Google Pixel 8a review: more future for less money

The Google Pixel 8a gives you all of Google's AI features and Pixel performance at a bargain price.

May 18, 2024 - 06:30
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Google Pixel 8a review: more future for less money

Google Pixel 8a: Two-minute review

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing

Pixel 6a, Pixel 7a, and Pixel 8a (left to right) (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The Pixel 8a is the best budget option for Android enthusiasts, and especially Google fans. It makes a case for itself against the pricier Pixel 8, and if you've been dying to try all of Google's coolest new Android and Gemini AI features, the Pixel 8a is the cheapest entry into this virtual world. You can find slightly better specs in a phone this cheap, but you can't find Google's innovative software and seven years of promised software updates.

I've been using the Pixel 8a with Gemini Advanced, Google’s premium AI and large language model, and it works just as well as my Pixel 8 Pro. I get the same cool AI wallpapers feature that I love. I even have Gemini baked into the Gmail app on this phone, so Google's AI can compose an email right in the proper text box. 

For the Pixel 8a’s price, there are Android phones to consider from Motorola and OnePlus, but Apple and Samsung don't make anything worth buying in the $500 / £500 / AU$800 range. The iPhone SE is cheaper, but I'd avoid that old phone since it's fairly out of date (home button?!).

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE in purple with books behind

For only $100 more you can have the Galaxy S23 FE with DeX (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

Samsung's Galaxy S23 FE is a bit more expensive, and it has tons of business and professional features, if you're going to be mixing work and personal life on your phone. It's also a bit overcomplicated, and it won't get the latest AI features like the Pixel 8a (probably) will. 

If history is any guide, the Pixel 8a will eventually get some compelling deals and this great price will drop even lower, but for $499 / £499 / AU$849, I think the Pixel 8a is worth what Google is charging. The Pixel 8 is only a little more expensive, which makes sense because it's only a little more great; it has better cameras, and marginally better battery life and charging, but that's it. 

The Pixel 8a performed well across the board in our tests, matching and occasionally beating the Pixel 8 on our metrics for processor speed, graphics performance, even display quality. If the Pixel 8a uses a cheaper display than the Pixel 8, I certainly couldn't tell.

Google Pixel 8 review back angled case

It's much harder to recommend the Pixel 8 these days (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

That's great news because the Pixel 8a also gets the same seven years of Android updates that Google promised for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, and all of these phones use the latest Tensor G3 chipset. The Pro model has more RAM, but the two cheaper Pixel 8 phones are identical in RAM and storage.

If you're considering the Pixel 8, you might just save money and buy the Pixel 8a, unless you need a better camera (or you really prefer the Pixel 8 colors). But that's the only reason to spend more on the Pixel 8. You'll probably be just as happy with the Pixel 8a, and even happier when you have money leftover to spend on cases and accessories.

Google Pixel 8a review: Price and availability

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing cameras

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • $499 / £499 / AU$849 for 8GB RAM, 128GB storage
  • Available in sweet Bay blue and Aloe green (also black and white-ish)

The Pixel 8a costs $499 / £499 / AU$849, which is a relief for our American readers but now Australia knows how we felt last year. In the US, that’s the same as the Pixel 7a cost a year ago, but £50 more in the UK and $100 more in Australia. Google raised the price for the Pixel 7a in the US, but kept things stable for Americans this year, and that's great because the Pixel 8a feels like a better value than ever before. 

Google is offering seven years of Android OS updates for the Pixel 8a. Let's be honest, you probably won't have this phone in seven years, but somebody might, and they'll get the latest software. Whether you pass this down to a kid or trade it for your next phone, the Pixel 8a should last longer than before, and that's a huge vote of confidence from Google.

Android phones don't hold their value as well as Apple iPhones, and while longevity isn't the biggest reason, having longer support could help Android’s reputation, which could improve value in the long run.

Google Pixel 8a in front of Pixel 7a and Pixel 6a

You can barely see the two-tone greens on the Pixel 6a (left) (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The Pixel 7a and the Pixel 6a were continually offered at a discount, usually at Amazon first, and it's likely that you'll find the Pixel 8a available cheaper, eventually. 

Don't wait, the Pixel 8a is worth buying now. In the past I recommended waiting for a sale, but this feels like a phone that performs above its price range, so there's no reason to wait if you want one now. 

For the same price, you can get a OnePlus 12R. While there is much to recommend that phone, I think most people should stick with the Pixel 8a. The OnePlus 12R is faster, with a bigger, better display. It has a huge battery, and it charges much faster than almost any other smartphone you can buy, let alone the Pixel 8a.

The OnePlus 12R isn't water resistant, though, so it's less durable, and that makes a huge difference to me. It also doesn't get the same seven years of Android OS updates, and OnePlus isn't even trying to make AI features that compete with Google. In terms of software, OnePlus does a nice job, but Google still rules the Android roost.

