Google Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a Review: A Mid-Range Phone That Rivals The Pixel 8

When Google introduced the Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, fans of the brand were curious why there wasn’t an “a” variant, as has been customary since the Pixel 4a was introduced back in August 2020. Seven months after the launch of the 8 series phones, Google has finally released the Pixel 8a. The phone is the cheapest in the line but it’s still priced as a mid-range device, starting at $679 in Canada. That’s largely because it still has tons of premium features.

For my review of the Google Pixel 8a, I wanted to also compare it to the Google Pixel 8 to determine if the Pixel 8a is worth getting and if the Pixel 8 is worth the extra money.

Google Pixel 8a vs Pixel 8 Comparison

Google Pixel 8 vs Pixel 8a
The Google Pixel 8 on the left and the Google Pixel 8a on the right, both similar in size and look.

Before getting into my review of the Pixel 8a, let’s look at the basics about this phone and how it compares to the Pixel 8.

The Google Pixel 8a is powered by the same Google Tensor G3 processor with the same 8GB RAM. It has rounded edges, a matte back, and polished aluminum frame compared to the glossier finish of the Pixel 8 back. The Pixel 8a has a slightly less durable Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display versus the Gorilla Glass Victus panel in the Google Pixel 8.

The Pixel 8a is a smidge taller and wider but about the same thickness as the Pixel 8, but you’ll barely notice the difference. The Pixel 8a has a smaller 6.1-inch Actua display compared to the Pixel 8’s 6.2-inch, but the difference is negligible. Both offer 120Hz refresh rate, and the same 1,080 x 2,400-pixel resolution and up to 2,000 nits peak brightness. The Pixel 8a is less durable with an IP67 water- and dust-resistant rating versus IP68 in the Pixel 8.

Google Pixel 8 vs 8a
The camera bar is slightly more raised on the Google Pixel 8 (left) versus the Google Pixel 8a.

Interestingly, you get higher resolution cameras across the board with the Google Pixel 8a. It has a 64MP main camera versus 50MP in the Pixel 8, 13MP ultra-wide camera versus 12MP, and 13MP selfie camera versus 10.5MP. However, since the Pixel 8’s camera has a wider sensor, you will probably still get better photos with the step-up phone. The Pixel 8 also includes Macro focus which the Pixel 8a does not.

Pixel 8 vs Pixel 8a
The image on the left was taken with the Google Pixel 8 and the one on the right with the Pixel 8a. There’s more depth to the image taken with the Pixel 8, including blurring the background. The image taken with the Pixel 8a, however, is still quite sharp.

With both phones, you get tons of cool photo editing and capture features like Best Take for getting ideal group shots by adjusting each person’s expression to put together the perfect photo, Magic Editor for repositioning and resizing subjects or using presets for backgrounds, Magic Eraser, Night Sight, Photo Unblur, Real Tone, and Audio Magic Eraser for removing distracting sounds in videos, like wind or crowds. There’s Super Res Zoom up to 8x so you can get clear shots even from far away.

Google Pixel 8 vs Pixel 8a
The Google Pixel 8 (left) has a much glossier, more reflective back than the Pixel 8a, which has a matte back.

Google’s Gemini is accessible on the Pixel 8a as well as the Pixel 8. I’ll discuss these in more detail in the next section. Additional AI features in in both devices include Pixel Call Assist features like Call Screen, Direct My Call, Hold for Me, Clear Calling, and more.

The Pixel 8 has a slightly larger battery so you can expect it to last a tad longer. Both support wireless and fast charging, but with the Pixel 8, you can use Battery Share to recharge other compatible Google devices, like Pixel Buds, right from the phone.

The Google Pixel 8a is available in Obsidian and Porcelain as well as, for the first time in an A-series phone, Bay, plus a new limited edition finish Aloe. It starts at $679 for the 128GB variant but also comes with 256GB storage, the largest yet for an A-series device, for $759. Like the Pixel 8, it will receive seven years of software support, including security updates and Android OS upgrades, along with new features and improvements in ongoing Feature Drops. By comparison, the Pixel 8 comes in Hazel, Mint, Obsidian, and Rose for a starting price of $949 for the 128GB version ($1,029 for 256GB), a full $270 more than the Pixel 8a.

Google Pixel 8a Review

Google Pixel 8a
The Google Pixel 8a has a matte back and a clean look and feel that suggests it’s more expensive than it is.

After being gifted a Google Pixel 8a to review, I set it up using another Android device (transferring settings over is a breeze) and the phone ran a quick software update. How good is the phone? Here, I’ll break it down by key categories.

Look and Feel

Google Pixel 8a
The phone is sleek, lightweight, and powerful, with great cameras and tons of Google Gemini AI features.

