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Pixel 6a challenges Samsung for the ‘default’ Android crown

The year 2022 has heralded a strong resurgence for Samsung, thanks to compelling devices and an unbeatable software update cycle, a combination that earns them the default Android status. But it appears that Google’s Pixel 6a is set to derail that hype train.

In fact, Google is chasing the same formula that makes the iPhone SE a popular choice — a fast processor, reliable camera, and polished software — all that at half the price of its entry-point flagships. Despite some glaring omissions and feature downgrades compared to rivals, Apple still managed to move millions of units, especially in a segment of users chasing the vaunted iPhone ecosystem experience on a budget.

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With the Pixel 6a, Google is aiming to offer a similar concoction of a flagship-grade processor, a pair of trusty cameras, fast mmWave 5G connectivity, and clean software that will receive software updates for at least the next five years. All that, at just $450. Of course, concessions have been made. The 3.5mm headphone jack is gone, and there is no scope for storage expansion either.

Three Pixel 6a phones lined up, one black, one white, and one green.

This time, Google is not carrying the flagship Pixel’s camera hardware to the budget A-series phones, as it has done in the past, so there’s that too. But the rough consensus so far, at least among experts and excited buyers in Google’s home market, is that the Pixel 6a is a winner from the get-go, and that doesn’t bode well for the Samsung phone juggernaut in the U. S. market.

Aiming at Samsung’s crown

It is evident that Google is reaching for an iPhone SE-like glory, but the real threat comes from Samsung. Take for example Samsung’s own $450 mid-range champion, the Galaxy A53 5G, which is almost an antithesis to what the Pixel 6a and what it can or can’t offer.

The Galaxy A53 5G beats its Google rival by offering a 120Hz OLED display, a versatile quad-camera array led by a high-resolution 64-megapixel primary sensor, a bigger 5,000 mAh battery that supports faster charging, and a scope for storage expansion up to 1 terabyte. Most, if not all of them, are crucial features that smartphone buyers actually care about. Plus, Samsung’s promise of offering five years of software updates matches what Google aims to do with its latest phone.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G in blue.
Samsung Galaxy A53 in Awesome Blue Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

But Pixel 6a is banking more on the brawn offered by the Tensor chip inside, modest camera hardware propped up by the Pixel legacy, a slightly smaller footprint with a snazzier design, and a clean Android experience with meaningful exclusive features. But at the end of the day, the question is which Android phone is the better choice for $450? Well, in 2022, the Pixel 6a sounds like the better choice.

Of course, aggressive carrier deals and discounts will still allow Samsung to sell a healthy number of Galaxy A53 5G units, but it will no longer be the default $450 Android phone on the shelf. That’s a strong statement in itself. If the Pixel 6a can save itself from the bug-ridden software heritage of its pricier siblings and predecessors, there is hardly any reason for buyers to look elsewhere.

This is peak Pixel energy.

Yes, Motorola and TCL are also trying to leave a mark, but they’re nowhere near the reputation commanded by the two $450 big boys this year. It’s a shame that the Pixel 6a won’t be hitting the shelves anytime soon, giving rivals plenty of time to come up with even stronger contenders to shrink the breathing room for Google in the budget smartphone segment.

But more than unseating rivals and grabbing some sweet market share, the Pixel 6a also tries to serve as the stepping stone for a fledgling ecosystem of connected products. It’s a long shot, but the time seems ripe and Google isn’t playing coy either, revealing 2023 hardware plans in 2022 itself to give a taste of what it has in the pipeline for Android loyalists and potential converts in the immediate future.

Filing the gap to build an ecosystem

Google’s budget phones have historically made some big concessions to keep the asking price in check. Take for example recent outings such as the Pixel 5a and 4a, both of which had underwhelming screen specs, a bland plasticky build, slow charging, and a handful of bugs. The Pixel 6a improves on nearly all those shortcomings. But more than iterative upgrades, it fills that gap for a satisfying phone at a palatable price.

Render of the pixel watch

So far, “the good Pixel” experience has only hovered around the $800 mark and beyond, but the Pixel 6a almost cuts that financial demand in half. And at the center of it all is the Tensor chip. Google is dipping into the surplus supply of its Tensor chip that not only pushes the Pixel 6a squarely in the flagship performance territory but also unlocks a ton of new capabilities that have remained exclusive for top-end Pixel phones.

But the cost-saving that the Pixel 6a offers allows buyers toward Google’s budding ecosystem of products that now includes earbuds, an upcoming smartwatch, and a tablet slated to arrive next year. It also helps that the sacrifices made by the Pixel 6a won’t have any major impact on how the connected ecosystem products perform in terms of responsiveness or functionality.

For potential Pixel 6 or Pro buyers who don’t really care about high megapixel cameras, the Pixel 6a offers a fantastic pathway to save money and invest the rest in Google’s other products and services. Google’s strategy is almost as incisive as Apple’s, and if the ecosystem products actually turn out to be good, the one-two punch delivered by the Pixel 6a can really propel Google’s hardware ambitions.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, but the opportunity is here. All Google needs is to commit, and not squander it all again, the way it abandoned the Android tablet cause and keeps revisiting it with half-hearted ambitions from time to time.

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