  • Value score: 5 / 5

Google Pixel 8a review: Specs

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing lock screen always-on display

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The Pixel 8a has the same Google Tensor G3 chipset as the two more expensive Pixel 8 phones. It comes with 8GB of RAM, just like the Pixel 8. In processor and graphics benchmarks, performance was effectively identical between the Pixel 8a and the Pixel 8.

The Pixel 8a also has a bright display like the Pixel 8, and in our tests both phones reached above 1,450 nits at 100% brightness. 

Where the Pixel 8 pulls ahead and earns its premium, aside from the improved cameras, are in the smaller details. The Pixel 8 uses Gorilla Glass Victus, which is stronger than the Gorilla Glass 3 on the Pixel 8a. The Pixel 8 has Wi-Fi 7, though that's only useful if you also have a new Wi-Fi 7 router.

Google Pixel 8a review: Design

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing USB-C port and speakers

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • It’s a Pixel, and every Pixel looks the same
  • Plastic back holds its own against glass

If you wanted a cuter, more curvaceous version of the Pixel 8, the Pixel 8a delivers. Sure, it looks like every other Pixel phone since the Pixel 6, but that's brand identity. I actually like the camera bar, I prefer its symmetry to the camera bump on most other phones. 

The Pixel 8a has nicely rounded corners, and some flashy color options, including the brighter-than-expected Aloe green of my review sample, a nice step into the light from the more subdued Mint green Pixel 8.

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green from side showing SIM card slot

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The back is plastic, not glass, but the matte finish and great colors make it look much more premium than the ugly plastic phones of yore. Glossy plastic is out; the Pixel 8a is in. 

Otherwise… it's a Pixel, and you know what that looks like by now. It looks like every other Pixel. I miss the two-tone options of the Pixel 6 phones (check out the green and yellow-green Pixel 6a in my photos), but it's still a pretty phone that’ll stand out just enough from the herd of Galaxy and iPhones.

  • Design score: 5 / 5

Google Pixel 8a review: Display

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing bright AI wallpaper

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • Bright display matches the Pixel 8
  • You can find bigger (and brighter) on competing phones

Google's new so-called ‘Actua’ displays were a key selling point for the Pixel 8 family, so I'm pleased to report the Pixel 8a earns its spot in the lineup with a bright, colorful display that doesn't skimp on specs. It has a 120Hz refresh rate and the same 2,000-nit peak brightness potential as the Pixel 8.

The bezel is a bit thick, but you won't notice unless you hold it up next to another phone. The smaller size of the Pixel 8a, with its 6.1-inch OLED display, is one of my favorite aspects of its design; it's a nice, compact phone. 

In fact, the phone was so easy to hold and use that I decided to use the Pixel 8a to write the first draft of this review on my flights back from Google I/O 2024. I wrote a few thousand words on the Pixel 8a display, and it was comfortable thanks to the smaller size. 

I had some trouble seeing the display in the bright California sunshine in Mountain View, which made some photography hard, but this was only a problem on the clearest day with the sun overhead. Indoors, the display seemed exceptionally bright, so perhaps it just needed a better reflective coating.

Google Pixel 8a in front of OnePlus 12R both showing TechRadar home page

OnePlus 12R (6.7-inch) behind the Pixel 8a (6.1-inch) (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The OnePlus 12R does have a larger, 6.7-inch display, and OnePlus claims it can hit an eye-piercing (no, seriously) 4,500 nits of brightness, but we haven’t seen it achieve this in our tests. Still, for the same price you can get a larger display, but the compact size is part of the Pixel 8a appeal.

  • Display score: 4 / 5

Google Pixel 8a review: Software

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing Quick Settings Menu buttons

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • All of Google’s cool AI features are here, for now
  • Google’s Android is clean and easy to use

Google makes the best Android phone software, much better than Samsung’s OneUI. While OnePlus and Motorola stay close to Google’s designs, you can't beat the House of Android for simplicity and ease of use.

Maybe it's getting too easy? Android used to have many more customization options to organize your home screens and your app list. Most of these are gone now. You can't even put apps into folders in Google's app menu.

On the other hand, Google does the best job with things like notifications. If I get a notification I don't want, I just hold my finger on the message and I get a robust settings tool that lets me turn off all notices from an app, or just certain categories of interruptions. I get to pick what each app notifies me about, and I don't have to dig to find the options. They just appear with a press.

Google Pixel 8a showing AI wallpaper creation tool

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The new AI tools keep getting better. I make a new AI wallpaper every few days. Even better, I now let Google's AI answer most of my impersonal phone calls, and I can see what my caller says in a live transcript as the AI handles them. 

The Gemini AI features are good, and it isn't a perfect Google Assistant replacement, but Gemini can use Google Assistant as one of its tools, to make up the difference. 

