. It stands amongst the best in terms of picture quality, even against other flagship cameras.
In dim environments, you can rely on the Night Sight feature. No surprise, but it also works great here, bringing out a lot of detail for areas with darker backgrounds.
The only real slight against the camera on the Pixel 7a is perhaps its zoom performance. Images still look decent enough around the 2x zoom area, but once you head up to the higher end of the spectrum, like the max 8x zoom, you notice the deficiencies. Pictures generally appear to have an unappealing smoothed-out look, and the background tends to be blurry.
Regarding video performance, the Pixel 7a can record up to 4K 60fps, and the videos produced are serviceable if unremarkable. In particular, the low-light performance could be better, with the footage having noticeable noise.
Unfortunately, while the Pixel 7a does get several upgrades over the Pixel 6a, the battery is not one of them. It receives a smaller 4,385 mAh battery capacity, which in turn garners a fairly average performance for battery life.
With the screen at 75% brightness and the 90Hz refresh rate turned on, the phone can last a day’s worth of battery life. My unit consistently survived with about 30% left in the tank after a mixture of social media scrolling and video streaming, but that is still quite the gap compared to my iPhone 14, which can usually last over two days.
Charging, while not slow, isn’t fast as well. Though Google states that the Pixel 7a supports fast charging, it is only up to 18W; other phone models already offer 30W and beyond. Charging time typically takes almost 2 hours to complete from a dead battery.
And while the Pixel 7a now offers wireless charging as one of its new features, it is best to rely on something other than it. It only does 7.5W charging, which is incredibly slow even by wireless charging standards.
As an alternative to the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7a is a rather exciting product. For about S$250 cheaper, you are getting a very similar phone that functions almost as well. It practically begs the question of whether you should even get the Pixel 7.
However, you can flip the question on its head too. As a 2022 device, the Pixel 7 will inevitably get a price reduction through sales promos. With the smaller price gap, there are more reasons to eschew the Pixel 7a — such as the better build materials, camera performance and charging capabilities.
For now, few phones match what the Pixel 7a offers in the mid-range category. High refresh rate, great cameras, and the signature Google software — very enticing features for many, and for the price, people will be getting a very good phone at a reasonably affordable cost.
Photos by Russell Loh of the DANAMIC Team.