Review Google Pixel 8a hands-on review: Same low cost, smarter AI

May 7, 2024
1
0
10
There's still no Gemini app for the Pixel 8 here in Australia yet here were are with the Pixel 8a.....

The Pixel 8 "premium" experience has been a letdown to this long time Pixel/Nexus user. I feel scammed. It's unlikely my next phone will be a Pixel.
 

ej1

Estimable
Apr 30, 2020
12
1
4,565
In my Google Pixel 8a hands-on review, I'll detail everything that's new about this mid-range phone. From its handful of AI features, to its extended software support, and charming design, the Pixel 8a aims to be one of the best cheap phones around.

Google Pixel 8a hands-on review: Same low cost, smarter AI : Read more
John, Thanks for the review, but please provide a lot more details regarding the battery testing. What Hz did you use when testing the battery? Please see toms guide battery life reporting of the Pixel 8 to see how the reviewer provided multiple battery life data points depending on the screen Hz. Please do the same for the Pixel 8a. (The 7a data also specifies the Hz.)

Also, your article needs to be more objective. I'm surprised that your article did not address the big question of whether to get the Pixel 8 vs the 8a given that the two are so closely priced. (That's not to say that your comparisons of the 7a vs the 8a are not useful; thanks for doing that.)

Please amend/revise your article to address both of the above crucial topics. Thanks
 
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May 19, 2024
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So the battery life is better than the pixel 8 ?
I'm assuming people would like to see you compare this to the 8 to decide if the extra $200 is worth it or if they should just buy the 8a. I would be buying this on contract but I would still like to know if owing $500 is a smarter decision than buying an older device and owing $700
 
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ej1

Estimable
Apr 30, 2020
12
1
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So the battery life is better than the pixel 8 ?
I'm assuming people would like to see you compare this to the 8 to decide if the extra $200 is worth it or if they should just buy the 8a. I would be buying this on contract but I would still like to know if owing $500 is a smarter decision than buying an older device and owing $700
I totally agree with these questions. People cannot compare battery life unless reviewers provide apples to apples data. Tom's guide really should perform the battery testing with the screen on 120 Hz and on 60 Hz to provide multiple data points. Right now, the article does not mention any Hz for the battery data.

I'm also surprised that the review failed to address the question of whether one should spend a little more to get the Pixel 8, which is frequently on sale. (Do not pay $700 for the Pixel 8.) Heck, the Pixel 8 was widely on sale for $500 last month, and that's the same list price for the 8a. Of course, the 8a will probably get discounted too. Hopefully the 8a price will drop a lot. It doesn't make sense for Google to price the two phones so similarly unless Google is trying to kill off the "a" line. That would really stink.

Hopefully, John will amend his review to address both of the above crucial topics.
 

NeonHD

Honorable
Jul 15, 2017
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There's a horrendous typo in this article:

With its 6.1-inch OLED with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,800 pixels
Should obviously be 1080, not 1800.

Surprised it hasn't been fixed yet.

And if I had to nitpick even more, I honestly think the 4.5 star rating is a bit too generous.
 
May 23, 2024
2
0
10
My Pixel 8a just arrived. Upgraded from a three-year old Pixel 4a. For background I'm a software developer (part of the team making a game these past 4 years), former physicist.

First impressions:

- wait, there is no headphones jack? What the Actual F....? I routinely use a wired headset for work calls while travelling, no Bluetooth gimmick can match the sound quality. It's also difficult/impossible to find Bluetooth headphones that keep properly in sync with the audio while watching a movie or TV, there is always at least a slight delay, surely I am not the only person who notices that? Seriously displeased about this. Yes, USB-C to 3.5mm dongles are available but who wants the headphones lead coming out of the bottom of the phone?