The AI features are constantly growing. Gemini can now help compose email messages in the Gmail app, and I'd expect it will soon offer help in the mobile Docs, Sheets, and maybe Slides apps. 

Unfortunately, the Gemini app stopped working for me suddenly a few days before this review published. I have reached out to Google to make sure that this is an isolated issue, and I will update if I get a response.

The Pixel 8a also carries forward the best of Google's AI image editing in Google Photos. You get the classic Magic Eraser and the newer Magic Editor AI features as well.

Google Pixel 8a showing Gmail app with Gemini AI prompt

Google Gemini will offer suggestions in apps like Gmail (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

The reason it can handle all these features is because the processing is done by Google in the cloud. You’ll eventually be able to load the Gemini Nano language model onto the phone to handle some generative writing locally, but it will be hidden as a developer option. I suspect that's more because of the audience and target market for this bargain phone, and not because of any performance deficit. 

Will Google really support the Pixel 8a for seven years? I had concerns, so I spoke to Google before this phone arrived at my door. Google’s Pixel reps assure me they have a roadmap for Tensor G3 phones that will last 7 years. In 2031, the Pixel 8a will retire with Android 21 on board, because Google has a plan. Android yellowcake, perhaps.

  • Software score: 4 / 5

Google Pixel 8a review: Cameras

Google Pixel 8a showing camera app focused on living room

All the photo modes from the Pixel 8 Pro are here (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • Photos look very similar to shots from the Pixel 8 Pro
  • A bit grainy close up, and blurry at night

Google’s Pixel A-series phones are usually an easy pick for the best bargain camera phone because they are unfussy and produce great images that are perfect for sharing online. By that, I mean they don’t look great if you zoom in too close, but for viewing on smaller screens, the Pixel 8a makes photos that look surprisingly good. 

How good? To test the Pixel 8a camera, I compared photos against the Pixel 8 Pro, Google’s best camera phone and one of my favorites. The photos were remarkably similar. If I didn’t zoom in on a shot, I often couldn’t tell which photo was taken by the Pixel 8a and which by the Pixel 8 Pro. Google’s color and light balancing are nearly identical on both phones. Only in the darkest conditions was the Pixel 8 Pro advantage clear. 

To compare with the Google Pixel 8 Pro, here is a sample that shows more detail from the Pro camera, but both images look good. The color and lighting is very similar across both devices. 

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Google Pixel 8a camera sample photo of a tile mosaic with leaves

Google Pixel 8a photo (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
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Google Pixel 8a camera sample photo of a tile mosaic with leaves

Google Pixel 8 Pro photo (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

This low-light photo shows the clearest distinction between the Pixel 8 Pro and the Pixel 8a. The Pixel 8 Pro is clearly better in dark conditions, but when I looked at the photos on my phone screen, this was the only photo I found easy to determine which phone took the shot. 

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Google Pixel 8a camera sample showing a Diner sign Open 24 hours

Google Pixel 8a photo (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
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Google Pixel 8a camera sample showing a Diner sign Open 24 hours

Google Pixel 8 Pro photo (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

That’s a pretty remarkable feat, and good for Pixel 8a buyers because these phones both take great photos. You’ll see the difference in fine details, though. The Pixel 8 Pro has a 50MP sensor, after all. 

The Pixel 8a uses a 64MP sensor but it only outputs 16MP images. It combines four pixels into one in a process called 'pixel binning,' and there’s no way to get full-resolution, 64MP shots from the Camera app. Even RAW image files (why on a bargain A-series phone?) only have a 16MP resolution. 

The Pixel 8a offers all the same shooting modes as the Pixel 8 Pro, including Night Sight for nighttime shots around town, and long exposure, for cool shots of moving traffic and running water. 

It also has all of the same AI editing tricks in the Google Photos app. You get Magic Eraser, to remove unwanted people, and Magic Editor, to turn them into giants or move them to one side. There’s Best Shot, which replaces faces in a group photo when somebody has their eyes closed. It even has the amazing Audio Eraser for videos, to remove background noise and distractions. 

What’s especially cool, if you’re new to Pixel phones, is that you can edit photos and videos that you didn’t shoot with your Pixel phone. Anything in Google Photos is fair game. Upload all of your old iPhone photos to Google, go buy a Pixel 8a, then use Unblur to make them all as sharp as new. 

  • Camera score: 3 / 5

Google Pixel 8 Pro camera samples

Here are samples taken around New York City and at the Google I/O 2024 conference in Mountain View. 

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

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Google Pixel 8a camera image samples

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

Google Pixel 8a review: Performance

Google Pixel 8a showing Android 14 screen with Android figurines beside

(Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • Google’s Tensor G3 isn’t winning any contests
  • Seven years of Android support means Google trusts the chipset

Admittedly, the Pixel 8a and all of the Tensor G3 generation of Pixel phones are not top performing phones. Any phone with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 or newer Snapdragon, and any recent iPhone will outperform the Pixel 8 in benchmark tests. What does that mean in the real world? Not much. 