The Pixel 8a is slim and sleek: there’s no indication that this is a “cheaper” version in the line. The smooth back makes it slippery to the touch, but it’s advisable to get a protective case anyway. The Google Pixel 8, by comparison, has a glossier, more reflective back, so you may actually prefer the matte finish of the Pixel 8a. (I actually like it better).

With a camera bar on the back and raised side buttons, the Pixel 8a looks similar to its bigger sisters. The model I received is finished in Obsidian, giving it a nice, premium look. I love that it incorporates recycled materials, including metals, glass, plastics, and tin and comes in 100% plastic-free packaging. The back cover is 76% recycled plastic, so it isn’t quite as elegant as the Pixel 8 Pro, but it’s still a stylish and expensive-looking phone.

I find that the fingerprint unlock works much better on this phone than previous generation versions, a welcome change to a common frustration.

Using AI Features

Google Circle to Search
Google Gemini can be easily accessed by pressing and holding the Power button. From there, you can use features like Circle to Search to look up items in photos, or even get help composing an e-mail.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Google Pixel 8a, given its price point, is that it still includes access to many of the same AI features you’ll get with the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. This includes the Gemini generative AI assistant for talking, texting, or sharing images to get contextual assistance. This ranges from helping provide summaries of e-mails to assistance with planning events, getting details about a photo, and more. Contextual assistance crosses over to various Google apps, including Gmail, Drive, and Maps.

I tried Google’s Circle to Search feature on the Pixel 8 when it launched earlier this year and it works beautifully. I tried it again with the Pixel 8a to search for a pair of pants from a photo and got tons of relevant results (none, interestingly, was from the store where I actually purchased them, but the results all showed very similar ones).

With the built-in AI assistant, you can type, talk, and add images on the go. It can provide help with brainstorming ideas, writing thank you notes, planning a vacation, and more. All you need to do is hold the power button, set up Gemini to replace Google Assistant, then ask Gemini to do things like summarize e-mails or sift through your inbox. I tried this out asking for help to compose an e-mail to invite friends over for a BBQ to try out a new smoker, and the sample e-mail was pretty darn perfect.

Google Gemini
I copied and pasted the text of this review into an e-mail then sent it to myself to challenge Google Gemini to summarize it for me. It did a great job of providing a summary that includes some key points (mostly a few excerpted sentences). It’s enough to give you an idea of the contents of an e-mail before you have the chance to sit down and read it all.

I copied and pasted the text of this review in an e-mail sent to myself and asked Gemini to summarize it for me. It picked out a few key details, enough to suggest that you can ask Gemini to summarize long e-mails to give you the gist of them until you have time to sit down and read the full text.

All in all, whether you’re using the Pixel 8a, Pixel 8, or even Pixel 8 Pro (or Samsung Galaxy device with Gemini AI features), you’ll appreciate the step-up from the typical Google Assistant across multiple apps.

Cameras and AI

Google Pixel Best Take
In the photo on the left, the third woman on the right has her eyes closed, while in the image on the right, the second man on the left does…
Google Pixel Best Take
In the image on the left, another taken in this sequence of images snapped with the Google Pixel 8, the woman in white on the right has her eyes partially closed. The image on the right was created from these and other images taken of this group photo using the Best Take feature. Google’s Magic Eraser was also used to remove the chefs in the kitchen in the background.

I previously tested Best Take using the Google Pixel 8 and it works beautifully, so I was pleased to learn that the feature is available in this phone as well. What’s it for? Usually when you take group photos, the person will snap multiple images in a row to try and get the best one. Inevitably, one person will have their eyes closed in one photo, someone else is turned away in another, someone is looking in a different direction in another, and so on. 

With Best Take, you can take different expressions from different versions of the same photo, put them together, and get the best possible version of the photo. It even works with sequences of images you have already taken that are in your library.

Magic Eraser, also available in the other 8 series phones, allows you to remove a distracting element from the background of a photo, like a person walking by or an object. The feature has been upgraded to make it easier to remove something in the background, including being able to remove single items, or multiple at the same time.

Google Pixel Magic Editor
In this image, I used Magic Eraser to remove a recycling bag and boxes from the photo, along with a step stool on the left. The items were removed but regenerating the complicated patterns, colours, and items proved challenging.

The feature intelligent uses machine learning to determine what you want to move. It works well in some cases though not in others. In this example where I wanted to remove a recycling bag and large box, the phone wasn’t able to regenerate the image of the pantry on the right nicely.

Google Pixel Magic Eraser
Magic Eraser works beautifully for simpler tasks, such as removing the black drain from this vacation photo. It’s like it was never there.