- a couple of the apps I use daily, scrolling is less smooth, motion on-screen is now visibly jerky (it's not a question of 60Hz vs 120Hz) - more precisely with in-app browser (a.k.a. Webview) type content (for example scrolling through someone's profile in a dating app, or news in a news app), it is sometimes re-rendering / re-compositing the page quite rapidly as different text and images arrive on or leave the page during the scroll, causing text and images to judder up and down briefly: it's a software issue not a hardware issue, but it does not happen on other devices. Maybe Android's in-built Webview software is not well optimised or tested for these specific screen dimensions

- apart from that in normal operation it seems near identical to previous Pixel devices: it's a phone, with the same apps, after all. Not really seen any wonderful new feature to write home about, so far

- the apps I use regularly seem to take about the same amount of time to initialise and open as they did on the Pixel 4a, I was expecting faster but most seem about the same, it may be the SSD is the limiting factor when opening apps or there is some kind of authentication process going on in the background which takes a similar length of time (I haven't measured it with a stopwatch, will update if I do)

- performance inside the apps is better, most are quicker and smoother at switching screens for example - except for the judder issue in a couple, mentioned above

- battery level drops quite fast over the course of a normal day, feels like it will last 24 hours maximum and will therefore need a full charge at a consistent time every day, in comparison the 4a battery lasted 1.5 days in normal use, even 2 whole days when it was brand new

- further testing of battery performance it depends a lot on use patterns as you would expect, in typical use the phone lasts between 22 hours and 30 hours on a full charge - and I keep it on flight mode (with Wifi on) during the night to conserve battery and I often check apps' settings to reduce background activity. Certain apps drain the battery very rapidly, looking at detailed diagnostics over a 24 hour period the most extreme is the Uber app which has drained 6% of battery, with screen time of 14 minutes and background time 'less than a min'; a stock trading app is similarly bad. Something called Gboard in the background (which turns out to be the standard keyboard) has drained 2% of the battery with 22 hours of background activity, i.e. Gboard is continuously active in the background and the phone has drained from 100% to 0% in the space of 22 hours, it's not obvious why Gboard needs to be active at all when the screen is inactive seems like bad optimisation. I think it really is not acceptable for a new phone to last less than 24 hours on a full charge!

- as the review notes, it needs a long time to charge the battery. In my practical tests it actually needs between 2.5 and 3 hours to do a full charge, if the phone is switched on while charging. Short battery life + long charge time means the phone will have to be plugged in to charge (and therefore only semi-usable) a materially higher proportion of every day. Older phones could be charged to 100% in an hour while I went to the gym or something. Not this one. It needs a strict charging regime, either overnight or plugged in to a computer for the morning while I work, seems like it is designed to be used for 21 hours then charged for 3 hours on a regular daily schedule. Basically for the first time in my life I need to consciously arrange my day around my phone's power needs. Not good

- the combination of slow charging rate and high battery drain from certain apps means it's possible for the phone, even while plugged in to charge, to reach 0% battery and switch itself off if you use an app while it's charging - in other words some apps drain the battery faster than the phone is able to charge. I've never seen that before, fairly shocked!

- it's thicker than a Pixel 4a but still ok to hold in a left hand for short periods and my index finger still reaches the power and volume buttons from behind

- it's very noticeably heavier than a Pixel 4a (193g vs. 143g), surprisingly heavy for its size (in comparison a standard iPhone 15 is 171g, a Pixel 6a is 178g). This makes it tiresome to hold and use for a long time in one hand, or I guess I need to muscle up. HOW IS IT SO HEAVY?

- the case edges are more rounded in all respects than older Pixel phones - more precisely each new update has become more rounded, the 8a is not so different from the 7a and 6a except that the screen corners on the 8a are more rounded - and therefore grip on the phone feels less secure in the hand than older phones I am used to which had a grippable edge, this thing is gonna need a case otherwise inevitably I'm going to drop it at some point in the next few months (the case making it thicker still, really annoying)

- holding the phone in one position for 20 minutes or so (e.g. just now while using WhatsApp to message friends) is noticeably tiring, both because of the weight and because the smooth rounded edges need incrementally more finger grip to hold it; my hand is now aching. (Second test, 15 minutes of catching up with overnight news, left my hand starting to feel numb.) Serious red flag. Did Google test the ergonomics of the Pixel 8a? If so, not very well it would seem...

