Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE: The Best Phone Under $500 | PCMag

2022-05-28 10:46:01 By : Ms. Rayna Wang

The Pixel 6a looks to be a solid Android equivalent of the entry-level iPhone SE. The prices for the two are similar, but can Google compete with Apple's low-cost phone? Let's stack up the specs to find out.

Google hasn't completely opened the curtain on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro yet, but it did just upgrade its more affordable smartphone selection with the Pixel 6a. The latest Pixel model has a Tensor processor, an OLED screen, and multiple cameras, and it starts at $449. That price makes it ripe for comparison with Apple's iPhone SE, which starts at $429.

The Pixel 6a doesn't come out until July 28 and we won't have a definitive verdict until we fully test it, but for now we can compare specs to help you decide which phone is a better fit for you.

The Pixel 6a is decidedly Pixel 6-like in size, while the SE in iPhone SE could stand for "Small Edition." At 6.0 by 2.8 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 6.3 ounces, the Pixel easily eclipses the iPhone SE's puny 5.5-by-2.7-by-0.3-inch, 5.1-ounce frame (then again, some people prefer small phones).

Size isn't the only design difference. With a nearly edge-to-edge screen featuring a hidden fingerprint sensor and a striking black band holding a two-lens camera stack on the back, the Pixel 6a is visually much more in line with its pricier siblings than the iPhone SE is. Apple's budget-friendly phone looks less sleek and more cramped than the iPhone 13 (or even the iPhone 11), with a chunky frame around its screen. Simply put, the iPhone SE looks dated.

You can take both phones anywhere, at least. Happily, both the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE are waterproof and resistant to dust, with IP67 ratings. They can survive getting gunked up and washed off without issue.

A bigger phone means a bigger screen, and the Pixel 6a sports a 6.1-inch OLED touch screen with 2,400-by-1,080 pixels, for 429 pixels per inch. The iPhone SE's Retina HD LCD is much more modest, measuring in 4.7 inches with a 1,334-by-750-pixel resolution, for 326 pixels per inch.

Both claim high contrast levels and wide colors, but we'll have to compare them with our own eyes. By the numbers, though, it looks like the Pixel 6a's screen is significantly sharper.

Neither Apple nor Google skimp on power for their most affordable phones, with both the iPhone SE and the Pixel 6a featuring the same processors as their pricier counterparts. The iPhone SE has an A15 Bionic chip just like the iPhone 13, and the Pixel 6a has a Google Tensor chip like the Pixel 6.

For sheer speed based on benchmark scores, Apple likely has the edge. We haven't yet tested the Pixel 6a, but the Pixel 6's Geekbench 5 numbers already lag a fair bit behind the iPhone SE's, and we doubt the 6a will do much better. Of course, benchmarks aren't everything, and both the Pixel 6 and the iPhone SE handle day-to-day performance and mobile gaming with aplomb. It might come down to the perceived smoothness of the experience more than any hard numbers between the two phones.

Cameras are some of the most popular parts for phone manufacturers to skimp on when making budget models, because excellent lenses and sensors can get very pricey. Neither the Pixel 6a nor the iPhone SE have cameras as advanced as their higher-end siblings, but on paper, at least the Pixel makes an admirable attempt.

Google's affordable phone retains a rear dual-camera stack with an f/1.7 standard lens and an f/2.2 ultrawide lens, both with 12MP sensors. The iPhone SE has a single 12MP f/1.8 rear-facing camera, with no wide-angle option. Neither phones are as ambitious as the Pixel 6 or the iPhone 13 for camera range and resolution, but the Pixel 6a seems to have an edge.

For front-facing cameras, both affordable phones are decidedly mediocre. The Pixel 6a has a basic f/2.0 8MP selfie camera, while the iPhone SE has an f/2.2 7MP sensor. You can capture 1080p video at 30fps with either camera, but they won't do anything fancy, and neither has face detection for unlocking the phone.

Both Apple and Google have learned to fully equip their phones for optimal networking. Both handsets support sub-6GHz 5G with bands n1/2/3/5/7/8/12/20/25/28/30/38/40/41/48/66/71/78. The iPhone SE also picks up the stray n29 and n79 bands (one is an obscure band and the other isn't used in the United States), which is a poor trade-off for completely lacking millimeter-wave 5G support. The Pixel 6a has a millimeter-wave model with n260 and n261 bands, but you have to make sure you get that specific version of the phone. Both also run the full span of LTE and GSM, for slower connections.

For local wireless connectivity, both the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE support Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2x2 MIMO and Bluetooth 5.0. The Pixel 6a is a little more advanced with 6GHz Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2, so if you want to use the newest routers for your home network or stay on the cutting edge for low-energy Bluetooth devices, you might want to go with the Pixel.

Currently, Google has only announced one price and capacity for the Pixel 6a, with 128GB of storage for $449. Pixel phones usually have slightly fewer options than iPhones (the Pixel 6 only has 128GB and 256GB versions), but the selection might change once carriers announce their plans.

Meanwhile, the iPhone SE starts at 64GB for $429, moves up to Pixel-parity at 128GB for $479, and has a 256GB model for $579.

On paper, the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE look to be fairly evenly stacked up. We can't say which one is better for certain until we get a Pixel in for testing, but there is one clear loser in this equation: the 3.5mm headphone jack.

This is less of a contrast between the two phones and more about Google catching up to an unfortunate trend, but the Pixel 6a, like the iPhone SE, lacks a headphone jack. It'll be missed.

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I’ve been PCMag’s home entertainment expert for over 10 years, covering both TVs and everything you might want to connect to them. I’ve reviewed more than a thousand different consumer electronics products including headphones, speakers, TVs, and every major game system and VR headset of the last decade. I’m an ISF-certified TV calibrator and a THX-certified home theater professional, and I’m here to help you understand 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and even 8K (and to reassure you that you don’t need to worry about 8K at all for at least a few more years).

Home theater technology (TVs, media streamers, and soundbars)

Smart speakers and smart displays

I test TVs with a Klein K-80 colorimeter, a Murideo SIX-G signal generator, a HDFury Diva 4K HDMI matrix, and Portrait Displays’ Calman software. That’s a lot of complicated equipment specifically for screens, but that doesn’t cover what I run on a daily basis.

I use an Asus ROG Zephyr 14 gaming laptop as my primary system for both work and PC gaming (and both, when I review gaming headsets and controllers), along with an aging Samsung Notebook 7 as my portable writing station. I keep the Asus laptop in my home office, with a Das Keyboard 4S and an LG ultrawide monitor attached to it. The Samsung laptop stays in my bag, along with a Keychron K8 mechanical keyboard, because I’m the sort of person who will sit down in a coffee shop and bust out not only a laptop, but a separate keyboard. Mechanical just feels better.

For my own home theater, I have a modest but bright and accurate TCL 55R635 TV and a Roku Streambar Pro; bigger and louder would usually be better, but not in a Brooklyn apartment. I keep a Nintendo Switch dock connected to it, along with a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X so I can test any peripheral that comes out no matter what system it’s for. I also have a Chromecast With Google TV for general content streaming.

As for mobile gear, I’m surprisingly phone-ambivalent and have swapped between iPhones and Pixels from generation to generation. I favor the iPhone for general snapshots when I need to take pictures of products or cover events, but I also have a Sony Alpha A6000 camera for when I feel like photo walking. is a leading authority on technology, delivering lab-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.

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