Pixel 7a review - “A great all-rounder, not a gaming specialist”

1 year ago 150

Google has really been getting into its hardware stride in recent years. Starting with the Pixel 6 line in 2021, it has produced half a dozen brilliantly distinctive, blissfully clean Android smartphones.

The Pixel 7a is the latest in this line, and it doesn’t disappoint. For £449 (a slight bump up from the Pixel 6a’s £399) you’re getting a mid-priced phone that could, in many scenarios, pass for a flagship.

But could it also pass for your next mid-range gaming phone? Let’s take a closer look.

Design and Specs

The Pixel 7a looks an awful lot like the Pixel 7, a phone with a £150 higher RRP. It’s a handsome device, with a width-spanning metal camera ‘visor’ giving it a distinctive profile.

The rear panel is made of plastic rather than the Pixel 7’s glass, but it’s hard to tell the difference even up close. It looks and feels great, and it falls on the right side of 200g. One telltale sign that this is a slightly cheaper phone is its slightly thicker display bezels and in particular an extra-thick chin.

The display itself is a strong performer though. It’s a relatively compact 6.1-inch 1080p AMOLED with a nippy 90Hz refresh rate. You can get larger and more responsive for the money, but I found it to be just right, and the vast majority of games don’t kick out 120fps frame rates anyway.

Even more handsome than the phone is its software, a remarkably clean take on Android that will come as a blissful surprise if you’re switching from a non-Google (or Motorola) phone. There are no ugly menus or pointless duplicate apps, just pure Googley goodness.

You also get the benefits of Google’s AI smarts, with features like live transcription, and the Magic Eraser feature that deletes unwanted photo-bombers.

Talking of which, there’s a new camera system onboard here, with a fresh 64MP main sensor that kicks out fabulously bold, contrasty shots, even in pretty low lighting. It really is the best you can get for the money.

Also new to the Pixel 7a is wireless charging, which is the kind of feature you’d expect from a more expensive phone. It’s rather slow to charge, but its inclusion is welcome.

The one weak point here is battery life. The Pixel 7a will get you through a full day of moderate usage, but anything heavier will leave you sweating or even looking for a plug socket. Not ideal for heavy gamers, then.

Gaming experience and performance

One of the cool things about the Pixel 7a is that it runs on exactly the same Tensor G2 chip as the Pixel 7 Pro, which sells for about double the price. This is backed by a solid 8GB of RAM, and a similarly solid 128GB of storage.

The Pixel 7a’s Tensor G2 makes it a very capable performer for the money, though it’s not top-tier. It lags behind the very best that Android has to offer, such as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 found in the Samsung Galaxy S23.

Here on the Pixel 7a, in particular, it also runs a little hot under load. Playing Genshin Impact on High settings and 60fps, I noticed the handset getting quite toasty quite quickly, with frequent stutters. It ran Wreckfest pretty well on higher settings, if not perfectly fluidly, and it again tended to get a little warm.

The Pixel 7a eats less demanding fare like Downwell, Slay the Spire, and Super Mario Run for dinner, of course. If that’s your kind of gaming diet, you’ll have no issues other than the battery life worries.

In CPU and GPU benchmarking terms, the Pixel 7a does well for the money but falls a little short of the Poco F5, which costs the same. This might be the best all-rounder for £449, but it’s not the best gaming phone for the money.

Wrapping up

The Pixel 7a is a fabulous mid-range phone, offering a delightful design, solid performance, blissfully clean software, and the best camera experience for the money. I would recommend it to anyone with less than £500 to spend on a new phone, without hesitation.

However, if you’re talking from a pure mobile gaming perspective, there are better alternatives. At £449, the Pixel 7a is exactly the same price as the Poco F5, another recently launched mid-range smartphone that’s specifically targeted at gamers.

I would take the Pixel 7a over the Poco F5 every day in almost every scenario. It’s a nicer phone to look at and use, thanks to its superior design and way preferable software. It also has a much better camera.

But the Poco F5’s Snapdragon 7 Plus Gen 2 processor is more powerful. It also runs cooler, meaning that it performs better over longer gaming sessions. Meanwhile, it has a bigger and more fluid display and better battery life, both of which benefit the gaming experience.

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