Google’s better budget phone has become boring

Google Pixel 8a Bay header
Pictured: Google Pixel 8a
// Another year, another A-series Google phone.
Fergus Halliday
May 08, 2024
Icon Time To Read2 min read

Google's affordable A-series devices have always taken their cues from its premium Pixel line, but this year's incarnation of the apex mid-ranger seems more like its flagship counterparts than usual.

The newly-announced Google Pixel 8a is as by-the-numbers an update as you can expect from any premium phone nowadays. In line with last year's device, the budget-friendly handset is built around a 6.1-inch Actua display.

Compared to the screen on last year's Pixel 7a, you're looking at a faster 120Hz refresh rate, a 40% increase in peak brightness and an unspecified improvement in scratch resistance. That's nice to see, but hardly a revolution.

Under the hood, the Pixel 8a comes powered by 8GB of RAM and the same Google Tensor G3 processor seen in last year's Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. This time around, there are two storage variants on offer. The cheapest model comes with 128GB. $100 extra doubles that to 256GB.

While the extra choice is welcome, it's hard to get excited about the spec bump given how much it eats away at the affordable asking price that's always been a big part of the Pixel A-series charm.

According to a Google representative, this move upward in price is “primarily driven by foreign exchange.” However, at the same time, the Pixel 8a just doesn't feel like it over-delivers on bang for the buck in the same way that its predecessors did. At least, at a glance.

For better or worse, most of the differences here are invisible to the eye. For instance, there's a larger 4492mAh battery with support for wireless and 18W wired fast charging. While not a huge upgrade on last year's model, the Pixel A-series remains one of the few mid-range devices to offer wireless charging. 

As for the ever-important camera, there are a few tweaks here but the broad strokes haven't changed all that much. Last year's Pixel 7a featured a mid-range camera that swung above its weight. The Pixel 8a looks set to do the same with an almost identical setup that bundles together a 64MP main lens and a 13MP wide one.

While the upgrades being made to the internal and external specs here are key, the bigger selling point might be the fact that Google is offering seven years of OS upgrades, security upgrades and feature drops for its latest budget-friendly smartphone. That change brings it in line with last year's Google flagship device as far as future-proofing goes, which is well beyond what other Android smartphone manufacturers offer around this price point.

Google Pixel 8a Obsidian header

As with last year's Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, the Pixel 8a is being framed as a vehicle for Google's AI ambitions. It's the first Google device to ship with Gemini support plus almost all the AI-powered features found in its flagship cousins. That list includes more general productivity stuff like Circle to Search, Call Assist, Live Translate as well as camera-specific features including Best Take, Magic Editor and audio magic eraser.

Of course, with all the fancy AI features found here, you do have to ask what's been omitted. That list here isn't nearly as long as the one above.

Beyond the obvious stuff like a bigger screen and a third camera, the main thing you aren't getting with the affordable Pixel is a temperature sensor and access to more advanced camera features like Night Sight for video, Macro Focus and Video Boost.

In Australia, the Google Pixel 8a starts at $849 in two colours (Bay Obsidian and Porcelain) and is available for preorder from today (ahead of a May 14 launch) through the Google Store, JB Hi-Fi, Telstra, Officeworks and Harvey Norman.

Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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