Google Pixel 8a Review: It’s Good, But the Pixel 9 and Discounts Loom

Pixel 8a Review

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Google’s newest phone, the Pixel 8a, is the continuation of their A-series, a semi-affordable version of the previous year’s Pixel phone release. For most years, the new A-series phone has landed at a mid-year point that felt appropriate to keep Pixel phones in everyone’s mind and give Google a little hardware sales boost before they could reveal their next high-end phones. For this year, I’ve got to be honest, this one is hitting differently because the Pixel 9 is set to shake-up Google’s phone line-up.

I’ve spent several weeks now with the Pixel 8a in an on-again, off-again fashion, testing on daily adventures and trying to make it work as my daily. The phone itself is pretty easy to adopt, because it does a lot right without much fuss, but there’s been this ongoing thought about the imminent Pixel 9 future with every moment I’ve tested it.

Why? Because the Pixel 9 is heavily-rumored to be launching as a 3-tiered phone line. That means a likely cheaper Pixel 9, plus two Pixel 9 Pro devices (small and big options), all of which are expected to see an impressive redesign that will immediately make this Pixel 8a feel old and have us questioning where its place in the equation should lie.

So there’s a lot to think about with the Pixel 8a, even if it is only a $500 phone. Let’s talk about it and then come back to whether or not it’s a phone to consider.

Pixel 8a Review

What’s good about the Pixel 8a?

Size. The Pixel 8a is a great size for a phone. It pretty closely matches the Pixel 8 without the massive camera hump, yet also has a smoothness to its edges that I prefer without a case. This isn’t a big phone at all, which means you can hold it with one hand comfortably for long periods of time, touch most of the screen without having to shimmy it around, and it fits in pockets of all sizes.

When you pickup and hold the Pixel 8a, it just feels like a phone built properly for the human hand. It’s curved here and there, there is a softness to the matte finish on the back, and it invites you to be mobile with it, to take it on adventures, and worry not about whether or not this thing can go where you want to go. I know that sounds silly to say about a phone, but the reason I often ditch phones like the Pixel 8 Pro is because of their size they feel like work and bringing work with you isn’t fun.

Display. By no means has Google put the best display or even a top tier display in the Pixel 8a, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. The display here is a 6.1″ OLED at 1080p and with 120Hz refresh rate. It has Gorilla Glass 3 to give it some protection, supports HDR, and can hit a peak brightness of 2000 nits.

For the most part, you’ll swipe around this display and think it looks clean, colorful, and fast. The colors are generally pretty contrast-y here, and that’s OK to me, as someone who is a fan of punchy colors in a UI. This thing is also ridiculously responsive and smooth, so moving around the Pixel experience is pleasing, especially with the added haptics that meet so many touches. There isn’t much to complain about. This is a good display.

However, if you want complaints, I’d point towards off-angle color shifts that are more noticeable than on better displays. These shifts aren’t so much that you’d never want to use the phone, but it’s a sign of an inferior display. The brightness levels are also quite low, even borderline bad. You have to really crank the brightness in normal settings to get it bright enough. Thankfully, it has peak brightness levels high enough that you can use it outdoors, but the daily indoor brightness just isn’t quite good enough.

Pixel 8a Display Review

Performance. The Tensor G3 inside the Pixel 8a, coupled with 8GB LPDDR5x RAM and UFS 3.1 storage, leads to a speedy little phone. Of course, the 120Hz display adds to the smoothness of activities, as does Google’s optimization of Android on Pixel phones.

When using the Pixel 8a to do my typical app workload (Chrome, Instagram, Threads, Telegram, Gmail, Photos, YouTube, Pokemon GO, etc.), I couldn’t overheat the phone, notice obnoxious slowdowns, or feel the need to reboot regularly. On my heaviest days of usage, I put the phone through Pokemon GO hours-long stress tests in 80-degree heat, and the 8a mostly handled it. Here’s what I said previously about performance that still holds up:

So far, the Pixel 8a has been solid. This is still Google’s odd Tensor chip, so we aren’t going to act like it’ll keep up with the Snapdragon chips in Samsung’s best phones. This often felt like an upper mid-range phone, which is probably what Google is going for. I definitely saw performance and frame drops during those Pokemon GO sessions, but not really in anything else. The keyboard is just as clicky as I wanted it to be, the camera opens and snaps first shots quickly enough, and running my typical app suite (Chrome, Threads, Instagram, YouTube, Google News, etc.) when on the go, while using a cellular connection, didn’t frustrate me by any means or completely overheat the device. The Pixel 8a is a solid performer, probably nothing more, though.

I make a note in there about keyboard performance, and I just need to point out to everyone that Google’s Pixel keyboards are the absolute best in the industry. There is nothing as clicky and precise and speedy as a Pixel keyboard. Samsung’s best, as well as the most expensive iPhones, can’t even come close to matching this $500 Pixel 8a.

Overall, performance is good and I’d probably put it in the upper mid-tier range, because Google’s Tensor just isn’t a top tier chip.

