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Google Pixel 7A in coral
Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

Review: Google Pixel 7A

This is just about all you need in a phone, and it costs less than $500.
Google Pixel 7A
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Great performance. Excellent camera system. Nice 90-Hz OLED display. Premium build quality (and fun colors!). Wireless charging support. IP67 water- and dust-resistant. Three OS upgrades and five years of security updates. Tons of helpful software smarts.
So-so battery life. Finicky fingerprint sensor. No headphone jack or microSD slot. No charger in the box. Small price hike over last year.

The past week has been one of the busiest I've ever had. I flew to Dallas, Texas, for a friend's wedding, drove to Austin to visit an in-law, drove back for the wedding festivities, then flew back to New York, only to head out to San Francisco the next day for Google I/O 2023. The good news is that the new Google Pixel 7A has been in my pocket all the while, through every leg and layover, and it's never felt limited in any deal-breaking way. This is a $499 phone, and it's just more evidence that you really don't need to spend much more than that to get a good experience these days.

Is it the perfect phone? No. There are features missing here that some folks would want. Also, battery life is just OK, and the price has been hiked up $50 from last year's model. To remedy this, Google is continuing to sell last year's Pixel 6A at a lower price—$349—though you can routinely find it for sale at $299. That phone is still a good buy at either of those prices, but should you feel the need to spend a bit more, the Pixel 7A has just about everything you'd need.

The New Standard

The Pixel 7A mimics the design of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6 series that came before. It's clean and unique, and it's easy to spot in a sea of iPhones and Samsungs—good if you want to feel different. It comes in Charcoal (black), Sea (baby blue), Snow (white), and Coral (orangey pink), the latter of which is exclusive to the Google Store. The blue is a little too faint for me—it often looks white—but the Coral is drop-dead gorgeous. I love a flashy phone.

The phone's frame is made of recycled aluminum, and the back is a plastic composite that by no means feels cheap. (It's also one less spot for cracked glass in case you drop the phone!) The front is made with Gorilla Glass 3, a product which is several years old at this point and isn't as scratch- and crack-resistant as modern formulations from Corning, the company that creates the hardened glass. Using older Gorilla Glass is one of the easy ways to bring down the price of a handset. Safe to say, even if the back can't crack as easily, it's worth getting a case. This Pixel is IP67-rated for water and dust resistance though, so a drop in the pool won't destroy it.

Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

The 6.1-inch OLED screen hasn't shown any weaknesses, even when I stared at it while walking in full sun (not to mention 94-degree heat paired with disgusting levels of humidity) in Austin. Is it as bright as the Samsung Galaxy A54 5G, the Pixel's closest competitor? No, but I rarely had to squint to read the display. You're treated to a 90-Hz refresh rate as well, which means everything from playing games to scrolling Instagram feels more fluid, as the screen is outputting more frames per second than traditional 60-Hz screens. It's a nice perk.

Performance is not an issue either. The Pixel 7A packs Google's Tensor G2 chipset with 8 gigabytes of RAM, the very same stack that powers its flagship Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. I've never seen the 7A stutter in my time with the phone. This chipset means you get access to many of the same G2-specific software features that debuted on the Pixel 7 series, such as Long Exposure in the camera app and Photo Unblur, which did effectively unblur some faces in my photos of the dance floor at the wedding.

The Pixel 7A is one of the few sub-$500 phones to feature wireless charging, and it's about damn time this started showing up in cheaper phones. It's so much nicer to plop your phone on a stand instead of hunting for a cable. That said, the 7A does skip some other niceties you might have liked to see, like a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, and a wall charger in the box (though you do get a USB-C to USB-C cable). The phone is also limited to 128 GB of internal storage; it'd be nice if Google took a page from Motorola and started offering 256 gigs.

Google has long had a lackluster in-display fingerprint sensor, and unfortunately the Pixel 7A follows that same path. On my first day of use, I had to put my thumb on the sensor a few times for it to unlock. It got drastically better over time, but I still needed to be more conscious and deliberate about finger placement than I was on other phones such as the aforementioned A54. It's just not a great sensor.

Battery life with the 4,385-mAh cell is so-so. Granted, I've had a hectic week, so my battery test results may be skewed. All my days with the 7A involved heavy music streaming and picture taking, as well as hours spent using Android Auto with navigation. I have usually had to recharge the phone a bit at some point in the evening to make sure it lasts until bedtime. On a semi-normal day of use, the 7A managed to last the whole day with 20 percent to spare at midnight. I think on average it can last a full day, but if you're city-hopping like I was, it'll need a top-up.

Software Genius

Software remains the reason to buy Pixel phones. There are just so many handy Pixel-exclusive Android features I regularly use and genuinely miss when I test phones from other manufacturers. Take Call Screen as an example, which filters out spam calls so you don't have to deal with them. In the week I've been using the Pixel 7A, I've had zero, whereas I had a few the week prior with the Galaxy A54.

I also routinely use Hold for Me when it's available, so I don't have to listen to dreadful hold music. My favorite is Assistant Voice Typing, which makes sending out a message with my voice so much faster than voice-typing on any other phone. Now Playing is also great at letting you know what song's playing in the restaurant or on the television before you even pick up your phone to find out. There are several more of these features I've pooled here, and they genuinely make life a little easier. That's what we want from our smartphones, right?

The only downside to the software experience on the 7A is that, while Google matches Samsung on security updates by offering five years of support, it's still only promising three OS upgrades. It's weird that the company that manages Android can't deliver more than three major OS updates. In contrast, Apple routinely extends updates to phones that are six years old.

Last year's Pixel 6A disappointingly used the same camera hardware that Google had been using since the Pixel 3. The resulting photos were still pretty great for a sub-$449 phone, but the hardware was showing its age. Thankfully, the Pixel 7A gets a camera upgrade. It has a 64-megapixel primary camera now, which is joined by a 13-megapixel ultrawide and a 13-megapixel front-facing camera. If you're wondering how the cheaper Pixel 7A can have more megapixels than the pricier Pixel 7, just know that more megapixels doesn't automatically give you a better photo. The Pixel 7's camera sensor is larger, so it can capture more details and light for brighter low-light images. The fancier handset still has the better camera.

However, the Pixel 7A holds its lead as the best camera system on a phone for under $499. I compared it with the Galaxy A54 on my weekend excursion in Texas, and while the Galaxy A54 held its own and sometimes delivered better results, the Pixel 7A overwhelmingly offered up photos that looked more color-accurate and natural. It did a slightly better job with high-contrast scenes, and it sometimes picked up more detail as well, whether you used Night Sight or Portrait mode. This rings true with the ultrawide camera too.

Compared with the Pixel 7, you really need to zoom in closely on photos to see the benefits of the larger image sensor. In the photo of the cloudy lawn, the fence in the distance is a blobby mess in the Pixel 7A's photo, whereas each piece of metal is distinguishable on the Pixel 7's result. This theme carries through most of my photo comparisons. Oh, and the color temperatures of the Pixel 7A's photos tend to run warmer. The images are still similar side-by-side, so the camera differences really only affect anyone who tends to crop images before posting them on social media, or for anyone who prints photos in large sizes.

If you want a well-rounded Android phone, you should get the Pixel 7A. It's just as capable and attractive as the similarly great Galaxy A54 5G; both are devices I'd recommend, though the software extras you get with the Pixel are nice. A tip: Pixels go on sale pretty often, so I'd avoid paying the full retail price for the 7A if you're not in a rush to own one. If you do buy it today, you'll get a case for free and $100 in Google Store credit to purchase another accessory.