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Google Pixel 8A review: A wise choice

by xyonent
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Listen, within Google’s entire Pixel lineup, the A-series budget smartphones make the most sense.

Sure, the Pixel 8A doesn’t have all the fancy features like a telephoto lens or top-notch waterproofing, and it can’t fold in half, but it does have two advantages: time and money.

The Pixel 8A came out six months after the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, which worked to its advantage: enough time to iron out some of the early bugs in the new OS and solve questions like, “Which of these phones have on-device AI and which don’t?” Google finally got it right a few months ago: All of its phones have it, including the Pixel 8A.

Speaking of price, the Pixel 8A starts at just $499 in an era of $1,000 flagship phones, which makes it seem even better value when you consider that it has almost all the key features of the $799 Pixel 8. Plus, with the promise of seven years of software updates, it’s hard to beat that kind of ROI.

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Like the 7A, the Pixel 8A has a sturdy aluminum frame and Gorilla Glass 3 on the front panel. The plastic back panel has a matte finish, and the new Aloe color option is great. It’s awesome. The 8A is IP67 rated, meaning it’s completely dust-proof and can withstand brief immersion in shallow water. That’s not all that common in this class, and it’s better than the OnePlus 12R’s simple splash resistance.

I spent several busy days traveling with the Pixel 8A and never had to think about the battery. Even with more social media scrolling than usual, navigation, and Uber rides, I still had plenty left at the end of the day. Like its predecessor, the 8A has Qi wireless charging. I like to put my phone on a charging stand at the end of the day, but most budget phones don’t allow me to do that.

This year, the screen has been upgraded to a top-notch refresh rate of 120Hz, on par with the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. It feels like a really impactful update, as on-screen movement like scrolling and animations look much smoother than the 7A’s standard 60Hz or 90Hz screen. It’s a 6.1-inch 1080p OLED, so it’s not the best screen in its class (that belongs to the OnePlus 12R), but the 8A’s display at least feels good enough in the era of high-refresh-rate screens.

The Pixel 8A is powered by Google’s Tensor G3 chipset, the same as the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, and the same 8GB of RAM as the Pixel 8. This is apparently enough to run Gemini Nano, Google’s mobile-optimized AI model, on the device, but it must be turned on as a developer preview option; Google initially limited the feature to the Pixel 8 Pro, but later backtracked.

Currently, Gemini Nano has some AI features that run on-device, so no internet connection is required and your data remains private. For now, it’s limited to summarizing recordings and Magic Compose in messages to change the tone of your writing.

That doesn’t look all that impressive at the moment, but Google Extend on-device functionality with Gemini Nano Coming later this year is a feature that will also warn you of potential scam callers, which is better than nothing. And once that option is available, the Pixel 8A will be one of the cheapest smartphones with on-device AI capabilities. In the meantime, the Pixel 8A handled all of my everyday tasks with no issues.

The 8A supports on-device AI.

We’re pleased to announce that the Pixel 8A comes with one of the best convenience features offered by the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro: the ability to use face unlock for mobile payments and the password manager. On previous Pixel phones, you could unlock the phone with face unlock, but if you wanted to pay for a latte, you had to authenticate again with your fingerprint.

It might sound like a big fuss over something, and maybe it is, but it makes using your phone a much more seamless experience — you don’t have to adjust your grip or put down what you’re holding in your other hand to check your password manager.

In day-to-day use, you’ll probably have a hard time telling the Pixel 8A apart from the 8 and 8 Pro, but switch to the camera app and the differences become easier to see. There are two rear cameras, both of which have been carried over from the Pixel 7A and are very good for a budget phone.

The main 64MP camera has optical image stabilization to prevent blurry shots in low light, and there’s also a capable 13MP ultra-wide-angle camera. There’s no video portrait mode or macro mode, and certainly no dedicated telephoto camera, which are rare on budget phones anyway.

Night mode on the Pixel 8A (left) and Pixel 8 Pro (right).

But if you do For a budget phone, the Pixel 8 Pro’s night mode produced better photos, and the Pixel 8A’s night and portrait modes are generally much better during a rare appearance of the Northern Lights in Seattle. Plus, you get all the handy photo-processing tricks that Pixel phones have had for years (the face blur correction is a godsend for photos of toddlers).

There are also new features like Magic Editor and Best Take. Really I want to manipulate the time/space continuum and use generative AI to combine expressions in photos or replace the sky. I figured I would use the best take more often than I actually would. I thought about swapping my son’s expression with one from another photo, but the results felt too weird. I’d have to live with the knowledge that they’re not quite right and are photos of moments that technically didn’t happen. Anyway, it’s there, and if you’re not too uncomfortable with that sort of thing, you can use it.

A low-cost mobile phone with great potential in the long term.

Calling the Pixel 8a “good enough” feels like an understatement, but when you compare a budget phone to its much more expensive peers, “good enough” actually means pretty good. The camera holds up well in very challenging situations, and the screen is smooth enough even in a world of high-refresh-rate displays. Sure, you could buy a $500 phone with a better screen, or spend a bit more to get some worthy upgrades, especially in terms of camera hardware.

But the Pixel 8A’s combination of decent features, price, and the promise of seven years of OS updates is truly unique — it’s got nothing essential missing, and what it lacks in flashy features it makes up for in pure ROI — and it makes a lot of sense for anyone looking to get the most out of a budget smartphone.

Photo: Alison Johnson/The Verge

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