One of the coolest things about the Pixel A series is that you can get the same best-in-class cameras as the main Pixel models at an affordable price. One of the reasons I bought the Pixel 3A years ago was because Best Buy had stock with in-store pickup. It’s also one of the biggest reasons the Pixel A series has been recommended as the best value Android phone for years. Everything else about the phone: screen, processor, battery, etc. greatbut the camera excellent.
That streak ends with the Pixel 6A. Unlike previous A-series phones, the 6A doesn’t include the same camera hardware as the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro. There is no headphone jack and it smells. However, instead of the larger 50-megapixel sensor behind the main camera on these devices, the 6A has the same 12-megapixel sensor used in the Pixel 5 and 5A. And Pixel 4. And Pixel 3.
It’s kind of a failure. But it also tells a lot about how Google sees the value of devices going forward. Google doesn’t want the Pixel to be known as a phone with a really good camera. We hope the Pixel will be a phone that’s really cool and comes with useful features.
This, too, would have been inevitable. As the 6 and 6 Pro aim higher in the premium category than their predecessors, the Pixel 4 or 5, we had to make more decisions about what to do to make a budget version of the phone. Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of Devices and Services, summed up this challenge:
Basically, what we’re trying to do is provide a core experience to as many users as possible. That’s the overall goal. Every phone has a lot of difficult components to keep costs down. So, undoubtedly, some of the main features of the device need to be changed to get to where you want to be in terms of price.
For older Pixel models, a big part of the “core experience” was the camera. It now stands for Tensor, Google’s custom chipset. This is the processor that enables many of the Pixel 6’s software features, such as improved speech recognition. It also makes it easier for Google to develop new features for the entire Pixel 6 series. Tensor has taken a central place in Google’s priorities, and the camera serves as a support.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that one benefits the other. Tensor also supports new software-based camera features in the 6 and 6 Pro, such as Magic Eraser. And indeed, the camera hardware on Pixel phones has always been secondary to the software that makes the phone work well. However, Google was unable to equip the 6A with the latest hardware. And This time it’s software, so I doubled the latter.
Perhaps it reflects the priorities of people buying a phone. The difference in what this year’s smartphone camera can do compared to last year isn’t as noticeable as it was four or five years ago. And for many of us, our phone cameras have enough of the features we need to do as the difference between a really good camera and just a decent smartphone camera isn’t worth the extra $300 or $500.
Moving the camera out of the Pixel’s spotlight is a smart move, even if you miss the little feeling that you were missing something when you bought the Pixel 3A. Perhaps Pixel 6A owners will feel that way when they try live speech recognition and see how good it is. (That’s great.) Anyway, that’s the bet Google is making.