Google Pixel 8a Review: Possibly The Best Midrange Phone Yet

Google Pixel 8a – Starting At $499

The Google Pixel 8a is sleek, speedy, and shoots better photos than virtually any other budget phone.


hot flat

  • Solid build quality
  • Gorgeous OLED display
  • Excellent camera performance
  • Same processor as flagship Pixels
  • Lots and lots of AI features
  • Seven years of guaranteed updates

    Sharp,
    bright display with 120Hz refresh

    ×Fast
    80W charging and included plug

    ×Excellent
    performance with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2

    ×Alert
    slider is back

not flat

  • Middling gaming performance
  • Battery life is just okay
  • Charges too slowly

Hot Hardware Editor's Choice Award

Google has struggled to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple in the premium smartphone market. But when it comes to affordable, mainstream phones, Google seems to have a winning recipe. The first Pixel A-series phone in 2019 instantly hit a key price point for Google. Even with Google’s improved Tensor-based Pixels making signifcant advances over the years, the Pixel A-series still tends to steal the show with its strong value proposition, and there are no signs of that slowing down with the new Pixel 8a.

The Pixel 8a builds on the legacy of the Pixel 7a with a fresh new design, longer OS support, an improved screen, new AI features, and more. All that, and it keeps the same $499 price tag as last year’s phone. The Pixel 8a is so good that it puts many flagship phones on notice, but for a fraction of the  price. Google’s Pixel 8 Pro offers a larger screen and more cameras, but at $200 more, the new Pixel 8a may be closer to what the mainstream market is looking for.

Google Pixel 8a Features and Specs

The PIxel 8a doesn’t look or feel like a budget phone. While the materials do take a step down compared to the flagship Pixels, Google does a good job of hiding that. The glass covering the OLED screen is the older Gorilla Glass 3, but the sheet is rolled slightly at the edges to ease the transition to the aluminum frame. The metal on our Bay (blue) review unit has a nice matte texture that makes it a bit more grippy. That’s good because the back can be pretty slippery.

Google Pixel 8a 2

The back panel is plastic instead of glass like it is on most high-end devices. It has a silky texture, which we like more than the glossy plastic on last year’s 7a. The back is transected near the top by Google’s trademark camera visor, which may be going away with the 2024 Pixel refresh. The visor is narrower and flatter due to the smaller camera sensors inside. Still, it makes the phone more svelte, so it’s not all bad. It’s also IP67 rated for dust and water ingress protection. 

The power and volume rocker are on the right edge. They’re both very tactile, but they’re also a bit wobbly. We’ve used more stable and satisfying buttons on smartphones, but this is actually an above average showing for Google—even the Pixel 8 Pro has a looser power button. The only part of the design that gives this phone away as a budget offering is the bezel around the screen. There’s nothing wrong with the display itself, but the bezels around it are noticeably larger than flagship phones, and there’s a bit more unused space at the bottom of the device (i.e. a chin).

Google Pixel 8a 6

The Pixel 8a’s OLED panel is superb, however. To get this quality of a display screen on a $499 phone is a sign of how far Google’s hardware has come. At 2400 x 1080, the resolution is unchanged from last year’s 7a, but the panel is a tenth of an inch smaller (6.1 vs 6.2 inches). The screen is a good, manageable size even for people with smaller hands.

There’s an optical fingerprint sensor toward the bottom of the display, and it works as well as any other Pixel phone. Samsung’s ultrasonic sensors are a little faster and more reliable, but the Pixel’s sensor is almost as good. The only drawback is it flashes bright enough to be distracting in a dark room.

Google Pixel 8a 3
Left to right: Pixel 7a, Pixel 8a, Pixel 8

This OLED displays refresh rate has been boosted from 90Hz to 120Hz, which makes scrolling much smoother. However, the 120Hz mode is off by default, leaving the phone at 60Hz out of the box. The brightness has increased considerably, too. The phone now hits 2000 nits outdoors, the same as the flagship Pixel 8. At this point, the phone is perfectly readable in bright light. Even though OnePlus claims a much higher 4500 nits rating on the OnePlus 12R, these phones look pretty similar to us in sunlight. The only remaining issue is reflectivity, which can make things hard to read at certain angles. More expensive phones like the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra with Gorilla Glass Armor have anti-reflective elements to cut down on that, but the Pixel just has its Gorilla Glass 3.

