Sat. May 18th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • The Pixel 8a offers flagship-level performance, camera quality, and screen quality for $500.
  • Like the Pixel 9, the Pixel 8a includes seven years of Android updates.
  • Most of the Pixel 9’s perks, including its upgraded build-quality, are not essential for the average user.

We’re just a few months away from the launch of Google’s next flagship phone, the Pixel 9. But if you want a great Google phone, you don’t need to wait for the next flagship—you’ll be just as happy with the $500 Pixel 8a.

Pre-orders for the Pixel 8a began on May 6th, with orders shipping on May 14th to line up with I/O 2024. You can find the phone at the Google Store and most third-party retailers.

Flagship Specs, Affordable Pricing

Person holding the Google Pixel 8a showing the lock screen
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Like all of Google’s A-series smartphones, the Pixel 8a offers flagship performance and photo quality at a mid-range price. It runs on the year-old Tensor G3 processor, packs a 6.1-inch 120Hz OLED display with a peak brightness of 2,000 nits, and features a 64MP camera with optical image stabilization and AI enhancement functionality (plus a secondary 13MP ultrawide lens).

The Pixel 8a’s cameras are a rehash of last year’s Pixel 7a. Normally, this is the kind of thing that would raise a red flag, but the Pixel 7a absolutely dominated in blind camera tests, beating both the Pixel 8 Pro and the Pixel Fold. Thanks to new AI enhancement technology, the Pixel 8a takes photo quality even further. It’s arguably the best low-price camera phone on the market.

Google-exclusive features are on full display, too. The Pixel 8a offers Call Screen functionality and can automatically recognize music that’s playing in the real world. Its Voice Recorder app offers automatic AI transcription, and Circle to Search (which is slowly finding its way to non-Google phones) is included by default.

Also, Google’s A-series devices have supported wireless charging since 2022. The lack of wireless charging turned a lot of people away from the first few A-series phones, so it’s worth mentioning here.

These are the kinds of features that you’d expect from a $1,000 smartphone, but the Pixel 8a starts at just $500. Plus, it includes seven years of Android updates, just like Google’s flagship devices.

Google Pixel 8a on a white background

Google Pixel 8a

The Google Pixel 8a is a mid-range smartphone powered by the Google Tensor G3 SoC. It starts at $499 and includes excellent camera features. It also has an all-day battery life, making it a great budget-friendly phone if you can find it on sale.

What’s So Special About the Pixel 9 Anyway?

Google Pixel 9
OnLeaks, 91mobiles

Last year’s Pixel flagship started at $700—exactly $200 more than the Pixel 8a. Unless the Pixel 9 comes with a price increase, it will also start at $700. So, if you choose to pay extra for the Pixel 9, what will you get out of it?

Even if we ignore leaks and rumors, there are some obvious things that set the Pixel 9 apart from the cheaper Pixel 8a. The biggest differentiator is build quality; while the Pixel 8a uses outdated Gorilla Glass 3 (and has a plastic backside), the Pixel 9 will almost certainly use ultra-tough Gorilla Glass Victus 2 or Gorilla Armor on its front and rear. And the Pixel 8a’s 120Hz OLED display, while great for the price, lacks the battery-saving 1-120Hz variable refresh rate capability that comes standard in Google’s flagships.

The Pixel 9 will also run on Google’s next-gen mobile processor, the Tensor G4. This chipset will offer a modest boost in processing power when compared to the Pixel 8a’s Tensor G3 processor, it should provide a bump in photo quality, and it may enable some exclusive AI functionality. Speaking of photo quality, Google usually reserves a telephoto lens for its “Pro” flagships. You’ll score the telephoto lens if you shell out for the Pixel 9 Pro, which will cost at least $1,000.

While I’d like to avoid rumors, there are a few noteworthy things that I need to point out. A leak from 91mobiles suggests that the Pixel 9 will come in three configurations—a standard model with a 6.03-inch screen, a Pro unit with a 6.1-inch display, and a new 6.5-inch “Pro XL” upgrade. The XL unit is much larger than the Pixel 8a (the other ones are about the same size), and all three variants of Pixel 9 are expected to support 15-watt Qi2 magnetic charging (which is effectively Apple MagSafe charging).

If you skip the Pixel 8a and blow $700+ on the Pixel 9, you’ll find yourself with some pretty substantial upgrades. However, most people don’t need any of these upgrades. The Pixel 8a’s screen is plenty strong, its Tensor G3 chipset offers flagship-level power, and it’s got an excellent 120Hz OLED display. A simple Qi2 case adds magnetic charging to the Pixel 8a, and aside from the lack of a telephoto lens (which is also missing in the standard Pixel 9), the Pixel 8a’s camera array is world-class.

Also, the Pixel 8a will last just as long as the Pixel 9. Both get seven years of Android updates. One phone might be better than the other, but the Pixel 8a is an outrageously great value, and the difference between these two devices will be negligible to most people.

Don’t Fall for Smartphone FOMO

Google Pixel 8a sitting on a table next to a Pixel 8 Pro
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

New phones are always accompanied by big promises. The new iPhone, or Pixel, or whatever, is the best phone that so-and-so company has ever made. Never mind that it’s almost identical to last year’s model, and next year’s model, too.

If you’re waiting for the Pixel 9 because you want to own the “latest and greatest” phone, you will be disappointed. Rumors about the Pixel 10 will creep into your feed before the Pixel 9 arrives at anyone’s doorstep. And critics will constantly remind you that the Pixel 9, while good, isn’t a groundbreaking upgrade over its predecessor.

You should buy the phone that suits your needs and your budget. The Pixel 9 might be that phone. But if you don’t need the Pixel 9’s telephoto lens or upgraded Gorilla Glass, a more affordable device like the Pixel 8a may be more appropriate.

Of course, I should note that the standard Pixel 8 will be heavily discounted over the coming months. This is one of the few complaints that we had during our Pixel 8a review—$500 is a good price, but you may be better off buying last year’s flagship.

If you choose to buy the Pixel 8a, you can find it at the Google Store or at retail outlets like Walmart and Best Buy. Be sure to check your carrier, too, as they may offer unique trade-in or upgrade deals.

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By John P.

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