The Pixel 8a Is an Amazing Phone. You Probably Shouldn’t Buy It – Yet

The Pixel 8A is a fantastic budget phone but — given the discounts available on other Pixel models — a hard recommendation.

Ross Anderson
The Google Pixel 8A. Ross Anderson

There are two ways to review the Pixel 8a.

The first way seems obvious: to evaluate it as a new mid-range smartphone compared with its competitors. From this vantage point, it fares extremely well.

The latest phone in Google’s in-house Pixel line may be the cheaper “a” model, coming in at $500, but there’s nothing budget about it. I continue to be surprised by just how premium phones can get in this price range, and aside from its smaller 6.2” size, there’s nothing immediate to tell you this shouldn’t cost $1,000.

On the front is a bright 120Hz fast refresh rate screen with relatively thin, almost even bezels. The side rails are semi-gloss aluminum, and the matte soft-touch back is extremely pleasant, both very comfortable to hold and resistant to fingerprints. It comes with just two cameras – an ultrawide and a normal that crops in for a digital zoom – but these are the most used lenses on most phones and are paired with Google’s class-leading photo tuning. An iPhone still produces better video footage, but in my experience, no money can get you better photos than this. They are clear, crisp, have natural colors, and don’t require any tweaking. It’s just shoot and go. If you enjoy mobile photography, no phone can beat it.

Also, because it’s a Google product, it comes with a range of Google’s best latest AI-enabled software, from voice screening to advanced image editing, their auto-transcribing recorder app, and seven years of Android updates.

Circle to search on the Pixel 8a.
Circle to search on the Google Pixel 8a. Courtesy of Google

Not everything is perfect. The screen is slightly duller than competitors, with slightly less vibrant colors. Though it can reach a truly wild peak brightness of 2000 nits, this is only for a very short period in the most intense direct sunlight, and you can’t manually set this. The other negative is the way the matte-touch back meets the smooth aluminum side rails at an angle, making it feel like a ridge under your finger. It’s a small matter — and a non-issue for case users — but I notice it often when picking it up.

In all the other small touches, though, it’s a thoroughly premium experience, from the fast under-screen fingerprint reader, the quick, secure facial recognition, lovely typing haptics, and the elegant color choices. Though there are the usual black and “Porcelain,” it also comes in a fun “Aloe” green and the lovely “Bay’ blue of my review unit. Google’s stock photos make the phones look very vibrant, but in person, it’s a lovely duck egg color.

Pixel 8a in green.
Pixel 8a in green. Courtesy of Google

Recently, I put the Nothing Phone 2A as my budget phone of choice, and it still is depending on your preferences. If you want a smaller phone, use the AI features, and like photography, the Pixel is the obvious choice; and if you like a more avant-garde style, more interesting focus-centric software, and a larger display, then the Nothing has you sorted. On net, the Pixel is the better buy, but competition in this range is so solid that these are both excellent phones.

On all these metrics, it is a superb, well-priced phone.

But I started this review by noting there are two ways to judge this phone; and the second is to evaluate it in comparison to Google’s other Pixel phones. And despite the quality of the 8a, because of Google’s pricing, it gets very hard to choose the 8a at the moment.

On paper, it makes sense: the Pixel 8a is the midrange at $500, the Pixel 8 is the upgrade at $700, and the Pixel 8 Pro is the $1000 flagship. But those prices fluctuate a lot, and now that the Pixel 8 has been out for 6 months, it’s not hard to find it for $550 on Amazon or Best Buy; and it would be madness not to pay the $50 extra over the 8a, getting full IP68 water and dust resistance, a better screen, and faster charging. Even worse, Woot is now selling the last generation range-topping Pixel 7 Pro for $400, which is just so much phone for the money.

At the moment, you’d be hard-pressed to choose the 8a over either of these. But the same discounting that applies to other Pixels will apply here; so give it 4 months, and the price will start to come down. At that point, there will be no phone under $400 that could come close to beating this.

The New York Sun

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