Unless you're playing the most-demanding games or using advanced photo or video editing tools, the Pixel 8a will be enough to keep up. It ran all of my games, including Call of Duty and Marvel Snap, with no trouble. It just didn't run games as smoothly as the Galaxy S24 can run them.

There was some delay with many of the AI features, but that's because the Pixel 8a needs to talk to Google before it gives you an answer. Even AI Wallpapers rely on Google's cloud for help, and there is a back and forth delay. My phone does not have access to Gemini Nano yet, so I'm curious to see if that speeds up any generative writing. 

I had some trouble using Bluetooth on the Pixel 8a. The phone kept finding and refinding my Pixel Buds Pro. I had to reconnect them three times in a week. It had trouble holding the connection with my car stereo, and twice it lost my Ray Ban Meta smart glasses. In a week or so of testing, I had only a small handful of issues, but it was annoying. 

  • Performance score: 3 / 5

Google Pixel 8a review: Battery

Google Pixel 8a in aloe green showing USB-C charging port

The USB-C charging port is 'faster' than before (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)
  • The Pixel 8a’s biggest weakness
  • Also the Pixel 7a’s weakness, and the Pixel 6a’s weakness

Battery life is the Pixel 8a’s biggest letdown, which isn't a surprise considering the Pixel 7a and Pixel 6a suffered the same shortcoming. A compromise must be made to bring the price down, and Google apparently compromises on battery life. 

In my real-world testing, the Pixel 8a never lasted a full day of use. I used the phone at home, for work, and traveling by plane to Google I/O. It usually needed a top-up on the battery after dinner, if I was going to keep using it. 

Future Labs is still testing the Pixel 8a, but early rundown tests put battery life at just over 11 hours of use. To compare, the OnePlus 12R, our pick for best battery life, topped 19 hours of life on the same test, and it charges much faster. The phones cost the same, too. 

The Pixel 8 also charges a bit faster than the Pixel 8a, whether wired and wireless, and the Pixel 8 can charge other devices wirelessly, which the 8a can't do.

  • Battery score: 3 / 5

Should you buy the Google Pixel 8a?

Google Pixel 8a in front of Pixel 7a in white and Pixel 6a in two-tone green and yellowish green

Pixel 6a, Pixel 7a, and Pixel 8a (left to right) (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

Buy it if...

You were considering the Pixel 8
The Pixel 8a gives you just about everything you get with the Pixel 8, for less. The cameras aren't as good, but if the 8a gets a good discount, it's game over for the Pixel 8.

You want to try Google’s AI stuff
The Pixel 8a is the cheapest entry into Google's new AI world, with generative AI writing tools and image editing on board. And it will keep getting better, we hope. 

You care about durability and longevity
You can find better specs at this price (hello, OnePlus 12R), but the Pixel 8a is more durable than the competition, with 7 years of Android updates – unheard of at this price. 

Don't buy it if...

You want a big, fast flagship killer
For the same price, the OnePlus 12R gives you better performance, a bigger screen, and the best battery life. Just don't get it wet.

You need amazing cameras
The Pixel 8a took solid photos that were satisfying to share. It doesn't have long zoom or the fine details of the Pixel 8 Pro, however. 

You're really going to keep a phone for 7 years
Even if Google updates this phone with a new Android every year, in seven years this phone will be astronomically underpowered. Go for a faster device if you want to finish that marathon.

Google Pixel 8a review: Also consider

Google Pixel 8
The Pixel 8 has better cameras than the Pixel 8a, and you can see the difference. There aren't many other advantages that matter, but the cameras may justify the extra cost for some folks.

OnePlus 12R
You want power and performance over software smarts. OnePlus isn't offering AI features or seven years of updates, but the OnePlus 12R gives you much faster performance and incredible battery life for the same price. It looks snazzy, too.

How I tested the Google Pixel 8a

I received the Pixel 8a from Google a few days before Google I/O 2024, so I used this phone as my only work phone for the conference, as well as the days before and after. 

I used the Pixel 8a to take product photos and news photos for our I/O live blog, to keep connected on Slack and Gmail, and to stay entertained on my flights.

I connected the Pixel 8a to a number of peripherals, including the Pixel Watch 2, Pixel Buds Pro, and Ray Ban Meta smart glasses.

I also wrote all of the copy for this review in Google Docs using the Pixel 8a and its on-screen keyboard. I don't usually bother with a stunt like that, but I had seven hours of flying ahead of me and I wanted to write on the plane, and the Pixel 8a is a great size for using in a crowded space like a middle seat.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed May 2024