Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What disagreement does a year make?

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What disagreement does a year make?

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What difference does a year make?

Looking for a new midrange smartphone? Google’s Pixel A range has long been a top contender in our best cheap phones list, and the newly announced Google Pixel 6a is looking likely to take the top spot in that list. With Google’s Tensor processor, a shiny new design, and the usual incredible camera smarts, the Pixel 6a is going to be the phone to beat.

But before that, it’s going to have to prove its chops by taking on its stablemate. The Google Pixel 5a is last year’s model, and despite its dated looks, it’s still a monstrously good smartphone. It has 5G connectivity, a strong midrange processor, and one of the best cameras around. While Google is likely to drop selling it when the Pixel 6a is up for pre-order, you can still buy it at the Google Store now, and will probably be able to find it at other retailers for a while, possibly at a discount. So, should you buy a discounted Pixel 5a or the Pixel 6a? Or, if you’re already using a Pixel 5a, is the Pixel 6a worth the upgrade cost? Read on to find out.
60Hz refresh rate
60Hz refresh rate
8MP front
8MP front
4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps
18W fast-charging
18W fast-charging
Charger included in box
Design, display, and durability

  • 1. Pixel 6a
  • 2. Pixel 5a

1. Pixel 6a
2. Pixel 5a
The Google Pixel 5a came at the end of something of a design drought for Google, and it’s fair to say the design wasn’t exactly exciting. If you’re being nice, you can call it “safe”. If not, then “boring” probably jumps to mind. It’s a fairly featureless black slab of polycarbonate, and those looking for excitement won’t find much here. That can’t be said about the Pixel 6a. Google has refreshed the Pixel line’s design significantly from the Pixel 6 onwards, and that design has been brought to the Pixel 6a. The unique “camera bar” visor has been brought to the midrange smartphone, and while the front is largely the same as the Pixel 5a, the new design language around the back really makes a difference.
The two phones’ displays are somewhat more similar. The Pixel 6a is the smaller of the two, with a 6.1-inch OLED panel. The Pixel 5a’s 6.34-inch display is larger, and that means a slight drop in crispness, but honestly, you’re not going to be able to tell unless you have Superman’s telescopic vision. We were hoping the Pixel 6a’s refresh rate would be a deciding factor, but alas, Google has stuck with a 60Hz refresh rate for some reason, which puts the two on an even footing.
Both have a lightweight polycarbonate build and IP67 water resistance. Those builds should make them less susceptible to damage than phones with glass builds, but we’d still slap a case on them to keep them safe anyway.
Look at both phones and it’s obvious there’s a clear winner here. The Pixel 6a’s new design takes the day.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Performance, battery life, and charging
Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What difference does a year make?
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

This one is a little tough to judge since we haven’t had much time with the Pixel 6a yet, but it’s likely the Pixel 6a is going to be the more powerful of the two smartphones. Why? Because it’s using a flagship-level chip, the Google Tensor. This is the same tech we’ve seen in the Pixel 6 Pro, and it’s highly likely to easily outpace the Pixel 5a’s Snapdragon 765G. The Pixel 5a’s processor isn’t slow by any means, but it’s out of its league here.
Battery life we’re even more unsure about. The Pixel 5a has a strong day-and-a-half battery life with some fairly normal use, and it has 18W fast charging with the charger out of the box. There’s no wireless charging though. We haven’t had much time with the Pixel 6a yet, and certainly not enough time to judge its battery life. We’re hoping it’ll manage to match the Pixel 5a’s performance, but until we’ve had more time with it we can’t know for sure. As such, we’re ruling this a tie for now.
Winner: Tie

Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What difference does a year make?
All Google Pixel phones have been known for their strong camera capabilities, and these two are no different. They have similar setups, actually. Both have a 12.2-megapixel main lens, along with an additional ultrawide lens. That ultrawide lens is a 12MP lens on the Pixel 6a, but 16MP on the Pixel 5a. On paper, then, the older smartphone has an advantage. But only on paper – Google has constantly beaten specs with its Pixel camera systems, and given how heavily it leans on software tricks to create incredible stills, we won’t be surprised if the Pixel 6a turns out to be the stronger of the two.
This is likely to be another one we’re going to return to, but for now, we’re happy to give a speculative win to the Pixel 6a. Google has rarely let us down where cameras are concerned, and we’re confident the Pixel 6a will be another big step forward.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Software and updates
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

We can cut straight to the chase on this one – both phones will run Android 13 (when it releases), and both will get a good number of updates. Both run Android 12 now, but unlike the Pixel 6a, the Pixel 5a didn’t launch with it, so you can expect the older Pixel to get one major Android release less. Is that a big difference? It depends on how long you’re planning on keeping your smartphone. If you’re already using a Pixel 5a, it’ll easily last until your likely next upgrade. Buying from new? Maybe lean towards the Pixel 6a for longevity.
Assuming you’re buying a new phone and choosing between these two, we’re giving this to the Pixel 6a.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Special features
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

There’s some question as to whether 5G still counts as a special feature, but regardless, both phones have 5G connectivity. Both phones leverage a lot of Google’s AI smarts for features like Call Screen to screen out telemarketers, or Hold for Me, which takes your place in a queue for you. But the Pixel 6a has a bunch more features that you might enjoy, including the Magic Eraser that removes unwanted elements from your photos and Face Unblur, which is fairly self-explanatory.
The Pixel 6a is the clear winner here.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Price and availability
The Google Pixel 5a is currently still available from Google, and you can pick it up for $449. It’ll work on most major U.S. carriers too, so you don’t need to worry about coverage.
The Google Pixel 6a has been announced, but it’s nowhere near ready to pre-order yet. In fact, you won’t be able to reserve yours until July 21, with the full release following a week later on July 28. When it finally arrives, it’ll cost $449, the same as the Pixel 5a.
Overall winner: Google Pixel 6a
It’s not a surprise the newer model is the winner here, but the Google Pixel 6a is a worthy winner. With a more attractive design, a more powerful processor, and some nifty new special features, the new Pixel is the better of the two phones by far. While it may still be a while away, it looks like it’s worth waiting for if you’re considering buying one of these two phones.
But what if you’re already using a Google Pixel 5a? Is upgrading right now worthwhile? Well, right now we’d say not. The Pixel 5a is still an excellent smartphone, and while its design is lacking, the excellent camera, strong performance, and great battery life mean it’s still worth hanging on to. However, a lot of that depends on the size of the exchange value of the Pixel 5a for the Pixel 6a. We’ll check once the pre-orders are live and let you know whether a cheeky exchange might be worth the cash. But regardless of that, the Google Pixel 6a is the winner here.
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