The Most Affordable Path to Gemini AI


Google Pixel 8a

The Pixel 8a is still the cheapest way to access all of Google’s AI goodies.

The Google Pixel 8a may seem like a reprise of the Pixel 8–and in many ways, it is! But it’s also the cheapest starting price for Google’s Gemini AI-driven features, like Circle to Search. For those on a budget who want access to that, the Pixel 8a is it.

Buy Google Pixel 8a

Pros

Tensor CPU gets access to Circle to Search

Battery life remains solid

Cons

Don’t buy this for storage

Only IP67-rated

Google’s Pixel releases are giving a major case of deja vu. I bought the Pixel 8 in October, but the Pixel 8a feels like nothing more than a reprise, save for the camera hardware and a few other bits. This speaks to Google’s slightly confusing trajectory regarding its hardware. As a two-time buyer of the first-tier flagship Pixel, I’m annoyed that I don’t get more than a bumped-up camera system starting at $200 more.

The Pixel 8a has almost all the fixings of its flagship siblings. It’s powered by a Google Tensor G3 CPU—the same as the Pixel 8/8 Pro—features wireless charging and face unlock, and hails the same size Actua display. It also offers stellar battery life, which the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro still struggle with seven months after release. It’s all for the starting price of $500.

Pixel 8a Design

A little more of the same

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

In all fairness, the Pixel 8a is not a replica of the Pixel 8. For instance, the rear-facing camera bar is thinner than on the Pixel 8, and the backside is pearlescent matte instead of sheen and shiny. I prefer the 8a’s finish because it’s less prone to sliding off the table. The buttons on the Pixel 8a are also more pronounced than the Pixel 8; they even offer a satisfying click.

The Pixel 8a’s 6.1-inch Actua display is the same size as the Pixel 8’s and includes a 120Hz dynamic refresh rate—it doesn’t fire off at 120Hz the entire time, which is likely why Google can claim long battery life. Interestingly, Google opted for a glass display on the Pixel 8a over a P-OLED like on the Pixel 8/8 Pro. On paper, the Pixel 8a is a mere few grams difference in weight—6.6 ounces versus 6.8 ounces. But in the hand, the all-glass build has discernable heft.

This generation’s Pixel 8a comes in four colors: Porcelain, Obsidian, Bay—the same blue as the Pixel 8 Pro—and Aloe, a stunning saturated teal-green with hints of mint in the swatch. It’s pretty, and the backside camera bar is toned to match. The bottom of the Pixel 8a houses stereo speakers and a USB-C charging port.

Pixel 8a Performance 

Copycat insides

A photo of the Pixel 8a

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The Pixel 8a has a Tensor G3 processor and 8GB of RAM, which is the same configuration as the Pixel 8 I traded in the Pixel 7 for. The Tensor G3 allows the Pixel 8a to use features like Circle to Search. Remember, Google’s plan for its devices is to help propagate its AI offerings and services. The emphasis on performance for the Pixel 8a’s inner chip isn’t necessarily for gaming, multitasking, or longevity; it’s to provide a stable platform for Gemini AI and all that it purports to do.

Unfortunately, Geekbench 6 won’t download on most pre-release hardware. I’m not about to run an unverified APK for testing purposes, so I’ll have to wait a bit before running it through some of the more popular synthetic benchmarks. But so far, I can say the Pixel 8a flew through emulation and the occasional session of Pokemon Go. It even works with the Razer Kishi Ultra.

This time, the Pixel 8a is available with a little more storage. It has 128GB or 256GB of space for files and photos, though only the Obsidian color is available for pre-order from the Google Store. If you’re trying to buy a smartphone that holds everything for you, this isn‘t it, especially not at the base price. I am on 256GB with the Pixel 8 and must constantly clear out space.

The Pixel 8a’s battery life so far is promising. But that’s no surprise since the last two generations took our top spot for best mid-tier battery offering. It took two days on standby for the device to chew through 40% of its battery life, though that’s not an official readout of how the device does as a day-to-day provider; I still need to run the official Gizmodo battery rundown benchmark and will do so after I return from Google I/O 2024. The Pixel 8a has to match its promise of 24-hour battery life.

Pixel 8a Camera

Same camera as the Pixel 7a

A photo of the Pixel 8a

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The Pixel 8a has the same camera system as the Pixel 7a: a 64-MP wide-angle lens with an 80-degree field-of-view (FoV) and f/1.89 aperture and a 13-MP ultra-wide lens with a 120-degree FoV. The front camera is the same, too: a 13-MP sensor with a 96.5-degree FoV. It can still shoot 4K video up to 60 frames per second and offers access to a wealth of Google AI tricks, including Best Take, Magic Editor, and Magic Eraser. There’s also a long exposure mode, digital zoom up to 5x, and Super Res Zoom up to 8x.

There’s no reason to ding Google for repeating the camera hardware, even if it is the same as last year’s release. The point the company is trying to make is that all you need are its algorithms at the end of the day. What’s available here is the bare minimum and performs well enough. I captured the once-in-a-lifetime appearance of the northern lights down in California with the Pixel 8a sans tripod. I snapped a photo with my Pixel 8 to compare, and I couldn’t even tell the difference without zooming in.

Photo showing comparisons of photos between the 8a and 8

The left was taken with the Pixel 8a, and the right was taken with the Pixel 8.
Image: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Like the Pixel 8, don’t zoom in too much because the camera will show its limitations. At the very least, the Pixel 8a’s large aperture will give you enough light to zoom in and scan QR codes on a wall from far away.

Verdict

Google’s Pixel 8a is still a good buy

A photo of the Pixel 8a

The Pixel 8a and its glass display.
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Like the rest of the Pixel family, Google promises seven years of software, security, and Feature Drop updates. It’s Android’s way of keeping you around for the long term. Regarding the bundled AI features, it is par for the course on the Android platform for now—that’s all that Google is focused on. Consider this a caveat if you’re looking at the Pixel 8a to save money. It’ll be interesting to see if Google keeps it up to feature parity with the rest of the flagship lineup.

For most people looking for a basic smartphone that can at least capture the moment when the aurora borealis makes a rare appearance, the Pixel 8a is an excellent buy for its $500 starting price tag. But if you can find the Pixel 8 cheaper, with a bundled trade-in or a sale, it’s worth it for the slight upsides. For one, the Pixel 8a doesn’t currently offer IP68-rated water and dust resistance—the Pixel 8a is at IP67, which is fine for phone-in-the-toilet situations, at least. Try not to let it sit in there for too long. And two, the camera hardware in the Pixel 8 is still better than the one in the Pixel 8a. You’ll want that one if you want clearer photos with higher resolution.



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