The best midrange Android phone gets flagship AI features


The recipe for Google’s A-series Pixels is incredibly straightforward: Combine top-notch cameras with a vivid display and then cram all that in a tried and tested design for a reasonable price. But with the addition of a Tensor G3 chip, the Pixel 8a now supports the same powerful AI features as Google’s flagship phones. So when you consider that all this comes for just $499, you’re looking at not just the top midrange Android handset on the market but possibly one of the best values of any phone on sale today.

Aside from a new aloe color option – which in my opinion is the best of the bunch – the Pixel 8a is nearly identical to the standard Pixel 8. However, there are a few subtle differences that become more noticeable when the two are viewed side-by-side. The most obvious is slightly larger bezels, which also has an impact on the Pixel 8’s screen size. Instead of a 6.2-inch display like on its pricier sibling, the Pixel 8a tops out at 6.1 inches. That said, you still get a vibrant OLED panel that produces deep blacks and rich colors, plus a slightly faster 120Hz refresh rate compared to the 90Hz on last year’s Pixel 7a.

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With the addition of Google’s Tensor G3 chip, the Pixel 8a delivers handy AI features alongside a beautiful 120Hz OLED screen, excellent cameras and way above-average battery life for just $499.

Pros

  • Colorful 120Hz OLED display
  • Strong battery life
  • Excellent cameras
  • Great value
Cons

  • Slow wireless charging
  • Thick bezels

$499 at Google

The phone’s frame is still made out of aluminum, which feels great, while the metal camera bar in the back is actually a millimeter or two thinner, resulting in an ever so slightly sleeker device. Google also switched out the Pixel 8’s rear glass panel for plastic. But thanks to a new matte finish that’s supposed to mimic the texture of cashmere, it definitely doesn’t feel cheap. And while its IP67 rating for dust and water resistance is one step down from what’s on the mainline Pixel 8, that’s still enough to withstand dunks of up to 1 meter for 30 minutes. Not bad.

One of the biggest knocks against Google’s Tensor chips is that they don’t offer the same level of raw performance you get from rival Apple or Qualcomm silicon. And while that’s still true of the G3, when we’re talking about it powering a phone that costs $499, I’m much less bothered. In normal use, the Pixel 8a feels swift and snappy and even when gaming. Titles like Marvel Snap and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge looked smooth. The only time I noticed significant hiccups or lag was when playing more demanding shooters like Call of Duty: Mobile.

While both sport very similar designs, the Pixel 8a (left) has a slightly smaller 6.1-inch screen with larger bezels than the standard Pixel 8 (right).

While both sport very similar designs, the Pixel 8a (left) has a slightly smaller 6.1-inch screen with larger bezels than the standard Pixel 8 (right). (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

Of course, the other part of the performance equation is all the on-device AI features that the Tensor G3 unlocks such as Audio Magic Eraser, Best Take and the Magic Editor, which you can use as much as you want instead of the 10-picture cap that free users are subject to in Google Photos.

The Pixel 8a features the same 64MP main and 13MP ultra-wide sensors used in last year’s P7a. But that’s OK, because Google’s affordable phones punch way above their weight. So instead of comparing it with a similarly priced rival, I decided to really challenge the Pixel 8a by putting it up against the Samsung 24 Ultra. And even then, it still largely kept up.

In bright light, I’d argue the Pixel 8a might be the superior shooter, as it captured more accurate colors and excellent details compared to the warmer tones and often oversaturated hues from Samsung. This was especially noticeable when shooting a single yellow rose. The S24 Ultra made the middle of the flower appear orange and super contrasty, which looks great in a vacuum but doesn’t reflect what I saw in real life.

However, at night the S24 Ultra’s massive 200MP main sensor pulled back in front, producing images that were generally sharper and more well-exposed. That said, thanks to Google’s powerful Night Sight mode, the Pixel 8a wasn’t far behind, an impressive feat for a phone that costs $800 less.

Finally, while the Pixel 8a doesn’t have any other hardware tricks besides a solid 13MP selfie cam, Google’s AI is here to take your photos even further. Best Take allows you to capture multiple group shots and then swap in people’s reactions from various options. It’s easy to use and lets you create a composite where everyone is smiling, which feels like a win-win scenario. Then there’s the Magic Editor, a fun and powerful way to eliminate distracting elements or move subjects around as you please. It’s the kind of thing you might not use every day, but now and then it will salvage a shot you might have otherwise deleted. So even if you don’t care about AI or how it works, Google is finding a way to add value with machine learning.

The Pixel 8a supports up to 18-watt wired charging but drops down to just 7.5 watts when using a Qi wireless pad.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

While the Pixel 8a’s 4,492 mAh battery is a touch smaller than what you get on the standard model (4,575 mAh), it actually boasts slightly better battery life, possibly due to its more petite screen. On our video rundown test, the 8a lasted a solid 20 hours and 29 minutes, barely beating the regular Pixel 8’s time of 20:16.

Meanwhile, when it comes to recharging, both wired and Qi wireless speeds have stayed the same. This means you get up to 18 watts when using a cable, but a rather lethargic rate of 7.5 watts if you slap it on an induction pad. That might not be a big deal if you only use wireless charging overnight or to conveniently top up the phone while you’re doing something else. But if you need some juice in a jiffy, you better grab a cord.

Google isn’t breaking new ground with the Pixel 8a. But the simple formula of class-leading cameras, a great display, strong battery life and a slick design will never go out of style – especially when you get all this for just $499. And with the addition of AI features that were previously only available on Google’s flagship phones, the Pixel 8a is a midrange smartphone that really is smarter than all of its rivals. To top everything off, there’s a configuration with 256GB of storage for the first time on any A-series handset (though only on the Obsidian model), plus even better support with a whopping seven years of Android and security updates.

The new Aloe color for the Pixel 8a is the best-looking of the bunch.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The one wrinkle to this is that the deciding factor comes down to how much its siblings cost. If you go by their default pricing, the $499 Pixel 8a offers incredible savings compared to the standard $799 Pixel 8. However, prior to the 8a’s announcement, we saw deals that brought the Pixel 8 down to as low as $549, at which point you might as well spend an extra $50 to get the full flagship experience.

But for those who don’t feel like waiting for a discount or might not care about details like slower wireless charging speeds, in addition to being the best midrange Android phone, the Pixel 8a is just a damn good deal.



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