Google Pixel 8a Review: Saving Dollars for Pixels

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The Google Pixel 8a offers compelling, worthwhile photography features at an accessible price point. It’s hardly a perfect smartphone, but it gets a lot of things right the moment you pull it out of your pocket and start snapping away.

It helps that it starts at $499, proving its value when put into anyone’s hands. Not every affordable or mid-range phone feels like a dependable point-and-shoot camera in varying circumstances, yet the Pixel 8a often produces reliable results without much effort. Budget-conscious mobile photographers may find the mix of price and results hard to resist.

Design and Build

By now, Google’s design language should be recognizable. The rear camera strip (or bar, if you prefer) has been around long enough to be an aesthetic trademark for Pixel phones. Anecdotal as it may be, it’s usually a good sign when people know it’s a Pixel device simply because of it. The 8a is less about fashion than function, though I like that Google chose a matte finish in the back, along with rounded corners that feel more practical for one-handed use. Even if the back is made of plastic rather than glass, the phone doesn’t feel cheap.

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The previous Pixel 7a established a benchmark in certain respects, like a 90Hz refresh for the 6.1-inch OLED and a better fingerprint sensor. Not to mention Face Unlock. That trend continues here, this time with a 120Hz refresh rate and the same 2,000 nits brightness of the pricier Pixel 8. It’s a highly reflective pane, though, making it a little more challenging to see what you’re capturing under bright sunlight, even more so if you’re on an angle.

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As always, Google’s budget phone benefits from the sprinkles of its flagships. Not surprisingly, that includes some of the company’s camera and AI software features. Gemini is one of these, and Google’s AI-driven assistant supplants Google Assistant when you download the app and opt-in.

It’s a neat tool, though not always practical. When I asked Gemini how to take better photos with the Pixel 8a, it simply presented a bullet-point list of the phone’s camera features. The only advice that at least offered a semblance of usability was to “avoid harsh overhead (artificial) lights and opt for softer, diffused lighting instead.”

Google’s Tensor G3 processor largely drives these things, putting it along the same lines as the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. The Pixel 8a has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you want 256GB, obsidian black is your only color option, but that’s already an improvement since that size wasn’t available in the Pixel 7a. The battery gets a modest capacity increase to 4,492mAh and wireless charging, only with a modest increase to 7.5W.

Camera and Software Features

Google opted to keep the same camera module from the Pixel 7a, so you get the same 64-megapixel (26mm equivalent) main camera (f/1.9 aperture) using a Sony IMX787 1/1.73-inch sensor and optical image stabilization. It’s the same story with the 13-megapixel ultra-wide (14mm equivalent). It sports a Sony IMX712 sensor, has a 120° field of view, and an f/2.2 aperture. The 13-megapixel front camera (20mm equivalent) is also the same as before.

A hand holds a smartphone in camera mode, capturing a cityscape with tall buildings against a cloudy sky. The phone screen shows the same cityscape, framed and ready for a photograph. The background consists of a slightly blurred view of the city.

There is no telephoto lens here, so the only alternative is a 2x Super Res Zoom crop of the main camera. As before, it goes up to 8x, but it is a digital zoom that often produces subpar results.

Despite that, it seems like every time an A-series phone launches, the gap between the latest model and existing Pixel flagships closes. The Pixel 8 Pro sports better computation, leading to superior low-light results, but color reproduction doesn’t show dramatic differences.

The AI imaging tools also apply when you want them. Magic Eraser is the main stalwart, with Best Take, Portrait Light, and Unblur also readily available. This is also the first A series phone to have Magic Editor access, which extends the AI help by either removing someone or something from the image or stylizing it somehow. Even for video, Audio Magic Eraser can clean up unwanted background noise.

A modern staircase with wooden steps and warm, golden lighting that creates an optical illusion of multiple reflections. Two escalators are visible on either side of the stairs, framed by mirrors, enhancing the reflective effect. Central signboard instructions are visible.

The more I use the latest Pixel phones to take photos, the more I wish Google never relegated the highlights/shadows and color temperature sliders to a separate menu in the bottom corner. While I recognize they used to take up valuable screen real estate, it’s not as easy to make quick changes between them now as it used to be. There are no manual controls like those in the 8 Pro, though you get all the same shooting modes in the 8a, with Action Pan being the only omission on the photo side and Cinematic Blur on the video side.

