Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Google Pixel 6A doesn’t have the best feature of the Pixel A series

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

One of the coolest things about the Pixel A series was that it was an inexpensive way to get the same industry-leading camera as the main Pixel models. It’s one of the reasons I bought a Pixel 3A years ago — that, and it was in stock at Best Buy with in-store pickup. It was also one of the main reasons why the Pixel A series has been our go-to recommendation for the best budget Android phone for years. Everything else about the phone – screen, processor, battery – was finebut the camera was excellent.

That streak is coming to an end in the Pixel 6A. Unlike the A-series phones that came before it, the 6A doesn’t include the same camera hardware as the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. There is also no headphone jack, which also stinks. But instead of a larger 50-megapixel sensor behind those devices’ main cameras, the 6A has the same 12-megapixel sensor that the Pixel 5 and 5A used. And the Pixel 4. And the Pixel 3.

That’s quite a downer. But it also tells us a lot about where Google sees the value of its devices in the future. Google doesn’t want the Pixel to be just known as the phone with the really good camera. It wants the Pixel to be the phone that does really cool, useful things for you.

This was probably also an inevitable move. The 6 and 6 Pro aim higher in the premium category than the Pixel 4 or 5 before it, so more decisions had to be made about what to do to make a budget version of the phone. Google’s SVP of Devices and Services, Rick Osterloh, summed up the challenge like this:

What we really want to try is to get the core experience to as many users as possible. That’s the overall goal. Every phone has a lot of tough components to try and cut costs. And so, without a doubt, you’ll need to change some of the device’s key capabilities to get it where we want it to be on the price side.

For previous Pixel models, a big part of that “core experience” has been the camera. Now it means Google’s custom chipset, Tensor. This is the processor that powers many of the Pixel 6’s software features, such as enhanced speech recognition. It also makes it easier for Google to develop new features for the entire Pixel 6 series. Tensor is central to Google’s priorities and the camera plays a supporting role.

Of course, it’s worth noting that one benefits the other. Tensor is also behind some of the new software-based camera features on the 6 and 6 Pro, such as Magic Eraser. And really, the camera hardware on Pixel phones has always been secondary to the software that makes them work so well. But Google couldn’t equip the 6A with the latest hardware and software this time, so it doubled on the last.

Maybe that’s a reflection of our priorities as people who also buy phones. The difference between what this year’s smartphone camera can do and last year’s isn’t as noticeable as it was four or five years ago. And for many of us, our phone cameras have become good enough at the things we need them to do that the difference between a really good camera and a just good smartphone camera isn’t worth paying an extra $300 or $500.

Taking the camera out of the spotlight on the Pixel is a wise move, even if it makes me feel a little nostalgic about getting away with something when I bought the Pixel 3A. Maybe Pixel 6A owners will feel that way when they try out live voice recognition and find out how good it is. (It’s really good.) That’s the bet Google is taking anyway.

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