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This article was published on November 24, 2021

The Pixel 6 just launched, but Pixel 6a leaks already look great

Everything we know about the Pixel 6a so far

The Pixel 6 just launched, but Pixel 6a leaks already look great
Napier Lopez
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Napier Lopez

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Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro may have just launched — heck even the Pixel 5a only arrived in August — but rumors and leaks about the Pixel 6a are already making the rounds. Based on what we (think we) know so far, the Pixel 6a is shaping up to be a very attractive budget phone. Here’s what we know about it so far.

It’ll look a whole lot like the Pixel 6

The Pixel 6 broke away from the design of previous pixels and the Pixel 6a looks to follow the new design language.

Renders by leaker OnLeaks and 91Mobiles show a device that at a glance looks a whole lot like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, what with the giant camera bar replacing the previous camera squircle. The renders also show two camera lenses and a flash, as well as a hole cut out for the selfie camera.

Google Pixel 6a render mockup
Credit: OnLeaks and 91Mobiles

The Pixel 6a is expected to measure 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.7 mm, making it significantly smaller than the beefy Pixel 6 (158.6 x 74.8 x 8.90 mm) and Pixel 6 Pro (163.90 x 75.90 x 8.90mm). It’s also a little smaller than the Pixel 5a was, approaching the relatively minuscule Pixel 5. That’s welcome news for those who prefer smaller phones.

It’s an overall improved design direction if you ask me; Google is finally developing a hardware design language that feels distinctly unique, as opposed to a mishmash of the aesthetic of other manufacturers. I just hope the company brings back the fabric cases.

It’ll (probably) have an under-display fingerprint sensor

Based on this render, it would be hard to tell it from the regular Pixel 6 (the Pixel 6 Pro has rounded edges). And despite being a budget phone, there appears to be no external fingerprint sensor, so it seems Google will opt for another under-the-display module.

Google Pixel 6a render mockup
Credit: OnLeaks and 91Mobiles

That might not be so great, considering the fingerprint sensor is arguably the worst thing about the Pixel 6 — it’s annoyingly slow and unreliable, although a recent update has improved things to a degree.

I suppose it’s possible the Pixel 6 could have a fingerprint sensor mounted in the power button, but said button appears too small in the renders for that to be likely.

It won’t have a headphone jack

Sorry folks who love their wired headphones, the renders don’t show a headphone jack on the Pixel 6a. If the rumor pans out, that’s a little ironic, considering Google made an excellent ad literally just about the headphone jack on the Pixel 5a.

But it’s not exactly surprising either; if Google had really thought the headphone jack was ready to make a comeback, there would have been one on the Pixel 6.

In the meantime, the Pixel Buds A-Series are excellent. Who knows, maybe Google will even have new earbuds to announce come launch time.

It’ll be powered by Google Tensor

The refreshed aesthetic isn’t much of a surprise, but one question mark I’ve had since the Pixel 6’s launch is whether Google would opt to use its fancy new Tensor processor. Previous A-series models have often used significantly weaker chips than their flagship counterparts (the Pixel 5a is a weird exception, as the Pixel 5 opted for a midrange processor).

Luckily, that appears to not be the case. According to some code-hunting done by 9to5Google, the Pixel 5a — codenamed Bluejay — will use the same Google Tensor chip as on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

It doesn’t appear to be a weaker version of the processor either; as it used the same GS101 model number. It’s possible the phone might be limited by thermals or software compared to the more expensive models, but it bodes well for the device’s overall performance and long-term support.

I also think it bodes well for Google’s overall phone strategy. The company would be adopting a model more akin to Apple, in which all its phones have its latest and greatest chip.

While the GS101 will likely be a little outdated by the time the Pixel 6a launches, it’s also not quite like any other processor on the market, and the primary benefits will come from the tight integration between hardware and software Google can now afford.

It’ll use the same primary camera as the Pixel 5a… and the Pixels 5, 4, 4a, 4a 5G, and 3

Somebody at Google must really like the Sony IMX363 sensor because it’s used that module as the primary camera for every single Pixel phone from the Pixel 3 to the Pixel 5a.

Just when we thought we were done with it, Google appears to be bringing it back for the 6a. The 12-megapixel sensor has served Google well. Despite the Pixel 6’s leap in raw camera power, the fact that the Pixel 5a can hold up so well is a testament to just how optimized Google’s camera software is.

In fact, the maybe-canceled-maybe-not Pixel Fold was also expected to use the same sensor, so we’ve definitely not seen the last of Google’s favorite camera.

Pixel 5 vs Pixel 6 sensor size comparison
The Pixel 6a should have the same sensor as the Pixel 5, which is much smaller than the Pixel 6’s. Still, Google’s processing chops mean it should hold up nicely.

It’s also worth noting the company has already invested much time and money into optimizing for this particular sensor. Given most camera improvements happen via software these days, you could even argue it’s a good thing that Google is continuing to refine a tried and trusted sensor, at least where budget is a concern. Google Tensor can then do the heavy lifting on the processing side.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that this sensor likely gets cheaper by the year.

All that being said, the ultrawide (12-megapixel IMX386) and selfie cameras (8-megapixel IMX355) appear to be the same as on the Pixel 6.

We don’t know when it’ll launch

While we’ve learned a lot about the phone’s hardware capabilities already, there’s no concrete indication of when the phone might launch. The Pixel 3a launched in May of 2019, the 4a launched in August of 2020, the 4a 5G launched in November 2020, and the 5a arrived in August of this year.

If I had to bet, I’d guess Google would try to launch the 6a in the spring; the late launches of the more recent models were likely a result of the pandemic, and it makes sense for Google to keep. It’s also unusually early for these kinds of leaks to show up, which makes me think the 6a is well along in its development.

Then again, the pandemic has meant companies’ release dates are as unreliable forced many companies to shift their timelines, so who knows how long the device has actually been in the works.

In any case, the Pixel 6a is shaping up to be a mighty interesting phone for those who don’t need the absolute best hardware. If you aren’t committed to upgrading your phone soon, it might well be worth waiting to see what Google has in store next year.

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