Google Pixel 7a smartphone review: Stuck in the middle with you

The Google Pixel 7a packs advanced features and high-end tech behind a 6.1-inch display and a relatively affordable price.
The Google Pixel 7a is placed on a shelf against some potted plants.
Abby Ferguson

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The Google Pixel lineup has long been an impressive range of smartphones. The cameras on the Pixel phones typically rival or surpass the Apple iPhone offerings, and Google has frequently led the way with impressive features and tools on these phones. The Pixel 7 series is no different, with three phones in the mix: The Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, and Pixel 7a.

The 7a falls at the entry point to the lineup, with the smallest display and lowest price ($499). That doesn’t mean that Google skimped on features and specs, however. The phone borrows tech from its big siblings and offers the best camera of any mid-range phone available. Google sent me the 7a in Charcoal to test out for a few months, and overall, I was quite very happy with this phone.

Google Pixel 7a

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Overview

  • The base price of $499 is relatively affordable compared to other phones.
  • It features a 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display with adaptive brightness and 90Hz refresh rate.
  • Its powerful Google Tensor G2 chip is also in the more expensive Pixel 7 and 7 Pro phones.
  • The 64MP primary camera, 13MP ultra-wide camera, and 13MP selfie cameras offer plenty of quality, especially with Google’s advanced built-in editing tools.

Pros

  • Available in four unique colors
  • Wireless charging compatible
  • Very capable camera
  • Handy AI-based editing tools
  • Good screen quality with a responsive touchscreen 
  • Google provides frequent software updates
  • Water-resistant

Cons

  • Slippery to hold without a case
  • Battery life is so-so and won’t last all day if you are using it a lot
  • Coral color is only available through Google

Verdict

The Google Pixel 7a is a mid-range phone with a more affordable price than the Pixel 7 Pro or Pixel 7. Despite that, it features many advanced features found in those phones, including a powerful Tensor G2 chip and lots of AI-based enhancements to photos, calls, and general use. It lacks battery life and durability but still has much to offer. 

The side of the Google Pixel 7a
The Pixel 7a is beautifully designed. Abby Ferguson

Google Pixel 7a design, build, & durability

Google Pixel phones are well-known for their slick design, and that tradition continues with the Pixel 7a. It measures 6 by 2.8 by 0.4 inches and weighs 6.8 ounces, barely bigger than the 6a. It also looks nearly identical to the Pixel 6a, with a high-gloss plastic back and aluminum edges. Unlike the 6a, however, the aluminum frame on the 7a is now the same color as the back of the phone, resulting in a more seamless look. The frame around the camera bar synonymous with Pixel phones is still there, though it has been upgraded from the plastic found in the 6a to alloy. This piece also matches the color of the phone. 

Durability

Google covered the front of the phone with scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It is an older version of Gorilla Glass, which Corning released in 2013. The other Pixel 7 phones get the newest version—Gorilla Glass Victus—which is much stronger and more durable. Seeing such an old version on this new phone is somewhat disappointing, but it likely helps keep the cost down. We’d definitely recommend getting a screen protector (as we would with any phone) since it is relatively easy to scratch despite the scratch-resistant claim. I’m pretty careful with my phone, but it got some scratches just by being in my purse. 

For even more protection, Google built the phone with an IP67 rating. That means it can handle dust and submersion in three feet of water for 30 minutes. The Pixel 7 offers an IP68 rating, so you don’t get quite as much protection in the more affordable model. 

Google Pixel 7a on a white shelf
The display on the Google Pixel 7a is plenty bright and vibrant. Abby Ferguson

Display

The Pixel 7a features a 6.1-inch 1080p OLED display, the smallest Pixel phone available unless you count the Pixel Fold’s 5.8-inch screen when it’s folded down. The Pixel 7 offers a slightly larger 6.3-inch display, but both provide the same 1080 by 2040 resolution. That means the 7a offers a higher pixel density of 429 PPI than the larger phone. 

The OLED display is capable of a 90Hz refresh rate, though it is set to 60Hz by default. You’ll need to go into the Display settings and toggle on Smooth Display to take advantage of that higher refresh rate. It will use more battery, but it may be worth it if you are streaming a lot of content or playing games. 

Interestingly, Google doesn’t offer up the brightness of the 7a other than saying it features “high brightness mode.” Regardless, I haven’t had any issues seeing the screen, even when looking at the phone in the bright Florida sunshine. Google built the phone with adaptive brightness, which is enabled by default. The transition when moving from bright to dark areas is very smooth, with little lag. And if you make manual adjustments, the phone offers a machine-learning algorithm to remember your preferences after a few days. 

Handling

Even though the display is the same size as the Samsung Galaxy S23, the Galaxy is slightly smaller. The Galaxy S23 is also easier to hold than the Pixel 7a. While the rounded edges of the Pixel phone look nice, they make it very slick to handle without a case. It frequently slips out of my hand while casually using the phone on the couch. However, most will probably have the phone in a case, so that may be a non-issue for many. But, even though it is barely bigger, the Pixel 7a isn’t as comfortable or easy to hold as my Galaxy S23. 

