Ok guys – we’re done. Pixel 7 and Pixel 6a – one of these is going back.
The Pixel 7 was released 5 months after the 6a and the price difference is around $250! Does the ‘upgrade’ justify the price difference? Let us break it down.
Build & design
Looking at both devices, the broad strokes are the same. Same button placement, there’s still a camera bar, the same front facing camera cut-out, smooth touch back with an aluminium frame. Now zooming into that a little bit we notice that the Pixel 7 is ever so slightly bigger than the 6a. It’s taller, wider and about 20g heavier. And for someone like me, who came from the 6a and prefers smaller phones, I could tell the difference immediately. And I didn’t like it.
But barring the dimensions, the camera bar has changed. Some like it, some don’t. I don’t. I know the single aluminium piece on the 7 is far better engineering than the pieced together plastic and glass implementation on the 6a. But there’s just something about the camera bar being one single black bar.
Above and below that camera bar you get glass on the Pixel 7 and plastic on the 6a. Plastic can’t shatter as easily as glass can, and it’s lighter! So give me plastic any day of the week. The colour scheme on the back has changed too, from a two-tone to a single-tone. And here again, the two-tone just made for a unique design element in my opinion. The single colour is kinda bland. Hey, that sounds like a new Google Pixel color name!
Apart from that there are a few tiny changes that go to the Pixel 7. It’s IP68 instead of IP67. But big deal, I wasn’t planning on showering with it anyway. A more legitimate win is the stronger haptics and vibration motor on the Pixel 7. It’s noticeable and something that gives the 7 a leg up. And finally in terms of software UI differences, they are minor. Really minor. One example I noticed was the search box in the app drawer having quick access to google assistant and google lens.
Beyond the UI, there are a few additions software wise. And boy was I happy when I heard the Pixel 7 would have face unlock! And.. I still am. It works in most cases as long as the lighting is good. It is a shame the face unlock is only to unlock your phone and not secure enough for other authentication purposes. Which means you’re still stuck with the fingerprint scanner which is far behind the competition and not any better than the 6a.
Then we’ve got the ‘Unblur’ feature on the Pixel 7 only. And it’s ok. I mean what did we expect, that Google’s AI would miraculously transform crappy pictures into beautiful ones. No. So keeping those expectations in mind, it does a decent job of salvaging an otherwise terrible photo. Especially, if that photo is something you won’t be getting another chance to capture. Here, take a look at an example.
But like so many Google camera or Google Photos features, we don’t see any reason why this feature will NOT be available on the Pixel 6a and other android phones using Google Photos. That Tensor Gen 2 limitation sounds very fake.
Sticking to the blurry theme. We’ve got a cinematic blur mode in the camera. Check out a sample here I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty cool. It doesn’t do a shoddy job of blurring the background at all! Even when the camera’s moving around a bit, we couldn’t really see the edges in that short sample. And just like Unblur, we wager that Cinematic Blur will be appearing on the 6a too. If not officially, at least via a sideloaded apk.
The Pixel has always been known for its computational image magic using software. And on the Pixel 7 – the hardware has gotten quite a boost. The biggest change is the 50MP vs 12.2 MP main sensor on the 6A and older generations. Interestingly, the Pixel 7’s main camera lets in slightly lesser light than on the 6A. The selfie camera is also improved to a 10.8MP camera with a wider viewing angle. But how do the cameras perform? Let’s move on to some samples. The front camera at night – the 7 is clearly better.
The 6A kinda falls apart when taking pictures at night – there’s a lot of loss of detail in the face when you’re out and about. Also the rear camera at night the 7 is better than the 6A, and the difference can range from massive to minor. For example on this shot of the caves – the top part of the image has a lot of noise on the 6A whereas the 7 renders the combination of orange and blue quite perfectly. Whereas in this picture of the churches, there is some loss of detail on the 6A compared to the 7. Comparing this shot of the mountains however, the colour science on the trees and the exposure of the sky is very close, even after zooming in. Looking at this… – the 7 definitely brings out more detail. But we wish you sweet nightmares guessing what that object was.
And then from low light – to good light. The portrait modes on the 6A and 7 are pretty close, but on this shot of the leaf, the background blur is a bit more dramatic on the 7. It’s the same with this portrait of three leaves. The bokeh has a bit more character on the 7. But this might just be because of the aperture.
Moving the phone closer on the 6A might give you a similar depth-of-field effect. On this portrait mode – you could argue that the wrong object has been blurred out, but looking at Kevin posing with a blurred out attraction in the background, both the cameras produce pleasing shots, but there’s clearly a bit more attention to realism when it comes to the face on the 7 – especially in the shadows around Kevin’s eyes.
The 6A delivers a brighter photo though. And coming to the daytime landscape shot, we’re basically straining to find differences at this point. Same with this portrait of a wooden cat. There’s ever so slightly more detail in the shadows on the Pixel 7 here with this low light video pan of the mountains. However on this as well as this portrait video, we find the result of the 7 a bit more pleasing, including the stabilization.
