Which almost reasonably priced advanced smartphone will best suit your needs for years to come — the Google Pixel 6a, just announced which it announced at its Google I/O 2022 event and available in July, or Apple’s brand new iPhone SE, the third incarnation of the compact budget handset, released in March?
It’s a squeaker.
Based on our hands-on experience with the iPhone — which our review labeled “the best budget phone you can buy” — and the raw specs just announced for the Pixel 6a, we compare key categories to determine a preliminary winning phone. Our judgment does not take into account an inherent preference for iOS or Android, or even a preference for a smaller phone, both of which will heavily influence buyers.
|Google Pixel 6a||iPhone SE (2022)|
|Size||152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm (6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 inches)||138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches)|
|Weight||178 grams (6.3 ounces)||144 grams (5.08 ounces)|
|Screen size||6.1-inch Corning Gorilla Glass 3||4.7-inch Liquid Retina|
|Screen resolution||1080 x 2400 pixels (429 pixels per inch)||1334 x 750 pixels (326 pixels per inch)|
|Operating system||Android 12||iOS 15|
|Storage||128 GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB|
|MicroSD card slot||No||No|
|Tap-to-pay services||Google Pay||Apple Pay|
|Processor||Google Tensor||A15 Bionic|
|Camera||12.2-megapixel dual pixel wide rear, 8MP front||12MP wide rear, 7MP front|
|Video||4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps|
4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps
|Fingerprint sensor||Yes, under-display sensor||Yes, front-mounted (Home button)|
18W fast charging
20W fast charging
Wireless charging (Qi)
|App marketplace||Google Play Store||Apple App Store|
|Network support||Major U.S. carriers||Major U.S. carriers|
|Colors||Sage, Chalk, Charcoal||Midnight, Starlight, Product Red|
|Review score||News||3.5 out of 5 stars|
Design, display, and durability
The newest iPhone SE looks the same as the one before it and the one before that — actually, the same as the 2017 iPhone 8. With its relatively thick screen bezels and TouchID home button, it’s got that oldie but goodie look. Its small 4.7-inch LCD panel lacks the inky black contrast and brilliant hues delivered by newer OLED screens. The 60Hz refresh rate is standard on the iPhone 13 Pro flagship. Google’s brand new phone is about on par with Apple for this spec.
In other ways, though, the Google Pixel 6a shrieks modern phone, like its flagship sibling, the Pixel 6. With smooth updated two-toned lines and a camera bar that spans the rear panel of its durable metal frame, it’s got a neat streamlined look. The screen, which is 6.1-inches, is distinctly larger than the iPhone SE.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a
Performance, battery life, and charging
With an A15 Bionic chip, the iPhone SE leaves a heap of Android phones in the dust. The A15 Bionic CPU (with a six-core CPU and a four-core GPU) is comparable to the flagship iPhone 13, in other words, a benchmark trouncing beast running Apple’s latest iOS. It plays demanding games smoothly and touts impressive longevity and Apple’s long-term software support. The Pixel 6a chipset is the Google Tensor, the same as the Pixel 6 Pro flagship (with an 8-core chip and a 20-core GPU) — so these two phones are bound to slug it out.
The iPhone SE 2022 gets nearly a full day of use before its battery conks out. Google says the Pixel 6a has staying power because its adaptive battery prioritizes important apps, which propels it over the 24-hour mark. Moreover, just a few minutes of charging reaps hours of power, says Google, but there’s no way to verify or compare it to the iPhone at the moment.
Let’s not overlook the iPhone SE 2022 charges at 20W, faster than the Pixel 6a’s 18W speed. The Pixel 6a has no wireless charging while the iPhone SE 2022 features 7.5W wireless charging support. Moreover, we have noticed the Pixel 6’s battery life is bad, and the Tensor processor could be to blame — While we have yet to prove this case, right now, our money is still on the iPhone.
Winner: Apple iPhone SE 2022
If you buy your smartphone mainly for its tricked-out camera, neither of these phones would justify that purchase. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get great snaps from both of them. The iPhone SE 2022 has a single 12-megapixel sensor, and with the help of Apple’s A15 Bionic chip image signal processor, it produces outstanding images, daylight shots, smart HDR, Deep Fusion, computational photography, photographic styles, and low-light video recording. Absent a dedicated night mode, the iPhone SE can struggle with darker shooting environments.
The Google Pixel 6a has two sensors — wide and ultrawide — and touts some expert photography features including a dedicated Night Mode, Real Tone for authentic skin tones, and Magic Eraser to excise extraneous objects or people from your images. This is a winning combination for us.
Winner: Google Pixel 6a
Software and updates
The iPhone SE 2022 ships with iOS 15, while the Pixel 6a launches with Android 12. Both phones will be easy to upgrade to their respective new OS versions later this year. Apple is famous for its multi-year support for older hardware. Google pledges that the Pixel 6a will get five years of security updates, but the company has not been specific about operating system updates yet. Taking a cue from the Pixel 6, we foresee at least three Android updates to the 6a from Google. When we lay hands on Google’s Pixel 6a, we’ll see for ourselves what Tensor can do, but for now, we give the nod to the iPhone.
Winner: iPhone SE 2022
Is 5G considered a special feature these days? If so, rest assured that you’ll get high-speed internet on both these phones if you live in a region where 5G is available, though the iPhone SE does not support mmWave-based 5G.
Google’s Tensor chipset is designed with machine learning in mind. Because of that, Pixel 6 phones can use live audio dictation for text messages and advanced call screening. Google is also touting real-time translation that takes place on the device rather than online, thus preserving your privacy. Tensor is also behind the Titan M2 security coprocessor, which boosts Google’s efforts at tighter security.
That said, Apple lives and breathes security and machine learning and AI (the A15 Bionic chip features a 16-core Neural Engine paired with a 4-core GPU, and 6-core GPU), so forgive us for punting on this category.
Price and availability
Both phones are marketed as cheaper options positioned against the companies’ respective flagships, with the iPhone SE 2022 priced at $429 and the Pixel 6a priced at $449. This is a marginal and insignificant difference, except when you consider that the iPhone price is for a 64GB storage phone, while the Google price is for 128GB.
The iPhone SE 2022 is currently universally available, though you’ll have to cool your jets until July 21 when the Pixel 6a will be available for pre-order, and July 28 when it ships.
Overall winner: Google Pixel 6a
The Google Pixel 6a is a promising addition to the budget phone lineup. It has a modern, updated look and feel, an attractive sophisticated design, and a somewhat less expensive price tag than the Apple iPhone SE 2022. While we have no solid proof of superior performance or battery life, the specs tell the story of major improvements to the low-end Pixel range.
Already, superior camera specs and low light excellence give the Pixel 6a’s camera system an edge despite Apple’s superlative image processing. Its battery spec outguns Apple’s but until we test it ourselves, the spec is an advantage only on paper. Because we are comparing specs, the overall winner comes down to which phone has the best look, the best picture-taking potential, and the longest battery life. For that, we’ll place odds on the Google Pixel 6a — for now.