Wednesday, November 29, 2023

There’s a cheap Pixel phone you should buy, and it’s not the Google Pixel 8

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The Google Pixel 7a in a person's hand.Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Over the next months, amid the hype around the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro launch, wallets everywhere will be flying open in Google’s direction as prospective owners become ever more eager to secure one.

Contents

  • Don’t forget about the Google Pixel 7a
  • Way better than the price suggests
  • Best not forgotten

There are plenty of reasons you’ll want to get one, too — from the new cameras to Android 14. But, unfortunately, the prices have also gone up this year. It’s at this point, with your wallet stretched to its limit, you should remember a cheaper Pixel still exists — and it’s excellent.

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Don’t forget about the Google Pixel 7a

Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

I’m talking about the Google Pixel 7a, which costs $499. It was released at the beginning of May this year, so it’s barely a few months old and still very much current in Google’s range. It’s unlikely (if at all) to be replaced by a Pixel 8a before mid-2024, even though a few leaks have already begun to circulate, and it’ll get Android 14 and several other major version updates in the future, so you can buy with some confidence that it’s not about to become obsolete.

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What do you save? The Pixel 8 starts at $699, and you’ll need $999 before getting your hands on the Pixel 8 Pro. Both are $100 more than the equivalent Pixel 7 versions, and this increase has turned the old argument about buying the Google Pixel 7 instead of the Pixel 7a on its head. If you were looking at the Pixel 7a before now, the extra $100 for the Pixel 7 likely wouldn’t be a massive stretch, making it worth considering. Now that the $699 Pixel 8 is here, you can save $200 by choosing the Pixel 7a instead, and that’s a compelling financial consideration.

Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro Andrew Martonik / Digital Trends

Saving that much money on any new tech purchase is worth it, but there are various psychological barriers that will be far harder to overcome. The Pixel 7a suffers from being associated with the “old” Pixel phone, and in the brains of many tech fans, this is a reason not to buy. The Pixel 8 is new and, therefore, better — and spending more today is often worth it in the long run. If that’s your thought process (because it’s also mine), I’m not going to dissuade you, as when it comes to tech, buying the best you can afford is a good rule of thumb.

Way better than the price suggests

Google Pixel 7 (left) and Pixel 7a Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If money is no object, then get a Pixel 8 model. But if you like a bargain or would like to shave $200 off your next phone purchase, the Pixel 7a is a superb buy. When we scored it in our original review, one of the downsides was the price, as it was close enough to the Pixel 7 that the argument was there to get that phone instead. Today, with the Pixel 8’s price increase, this negative has been removed.

Perhaps you’re worried the camera isn’t very good? I put the Pixel 7a against the Pixel 7 in a tough camera test, and the pair ended up being indistinguishable. Almost all the categories resulted in a draw, and in many cases, I couldn’t see any differences between the photos. I continued using the Pixel 7a as my main phone for a few weeks after this, and when I had to swap to a different phone, I found I didn’t really want to. That’s a great feeling to have about a $500 smartphone.

Examine the specifications, and the Pixel 7a is obviously not as up-to-date as the Pixel 8, but it’s not a disaster. The 6.1-inch screen has a 90Hz refresh rate, the phone is protected by an IP67 water and dust resistance rating, the design is great, and the Google Tensor G2 processor is perfectly adequate. The phone is a little bit of a reliability concern, whether that’s software bugs or heating issues, but there’s no guarantee the Pixel 8 will be any better. For the record, I never had any problems with my Pixel 7a.

Best not forgotten

Spot the lint on the back of the Pixel 7a’s case. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro will dominate Android news headlines for a while, and even after the initial furor subsides, we’ll talk about them in more detail for months to come. Rightly so, as they are the top new smartphones from Google and are a benchmark device against which many future new releases will be judged. Google turned a corner with the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro, the Pixel 7 series continued its winning streak, and I’ve no doubt the Pixel 8 will do the same.

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the latest releases when they are this compelling, and similarly easy to forget about phones that have come before them, even if they are mere months old. That’s the risk with the Pixel 7a. This would be a real shame, particularly now Google has raised the price of its top Pixel phones. I think the Pixel 7a deserves to be considered alongside the Pixel 8.

What’s interesting is the Pixel 7a wasn’t an especially compelling purchase when it was released. The price was just a bit too high, and it had also suffered from an increase over the cost of its predecessor. But now that the Pixel 8 has come along at an even higher price, it’s suddenly looking like much better value. The Pixel 7a may not be the latest and greatest from Google, but it may just be the best purchase for you.

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