When it comes to selfie video, the 6A can go up to just 1080P whereas you can go up to 4K with the 7.
The microphones seem identical to us – what did you guys think? In the daytime walking test and to be honest the video does fine in good light. And here’s some slow-mo cat videos for the algorithm.
Moving from the camera to the display. Like we said, the Pixel 7 is slightly bigger and hence has a 6.3 inch OLED display compared to 6.1 on the 6a. Does it make a difference? Nope. You can see the same amount of information on both. You’ll notice a tiny difference when consuming video content maybe, but it’s negligible.
But what you can’t neglect, at least on paper, is the peak brightness. 1400 nits versus 1100 nits. And for us, the difference isn’t worth noting. The 6a is fine in direct sunlight, no issues. But a display metric people are making a big deal out of these days is the refresh rate. 90hz on the Pixel 7 and 60hz on the 6a. We’ll let you in on a little secret, we always set our phones to 60hz. Because it’s the same shutter speed as our cameras so it helps when we shoot our phones. And having used 120hz screens in the past, yes it feels smooth and snappy. But going to a 60hz screen initially feels odd, but you get used to it faster than the rate of the UK changing prime ministers. Subscribe for more current affairs jokes!
The glass that protects that screen is an interesting one. The Pixel 6a uses Gorilla Glass 3 which came out in 2013! Almost 10 years ago. Whereas the Pixel 7 has Gorilla Glass Victus from 2020. We haven’t dropped either nor do we see any scratches. So hard to tell if this would make a difference in real life. It didn’t.. in our real life.
Speaking of real life – oh boy do we have crazy segues. But a serious reason to upgrade phones is battery life. And that reason wasn’t there for the Pixel 7. I take the phone off the charger around 7:30 AM. And neither the Pixel 7 or 6a lasts me the whole day if I’m outdoors, both need a top up during the day.
But if I’m primarily at the office or at home then I’ll end the day at 10PM with about 20% on both phones. Even though there’s no change in battery duration, there’s a minor change in charging because the Pixel 7 has 20W fast charging versus 18W on the 6a. But neither is really ‘fast’ though. You can get to around 50% charge in 30 mins on the 7 and the same would take about 45 mins on the 6a. So if you’re really after a Pixel and need the fastest charging then the Pixel 7 is your only option.
Personally, I’m never in a situation where I need to charge that quickly and prefer to trickle charge my phone in order to preserve the battery quality. A feature the Pixel 6a does miss is wireless charging. Something I’ve started using more often recently. But again wireless charging isn’t the most efficient way of charging and the heat generated is in turn bad for battery health. Which means you should be 6 A-OK without wireless charging. Get it? Ok, get this.
Google came out with their own chip on the Pixel 6 called Tensor. That same chip is in the 6a. The 7 got the newer Tensor gen 2. One of the benefits was heat management, because it was no secret that Tensor wasn’t great at it.
On the 6 and 6a, I’ve experienced it getting hot when taking it off the charger, using the camera a bit or just using the phone a lot for navigation etc. Was it better on the 7? Yes it was. But not by a lot. I just noticed it wouldn’t get hot as quickly. But note also that I didn’t test in the tropical temperatures. But that was it, no other difference in performance, stability or battery life. And that applies across the board.
The Pixel 7 despite having 8GB of RAM compared to 6GB on the 6a didn’t necessarily have a noticeably better user experience. The one place where one might stick to the Pixel 7 is the fact that you can move up fromthe base 128GB storage model to a 256GB option.
For tthe latest prices, please check out these links:
Ok guys, let’s stop the pixel peeping and wrap this up. Like I said at the start of this video – one of these Pixels is going back. And that one is the Pixel 7.
Here’s a summary of why I actually chose the 6A:
- The Pixel 6a is smaller and lighter.
- The two-color scheme and black camera bar on the 6a looks far better.
- The Pixel 7’s face unlock is still limited and you need to use fingerprint unlock anyway.
- The new Unblur and Cinematic Blur are nice to have but I don’t see myself using it. With time we’re hopeful it’ll be available on older Pixels too.
- In sufficient lighting situations the Pixel 6a’s main camera is almost indistinguishable from the Pixel 7.
- In other situations the Pixel 7 does edge out, but for my use cases this is something I can live with.
- There’s no real life difference in the peak brightness of the display and the refresh rate of 60hz is just fine
- There’s no difference in battery life and the slightly slower charging speed and lack of wireless charging isn’t a deal breaker
- The Pixel 6a with the previous generation Tensor chip is as snappy as the newer one. In real life use, there’s no noticeable difference.
So we can imagine not everyone agrees with our assessment. What would you guys choose and why? Let us know in the comments down below.