Image Quality

Main camera

It’s a 64-megapixel sensor, but you won’t be able to capture anything at full resolution. Pixel binning limits you to 16-megapixel images, either in JPEG or RAW. Under those auspices, the Pixel 8a leans more heavily on Google’s image processing to produce good results. This phone is very attuned for those who want a point-and-shoot they can rely on, though the available adjustments in the settings are well worth utilizing. It’s not expected to see a dynamic range this expansive on a $499 phone.

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Google lets you adjust exposure time in Night Sight, which is especially good if the phone is stationary. It will also pop up in the regular Photo mode, and if you tap the sliders in the lower right, you can manually configure exposure time. Not that you’ll need to all the time, though, because Pixel phones’ reputation for rendering low-light and night shots isn’t to be underestimated.

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Google’s learning how to do it right, continuing the improvements I’ve seen since the zealous sharpening and dynamic range sometimes applied to images in the past. The Pixel 7a took an excellent step forward in remedying that, and the 8a falls right in line.

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Portrait mode feels like a rerun of the mode in the 7a, right down to using the 2x crop to create a shallower depth of field to compensate for the lack of a telephoto lens.

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Since this was a fixed-focus lens in the previous model, it remains one here as well. That negates any macro photography, but at the same time, it may be addition by subtraction. The ultra-wide can’t produce the kind of detail the main lens does, which is all the more evident when you pinch to zoom in to get a closer look. Low-light shots aren’t bad, but the best results come when the subject is reasonably well-lit. Decent light really helps the dynamic range pop with vibrant color. However, the further away the subject or the light source, the worse the image appears.

A dimly lit room with several large cylindrical metal smokers positioned in rows along the floor and by the wall. The room has a tiled wall on one side and multiple windows on the other, letting in some natural light. There is a bucket in the foreground.

All in all, there are no significant surprises other than the additional AI editing tools. If you’re capturing a structure or a tourist landmark with people in it, Google’s Magic Eraser and Magic Editor are pretty good at removing them non-destructively. Best Take also works if you use the lens to capture group photos and want to replace a stray glance or closed eyes.

Video Features

Video recording largely follows the same path as the Pixel 7a. You can record in 4K at 60fps with the main lens or 30fps with the ultra-wide. You can also do 1080p at 60fps or 30fps with either lens. Just bear in mind there’s a noticeable quality gap between the two lenses when it comes to low-light video recording. The main one does a nice job, whereas the ultra-wide produces bland and relatively noisy footage.

As I suggested with the Pixel 7a, you may need to play around with exposure to get the kind of look you want since there aren’t any special features to use. Cinematic Pan is there if you want additional stabilization when capturing a moving scene, while Speech Enhancement works with all of the phone’s cameras to help amplify voice clarity.

Still Best in Class

The Pixel 8a doesn’t have everything, which is by design. It’s a mid-range phone that undercuts competitors on price yet delivers results that cut above them. The A series earns its reputation for value simply because it does simple photography so well. I would prefer more manual controls, but I also recognize that I’m not the type of person this phone is for. Google throws in just enough of the software and features from its flagships to make the Pixel 8a feel like part of the family.

A dimly lit street at night with a neon-lit sign that reads "OYSTER BAR" and "SEA FOOD" in bright red. The reflections of the lights glimmer on the wet pavement, and there are cars and buildings visible in the background, under a cloudy sky.

Mind you, most of the competition in North America in the same price range comes from brands like Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and OnePlus. Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to find a phone from those brands that always take photos at the same level. On the other hand, Chinese brands are generous with features in even their most affordable models.

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Are There Alternatives?

The Samsung Galaxy A55 is available in markets outside North America, while the Galaxy A35 is easier to find on these shores. The latter starts at $100 less than the Pixel 8a but also only gives you 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Still, you get to shoot at full resolution with the 50-megapixel main sensor, and there’s a dedicated macro lens.

A bustling city street during late afternoon, with tall buildings on both sides. People are walking across the intersection, and various vehicles, including yellow taxis, fill the road. The sky is visible in the distance, casting a soft light over the scene.

The OnePlus 12R comes at the same price as the Pixel 8a, and while it lacks the Hasselblad collaboration of its flagship sibling, it’s still a competent shooter. The same goes for the Vivo V30, which offers more RAM and storage by default, plus a broader feature set for the camera despite Zeiss not being part of the equation (it is for the V30 Pro). It also has the Aura Light in the rear that is handy for portraits.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, especially if you’re not fussy about mobile photography features or settings. Google doesn’t offer many of them, but its AI editing tools are excellent, and so is the price you pay for the Pixel 8a.