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Google Pixel 8a review: 5 things to know

Google brings its A game to the Pixel 8 range...

Google Pixel 8a review: 5 things to know
13 May 2024

For our money, Google now makes the best Android phones for most people.

Thanks to a one-two punch of impeccably tasteful software and amazing cameras, allied to a distinctively appealing design aesthetic, the Pixel range has become our go-to phone recommendation when cornered at parties.

It helps that Google puts as much thought and attention into its affordable Pixel A-range as it does its flagship phones. Take the new Pixel 8a, which builds on the strengths of the excellent Pixel 7a whilst learning a few tricks from the flagship Pixel 8 Pro.

ShortList has spent the best part of a week with the Pixel 8a - here are 5 things you should know about it…

1. It’s a softer, rounder phone

Google Pixel 8a review

The Pixel 8a is an altogether softer, pillowier phone than previous Pixel devices. Its corners are rounder, even than those of the Pixel 8 – and it makes the Pixel 7a look positively pointy by comparison.

That air of softness extends to a new matte plastic back, which is warm and inviting to the touch, not to mention resistant to greasy paw prints.

This billowing effect isn’t always welcome, with display bezels that seem to be encroach even more on the screen, anchored by a pretty chunky chin.

Overall, though, the Pixel 8a is a thoroughly pleasant phone to handle, aided by compact dimensions and a reassuring IP67 water and dust resistance rating.

2. Feels more fluid than ever

Google Pixel 8a review

No sooner had the Pixel 7a stepped up the fluidity of its screen to 90Hz, then the Pixel 8a has gone full flagship with a 120Hz refresh rate. You’ll need to activate this in the Settings menu, and even then it’ll decide which content requires it, but it makes the process of scrolling through menus and web content feel buttery smooth.

Google always gives its cheaper phones virtual performance parity with the rest of the range, and so it proves with the Pixel 8a. Driving that faster display is a Tensor G3 chip, which is the very same piece of silicon that powers the Pixel 8 Pro – a phone that costs twice the money.

We didn’t encounter any performance issues with the Pixel 8a during our time with the phone. It felt just as fast as the rest of the series, whether we were jumping into the camera app with a quick double-press of the power button or smashing into a field full of cars in 3D racing game Wreckfest.

3. Super-clean software has a bright future

Google Pixel 8a review

The main thing that distinguishes Pixel phones from, say, Samsung phones, is the software. It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that Google makes the very Android software that runs on virtually every non-Apple smartphone in the world, and that means you get the purest experience possible on Pixel.

Everything looks and feels immensely polished and coherent, while there’s none of the unwanted preinstalled apps (aka bloatware) that blights phones from other Android manufacturers.

This was all true of the Pixel 7a, of course, but the Pixel 8a goes above and beyond in a couple of key ways. For one thing, the Pixel 8a gains all of the same Gemini Nano-powered tricks of its Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro brothers, meaning the on-device AI processing of features like smart message composition and automated summaries of recorded conversations.

Also, the Pixel 8a gets the same epic seven year support promise as its more expensive brothers. That’s seven years of full OS upgrades, security updates and regular Feature Drops, which is unheard of in a £500 / $500 phone.

4. Cameras are the same, which means they’re great

Google Pixel 8a review

From what we can see, Google hasn’t touched the Pixel 8a’s camera hardware. It’s the same set-up as the Pixel 7a, with a 64MP main camera, a 13MP ultra-wide, and a 13MP selfie cam.

That’s not a complaint, though. Last year’s model took brilliant shots, and remains one of the best cameraphones for less than £500 – especially with Google’s suite of smart AI editing tools, including Magic Eraser (remove unwanted background elements), Top Shot (pick a better shot), and Best Take (meld together the best bits of multiple similar shots).

We’re not saying that the Pixel 8a camera has stood still either. Thanks to that improved Tensor G3 chip, image processing has taken a step forward.

We took some side-by-side shots with the Pixel 7a, and the Pixel 8a’s snaps were indeed very similar, but also a little warmer and more natural looking.

5. It’s more expensive than before, and that’s a problem

Google Pixel 8a review

We criticised the Pixel 7a for bumping up the price by $50 / £50, and wouldn’t you believe it, Google has done exactly the same thing again. The Pixel 8a starts from $499 / £499, which represents a second consecutive $50 / £50 price hike.

Looking around at the competition and the overall package Google is offering by comparison, we still think this represents good value in isolation. However, we’re now past the half way point of the Pixel 8’s time at the top, which means you can find Google’s compact flagship heavily discounted for a very similar price. A cursory glance at the time of writing reveals the Pixel 8 selling on Amazon for just £569.

While the Pixel 8a gets very close to the Pixel 8 on paper, with a similar design, the same Tensor G3 processor, a 120Hz OLED screen, and an ostensibly similar dual-camera system, the differences reveal themselves when you get up close and personal.

The Pixel 8 has a noticeably better and brighter display, and its built quality is more premium. Its camera is also quite a bit better than the Pixel 8a’s, especially when it comes to low-light shots.

Google Pixel 8a: Final Verdict

Google Pixel 8a review

The Pixel 8a is Google’s best entry-level phone ever, without question. It’s a slicker, smoother, faster beast than the Pixel 7a, and one of the best-equipped phones you’ll find for less than $500 / £500.

Meanwhile, Google’s seven-year software support promise is the best in the business, ensuring that this accessible phone will remain relevant for some time to come.

It’s just a shame that Google has felt the need to bump up the price yet again. For not much more money you can now buy the Pixel 8, which is a better phone in almost every way.

Once the Pixel 8a starts receiving its own inevitable discounts, there’s every chance it’ll become the best-value phone on the market.

At launch, however, it’s in the curious position of feeling ever so slightly overpriced.