After using Google’s Pixel 8A, I question the purpose of the Pixel 8

Google's Pixel 8A on a yellow background

After spending just a few days with Google’s new $500 (£499, AU$849) Pixel 8A, I have one big question: Why would anyone pay $200 more for the $700 Pixel 8? While there are some differences between the two, the Pixel 8A hits all the important notes, from the similarly sized 6.1-inch screen to the dual camera.

The Pixel 8A also comes with improvements that address some of my criticisms of last year’s Pixel 7A, which had a matte screen and a limited software upgrade lifecycle. While I haven’t had a chance to fully review the Pixel 8A yet, my impressions so far lead me to believe it could be the Android phone to beat for those looking to stay well under the $1,000 mark.

Of course, there’s one big caveat: sales and discounts. Carriers and retailers sometimes discount the Pixel 8, bringing it down to around the same price as the Pixel 8A. Some wireless carriers are also running promotions that make the Pixel 8 essentially free.

However, these deals usually require you to meet specific circumstances, such as opening a new line on a specific plan or trading in an eligible device. And the deals expire, which means it may not always be possible to get the Pixel 8 at a lower price.

In that case, the Pixel 8A is probably the best choice for most people, although I’ll have more to say about it once I’ve had a chance to fully review and test it.

Read more: Google Pixel 8A vs. Samsung Galaxy A35 5G

Watch this: Google’s Pixel 8A is here: What’s new and different

Pixel 8A design and display

Pixel 8A is held in someone's hand Pixel 8A is held in someone's hand

The Pixel 8A has a 6.1-inch display, making it slightly smaller than the Pixel 8.

James Martin/CNET

The design of the Pixel 8A strongly resembles the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Google has rounded the edges, which gives it a softer feel compared to the Pixel 7A. The back also has a nice matte finish that feels more premium and is also likely less prone to fingerprint smudges compared to the glossy Pixel 7A and Pixel 8.

But Google’s cheaper phone has less water and dust resistance than the Pixel 8 (IP67 vs. IP68 on the 8), which may be important to consider if you spend a lot of time outdoors and prefer not to use a case. The difference in rating means the Pixel 8 can be submerged in more water (1.5 meters versus 1 meter) than the Pixel 8A.

There are four color variants to choose from: Aloe (green), Bay (light blue), Obsidian (black) and Porcelain (white). I’m using the aloe green color and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s like a slightly bolder and brighter mint shade of green.

The Pixel 8A has a 6.1-inch display, which is slightly smaller than the Pixel 8. The bezels that frame the Pixel 8A’s screen are noticeably larger than the Pixel 8, though you won’t think about it unless you’re looking at the two phones side-by-side.

Google says it’s increased the brightness of the Pixel 8A’s display compared to last year’s Pixel 7A, which I’m glad to hear considering the previous model’s screen felt dull outside. I haven’t had the same problem with the Pixel 8A so far, but I’ll know for sure when I have more time with the device.

Pixel 8A camera

The back of the Pixel 8A The back of the Pixel 8A

The Pixel 8A’s camera is essentially the same as the Pixel 7A’s.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 8A has essentially the same camera as the Pixel 7A: a 64-megapixel main camera with a 13-megapixel ultra-wide camera. That might sound like a step up from the 50-megapixel main camera on the Pixel 8’s rear camera system (which also includes a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle shooter), but resolution isn’t everything.

The Pixel 8A’s camera has a smaller pixel width, which is important for light absorption, and there’s also laser autofocus. You also don’t get a macro focus mode on the Pixel 8A.

Regardless, photos taken on the Pixel 8A look colorful and detailed so far. I did notice that the Pixel 8 captured more detail when taking photos of my husband during a night out at dinner, though the difference was only really noticeable when zooming in. However, in other circumstances, photos between the two looked almost identical, as shown in the flower photo below.

Pixel 8A

Vase with flowers on wooden table outdoors. Vase with flowers on wooden table outdoors.

This flower photo was taken on the Pixel 8A.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Pixel 8

Vase with flowers on wooden table outdoors. Vase with flowers on wooden table outdoors.

This photo was taken on the Pixel 8.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

For now, I prefer the Pixel 8A’s camera to the one found on the cheaper $400 Samsung Galaxy A35 5G. Details and colors seem more accurate in the Pixel 8A camera photos, though I’ll know more after more testing.

The Pixel 8A also inherits some AI photo and video editing features from the Pixel 8, such as Best Take, Magic Editor and Audio Magic Eraser. These first two features, which allow you to swap your subject’s facial expression after taking multiple shots in a row and remove or manipulate objects in the photo, work just like they did on the Pixel 8. Samsung’s AI editing features haven’t made their way to the Galaxy A35 5G yet, even when I suspect it will eventually arrive via update.

Pixel 8A battery, performance and software

Pixel 8A on a yellow background Pixel 8A on a yellow background

The Pixel 8A runs on the Google Tensor G3 processor like the Pixel 8.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 8A’s battery is more than capable of lasting a full day on a single charge. On a busy day that included leaving the house around 8:30 a.m., spending the day at the office, and then going out to dinner with friends, the Pixel 8A still had 66% battery at 0:43 a.m., which is roughly 16 hours. use.

