There’s a good chance that you’ve already read or watched a Pixel 6a review this week. The phone’s retail debut is set for the end of the month, but the review embargo lifted this past Thursday.
Google shared most of the details regarding the phone at Google IO, so we’ve known what to expect for some time, but a phone’s specs don’t always paint a complete picture of how a device performs when you get it in your hands. If you were to judge the Pixel 6a based on the reviews that have already been posted, you might have heard that the phone feels a bit slow or laggy — mainly due to its 60Hz display. At first, these complaints may seem legitimate since we’ve all seems the slew of issues that plagued the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro since launch. I’m sure we can all agree that the software and performance of Google’s smartphones aren’t nearly as smooth as they should be.
But I don’t think that’s the real issue.
The Pixel 6a has a perception problem
If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the issue the Pixel 6a is facing has to do more with perception and expectations more than anything else.
While I’d like to say that smartphone reviewers go into each review with an open mind, our personal preferences often get the best of us, especially if we use a flagship-tier device on a daily basis and spend most of our time testing devices that cost $800-$1,300. When reviewing a flagship smartphone, it’s often hard to find any real faults with the device since the brands spend a lot of time and money to make sure the best hardware and components are used to build it. We have to pick apart the smallest imperfections, meticulously judge the camera performance, and nitpick about the software to come up with our final verdict and decide if a smartphone is worthy of our recommendation or not.
But if all you do is review high-end devices, you’ll be disappointed when you pick up a phone that costs $450. No matter how good the Pixel 6a might be, it’ll always pale in comparison to a device that’s built with no hardware compromises.
You can’t review the Pixel 6a with the same perception you have when reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or even the standard Pixel 6. You need to put it into context with other devices in the same category. While Google’s mid-range devices often get compared to flagship-tier smartphones because of their amazing cameras, very few people who regularly buy a flagship-tier device would downgrade to the Pixel 6a.
The real competition the phone should be compared to include the Samsung Galaxy A53, moto g stylus 5G (2022), and the iPhone 11. In the US, those three phones are the only true competitors to the Pixel 6a and the Galaxy A53 is the only one that could truly go head-to-head with Google’s new mid-range smartphone. Personally, I’m not a fan of Samsung’s software experience, but the company is promising longer software support for the A53 and its cameras are exceptional as well.
Of course, there’s a lot more competition for the Pixel 6a when you step outside the US. Brands like Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, Poco and others have flooded the markets in Asia and Europe with dozens of options within the $400-$500 segment, making Google’s latest offering seem a bit run-of-the-mill. And then there’s the issue of market-specific pricing which makes the Pixel 6a quite a bit more expensive in places like India.
It’s hard to say how Google can combat the perception issue with the Pixel 6a and future a-series devices. While it doesn’t have the same pedigree as an iPhone, it’s clear that many of you and those of us who review Pixel smartphones want to hold Google to a higher standard than the competition.
Having high expectations for a product you’re spending your money on isn’t a bad thing. We simply need to make sure our perception isn’t based on unrealistic expectations.