- camera bar on the back is slightly annoying in-hand, and it means the phone doesn't lie flat on a table (though maybe therefore the back will scratch less)

- the phone is so tall that it doesn't fit comfortably in a standard jeans pocket - it fits in the pocket OK, but then the device is so high that the top edge presses into the anatomy uncomfortably when walking (I'm an average 6 foot tall man). Cycling or crouching with this in a jeans pocket seems high risk. Why does the screen need to be so tall? Medium red flag. (Note, very similar dimensions to a Pixel 7a or a Pixel 6a, those phones must also have this issue)

- something is weird with the keyboard typing, the on-screen letters are kinda small so it's easy to make mistakes with man-sized fingers, the autocorrect is extremely active, but over-zealous, at default settings it sometimes hallucinates short words or abbreviations of 1-2 capital letters, when I am typing normally and I went nowhere near the shift key, e.g. "for this" just became "for RF this". Seems to be a side-effect of slide-to-type, can be improved by reducing 'slide sensitivity' in the Keyboard settings

- this may be an Android 14 thing, but all the icons on the home screen move a few pixels up and down, whenever an app opens or closes (and there's a Windows-style stupid animation for app open/close between the app's icon and some giant magnified version of the app's icon filling half the screen). Really annoying!

- the screen dimensions on the Pixel 8a have the same tall/narrow 20:9 aspect ratio as other recent Pixel phones, quite good for movies in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio but apart from that I don't like it. The weird narrow aspect ratio is especially noticeable in the App Overview screen, where a tall skinny preview of each open app is shown. Why does the screen need to be so tall (see also earlier comment about jeans pocket ergonomics)

- the screen has a thicker bezel than product shots suggest: as well as the slightly thikkk curved edges of the device, "inside" the screen glass there's about 3.5mm of dark black on all 4 sides between the edges of the glass and the active screen display area. (Pixel 4a had similar, but it was less noticeable because the Pixel 4a screen active display was darker)

- the screen when it's off is not pure black, it's a very dark grey

- the screen does not switch off immediately when the device's power button is pressed, there's a half-second fadeout

- the notifications area at the top of the display has been cinched in at the sides to allow for the curvature of the phone up there (look at side-by-side shots of Pixel 8a vs Pixel 7a to understand what I mean about curvature) and there's a gap in the middle to accommodate the front-facing camera; the net result is the notification icons (which are kind of small anyhow, on this mid-size screen) feel bunched up close together; the first notification icon next to the time display is noticeably placed a few pixels too close to the clock digits

- the hyper-irritating and non-removable "At a Glance" bar is still present and still not removable, and is especially annoying as it takes a big chunk of screen real estate on the home screen (fixable by paying for a different launcher) ( View: https://www.reddit.com/r/GooglePixel/comments/wc6yck/how_do_i_remove_the_at_a_glance_date_at_the_top/
)

- one minor note of praise, the phone is quick to detect and hold onto a 5G cell signal, I've not had any data connectivity issues at all. (WiFi detection and retention is also faster than average.)

Not yet tried the latest AI assistant features.

Not yet tried the camera 'in the wild', only a few test shots, I'm hoping that at least the camera is going to be a noticeable improvement, over time. Update: the camera in actual use e.g. some nature photographs over the weekend) produces very detailed clear images; skin tones are good and natural; low light is very good; in landscape and general photographs the color is a bit "off", greens are over-saturated and fractionally too dark, it seems that the phone is doing extra image processing to make the sky appear blue, and this has some side-effects on other colors

Overall, I'm underwhelmed. Some changes since the 4a are definitely for the worse, there are cumulatively enough annoyances that I'm not too happy at all, thinking about returning this or selling it on and having my 4a fully refurbished instead. It seems like Google's main goal here is to catch up in the AI race with Microsoft, OpenAI and Apple, not to make a consumer-friendly device. My advice: if you have an older Pixel phone and it's still working fine, keep going with it for as long as you can. If cost is important, consider buying a used or nearly new Pixel 5a, 6a or 7a instead. Pixel 5a was probably the sweet spot, "peak phone" - it had a good 2-day battery and a proper headphones jack, and obviously it also supports the exact same Android 14 software as a new phone

(My advice to Google if you're reading this: read and digest carefully, it should be obvious every point is valid; in general make it easier for users to give feedback on Android features, all the little things, and listen to that feedback and spend some dev time to implement it; in general be less arrogant as developers you don't always know best)
 
Last edited:

ej1

Estimable
Apr 30, 2020
12
1
4,565
In my Google Pixel 8a hands-on review, I'll detail everything that's new about this mid-range phone. From its handful of AI features, to its extended software support, and charming design, the Pixel 8a aims to be one of the best cheap phones around.