Performance

Google built the Pixel 7a around its Tensor G2 chip, found in both of the more expensive versions of the Pixel 7. The 7a also provides 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage (which is the only option). The 6a only features 6GB RAM, so this is a slight upgrade. In terms of OS, it comes loaded with Android 13. 

The phone’s guts allow for snappy, smooth, and responsive performance. I’m not gaming on my phone (beyond playing Two Dots on occasion), and I don’t stream content beyond Instagram videos and the occasional YouTube tutorial, so I can’t speak to those demanding use cases. However, I never experienced any lagging or delays when opening apps or taking photos. The videos I watched were seamless and smooth, even with the lower 60Hz refresh rate. 

The phone did get rather hot when I was using power-hungry apps, as well as when charging the phone. It was never uncomfortable, and I never had any performance issues. But it did surprise me how warm it got—possibly the result of changing the CPU housing to cut costs. 

Google Pixel 7a battery life

The Pixel 7a uses a 4,385mAh battery. That’s slightly larger than the Pixel 7 (4355 mAh) but, unexpectedly, smaller than the 7 Pro (5000 mAh). It is fast charging and wireless charging compatible (which is a first for Pixel’s A line of phones), both of which add convenience. The wireless charging process is slow, however. It charges at 7.5 watts compared to the 20 watts available with the Pixel 7. When plugged in, you’ll get 18 watts. That’s lower than the Samsung Galaxy S23’s 25-watt fast charging and the Pixel 7’s 20 watts. But it can still charge up in roughly 1.5 hours, with a decent battery top-off in as little as 30 minutes.

Google claims the battery can last beyond 24 hours and offers up to 72 hours in Extreme Battery Saver mode. That said, battery life is very situationally dependent. Your particular settings and phone use can drastically change battery life. However, I was less than impressed by the battery life of the Pixel 7a.

I typically use my phone for roughly three hours daily, mostly casual social media use, web browsing, or Duolingo lessons. As mentioned, I don’t play serious games on my phone and don’t stream much content, but I have adaptive brightness turned on, and for most of my testing, I did not have Smooth Display mode on. Even with that relatively modest usage, my battery was almost always nearly dead by the end of the day. With even slightly heavier use, I would need to top off the battery during the day. 

One odd thing that I noticed was that certain apps drain the battery more substantially on the Pixel 7a than on my Samsung Galaxy S23. The biggest culprit was the USAA SafePilot app, which wrecked my battery life. Even on days when I was hardly using the phone, my battery was done by afternoon. That’s far from ideal, especially when I was out and about. 

The camera on the Google Pixel 7a
The Pixel 7a lacks a telephoto camera, but it makes up for that in the quality of the main camera and ultra-wide camera. Abby Ferguson

Google Pixel 7a camera

Google Pixel phones have always been celebrated for their cameras. It’s one of the main selling points of these particular mobile devices. And the 7a lives up to that hype, offering the best camera you can find on a phone of this price. It even tops its more expensive siblings regarding megapixel count, albeit it falls behind in sensor size. 

There are three cameras on the 7a: A 64MP main camera with optical image stabilization, a 13MP ultra-wide camera, and a 13MP selfie camera. These offer an 80-degree, 120-degree, and 95-degree field of view, respectively. If you want a dedicated telephoto camera, you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version, which offers a 48MP telephoto camera. The 7a provides a Super Res Zoom, a digital zoom with up to 8x magnification. 

A photo taken from the window of a small airplane under the wing with an airfield and ocean in the distance.
The Pixel 7a does a nice job of producing natural-looking photos without too much saturation or sharpening. Abby Ferguson

Photo results

Simply put, the photos from the Pixel 7a are reliably good in most scenarios. Images are well exposed in good light with just enough contrast and saturation. They don’t look overly processed or sharpened, as is wont to happen on smartphones. They just look good and natural. Even photos of high-contrast scenes look nice without too much of an HDR look to them. Low-light images are overall excellent, though portraits in dim conditions tend to lack sharpness. 

A black cat sits on a window seat
The phone adjusted exposure for my cat automatically. And the HDR result from this high-contrast scene isn’t too absurd. Abby Ferguson

The autoexposure does really well, but you can also adjust brightness while shooting if you want a different look from what the camera provides. The camera managed shutter speed well, giving me blur-free results of moving subjects in most scenarios with even decent light. Of course, there were times that wasn’t the case, but the phone offers an Unblur tool in the editing menu that can help. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is a nice tool. 

Where the camera lacks is, unsurprisingly, in the telephoto realm. Though digital zoom has improved in recent years, it is no substitute for a dedicated telephoto lens. The 2x zoom (one of the focal lengths you can quickly select) on the main camera does alright, with only moderate signs of the noise and oversharpening typical with digital zoom. Any more than that, however, and the quality goes down substantially. The 2x in portrait mode is worse than the basic camera mode, with very noticeable noise and over-sharpening. 

