Friday, July 19, 2024
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5 phones you should buy instead of the Google Pixel 8a


The Google Pixel 8a's screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Everyone loves a bargain, and it’s hard to argue that the Google Pixel 8a is anything but. With a flagship processor and one of the best phone cameras around, the $499 smartphone has the specs to make it a steal. But Google hasn’t just crammed great hardware into the phone, as it also has one of the cleanest implementations of Android 14, all of Google’s current AI roster, and an incredible seven years of software updates to boot. It’s a cheap phone that can go the distance, and one we are more than happy to recommend.

But it’s not perfect. The battery is a little weak, as is its charging ability — and the less said about the cheap-feeling plastic body, the better. So even though it’s a strong phone, there are a number of alternatives that could pull your eyes away from Google’s latest midrange phone.

Here are five phones you should buy instead of the Google Pixel 8a.

Google Pixel 8

The Google Pixel 8 on a table.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

For your first alternative, you need to look no further than Google’s own stable. The Google Pixel 8 is $200 more than the Pixel 8a, which means it’s not a massive jump up in cost compared to Google’s midrange phone. But that only matters if it offers more of what you love. So does it? While the Pixel 8 has some weaknesses and similarities to the Pixel 8a, there are some areas where it’s significantly stronger, and those may be enough for you to spend the extra cash.

It’s fair to say the two devices share a lot in common. They’re similar in size, with the Pixel 8a being slightly larger with a smaller display. The Pixel 8 has slimmer bezels, but it’s not a huge difference. Both also have the Tensor G3 processor under the hood, and both have 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage.

But the phones start to diverge in other areas of the design. The Pixel 8’s metal and glass body puts the cheap-feeling plastic on the Pixel 8a to shame, and that makes a big difference when you’re handling a phone every day. The Pixel 8’s battery is also much stronger than the Pixel 8a’s. The more expensive phone will last two days on a single charge, whereas the midrange phone will make it just a single day. The Pixel 8a’s 18-watt fast charging pales compared to the Pixel 8’s 27W charging rate.

Camera strength is a hallmark of the Pixel range, so how does the Pixel 8a hold up in this regard? Quite well, as it turns out. The two phones are sporting different specs for their lenses, but they both have a main lens and an ultrawide lens, and they seem to provide similar performance across the board. The Pixel 8a struggles a little more with strong light, but the Pixel 8’s ultrawide lens is a little disappointing, so it evens out.

Where does this leave us? With a very strong alternative. The Pixel 8 shares a lot of what makes the Pixel 8a so strong, including excellent software, AI magic, seven years of updates, and flagship specs and cameras. But it also adds a much stronger battery, a sleeker design, and a much, much nicer body. If you can stretch to $200 more, then the Pixel 8 is worth considering — and even if you can’t afford it, keep an eye out for deep discounts during sales.

OnePlus 12R

OnePlus 12R in hand with OnePlus 12 in the background.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The Google Pixel 8a is notable in the midrange space because of its flagship specifications, but it’s not the only such smartphone in this space. The OnePlus 12R lives up to the brand’s flagship killer reputation by offering hardware that rivals that of the top flagships while also keeping the price down to $500. As a result, it’s one of the strongest alternatives to the Pixel 8a.

The specs are the big reason to buy this phone, and they’re as impressive as you’d expect. At the top of the list is a flagship processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. It’s last year’s chip, yes, but it’s still incredibly strong — faster than the Tensor G3 and without the overheating issues Google’s chips are beset with. Joining this is up to 16GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage, which are truly flagship numbers by anyone’s standards. It has a gorgeous display, too. It’s deep and vibrant, and it matches the Pixel 8a’s 120Hz refresh rate. It’s much larger at 6.78 inches, though, which could be a problem if you have smaller hands.

The battery is another big advantage over the Pixel 8a. It’s a two-day affair most of the time, with even hard use coming out at a day-and-a-half. Even better, recharging is blisteringly fast. The U.S. model doesn’t get the 100W recharging, but it still gets 80W, which leaves the Pixel 8a’s 18W in the dust.

The 12R’s triple lens setup doesn’t rival the Pixel 8a’s camera, and while the 50MP main lens is OK most of the time, it struggles with movement. And the ultrawide-angle and macro lenses are pretty terrible. Also keep in mind that OnePlus is known largely for pushing big spec numbers, and that means there’s little room in the budget for anything else. As a result, you won’t find anything particularly special, like the Pixel’s AI features.

The OnePlus 12R is a very strong alternative to the Pixel 8a, but it’s very much the choice of a specific type of person. If you want a big and powerful smartphone, perhaps for playing games, then the OnePlus 12R is an excellent way to get just that for $500. But if you love a good camera and are interested in the future of AI and what it can do for smartphones, then the Google Pixel 8a is the way to go.

Samsung Galaxy A35

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy A35, showing the screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

In many ways, the Samsung Galaxy A35 is the closest match to the Pixel 8a when it comes to alternatives. Love the Pixel’s value, light build, and gorgeous display? The Galaxy A35 has those elements, too, and at first glance, it makes the two devices quite tough to pick between. However, there are some key differences, and central to those is an attractive price.

