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First look: Google Pixel 8a

Google's baby of the bunch is no baby at all.

Google Pixel 8a phones on blue background
Last updated: 05 July 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

CHOICE verdict

Google's latest entry-level smartphone offers the best value for money of the Pixel bunch. It's only slightly smaller than the regular Pixel 8 but still packs the same processor and storage space. There's plenty on offer for all but the most avid content creators – who might need the latest photo and video features that other Google phones have to offer.

Price: $849

Every year, like clockwork, Google releases three new Pixel smartphones; the standard model, a Pro version and a few months later, the entry level 'a' variant. That makes the Pixel 8a the newest Google phone with the lowest price tag. One might then assume that it would be the phone with the least appeal, but as far as processing power goes, the Pixel 8a is just as good as its more expensive siblings.

What's mainly missing in the Pixel 8a are some extra camera capabilities and a few extra features such as being able to share the phone's battery to charge other devices wirelessly. If you can live without those, you'll end up with a very good smartphone that should keep up with your needs for a long while, especially now that Google supports its phones with seven years of security and feature updates.

Pixel 8a specs summary

The Pixel 8a may be the baby of the 8-series smartphones, but the specs are mostly the same as the middle-version Pixel 8. It's furnished with a Google Tensor G3 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB storage (there is also a 256GB version) and the Android 14 operating system.

The OLED screen has a 1080 x 2400-pixel resolution and a peak brightness of 2000 nits. There's also some protection from the elements, with an IP67 rating offering resistance to dust and water.

Playing with AI

A new phone these days will be sold with the evils of artificial intelligence (AI). Use AI for manipulating photos and videos, for searching, for translating, for almost anything really. Existing Pixel features, such as Google Lens and the Magic Eraser, are present for identifying (and sometimes erasing) people, animals, objects, etc. in photos. You also still get the Best Take feature, which allows you to swap faces from a series of group photos so that everyone looks their best.

But now more photography oriented AI features have been added to the Pixel 8 series of phones, which are included in the 8a. For example, you can improve portrait photos by filling in unwanted shadows, or you can fix fuzzy shots with the unblur feature.

Many of these tools are basically automated versions of the ones photographers painstakingly use in image-editing software, to adjust image sharpness, shadows and highlights. You can try to make your photos appear a bit brighter and cleaner using the supplied in-camera tools, but without fine-tuning, the results can look a bit over-processed or unblanced.

These are no substitute for taking a well-composed, properly-focused photo in the first place, but they can be useful in situations where the image processing software has enough data to work with – almost like automated Photoshop.

For videos, AI processing can be used to make voices stand out more in the mix, or it can attempt to reduce the annoyance of background noise. Results from this feature will vary depending on the distinction between the frequencies in the background and foreground of the audio mix.

Is the Pixel 8a camera good?

As for the cameras, there are two of them on the rear, one for ultrawide angles, the other for zooming, and of course there's one ultrawide angle on the front for selfies – it's the black dot in the middle of the screen that can't be missed and may annoy. There's no macro mode in the Pixel 8a like there is in the Pixel 8.

Pictures taken with the rear cameras are vibrant and possess a high dynamic range (HDR) that allows bright and dark areas of photos to be seen equally well. There's very good detail in the pictures at the native size, with minimal noise and edge distortion. When zooming in, good results can be snapped depending on how still the camera was held – and if the subject is still as well.

Digital zoom relies on the Super Res Zoom feature, which uses plenty of AI processing to make the best of the light as it enters the lens. It combines multiple images (taken automatically in an instant) of varying exposures to create the best possible shot, using only a portion of the 64-megapixel sensor. This feature can deliver impressive results considering it's just a phone.

How does the Pixel 8a perform

The OLED screen is easy to see outdoors on a sunny day and the ambient light sensor will adjust the level of brightness swiftly when indoors and at night to ensure it's always comfortable to look at. It's a phone of acceptable heft (189 grams without a protective case), and its 6.1-inch size is common among standard (non-Pro) smartphone models from other vendors.

Physical features are minimal, with only power and volume buttons on the side, and a USB-C port on the bottom. You can insert a microSIM, or use eSIM details to get on a 4G or 5G network. It lacks a headphone jack, so personal listening will require either wired USB-C or wireless earbuds. Speakers are crisp and reasonably powerful, but please don't demonstrate this on public transport.

Unlock operations are handled by a fingerprint sensor that hides under the surface of the screen, or you could use your face. Enabling the latter feature will warn you that unintentional unlocking is possible by glancing at the phone and that it could be fooled by people who look like you.

The physical smoothness of the screen's surface, and its responsiveness, make it a mostly delightful experience

Once unlocked, the Android 14 interface is super-swift and easy to navigate. There are gestures that you must learn if you're fresh to the Android scene, such as swiping up and down and from the side to navigate, switch apps, and access settings, but the physical smoothness of the screen's surface, and its responsiveness, make it a mostly delightful experience.

Is the Pixel 8a worth it?

For everyday tasks, the Pixel 8a gives a smooth user experience. Its cameras (and photo processing) produce attractive results, and even some of the AI features  can be useful – such as the overlaying of live captions for all videos played on the phone.

And yes, it is a phone after all. You can make calls and also receive them. The call quality in our tests was fine using the older 4G network, with clear voices heard through the earpiece. Our call recipients had no complaints about how we sounded. This could vary depending on your environment and the quality of the reception, but as long as the reception is good, the clarity will be present.

Battery life was not an issue in our tests, with the phone lasting up to two days on one charge during general use and over 16 hours when streaming YouTube video non-stop. That said, results will vary depending on how long you spend flicking through Tik-Toks and taking photos of your pets.

You can quick-charge it via its USB-C port (using your own existing charger as it doesn't ship with one), or make use of its wireless charging capability. The latter could come in handy if the USB-C port becomes faulty over time but it takes longer than wired charging.

If you're upgrading from an older Android phone, messages, media files, apps and settings can be wirelessly 'beamed' to the new phone using a QR code. If you sync your data to the Google Cloud, then the new phone will be representative of your old phone, and will display contact names and all. Once you put in your micro-SIM card (or activate an eSIM), you'll be ready to go.

With updates to older Google Pixel phones ending, the Pixel 8a could represent a forced upgrade for many users

We had no problems at all replicating a Pixel 4a to the Pixel 8a. The only thing left was to log in to apps, which presented some head-scratching moments as some passwords were fetched from the depths of the mind and others re-created from forgotten password email links.

With updates to older Google Pixel phones having either ended or ending in a couple of years, the Pixel 8a could represent a forced upgrade for many users who wish to stay in the Google ecosystem. Google has lengthened the support timeline for its latest phones to seven years, so the Pixel 8a should stay in your service, if it's physically in good shape, until the year 2031, when it will still be in line to receive feature and security updates. That's good news for those of us who want to minimise our e-waste and hold onto our phone for as long as possible.

Pixel 8a Specifications

  • Operating system: Android 14
  • Processor: Google Tensor G3
  • Display: 6.1-inch OLED
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage space: 128GB (up to 256GB)
  • Screen resolution: 1080 x 2400 pixels
  • Weight: 189g
  • Dimensions (approx.): 73mm wide, 152mm tall, 10mm thick
  • Battery capacity: 4492 milliamp-hours (mAh)
  • Cameras: 13-megapixel ultrawide rear camera, 64-megpixel Quad PD wide rear camera, 13-megapixel selfie camera
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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.