Google’s Pixel 7a Is One of The Best $500 Phones Around–Here’s Why

Google’s annual developer keynote just wrapped, and while it was primarily focused on software, there was a lot of hardware news.

There’s the $1,799 Pixel Fold, Google’s first foldable smartphone that will compete against Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Then there’s the $499 Pixel Tablet, a device that easily transitions between a tablet and a smart display thanks to a dedicated Charging Speaker Dock that comes in the box. And, finally, there’s Google’s latest entry to its A-series of smartphones: the Pixel 7a.

Google’s never really said what the A stands for, but to some, it means affordable. And that’s exactly what the Pixel 7a is, with its $499 starting price. You can pay a little more, $549, to get a version of the 7a with mmWave 5G support that is exclusive to Verizon.

Not only was the Pixel 7a announced during the opening keynote, but it’s available for order right now. Furthermore, I’ve been using the 7a as my main phone for the last week and while I don’t want to spoil the entire review, Google surely has a hit on its hands with the 7a, although it’s not perfect. 

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Google Pixel 7a Pros and Cons

The Pixel 7a Is a Smaller Pixel 7

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When the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7a are side by side, it’s very hard to tell them apart. They boast the same overall design, although the 7a comes in different color options (charcoal, coral, sea, and snow), and is slightly smaller than the Pixel 7.

The Pixel 7a has a 6.1-inch display and measures in at 72.9 x 152.4 x 9.0 millimeters, while the Pixel 7 has a 6.3-inch screen, with a total footprint measuring 73.2 x 155.6 x 8.7 millimeters. We’re talking fractions of millimeters of a difference in some areas. But I digress.

On the back you’ll find the same camera bar that we saw introduced with the Pixel 6 line and carried forward to the Pixel 7-series. The right edge of the phone is a sleep/wake button and volume rocker. On the bottom is a USB-C port for 18-watt wired charging or data transfers. The left edge of the phone is almost bare, save for the SIM card tray.

The 7a’s housing has an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance meaning it can survive a dip in the pool or even a dust storm. The back of the phone is now covered in glass, making it possible to wirelessly charge the 7a at 7.5-Watts max speed—a first for Google’s A-series.

I’ve had a case on the 7a since it arrived, but I like the look and feel of the phone, with or without the case. Its glass back is a little slippery, though, so you’ll likely want a case to prevent accidental drops or provide some insurance for when it inevitably happens.

Performance, Camera and Battery Life

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With previous A-series phones, Google cut some corners to keep costs down in order to hit a lower price point. Looking at the specification sheet for the Pixel 7a, however, it sure looks like Google didn’t cut any corners.

Inside the 7a is the same Tensor G2 processor used in the rest of the Pixel 7 lineup (not to mention the Pixel Tablet and the Pixel Fold), 8GB of memory, and 128GB of storage.

All of that powers the slightly smaller 6.1-inch FHD (2400×1800) display which now has a refresh rate that tops out at 90Hz, up from 60Hz on the Pixel 6a–matching the refresh rate of the Pixel 7.

That refresh rate makes for a smoother experience when you’re doing routine tasks like scrolling through a long email or webpage, as well as improves more intense tasks like gaming. It also bests the refresh rate of Apple’s affordable iPhone SE.

The 13-megapixel front-facing camera is used for Face Unlock, a feature that debuted with the Pixel 7 line that uses facial recognition to unlock, but stops short of being a security tool that can be used to authenticate things like password managers or banking apps.

I thought the Face Unlock capabilities of the 7a were on par with the Pixel 7 Pro that I’ve been using since Oct. 2023, with one exception—when I was outside wearing sunglasses. When trying to unlock the 7a while outdoors and wearing dark sunglasses, I’d see a warning on the Pixel 7a saying it detected dark glasses and to remove them to use Face Unlock. I don’t recall ever seeing this alert on the Pixel 7 Pro. Thankfully, the fingerprint reader is easy enough to use to unlock the phone.