We won’t dive into the price yet, though, as you need to know what the differences are before the price is impactful. We’ll start with the specs, and here, the Pixel has an edge. The Galaxy A35 uses the Exynos 1380 processor, Samsung’s own midrange chip, and it’s a good performer. Does it equal a flagship chip like the Tensor G3? Absolutely not, but it holds up well regardless. If you’re willing to put up with a very slightly slower response then you’ll be fine.

The A35 has a plastic body, like the Pixel 8a, but unlike the Pixel, it feels great in the hand. It looks like metal from a distance, and the flat edges give it a modern style, which we really like. The display is also gorgeous. It’s a 6.6-inch Super AMOLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it looks amazing. It tops out at 1,000 nits of brightness, though, half of the Pixel’s 2,000 nits, but that’s easy to forgive.

The camera is a triple-lens affair —a main camera, an ultrawide camera, and a macro camera — and it’s pretty good. It’s not the match for the Pixel 8a, but it takes good-looking and fun photos, and you’ll rarely be disappointed by its results. The battery is a little disappointing, though, topping out at just a day when we’ve seen previous A-series phones hit two days on a single charge. The charging is also on the weaker side. Still, 30W is faster than the Pixel’s 18W.

The Samsung Galaxy A35 is quite similar to the Pixel 8a in many ways, and the two phones share weaknesses, as well as strengths, but they diverge in one key area: the price. The Galaxy A35 starts at $400, a full $100 less than the Pixel 8a. That’s a good amount less, especially at this end of the market, and considering how similar the two are, the A35 is a strong candidate for your pocket.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2024)

Someone holding the Moto G Stylus 5G (2024), showing the back of the phone and its stylus.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There aren’t many phones sporting what this Motorola phone has: a built-in stylus. But that’s not the only reason to buy the Moto G Stylus 5G (2024). No, Motorola’s $400 phone is a pretty great smartphone regardless, and a solid competitor for the Google Pixel 8a — if you’re willing to accept some drawbacks, of course.

We’ll start with the most prominent of those weaknesses — the camera. Motorola has often struggled with cameras on cheaper phones, and although the Stylus isn’t a complete failure, it is a step down from the Pixel 8a. The 50MP main lens takes very solid photos during the day, but it struggles to produce anything good outside of optimal lighting conditions. Put it against the Pixel 8a, and it’s clear Google still has the upper hand.

Still here? Alright, let’s talk about what the Moto G Stylus does well. Despite being a $400 smartphone, it doesn’t skimp on a solid display. It’s a 6.7-inch OLED panel complete with a 120Hz refresh rate, 1080p resolution, and a hole-punch for the selfie camera. Performance is also good, and while the Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 can’t hold up to the Tensor G3 in terms of raw power, it still delivers a strong and smooth experience. Oh, and it has a stylus. It doesn’t have any fancy features like the Samsung S Pen or Apple Pencil, but it works well enough when it comes to sketching, drawing, and writing notes.

The battery will easily last two days, another huge bonus. And with 30W charge speeds, it fuels up faster than the Pixel 8a. There is another downside, though, and this is a big one: it only gets one software update. Yes, one. While the Pixel 8a will get seven updates, the Moto G Stylus will get one update to Android 15 and nothing else. That’s another big reason not to buy this phone, and it’s an ongoing issue with Motorola as a whole.

Still, if software updates aren’t a huge thing for you, then the Moto G Stylus is a great way to save $100 over the Pixel 8a. The mediocre camera does mean it’s a less enticing package than some other phones, but if a stylus is a big draw for you, then it’s worth considering.

Nothing Phone 2

A person holding the Nothing Phone 2, with the lights active.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It’s easy to forget that Nothing exists, but you really shouldn’t. The Nothing Phone 2 is a very good smartphone, and at $599, it’s a very solid competitor in the Pixel 8a’s space. It’s a strong all-rounder with only a few small weaknesses and one very cool gimmick in the Glyph lighting system on the back.

We called the Glyph lighting a gimmick, and it is, but don’t take that to mean that it’s not also a genuinely useful addition to the phone. The separate parts of the Glyph will light up to match timers, show how far away your Uber ride is, or perform a number of other functions. It can be used as a camera flash or flashlight, and it’s a useful way of knowing if you have a notification while your phone is placed face down. Don’t write it off as a meaningless gimmick because it absolutely isn’t.

Performance is snappy thanks to the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, which is still very fast despite being a few years old now. The display is a 1080p 6.7-inch OLED panel with a 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, and it looks stunning. Expect to get a day-and-a-half out of a single charge, with two days being possible with very light use. There’s not much chance you’ll be running this battery down in a single day unless you’re really trying. Charging sits at a respectable 45W, which is much better than the Pixel 8a.

What’s the catch? The camera isn’t as good as the rest of the phone and struggles with low light shots. Put it against the Pixel 8a, and it’s no contest. The Nothing Phone 2 also only has an IP54 rating for dust and water resistance, which isn’t particularly good, especially when compared to the Pixel 8a’s IP67 rating.

But those are some relatively minor points, as long as you’re not too much of a camera fan. The Nothing Phone 2 costs just $100 more than the Pixel 8a, and it offers the Glyph lighting system, a fast flagship processor, and an excellent battery and charging rate. If you can live with a bit of a rubbish lowlight camera (and remember, you have the mother of all flash units on the back of your phone anyway), then the Nothing Phone 2 is a very tempting competitor.

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