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Google Pixel 7a review: It’s got everything you need and more for just $499

It's basically a slightly smaller Pixel 7 but for $100 less.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Google’s A-series phones have been some of the best deals on the market dating back to the original Pixel 3a. And while the cost of recent devices has crept up a bit, they’ve also become more well-rounded. But with the Pixel 7a, it feels like Google has nailed the balance between price and performance. We’re talking a Tensor G2 chip, a 90Hz display, wireless charging and a higher-res rear cam–all starting at just $499. And when you factor in its design, the Pixel 7a delivers everything I like about the regular Pixel 7 for $100 less. So if you’re the kind of person who just wants a solid phone for a great price, the Pixel 7a has everything you need.

Design

From the outside, the 7a looks like a carbon copy of the standard Pixel 7. It’s got a familiar two-tone design with IP67 water resistance and an almost identical camera bar. But if you peer a little closer you’ll notice a couple differences like a slightly smaller 6.1-inch OLED screen (versus 6.3 for the regular Pixel 7) and a very slightly thicker and slightly lighter body. And even though the 7a features what Google calls thermal-formed polycarbonate (a fancy way of saying “nice plastic”) on its back, it pretty much feels the same too. In fact, I had to tap a coin on the back of the phone to make sure, because up until then I thought both phones used the same material.

Google

The Pixel 7a is a solid phone at a great price.

Pros
  • New 90Hz OLED screen
  • Long battery life
  • Now has wireless charging
  • Excellent cameras
  • Same great Pixel-specific software
Cons
  • Wireless charging is kind of slow
  • No dedicated zoom lens
  • No XL model
  • Speakers sound a bit shallow
$476 at Amazon

Performance

Meanwhile in front, the 7a still gets a lovely full HD (2400 x 1080) OLED display with an in-screen fingerprint sensor, except now it features a 90Hz refresh rate. Granted, that’s not quite as fast as you get on the Pixel 7 Pro or other flagships, but coming from the 60Hz panel on last year’s phone, it’s a very welcome upgrade. And when you combine that with a Tensor G2 chip, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, you end up with a really smooth user experience. Text just glides down the screen when you’re scrolling through websites. And while its smaller display means the 7a probably isn’t going to be a mobile gamers first choice for handsets, I still had a blast playing titles ranging from more demanding fare like Honkai: Star Rail to casual stuff like Marvel Snap.

Cameras

As for photography, the two big changes are that the Pixel 7a features a new high-res 64-MP main cam in back, while the 13-MP selfie camera can record videos in 4K. In the past, the Pixel A-line has crushed basically every other phone in its price range. So this time to give the 7a more of a challenge I compared it to both the Pixel 7 Pro and the S23 Ultra. And while the 7a doesn’t have some of the more advanced features like a dedicated zoom, when it comes to pure photo quality this $499 phone more than holds its own.

The Pixel 7a looks nearly identical to the standard Pixel 7, though its rear panel is made of polycarbonate instead of glass.
The Pixel 7a looks nearly identical to the standard Pixel 7, though its rear panel is made of polycarbonate instead of glass. (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

For example, in a daytime shot of a flower Pixel 7a did a way better job of preserving details and highlights compared to a similar shot by the S23 Ultra. And in a pic of a dandelion, the Pixel 7a captured every fluffy seed. You don’t get a dedicated telephoto lens, but Google’s Super Res can produce some quality long-range images. Though, as you can see when compared to the S23 Ultra, it’s still not as good as having a dedicated telephoto lens. Also, even though I don’t love taking selfies, I gotta say pics look sharp there too.

In low light, Google’s Night Sight mode remains among the best in the business, though the Pixel 7a’s 64-MP camera does add a little more noise to photos than I expected. In a nighttime shot of a mural, despite the Pixel 7a’s pic looking a touch underexposed, it has a better white balance compared to the S23 Ultra while still preserving a lot of details. It’s only when you zoom in that you notice a bit of extra graininess. And in another picture taken at a local community garden, the 7a produced a pic that’s really close to what I got from phones twice its price.

Battery life

Another highlight is that the combination of a relatively small screen and a decent-sized 4,385 mAh battery results in great longevity. On our local video rundown test, the Pixel 7a lasted 17 hours and 41 minutes which, unsurprisingly, is really close to what we got from last year’s Pixel 7 (17:54) and an hour longer than the Pixel 7 Pro’s time of 16:42. However, for those who need a really long-lasting device, bigger phones like the OnePlus 11 and S23 Ultra are still the better choice, with both phones lasting over 19 hours on our tests.

I also really appreciate the addition of Qi wireless support, even if charging speeds cap out at 7.5 watts. When I’m charging the phone overnight or trying to keep the phone topped up during the day, the convenience of slapping a phone on a wireless pad can’t be beat. Besides, if you need some juice in a jiffy, there’s still the option of wired charging at 18 watts, which isn’t blazing, but it’s good enough.

Wrap-up

The Pixel 7a features an aluminum zirconium band around the sides along with a new mid-frame structure.
The Pixel 7a features an aluminum zirconium band around the sides along with a new mid-frame structure. (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

I’ve always appreciated that Google has never tried to do too much with its Pixel A phones. The Pixel 7a is a simple device that packs a nice screen that’s now even better thanks to a 90Hz refresh rate, solid performance and cameras that can hang with rivals twice its price. And now for 2023, you get handy upgrades like support for wireless charging, not to mention all the great existing Pixel-specific features like Hold For Me, Clear Calling and my personal favorite–the Pixel Recorder app. If you’re someone who needs to record conversations or interviews on the regular, I’d argue that app on its own is worth the price of a 7a.

My two minor complaints are that while the 7a’s speakers are generally fine, they sound a bit shallow. And, if you’re someone who cares about mmWave 5G, you’ll have to shell out an extra $50 to get support for that (and that model is only available from Verizon). As a whole, the 7a is kind of a shock because it delivers 95% of what you get from the standard Pixel 7, but for $100 cheaper. Usually, device makers don’t cannibalize their own devices like this. But Google didn’t shy away and the result is a big win for consumers. Would I like to have a dedicated zoom lens or a larger screen? Sure, but that’s [kind of] why the Pixel 7 Pro exists.