Speaking of the fingerprint reader, it’s embedded below the display and is quick and easy to use. During the initial setup, the registration process kept failing about 80% of the way through. I had to go through it roughly half a dozen times before it was successful, which is frustrating.

The Tensor G2 processor has proved to be speedy in the rest of the Pixel 7 line, and the same can be said about the experience with the Pixel 7a. Unfortunately, Geekbench 6 isn’t yet compatible with the new phone, so I couldn’t run our standard benchmark test.

Instead, I’ll have to rely on my anecdotal experience of using the Pixel 7a as my main phone for nearly a week. In short, I had no idea I was using a $500 phone (save for the display, but I’ll get to that in a moment). I used it for everything I’d normally do on a phone. Triaging my email inbox, responding to messages across multiple social networks, Blue Bubbles and Facebook Messenger.

I browsed Reddit a lot, and even spent a lot of time checking out the latest potential Twitter replacement in Bluesky. I didn’t game a whole lot, but I did the basic run-through of Asphalt 9 and found the Pixel 7a kept up with all of those tasks, without issue.

My biggest complaint about the Pixel 7a has to do with the display. On paper, it should match the Pixel 7’s screen in quality and experience. But to my eyes, the display was less saturated, with colors in everyday apps and games not having quite the same oomph. The colors didn’t pop. It felt dull.

The Pixel 7a has a 4,385mAh battery that Google promises will last over 24 hours when using Android 13’s battery saver features. I’m not sure you even need the battery-saver feature to reach that number, however. I consistently had anywhere from 30–40 percent left on the battery meter at the end of a long day, which for me starts around 6 am and ends at 10 pm; a lot of that time, especially on days when I was traveling and away from home, was spent on my phone for one task or another.

On one occasion, I did get the battery down to around 15% by the end of the day. But that day I spent a lot of time streaming music and watching YouTube clips. Your experience will undoubtedly vary, but the battery life on the Pixel 7a is solid. And combined with the fact that you can now passively charge the phone via wireless charging, one of my oldest (and loudest) complaints about the A-series has been resolved.

Pixel phones are known for their exceptional camera experience, and the 7a doesn’t disappoint in this area. The 7a’s camera setup is a huge upgrade when compared to the 6a or earlier. It now has a 64-megapixel main camera–yes, for a sub $500 phone–along with a 13-megapixel ultra-wide camera.

The camera experience with the 7a is on par with the rest of the Pixel 7 line, although images have a slightly less sharp appearance than I’m accustomed to seeing on the Pixel 7 Pro. The photos aren’t bad, and you’ll have no issues sharing them with friends, family members, or your social network of choice.

What’s more, the Pixel 7a has an 8x Super Res Zoom mode that uses a combination of software and hardware to make zooming in on far-away objects possible without losing too much in the way of overall picture quality.

It’s not quite as impressive as the 7 Pro’s 30x Super Res Zoom due to its inability to zoom as far and there’s a lack of clarity, but it’s still a handy feature to have on hand when you need it. As you can see, I was trying to read some awards on a football field about 75 yards away from me, and the phone wasn’t quite able to capture and render the text.

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Bottom Line: Is the Pixel 7a Worth It?

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At the end of the day, you’re getting a whole lot of phone for $500. Performance and battery life are fantastic, and the camera experience is one of—if not the best—for this price point.

If you’re searching for the best $500 smartphone on the market, you can start and stop that search with the Pixel 7a. However, if your budget has some wiggle room, the Pixel 7 is only $100 more and nets you a better camera. Or if you want to save even more money, the Pixel 6a is staying in Google’s Pixel lineup. It’s priced at $349 now, which is honestly a steal for a phone of that caliber. Another budget-friendly option is the $449 Samsung Galaxy A54 5G for those who prefer the Samsung experience.

Pixel 6a ($349 at Amazon)Pixel 7a ($499 at Amazon)Pixel 7 ($599 at Amazon)Pixel 7 Pro ($799, originally $899 at Amazon)

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.

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