Google Pixel 8a hands-on review: Same low cost, smarter AI : Read more
John, Your review is missing important info. Please respond to my previous posts, or have your editor respond. Otherwise, what is the point of posting your article in the forum? Thanks
 

ej1

Estimable
Apr 30, 2020
12
1
4,565
My Pixel 8a just arrived. Upgraded from a three-year old Pixel 4a. For background I'm a software developer (part of the team making a game these past 4 years), former physicist.

First impressions:

- wait, there is no headphones jack? What the Actual F....? I routinely use a wired headset for work calls while travelling, no Bluetooth gimmick can match the sound quality. Seriously displeased about this. Yes, USB-C to 3.5mm dongles are available but who wants the headphones lead coming out of the bottom of the phone?

- several of the apps I use daily, scrolling is less smooth, motion on-screen is now visibly jerky (it's not a question of 60Hz vs 120Hz) - more precisely with in-app browser (a.k.a. Webview) type content (for example scrolling through someone's profile in a dating app, or news in a news app), it is sometimes re-rendering / re-compositing the page quite rapidly as different text and images arrive on or leave the page during the scroll, causing text and images to judder up and down briefly: it's a software issue not a hardware issue, but it does not happen on other devices. Maybe Android's in-built Webview software is not well optimised or tested for these specific screen dimensions

- apart from that in normal operation it seems near identical to previous Pixel devices: it's a phone, with the same apps, after all. Not really seen any wonderful new feature to write home about, so far

- the apps I use regularly seem to take about the same amount of time to initialise and open as they did on the Pixel 4a, I was expecting faster but if anything some seem a tad slower to open (I haven't measured it with a stopwatch, will update if I do)

- battery level drops quite fast over the course of a normal day, feels like it will last 24 hours maximum and will therefore need a full charge at a consistent time every day, in comparison the 4a battery lasted 1.5 days in normal use, even 2 whole days when it was brand new

- as the review notes, it needs a long time to charge the battery. Short battery life + long charge time means the phone will have to be plugged in to charge (and therefore only semi-usable) a materially higher proportion of every day. Older phones could be charged to 100% in an hour while I went to the gym or something. Not this one. It needs a strict charging regime, either overnight or plugged in to a computer for the morning while I work

- it's thicker than a Pixel 4a but still ok to hold in a left hand for short periods and my index finger still reaches the power and volume buttons from behind

- it's very noticeably heavier than a Pixel 4a (193g vs. 143g), surprisingly heavy for its size (in comparison a standard iPhone 15 is 171g). This makes it tiresome to hold and use for a long time in one hand, or I guess I need to muscle up. HOW IS IT SO HEAVY?

- the case edges are more rounded in all respects than older Pixel phones, and therefore grip on the phone feels less secure in the hand, this thing is gonna need a case (making it thicker still, really annoying)

- holding the phone in one position for 20 minutes or so (e.g. just now while using WhatsApp to message friends) is noticeably tiring, both because of the weight and because the smooth rounded edges need incrementally more finger grip to hold it; my hand is now aching. (Second test, 15 minutes of catching up with overnight news, left my hand starting to feel numb.) Serious red flag. Did Google test the ergonomics of the Pixel 8a? If so, not very well it would seem...

- camera bar on the back is slightly annoying in-hand, and it means the phone doesn't lie flat on a table (though maybe therefore the back will scratch less)

- the phone is so tall that it doesn't fit comfortably in a standard jeans pocket - it fits in the pocket OK, but then the device is so high that the top edge presses into the anatomy uncomfortably when walking (I'm an average 6 foot tall man); cycling or crouching with this in a jeans pocket seems high risk. Why does the screen need to be so tall? Medium red flag.

