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Google Pixel 6a vs. Pixel 5a: What difference does a year make?

Looking for a new midrange smartphone? Google’s Pixel A range has long been a top contender in our best cheap phones list, and the newly released Google Pixel 6a is going to be a strong contender in that list. With Google’s Tensor processor, a shiny new design, and the usual incredible camera smarts, the Pixel 6a is going to be the phone to beat.

But before that, it’s going to have to prove its chops by taking on its stablemate. The Google Pixel 5a is last year’s model, and despite its dated looks, it’s still a monstrously good smartphone. It has 5G connectivity, a strong midrange processor, and one of the best cameras around. As expected, Google has dropped the Pixel 5a now the Pixel 6a is up for pre-order — but you’ll still be able to buy it at other retailers for a while, probably at a discount. So, should you buy a discounted Pixel 5a or the new Pixel 6a? Or, if you’re already using a Pixel 5a, is the Pixel 6a worth the upgrade cost? Read on to find out.


Google Pixel 6a
Google Pixel 5a
Size 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm (5.99 x 2.83 x 0.35 inches) 154.9mm x 73.7mm x 7.6mm (6.10 x 2.90 x 0.30 inches)
Weight 178 grams (6.28 ounces) 183 grams (6.46 ounces)
Screen size 6.1-inch OLED

60Hz refresh rate

6.34-inch OLED

60Hz refresh rate

Screen resolution 2400 x 1080 (429 pixels per inch) 2400 x 1080 pixels (415 ppi)
Operating system Android 12 Android 12
Storage 128GB 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Google Tensor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Camera 12.2-megapixel wide, 12MP ultrawide

8MP front

12.2MP wide, 16MP ultrawide

8MP front


4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps

4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.1 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C USB-C, headphone jack
Fingerprint sensor Yes, in-display Yes, rear-mounted
Water resistance IP67 IP67
Battery 4,410mAh

18W fast-charging


18W fast-charging

Charger included in box

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support All major carriers All major carriers
Colors Mostly Black Mostly Black
Prices From $449 From $449
Review score 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

The Google Pixel 5a came at the end of a design drought for Google, and it’s fair to say the design isn’t exciting. If you’re being nice, you can call it “safe”. If not, “boring” jumps to mind. It’s a fairly featureless black slab of polycarbonate, and those looking for excitement won’t find much here. That can’t be said about the Pixel 6a. Google has refreshed the Pixel line’s design significantly from the Pixel 6 onwards, and that design has been brought to the Pixel 6a. The unique “camera bar” visor has been brought to the midrange smartphone, and while the front is largely the same as the Pixel 5a, the new design language around the back really makes a difference.

The two phones’ displays are somewhat more similar. The Pixel 6a is the smaller of the two, with a 6.1-inch OLED panel. The Pixel 5a’s 6.34-inch display is larger, and that means a slight drop in crispness, but honestly, you’re not going to be able to tell unless you have Superman’s telescopic vision. We were hoping the Pixel 6a’s refresh rate would be a deciding factor, but alas, Google has stuck with a 60Hz refresh rate for some reason, which puts the two on an even footing.

Both have a lightweight polycarbonate build and IP67 water resistance. Those builds should make them less susceptible to damage than phones with glass builds, but we’d still slap a case on them to keep them safe anyway.

Look at both phones and it’s obvious there’s a clear winner here. The Pixel 6a’s new design takes the day.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

All Pixels all the time

Performance, battery life, and charging

Google Pixel 5a showing apps.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

The Pixel 6a is definitely the more powerful of these two smartphones. Why? Because it’s using the Google Tensor chip. This is the same flagship tech from the Pixel 6 Pro, and it easily outpaces the Pixel 5a’s Snapdragon 765G. The Pixel 5a’s processor isn’t slow by any means, but it’s out of its league here. The Tensor does run quite hot in the Pixel 6a when playing games, though.

The Pixel 5a has a strong day-and-a-half battery life with some fairly normal use, and it has 18W fast charging with the charger out of the box. We were hoping the Pixel 6a would be able to match that, but it tended to struggle to offer a good full day’s worth of battery life, even with more moderate use. That problem is exacerbated with the 18W fast charging, which, while decent, isn’t what we’d call really fast these days. There’s no wireless charging on either smartphone, too.

The battery life is a real kicker, and it drops the Pixel 6a in our estimation. Sure, it has the more powerful processor, but the Pixel 5a’s processor doesn’t have any problems keeping up with the competition. The battery, though, is important to many people, and it flips this category to the Pixel 5a.

Winner: Google Pixel 5a


The Google Pixel 6a. Someone is holding the phone with the camera app open.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

All Google Pixel phones have been known for their strong camera capabilities, and these two are no different. They have similar setups, actually. Both have a 12.2-megapixel main lens, along with an additional ultrawide lens. That ultrawide lens is a 12MP lens on the Pixel 6a, but 16MP on the Pixel 5a. On paper, then, the older smartphone has an advantage. But only on paper — the Google Pixel 6a is another excellent camera phone from Google. It takes shots with great detail, wonderful vibrancy, and all from a simple camera app. Just point and shoot, and the Pixel 6a will probably take a great photo.

The one exception is, oddly for a Pixel, in Night Sight. Night Sight shots are as lit up as ever, but the details are soft, almost mushy. Still, it’s a small detail and easily forgiven. The Pixel 6a takes this round.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Software and updates

Google Pixel 5a app screen.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

We can cut straight to the chase on this one — both phones will run Android 13 (when it releases), and both will get a good number of updates. Both run Android 12 now, but unlike the Pixel 6a, the Pixel 5a didn’t launch with it, so you can expect the older Pixel to get one major Android release less. Is that a big difference? It depends on how long you’re planning on keeping your smartphone. If you’re already using a Pixel 5a, it’ll easily last until your likely next upgrade. Buying from new? Maybe lean towards the Pixel 6a for longevity.

Assuming you’re buying a new phone and choosing between these two, we’re giving this to the Pixel 6a.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Special features

Google Pixel 6a standing up against a tree.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

There’s some question as to whether 5G still counts as a special feature, but regardless, both phones have 5G connectivity. Both phones leverage a lot of Google’s AI smarts for features like Call Screen to screen out telemarketers, or Hold for Me, which takes your place in a queue for you. But the Pixel 6a has a bunch more features that you might enjoy, including the Magic Eraser that removes unwanted elements from your photos and Face Unblur, which is fairly self-explanatory.

The Pixel 6a is the clear winner here.

Winner: Google Pixel 6a

Price and availability

The Google Pixel 5a is currently still available from Google, and you can pick it up for $449. It’ll work on most major U.S. carriers too, so you don’t need to worry about coverage.

The Google Pixel 6a is now available for pre-order, and will ship on July 28. It costs $449, the same as the Pixel 5a.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 6a

It’s not a surprise the newer model is the winner here, but the Google Pixel 6a is a worthy winner. With a more attractive design, a more powerful processor, and some nifty new special features, the new Pixel is the better of the two phones by far. While it may still be a while away, it looks like it’s worth waiting for if you’re considering buying one of these two phones.

But what if you’re already using a Google Pixel 5a? Is upgrading right now worthwhile? Well, right now we’d say not. The Pixel 5a is still an excellent smartphone, and while its design is lacking, the excellent camera, strong performance, and great battery life mean it’s still worth hanging on to. However, a lot of that depends on the size of the exchange value of the Pixel 5a for the Pixel 6a. But regardless of that, the Google Pixel 6a is the winner here.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Jansen
Mark Jansen is an avid follower of everything that beeps, bloops, or makes pretty lights. He has a degree in Ancient &…
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