A photo of a water fountain in a small pond
This photo was made moderately more exciting using the Long Exposure mode to blur the water of the fountain. Abby Ferguson

More camera modes

Beyond the basic camera and portrait mode, the Pixel 7a also offers a few additional camera modes to help in specific scenarios. Night Sight pulls out more detail in dim lighting conditions. It does so in part by taking a longer exposure, so you’ll need to hold the phone steady. But it does an impressive job of giving you more usable images in dark locations. 

You’ll also have access to Long Exposure mode, which purposefully adds motion blur to images. This mode can be used for creative shots, such as blurred trains, traffic at night, or the currently popular blurry portraits. I used it a few times to blur water from a fountain. While it doesn’t result in as high-quality photos as the standard camera with good light, it is fun to have the option of long exposure blur on a phone. 

Video capabilities

The primary camera of the Pixel 7a is capable of 4K video up to 60p, though that is only possible when using 1x or 2x zoom. If you want the wide-angle lens, it tops out at 30p. Slow motion mode lowers the quality to FHD. Unfortunately, for those looking for an iPhone alternative that offers a similar portrait video mode, that does not exist on the Pixel 7a.

There are multiple types of stabilization to take advantage of. Standard is ideal for light movement, which is what I used throughout most of my testing. It does an excellent job of stabilizing video for most situations. For those times when I was moving a lot, the Active stabilization provided even smoother results, though you can’t use the wide-angle lens with that mode. Locked is ideal for videos without movement at 2x zoom. And Cinematic Pan allows for cinematic panning shots at half speed without sound. 

The video results were very similar to photo quality. Videos were reliably exposed properly with enough saturation, contrast, and sharpness. I did not create cinematic, high-end social media content when testing the phone. Still, I was impressed with the video quality and stabilization for randomly documenting my life. As expected, videos in low-light situations were lower in quality, with some noticeable noise and lack of sharpness. But they are passable for most people’s purposes. 

A before and after image of a wrist with a watch and a dog in the background in one.
While the Magic Eraser certainly works better than past editing tools, it still isn’t perfect by any means. Here, you can clearly see the outline of my dog behind the Garmin epix Pro smartwatch, even though the background is pretty simple. Abby Ferguson

Magic Eraser

I’m sure you’ve seen the Pixel advertisements that show off the Magic Eraser feature. It is sold as being a truly magical tool for removing unwanted items or people from your images. While it does a good job, it’s by no means perfect. And it requires rather specific scenery or backgrounds to get passable results. Now, keep in mind that I am a professional photographer who has spent a lot of time editing items out of images, so my standards and expectations are higher than most. But, I was not as wowed as I expected to be. 

When you open a photo in the editor, navigate to Tools and select Magic Eraser. The phone will process for a second and scan the image in an attempt to detect if there are things you would want removed automatically. It rarely picked up stuff I would have liked it to take out accurately. For example, in one photo of my husband in a kayak on a river, it suggested taking out my husband but leaving the kayak, which would be an odd choice. If it doesn’t find what you want, or you want to manually select, you use a brush to circle or paint in whatever you want removed.

In terms of results, don’t expect perfection. If there’s anything busy in the background, it will be noticeable where it attempted to remove something. Patterns on wood floors or forest floors throw it off, for example. But if the background is simple and mostly empty, it does a pretty good job. Redrawing your selection a few times can yield better results as well. 

At the end of the day, AI still isn’t perfect. It is helpful if you need to remove someone or something in a pinch. But don’t expect a miracle fix by any means. 

The camera display on the Google Pixel 7a
The camera is the star of the show on the Pixel 7a. Abby Ferguson

So, who should buy the Google Pixel 7a?

The Pixel 7a is quite impressive for a mid-range device. Google built the phone with the processing power of its more expensive models, which allows it to keep up with almost anything you may need. That is, of course, if you don’t mind charging it frequently. The display is an ideal size for most. It’s also nicely vibrant with plenty of brightness and responsiveness, which is nice for watching videos or editing photos. Its camera is very capable, producing attractive photos and videos without an overly processed look in most scenarios. 

The 7a doesn’t match the flagship build and fleshed-out features of other Pixel 7 models or higher-end phones from different manufacturers, but we wouldn’t expect that, given the price. If you simply want a phone that works with no fuss or absurdly fancy features, the Google Pixel 7a will tick those boxes.

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Abby Ferguson

PopPhoto Associate Editor of Gear & Reviews

Abby Ferguson is the Associate Editor for Gear and Reviews at PopPhoto, joining the team in 2022. She has been involved with the photography industry in various capacities since her undergraduate training at the University of Kentucky, with work ranging from client photography to program development and management of the photo department at Evolve, a vacation rental company. Education within the photography sphere has always been a big focus for Abby. She strives to help new and experienced photographers alike better understand the technology and techniques necessary to succeed within the medium.