- something is weird with the keyboard typing, the on-screen letters are kinda small so it's easy to make mistakes with man-sized fingers, the autocorrect is extremely active, but over-zealous, at default settings it sometimes hallucinates short words or abbreviations of 1-2 capital letters, when I am typing normally and I went nowhere near the shift key, e.g. "for this" just became "for RF this". Seems to be a side-effect of slide-to-type, can be improved by reducing 'slide sensitivity' in the Keyboard settings

- this may be an Android 14 thing, but all the icons on the home screen move a few pixels up and down, whenever an app opens or closes (and there's a Windows-style stupid animation for app open/close between the app's icon and some giant magnified version of the app's icon filling half the screen). Really annoying!

- the screen dimensions on the Pixel 8a have the same tall/narrow 20:9 aspect ratio as other recent Pixel phones, quite good for movies in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio but apart from that I don't like it. The weird narrow aspect ratio is especially noticeable in the App Overview screen, where a tall skinny preview of each open app is shown. Why does the screen need to be so tall (see also earlier comment about jeans pocket ergonomics)

- the screen has a thicker bezel than product shots suggest: as well as the slightly thikkk curved edges of the device, "inside" the screen glass there's about 3.5mm of dark black on all 4 sides between the edges of the glass and the active screen display area. (Pixel 4a had similar, but it was less noticeable because the Pixel 4a screen active display was darker)

- the screen when it's off is not pure black, it's a very dark grey

- the screen does not switch off immediately when the device's power button is pressed, there's a half-second fadeout

- the notifications area at the top of the display has been cinched in at the sides to allow for the curvature of the phone up there and there's a gap in the middle to accommodate the front-facing camera; the net result is the notification icons (which are kind of small anyhow, on this mid-size screen) feel bunched up close together; the first notification icon next to the time display is noticeably a few pixels too close to the clock digits

- the hyper-irritating and non-removable "At a Glance" bar is still present and still not removable, and is especially annoying as it takes a big chunk of screen real estate on the home screen (fixable by paying for a different launcher) ( View: https://www.reddit.com/r/GooglePixel/comments/wc6yck/how_do_i_remove_the_at_a_glance_date_at_the_top/
)

- one minor note of praise, the phone is quick to detect and hold onto a 5G cell signal, I've not had any data connectivity issues at all. (WiFi detection and retention is also faster than average.)

Not yet tried the latest AI assistant features.

Not yet tried the camera 'in the wild', only a few test shots, I'm hoping that at least the camera is going to be a noticeable improvement, over time.

Overall, I'm underwhelmed. Some changes since the 4a are definitely for the worse, there are cumulatively enough annoyances that I'm not too happy at all, thinking about returning this or selling it on and having my 4a fully refurbished instead. It seems like Google's main goal here is to catch up in the AI race with Microsoft, OpenAI and Apple, not to make a consumer-friendly device. My advice: if you have an older Pixel phone and it's still working fine, keep going with it for as long as you can. If cost is important, consider buying a used or nearly new Pixel 5a, 6a or 7a instead. Pixel 5a was probably the sweet spot, "peak phone" - it had a good 2-day battery and a proper headphones jack, and obviously it also supports the exact same Android 14 software as a new phone

(My advice to Google if you're reading this: read and digest carefully, it should be obvious every point is valid; in general make it easier for users to give feedback on Android features, all the little things, and listen to that feedback and spend some dev time to implement it; in general be less arrogant as developers you don't always know best)
Thanks for sharing such details. I'm sorry to hear about all the problems, esp the battery life. I'm in a similar boat. My phone is the Pixel 3a. When new, the battery would last for days. Even now, the battery life still holds up (but I'm not a power user). If I remember correctly, none of the Pixels in the "a" series have come close to the 3a in terms of battery life (almost 12 hours on Tom's Guide battery test!) so I have been reluctant to upgrade.
You suggested holding on to an older Pixel as long as possible, but would you recommend not getting the Pixel 8 on sale for $500?
I ask this because the Pixel 8 has already been discounted down to $500 just last month; perhaps the price will be even lower come Black Friday. (Side note: the Pixel 8a will surely be on sale for less than $500 on Black Friday.) I have read conflicting reports as to whether the 8a has better or worse battery life compared to the 8.
Do you think you would have had the same complaints if you had bought the 8 instead of the 8a?
Thx
 