Google Pixel 8a Software, AI Experience And Update Support

Even before the first Pixel phones, the best reason to buy a Google phone was the software. Google is more restrained than the likes of Samsung or OnePlus, which often load up phones with numerous apps and features that get in your way or reinvent the wheel for the OS itself. Throwing things at the wall like that can make a device more capable out of the box, if done right, but it can also make Android feel cluttered and sluggish. The Pixel build of Android 14 on the 8a is the opposite. It’s snappy, useful, and even downright elegant.

As we’ll see in the performance section, the Pixel 8a is not objectively the fastest phone in the world, but the experience is incredibly refined. All the stock apps work well, and we like Google’s home screen very much. The way this phone implements Material You also looks so much better than what you get from other Android device makers right now.

Pixel software

The Pixel 8a includes the usual Pixel goodies like Call Screen, which makes this era of constant spam calls almost bearable. The associated Hold for Me and Direct My Call features help sooth the burn of customer service lines, too. Google Assistant voice typing also makes it easy to enter text on Pixels when your hands are otherwise occupied. Other phones have voice input, of course, but Google’s version is better—you can even tell the phone to advance to the next text field by voice.

The Pixel 8a is also inheriting some new AI features previously limited to premium phones. You can use Circle to Search to identify and gather information about things on your screen. In the coming weeks, Google also says the Pixel 8a will gain the ability to run the Gemini Nano LLM on-device. We’ll talk about the cameras below, but the new budget Pixel has gained three new AI-enhanced camera features from the more expensive Pixels: Best Take, Magic Editor, and Audio Magic Eraser.

The expanded slate of AI features is all well and good, but possibly the biggest selling point of the software is the update guarantee. Google says this phone will get seven years of security patches and OS updates. If Google keeps the same update cadence, this phone could still be safe and up-to-date in early 2031 with Android 21. The OnePlus 12R costs the same but it only gets three years of software support.

Google Pixel 8a Cameras

Google Pixel 8a 5

The camera hardware in the Pixel 8a hasn’t changed since last year. There’s still a 64MP primary shooter with optical stabilization and an f/1.8 aperture. That’s paired with an f/2.2 aperture 13MP ultrawide camera. The selfie camera is the same resolution and aperture.

Primary2
Primary4

The good news is that Google’s computational photo processing does wonders, even where other budget phones would fall flat. The Pixel 8a does a good job of sharpening details and evening out lighting without compromising the colors. Images are accurate to our eye, avoiding the hyper-saturated aesthetic of Samsung’s photos. The Pixel 8a is also quick to capture images in moderate lighting, giving you some hope of capturing motion without blurriness. That’s almost impossible indoors with even Samsung’s most expensive phones. If you do get some blur, the phone can utilize AI algorithms to fix that, provided the photo isn’t a complete mess.

primary1

The Pixel 8a does a good job of evening out light and dark areas of a photo with Google’s Ultra HDR processing. That said, you will see better results with the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. Those phones have higher-quality sensors that collect more light, giving them faster captures and better dynamic range. We’ve also noticed the colors are a bit inconsistent between the primary and ultrawide cameras.

Primary3
Primary

UW1
Ultrawide

Night mode photography is another strength of the Pixels. It works best on the flagship phone with larger sensors, but the Pixel 8a still does better in the dark than any other phone we’ve tested in this price range. It takes a few seconds to get the full effect of Nightsight, but it can capture a satisfying photo in very low light. Just don’t expect to be able to capture movement.

nightsight1
Nightsight in the dead of night

Shooting video on the Pixel 8a is fine, but it’s not going to be as smooth or sharp as a Samsung flagship phone. It can shoot in 4K60, but the resolution isn’t as important as how the video is processed. Compared to Samsung Galaxy flagships and the iPhone, Google’s video looks flatter and less smooth, which is particularly evident when panning. We’d even say the OnePlus 12 shoots better video than the Pixel 8a right now. The Pixel 8a has a smaller camera sensor than the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, so video also tends to look more grainy when shot without perfect lighting. Google’s Video Boost feature might help, but unfortunately, it’s limited to the Pixel 8 Pro even though this is a server-side feature. 

If you don’t shoot a ton of video, this shouldn’t give you too much pause. The Pixel 8a’s video looks good enough for a phone in this price range—it just doesn’t punch above its weight like it does with still photos. On the plus side, the Audio Magic Eraser feature really does do a good job of reducing unwanted background noise during video/audio capture.