Since the Pixel 3a was announced at Google I/O 2019, we’ve looked forward to reviewing the next a-series Pixel every single year. That’s because Google makes the best, cheap smartphone. It uses the same camera (usually) as its flagship smartphone, in a cheaper smartphone. And of course, all of the great software features as well.
Now, over the years, the price has gone up, starting at $349 in 2019 to now being $499 in 2023. Though, we’ve seen quite a few changes, like the addition of 5G, and also let’s not forget about inflation. Even at $499, this is still a really great smartphone. Is it perfect? Of course not. At this price, you’re still making some trade-offs. But are those trade-offs deal breakers? Let’s find out in our review.
Google Pixel 7a Review: Design & Hardware
After getting a redesign last year, so that the Pixel 6a fit in with the Pixel 6 series, the Pixel 7a also gets a slight redesign this year. It’s mostly adding the changes to the camera bar that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro saw last year. So it looks more in line with the Pixel 7 series.
The model that Google sent to us is the “Snow” model, which is white and silver. The sides and camera bar are silver and made or metal. While the back which is white, is made of plastic. One of the issues that I have with this build quality, is that because the back is plastic, it doesn’t melt into the frame like the glass on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro do. When holding it in the hand, you can really feel it between the plastic and metal.
Despite housing a 64-megapixel camera this year, over the 12-megapixel camera on every other Pixel a-series, the camera bar is not that much thicker than the Pixel 6a’s. Which is honestly, something I really like about this phone. And something I loved about the Pixel 6a. The camera bar on the flagship models are just so thick and in the way.
On the sides, you’ll see antenna bands all around. With the volume and power button on the right side. Just as Google has always done on the Pixel. Now the power button is not a different color, like it has done with previous Pixels. That’s something I really hope that Google brings back.
That new 90Hz display
The front is, well, rather plain. That’s where you’ll find the 6.1-inch FHD+ 90Hz display. Which is one of the upgrades over the Pixel 6a. After Google received a lot of backlash over having a 60Hz display, they decided to make it 90Hz this year. The bezels are rather thick here, but for a flat display, it’s not to bad. And of course the front-facing camera is right in the center.
The display is good, but not great. This is not an AMOLED display, but rather a gOLED display, which is a cheaper OLED display. This is also not as adaptive as LTPO. It does adapt from 60Hz to 90Hz, but not any lower than 60Hz. That’s still a feature that is saved for mostly higher-end phones.
Let’s talk about brightness. It’s not all that great. Can you use it outside? Sure. But it does lag behind the flagships out there. Which is where I really need to remember that this is a $499 phone and not a $899 phone.
For the price, it’s a really good display. However, if you want a slightly better display, I’d recommend the Pixel 7, which is only $100 more.
Google Pixel 7a Review: Performance
Since Google debuted the Tensor chipset in 2021, on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, I had pretty high hopes for it. Just comparing it to what Apple has done with the iPhone and making its own chipsets for basically everything it sells. I thought it would allow Google to have more control, push out updates faster, and make things like the camera even better. I was wrong.
Now, I will admit that we are only two generations in so far, but the Tensor G2 is not a great chipset. On the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro reviews, I complained about how it was slow, and how bad battery life was. Especially when comparing it to other chipsets like the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 and Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. Which took huge leaps forward last year and this year, respectively. But Tensor? Nope, it’s still really slow.
Despite having more RAM in the Pixel 7a, it doesn’t seem to help the Tensor G2 that much. As an example, I opened Twitter, checked my timeline. Then hoped over to my notifications tab. Then went back over to the timeline, and it had to entirely refresh the entire timeline. Why? I have no idea, but it was likely due to the processor and RAM here. The same thing happens on the Pixel 7, but not the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Which leads me to think this is a Tensor thing.
Why is Tensor so slow? Well, Google is focusing more on artificial intelligence and machine learning with its chipsets, versus performance. I don’t need to have the fastest chipset in my smartphone, but I would like one that is not the slowest either.
Google Pixel 7a Review: Battery Life & Charging
And that leads us into the battery life. Pixel had struggled with battery life for years, even dating back to the Nexus days. But with the Pixel 4 and 5 series, it really seemed to have turned a corner. Then, it went Tensor. With the Pixel 6 and Tensor, battery life has really gone down hill on Pixel phones. And it’s borderline atrocious here on the Pixel 7a.
Keep in mind, I’ve only been using this phone for a week, and a couple of those days were travel days to get to Google I/O, but it struggles just to pass six hours of screen on time. That’s pretty weak. After a couple of cycles, I figured, maybe if I used it at 60Hz, it would be better. After all, it is set to 60Hz out of the box. It was better, but not much better.
