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It’s impossible to recommend a cheap Google Pixel phone

The back of the Google Pixel 8a.
Google Pixel 8a Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I had a terrible time explaining which cheap Pixel 8 phone you should buy when I reviewed the Google Pixel 8a. I eventually settled on saying the Pixel 8a is the low-cost Pixel phone you should buy … except for those times when it isn’t.

This confusing situation is all Google’s own doing and is really awful for us as consumers. It’s not entirely to do with the specifications and design of the phones, but with the uncertain prices of the Pixel 8a and the Pixel 8 and the staggered release dates for both of them.

Prices aren’t set in stone

Google Pixel 8a in Aloe.
Google Pixel 8a Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Pixel 8a’s retail price starts at $499, and the Pixel 8 starts at $699, which doesn’t sound complicated at all. When I was writing my review of the Pixel 8a, I found it difficult to pinpoint exactly why you should spend an extra $200 to get the Pixel 8, which isn’t a slight against that more expensive phone, but more a confirmation of how good the Pixel 8a is when compared to it. It does almost the same things, with only slight changes that may not bother everyone, so why spend more?

So, that’s it, then? A cut-and-dried situation where you can compare the specs and decide if there’s enough value in the Pixel 8 for you personally to spend that extra chunk of money to own it. Sadly, that’s not the case, and it’s here where it becomes quite hard to say which phone is the best to buy — and it’s all due to the older Pixel 8’s price fluctuating quite a lot.

Just weeks before the Pixel 8a was announced ,the Pixel 8 could be purchased at Best Buy and Amazon for $549 — a significant reduction on its regular retail price and only $50 more than the Pixel 8a. At this price, you should definitely choose the Pixel 8 over the Pixel 8a, and even if these two deals aren’t running when you’re reading this, I’d expect that if they’ve happened once, they’ll happen again, as retailers jostle to drum up interest in the aging phone.

Release date chaos

A person holding the Google Pixel 8.
Google Pixel 8 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

That’s right, I said aging, as the Pixel 8 is getting on a bit. It was released in mid-October 2023, more than six months before the Pixel 8a hit the scene. It makes the phone ripe for discounts as it’s not that long before the Pixel 9 and Pixel 9 Pro will be announced and the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro will suddenly (and wrongly) be far less desirable. Drumming up interest in a 2023 smartphone halfway through its life is common practice.

This gap between the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8a is already a conundrum, and resulting discounts on the Pixel 8 make the 8a a tough sell when you’re forced to ignore straight retail prices like this. What’s more, deals on the Pixel 8a have already started to happen, with Amazon giving a $100 voucher with the phone, effectively reducing it by that amount. Why has this happened already? When a slightly better version is available for only a little more money, slashing the regular retail price of the “lesser,” but newer phone (or spicing it up with a tempting deal) will help ensure it’s not left languishing on the shelves.

What are you, the eager buyer, supposed to do in this frustrating situation? You could wait for a deal on the Pixel 8 instead of buying the Pixel 8a, but also make sure you look out for a deal on that phone, which may not be selling fast because of the Pixel 8 deals that have been spotted recently. The Pixel 8a is a very good phone, but you should buy the Pixel 8 if it’s only $50 or even $100 more. But also, if the Pixel 8a suddenly shows up for $399, then it’s a brilliant buy, too. The fact these scenarios have already happened makes recommending one over the other practically impossible.

It’s not just Google

Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus in hand.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Motorola Razr Plus Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

Google’s staggered release dates for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a only add to the price and decision-making chaos, but various other manufacturers also play with pricing in a way that makes it hard to make a definitive and informed choice. Motorola endlessly lowers the price of its phones, including the Razr Plus and Razr (2023) flip phones, to the point where it should just call the lower price the retail price and stop messing around.

Samsung’s retail prices are only an advisory, too, especially during the preorder period, where trade-ins and additional discounts can make upgrading to the new model look very attractive. But wait around, and more discounts or deals will arrive, so it’s just a case of being patient if you’d rather buy your next phone at a lower price.

Motorola and Samsung’s price games are less irritating because the phones in question all come out at the same time, and the pricing structure adjustments generally apply to all of the models. You choose your phone and decide whether to wait for a better price or not. This isn’t the case with the Pixel 8a because it’s out many months after its closest rival, and retail prices apply far less to the older phone, which in turn impacts the price of the new phone.

Which Pixel 8 should you buy?

The Google Pixel 8a on a table.
Google Pixel 8a Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It’s still solid advice to buy the tech product you want now and not wait for the next big thing, as you’ll simply be waiting around forever if you don’t. Plus, getting the latest model is also usually sound advice. But in the case of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a, it’s not that simple, so which do I really recommend?

If you can find the Pixel 8 for under $600 or are prepared to wait until you do, then it’s a great buy. If you see the Pixel 8a for under $400, it’s also a great buy. If both are at full retail price, then the Pixel 8a is very good, but if I bought it, I’d always think about what the Pixel 8 would have been like if I’d had some patience. If I bought the similarly very good Pixel 8 at full price, I’d always wonder if I could have saved some money and still been just as happy with the Pixel 8a.

There you have it, a clear-as-mud recommendation about which one to buy, all because of aggressive pricing and annoying release date strategies that make it really frustrating to choose a Google Pixel phone. Until Google just announces its whole Pixel range at the same time, perhaps just buy an iPhone 15 instead. That way, at least the incredibly rare and usually paltry discounts on Apple devices mean you always know where you are.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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