But as always, battery life will vary depending on how you use the device. During the day, I had the brightness set to at least 50% or higher and mostly used the phone to browse social media and email, take a few photos, make a short phone call, and play mobile games for about 15 minutes.

The Pixel 8A has the same Tensor G3 processor found in the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, and performance seems smooth so far. Apps open quickly, the camera is easy to launch, and games run smoothly. Benchmark tests such as Geekbench 6, which measures general computing performance, and 3DMark, which evaluates graphics, are not yet available for the Pixel 8A.

The hardware isn’t the only similarity between the Pixel 8A and Google’s more expensive Pixels; they also share many common software features. You get features like Hold For Me, which can wait for you when you call certain businesses, and Circle to Search, which lets you search for almost anything on the screen by drawing or scribbling on it.

Circle to Search is one of Google’s newer features for Android, and it has a lot of potential. I still find myself trying to use it out of the way rather than fitting it into my natural phone usage patterns, but I’m impressed with how it works so far. When I circled a picture of the main character from the popular Attack on Titan anime series and asked for “similar shows,” Google pulled up stories about the show, including one article recommending similar content.

Most importantly, Google will support the Pixel 8A with seven years of Android OS upgrades and security updates. That matches the Pixel 8 support timeline and is a big jump from the three-year commitment Google made with last year’s Pixel 7A. It’s great that Google has extended this policy to its cheaper phone.

But the Pixel 8A doesn’t have everything the Pixel 8 has. For example, it looks like Google’s AI generative wallpapers aren’t available on the Pixel 8A.

Pixel 8A thoughts so far

Google's Pixel 8A on a yellow background Google's Pixel 8A on a yellow background

The Pixel 8A seems to be a better choice compared to the Pixel 8 for most people.

James Martin/CNET

Every year, Google improves its A-series phones in ways that address the criticisms and shortcomings of the previous generation. The gap between the regular Pixel from Google and the Pixel A series is thus gradually narrowing. And at this point it’s so small that I’m seriously wondering if the Pixel 8 is worth it.

There’s a list of things you get with the Pixel 8 that aren’t available on the Pixel 8A, such as the ability to wirelessly charge other devices on the back of the phone, a slightly larger screen, in-camera macro focus mode, and increased durability. But taken together, it doesn’t seem significant enough to make the Pixel 8 a more compelling option for most people.

But I’ll have more thoughts to share once I’ve spent more time with the Pixel 8A.

Google Pixel 8A vs. other phones

Google Pixel 8A Google Pixel 7A Google Pixel 8 Samsung Galaxy A35 5G
Display size, technology, resolution, refresh rate 6.1-inch OLED; 2400 x 1080 pixels, adaptive refresh rate 60-120 Hz 6.1-inch OLED; 2400 x 1080 pixels; 60/90 Hz 6.2-inch OLED; 2400 x 1080 pixels; Adaptive refresh rate 60-120 Hz 6.6-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED; Adaptive refresh rate 60-120 Hz
Pixel density 430 ppi 429 ppi 428 ppi 389 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches 6 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches 5.9 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches 6.4 x 3 x 0.3 inches
Dimensions (millimeters) 152 x 74 x 10.2 mm 152 x 74 x 10.2 mm 150.5 x 70.8 x 8.9 mm 161.7 x 78 x 8.2 mm
Weight (grams, ounces) 193g (6.8oz) 193g (6.81oz) 187g (6.6oz) 209g (7.4oz)
Mobile software (at launch) Android 14 Android 13 Android 14 Android 14
Camera 64 megapixels (main), 13 megapixels (ultra-wide) 64 megapixels (main), 13 megapixels (ultra-wide) 50 megapixels (main), 12 megapixels (ultra-wide) 50 megapixels (main), 8 megapixels (ultra wide), 5 megapixels (macro)
Front camera 13 megapixels 13 megapixels 10.5 megapixels 13 megapixels
Video recording 4K at 30/60 FPS 4K at 30/60 FPS 4K at 24/30/60 FPS UHD at 30 FPS
Processor Google Tensor G3 Google Tensor G2 Google Tensor G3 Samsung Exynos 1380
RAM/storage 8GB + 128GB or 256GB 8GB + 128GB 8GB + 128GB, 256GB 6GB + 128GB
Expandable storage None None None up to 1 TB
battery 4,492 mAh (18W fast charging, 7.5W wireless charging) 4,385 mAh (18W fast charging, 7.5W wireless charging) 4,575 mAh (27W fast charging, 18W wireless charging with Google Pixel Stand, 12W wireless charging with Qi charger) 5,000 mAh (25W fast cable charging)
Fingerprint sensor Under the display Under the display Under the display Optical fingerprint sensor
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack None None None None
Special features 5G (5G sub6 / mmWave), IP67 rating, VPN by Google One, Circle to Search, 7 years of Android OS updates, 7 years of security updates, Best Take, Audio Magic Eraser 5G (5G sub6 / mmWave), IP67 rating, VPN by Google One, Circle to Search, 3 years of Android OS updates, 5 years of security updates 5G (Sub 6./mmWave); protection IP68; VPN from Google One; 7 years of Android OS updates, 7 years of security updates; Best Take; Audio Magic Eraser; Magic Editor, 2x “optical quality” zoom; macro focus, battery sharing 5G, Samsung Knox Vault, 4 generations of Android OS updates, 5 years of security updates, expandable storage