May 23, 2024
2
0
10
Thanks for sharing such details. I'm sorry to hear about all the problems, esp the battery life. I'm in a similar boat. My phone is the Pixel 3a. When new, the battery would last for days. Even now, the battery life still holds up (but I'm not a power user). If I remember correctly, none of the Pixels in the "a" series have come close to the 3a in terms of battery life (almost 12 hours on Tom's Guide battery test!) so I have been reluctant to upgrade.
You suggested holding on to an older Pixel as long as possible, but would you recommend not getting the Pixel 8 on sale for $500?
I ask this because the Pixel 8 has already been discounted down to $500 just last month; perhaps the price will be even lower come Black Friday. (Side note: the Pixel 8a will surely be on sale for less than $500 on Black Friday.) I have read conflicting reports as to whether the 8a has better or worse battery life compared to the 8.
Do you think you would have had the same complaints if you had bought the 8 instead of the 8a?
Thx
I've updated some parts of my 'personal experience review' after a week of use. Two family members at the weekend (with 5a and 7a currently) said they were very envious of my 8a and had been planning to upgrade to it, but then I let them do hands-on and they changed their minds

The battery issues are the primary reason not to upgrade, if you are currently happy with your old phone.

If you are not happy with your 3a but you like the 'A' series, my recommendation would continue to be to search for a good condition 5a, 6a or 7a according to your preference, there are even new phones of these models still available in some regions on Amazon for example. I still consider the 5a is "peak phone", bearing in mind that it can be updated to Android 14 so you essentially have all the same features, apart from any differences in the camera hardware (but the 5a has a fairly legendary camera).

I cannot express any opinion about the Pixel 8, I do not own one.
 
Jun 2, 2024
1
0
10
Was not planning to buy. Used Google Fi promotion yesterday . Cost with $200 discount and trade in of Pixel 7 was $210. Could not resist.
 

ej1

Estimable
Apr 30, 2020
12
1
4,565
I've updated some parts of my 'personal experience review' after a week of use. Two family members at the weekend (with 5a and 7a currently) said they were very envious of my 8a and had been planning to upgrade to it, but then I let them do hands-on and they changed their minds

The battery issues are the primary reason not to upgrade, if you are currently happy with your old phone.

If you are not happy with your 3a but you like the 'A' series, my recommendation would continue to be to search for a good condition 5a, 6a or 7a according to your preference, there are even new phones of these models still available in some regions on Amazon for example. I still consider the 5a is "peak phone", bearing in mind that it can be updated to Android 14 so you essentially have all the same features, apart from any differences in the camera hardware (but the 5a has a fairly legendary camera).

I cannot express any opinion about the Pixel 8, I do not own one.
Thanks for your thoughts. My 3a is fine. Both the battery and camera are fine, but a camera with manual controls would be nice. It's too bad we have to pick between keeping an older phone vs getting a newer phone with better camera (with ultrawide lens, for example) but risking worse battery life.

Is it possible that the battery life on your 8a has not been great because you might be on 120 Hz?
Have you found significant differences in battery life betw 120 Hz and 60 hz?

What about the median brightness? Let's say you keep your phone at 50% brightness. The 3a does not get super bright (which is fine by me), but the more recent phones are brighter so that means if you keep your phone at 50% on a more recent phone, it would probably be brighter than 50% brightness on your 5a... which would contribute to worse battery life.

(Side note: it drives me nuts when review websites test battery at max brightness, a meaningless test unless the brightness is quantified in nits. Any review website which does battery testing at max brightness is not conducting a standardized test, and the results are not very useful because every phone's max brightness is different.)
Thx