Software and support. I think the biggest piece of the Pixel 8a software story is the level of support that Google is providing. With a full 7 years of OS and security updates, Google is supporting this $500 phone the way it does its Pixel 8 Pro, a phone that starts at $1,000. That means monthly updates, upgrades to Android 15 before any Samsung phone sees it, future upgrades to Android 16 and 17 and 18 and so on, and Pixel Feature Drops every quarter that deliver new features. Owning a Pixel 8a and only spending $500 on one, gets you more software than many other phones in the business, many of which will cost you hundreds more.

Now, when it comes to the software on the phone, this experience is very much like what you’d get on the Pixel 8 or any other Pixel phone. That’s by design, as Google has used the A-series over the years to deliver a phone experience just like the Pro phones, only at a fraction of the price.

You’ve got Android 14 out of the box with Android 15 around the corner. You also have the Pixel experience, with Google’s vision for how Android should work and look – it’s the best in my opinion. Notifications work the best on Pixel phones, the settings make sense and won’t overwhelm you, the app drawer scrolls vertically (Hi, Samsung!) and allows for quick searching, the always-on display shows an acceptable amount of info at all times, and you can still dive-in to further customize things like the home/lock screens to make the Android experience feel very much yours.

And since this is a newer Pixel phone, Google is giving you select AI features like Circle to Search, Call Screen, and Smart Replies, plus there is a built-in VPN, magical photo editing, clearer phone calls, etc. At one point, Google’s phones only brought a bare bones set of features, but those days are long gone. Today, you buy a Pixel phone for the software because Google is really trying to create add-ons that are meaningful and help you do things in a day.

This is my favorite software experience on a phone because it’s fast, clicky, gives me feedback, and handles important things like notifications in the best possible way. The AI stuff and Google’s other features are bonuses that are there when I need them. But what Google does so good is the basics. The Pixel 8a is another shining example of Android done right.

Battery life. The Pixel 8a is going to last you a full day, and on most days, you shouldn’t need to worry. With a 4500mAh battery and a 1080p screen, my testing revealed a device that would drop to around 30% or so on days where I clocked 3-4 hours of screen on time. I still think even for heavier users, you’ll get through to the night.

The Pixel 8a doesn’t have the fastest charging around at only 18W, but that’s probably fast enough to get you needed juice to finish a day, assuming you do run the device down to the danger zone. Mostly, though, you’ll be using wireless charging at night to fill up or at your desk as you work.

Pixel 8a Camera Review

Camera. When you go into reviewing a phone like the Pixel 8a, it’s hard not to assume that the camera experience will be missing something. After all, we focus a lot on the higher-end of smartphones with the best of the best in terms of camera hardware, and the 8a is still running back last year’s Pixel 7a camera setup. But you know what? I ran several shots back-to-back from the Pixel 8a and the Pixel 8 Pro and the differences are so subtle. Sure, the Pixel 8 Pro has so much more versatility, but in your everyday shots, the 8a is very capable.

You’ve got the same 64MP main and 13MP ultra-wide shooters from the Pixel 7a, as well as optical and electronic image stabilization in the main lens. You have Super Res Zoom support up to 8x too, as well as a camera that loads, focuses, and snaps with the best of them. There’s Night Sight and Portrait and Long Exposure modes, so you’ve got the extra features you need.

In the end, what you need from the camera in your pocket is speed and reliability, with some bonus features to boot, and the Pixel 8a has those. It’s certainly the minimum of specs and features, but if you simply need to point and shoot, take shots at night, and run a portrait here and there, this can do all of those and return quality images.

You’ll find sample shots below that have been resized, but the full Google Photos album is here.

Pixel 8a Samples

What don’t I love?

Price and discounts. Not to spoil my closing below, but you likely already know what I’m going to say about this phone. The price is the sticking point, and not necessarily because it is overpriced for what you get, but instead because you know discounts will come regularly. You should not pay $500 for the Pixel 8a no matter what. Google discounts phones so regularly that you’d be a fool to do so. Just wait. Wait for the discounts to rollout and you’ll get this phone for $399 or $349 before you know it. Just like how the Pixel 8 can be had on a monthly basis for $549 ($150 off), Google will do the same here and then turn this into the ultimate value phone.

Should you buy a Pixel 8a?

Recommending Google’s newest Pixel phones is almost always easy to do because they are often priced under the competition and deliver incredible camera and software experiences that we tend to prefer. That’s the case again for the Pixel 8a, making it a phone we would certainly tell you to put on the list. It’s overall specs are good enough for the price point, the software is excellent, and the camera probably punches above its weight.

The only reasons we would tell you to hold back are because you know the discounts are coming. $500 isn’t a bad price for this phone, but because Google can’t help but run monthly promos for its products, you know this will be $450 or $400 or $350 before long. You should almost never buy a Google hardware product at full price and that’s probably true again with the Pixel 8a.

The other thought that should run through your mind at the moment is the Pixel 9. I mentioned this in the opening, and it’s always hard to tell you to wait for whatever’s next (because there is always something next), but the Pixel 9 series isn’t that far away and it should offer an improved experience over the Pixel 8a without much of a price difference. It’ll also feature a refreshed design that looks sooooo good. Basically, buying the Pixel 8a is like if you bought last year’s model car knowing the new version with a full refresh is only a few months away. Will you regret not waiting for the new-new? Maybe.

But hey, if you find the Pixel 8a at a discount, don’t hesitate.

Pixel 8a Links: Amazon | Best Buy | Google

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