But in the vacation photo, it removed the black drain flawlessly. Keep in mind that with outdoor photos that involve people, you also need to take things like shadows into consideration, which can be tougher to remove.

Pixel 8a Magic Editor
Using Magic Editor on the Google Pixel 8a, I was able to move my 12-year-old son slightly to the left in this photo so he was standing in the centre. It did a decent job of recreating the background, but it isn’t perfect.
Pixel 8a Magic Editor
It’s a slight adjustment, but Magic Eraser allowed me to move myself slightly to the left in this photo. However, there’s a level of artificiality with the manipulated photo. Particularly in looking at the shoes, you can tell the subject was lifted from the image and repositioned. Nonetheless, it’s a neat way to adjust photos.

Combine Magic Eraser with Magic Editor, which lets you reposition a subject while Google AI helps fill in the blanks. I tested this with a few photos and it works fabulously with fairly uniform photos, especially well if you just want to move the subject an inch or two one way or the other, as I did in these examples. But it still looks slightly unnatural: if you look closely, particularly at the feet in the Dove event image, you can tell the subject was lifted from one spot and moved to another.

Google Pixel 8a Magic Editor
It’s evident that with more complex photos, Magic Editor isn’t total magic. If you try to remove things like people, the AI can’t totally recreate all elements of a photo, particularly when it has loads of detail. For fun, I wanted to see what an attempt at editing this photo might look like.

Magic Eraser and Magic Editor aren’t entirely magic: if the background is busy with lots of complex colours, patterns, shapes, and subjects, they aren’t miracle workers and won’t re-create the image in seconds like a professional graphic designer. I provided an image here of me on the Brooklyn Bridge where I attempted to remove people in the background using Magic Eraser, and you can see that it does the job but it’s not exactly perfect.

Bottom line: for scenic shots where you want to place yourself in the centre of the photo, for example, or off centre with something fairly simple in the background, it will work well. But if there’s a lot of detail, you’ll have to rely on manual editing from a professional: Google AI isn’t there just yet.

Unique Video Editing Features

Pixel 8a
There are tons of options for editing photos on the Google Pixel 8a using AI, as well as for editing videos.

The cool new feature for videos, also available in the other 8 series devices, is Audio Magic Eraser. With this tool, you can remove distracting audio from a video, like wind noise, construction, or a car zooming by. Thus, it’s ideal for outdoor recordings.

For some reason, I could not get this feature to pop up on the Pixel 8a, but I tested it with the Pixel 8. I didn’t notice a massive difference in the sound for the videos I used. These included one recorded in my backyard while a neighbour was using a loud trimmer and one my son recorded at school in his loud and busy hallway with the chatter of kids and P.A. announcements in the background.

Where I noticed the biggest improvements, however, was with sounds like the oven fan, which replicates a similar tone to a passing car, hum of an airplane, or wind noise. It worked wonderfully, drastically reducing that noise to help amplify my voice. Though I didn’t try this feature in the Google Pixel 8a itself, it works the same on that device as it does on the 8.

Other Camera Features

Google Pixel 8a
The Google Pixel 8a’s Photo Unblur feature was able to reduce the blur in this once-in-a-lifetime photo taken with actor Drew Barrymore at the Dove 20th Anniversary of Real Beauty event in New York City.

Other photo features worked just as well in this phone as they do in other Pixels, including Photo Unblur, Super Res Zoom, Night Sight, and more.

Should You Buy the Google Pixel 8a?

Google Pixel 8a

If you’re on the market for a new Android device, the Google Pixel 8a might actually be a better option than the Google Pixel 8. You get many of the same features and specs for much less. If you need top-line features, like more RAM, storage, a brighter screen, better overall cameras, Battery Share, and more durability via a higher water- and dust-resistance rating, go with the Google Pixel 8 Pro. Yes, it’s $400 more but you’re getting a big step up in performance and with financing or carrier details, you’ll appreciate it more. This is also the ideal option if you want a bigger screened phone. But if you were considering the Google Pixel 8 and don’t need the highest-end specs, I’d recommend getting the Google Pixel 8a instead now that it’s available.

With the promise of seven years of OS and security updates, even if you find that you need more from your phone in a few years, the longer time period for support means the phone will retain its value. So, you can confidently hand it down to a friend or family member, trade it in, or resell it for a good chunk of dough to put towards a new phone.

I’m impressed with the performance of the Google Pixel 8a and the fact that it includes all the AI goodies its bigger sisters have, despite being a mid-range option. Considering how much cheaper it is than the Google Pixel 8, which doesn’t offer a massive leap in features, you’ll get more value for your dollar with the Pixel 8a.