I wasn’t expecting Galaxy S23 Ultra type of battery life here, but would be nice to see it at least hit 6 hours consistently. Instead of some days not even hitting 5 hours. Though part of this is due to an issue I’m seeing right now, where YouTube runs in the background until your force stop it. So on one of the battery cycles you’ll see below, you’ll see that YouTube was running for over 7 hours.
So fingers crossed that the next monthly update fixes this, or a YouTube app update fixes it.
Now onto charging. It sucks. The Pixel 7a is still using 18W charging, and Google has the nerve to call that “fast charging”. That’s not fast, it’s the opposite of that. Heck, even the iPhone charges faster than that. What’s even stranger is that every Pixel 7 model has different charging speeds.
Google did add wireless charging, but when you see the speed, you’ll wonder why they bothered. Google only added 7.5W wireless charging. Now if you’re just charging wirelessly overnight, then fine that’s going to be plenty fast. But if you need a quick top up during the day, you better plug it in.
Of course, both of these allow Google to keep the BOM (bill of materials) cheaper, so they can sell it for less. But it’s arguably the worst part of the Pixel 7a experience.
Google Pixel 7a Review: Camera
So this year, Google really upgraded the cameras on the Pixel 7a. Not just the main sensor, but every sensor. So now, we have a 64-megapixel main camera, along with a 13-megapixel ultrawide sensor and a 13-megapixel front-facing sensor. Now on paper, it looks like these are better than the Pixel 7. But not so fast. The Pixel 7’s camera sensors are actually physically larger, than these. Which explains the smaller camera bump here. And that also means that it won’t let in as much detail.
How does it stack up? Pretty well, actually. Now that’s not really a surprise, considering how good Google’s computational photography is. Now, can you tell the difference between a photo shot on a Pixel 7a and a Pixel 7? Most people probably won’t. But if you compare them side by side, you’ll likely notice two things. The Pixel 7a has slightly less detail, and the Pixel 7 has a shallower depth of field. Meaning that the Pixel 7 would have more of that natural bokeh in the background.
With the Pixel 7a, Google did bring over quite a few features from the flagship phones. Like Super Res Zoom, which is not new, but now it does work at up to 8x. Before it was only 6x. And that’s thanks to the new sensor. There’s also Magic Eraser, allowing you to remove objects from a photo, and Photo Unblur, which works on older photos too.
I would have to say that this camera setup is the best camera on any phone in this price range. And you can check out our samples of the Pixel 7a camera in the gallery below.
Google Pixel 7a Review: Software
When it comes to software, Google typically nails it on the Pixel phones. Barring any sort of bugs that we’ve seen in recent years, the software is always the best on any Android smartphone. But bugs are still apparent here on the Pixel 7a. Like YouTube continuing to run in the background all day, draining your battery.
Google has some really nifty features on the Pixel 7a, many of which debuted on the Pixel 7 last fall. Like Direct My Call. This is one of my favorite features, as it allows you to call some 1-800 numbers and see the menu options, sometimes before they even are spoken. The only downside, is that this does not work with every number. But places like Home Depot, Comcast and a few others, it does work.
Another great feature is “Hold for Me”, and it does exactly what you think it does. It will have the Google Assistant sit on hold for you, and alert you when someone is ready to take your call. So now you don’t have to sit on hold for hours when you call Comcast or whoever your ISP is.
Clear Calling has also come to the Pixel 7a. This feature basically will drown out all of the background noise, so whoever is on the other end can hear you. If you’re in a bar with loud music, the caller on the other end will hear you just fine. It’s actually pretty incredible how well this works.
Of course, the Pixel 7a is running on Android 13, which is currently the latest version of Android. Though Android 14 is already available in Beta, with the second beta coming out today. The final release won’t be until August/September, however. But the Pixel 7a will get that update. In fact, it’ll get three Android OS updates and five years of security updates. So, the Pixel 7a should see Android 14, 15 and 16 upgrades.
Should you buy the Google Pixel 7a?
This is a tough question for me. Typically, the a-series is always a must-recommend for me, when people ask what phone they should buy. But this year, that question is pretty tough. Why? Because the Pixel 7 exists. The Pixel 7 is only $100 more and it is usually on sale for $499, making it the same price as the Pixel 7a. And for $100 more, you’re getting better cameras, a better display, better battery life, and better charging, along with a few other things. Making that $100 jump well worth it.
As much as I want to love the Pixel 7a, it’s hard to, because of the price increase. If it stayed at $449, I think this would have been a no-brainer for recommending.
In the end, it is your decision, and you have to decide what features are worth it for you to buy it over a Pixel 7. And that could come down to the colors available, and if the retailer or carrier has stock available. The Pixel 7a is a really good phone, it just needs to be priced further away from the Pixel 7.