Google Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE (2022): battle of the big little phones

Pixel 6a takes on the iPhone SE

They are the slightly more affordable alternatives to the best phones Google and Apple can offer. Yes, they do come with their own sets of compromises to accommodate that lower price, but share the same heart as their more premium siblings. Which makes them the perfect devices for those wanting an iPhone or a pure Android phone at the most affordable price possible. But which of the Apple iPhone SE or the Google Pixel 6a makes more sense for you? We oversee the battle of the budget-friendly bros of the iPhone 13 series and Pixel 6 series to get an answer for you.

Design and appearance: Pick a Pixel or does the iPhone get the eye?

Apple iPhone SE 2022

In terms of design, both devices are radically different from each other. The iPhone SE is basically a blast from the iPhone design past in general and the iPhone 8 in particular. It is an out-and-out clone of the iPhone 8 with a 4.7-inch display in front, with large bezels around it and a round fingerprint scanner (which is also the home button) below it. The glass front and back look classy and the metal frame feels solid, but it is a very 2016 look, with a single camera on the back and no notches in front. The Pixel 6a sports a more contemporary look with a tall front with a 6.1-inch display and very slim bezels, while its back has a very distinctive camera unit that is placed on a bar that protrudes ever so slightly. The Pixel 6a too has a metal frame but its back is glossy plastic, which feels less than premium and also gets smudged very easily. Both phones come with IP67 dust and water resistance, but the iPhone SE is believed to have tougher glass in front while the Pixel 6a comes with the now-slightly old Gorilla Glass 3.

Which of the two you prefer is going to be a matter of preference — the Pixel 6a looks more modern and that camera unit gives it a very distinct look, the iPhone SE might have more premium materials in its build but it has a very dated look to it. It is, after all, a phone that’s a clone of a 2016 device. It is way more compact (138.4mm against 152.2mm) and lighter (144 grammes to 178 grammes) than the Pixel 6a, but the big bezels and that huge home button look so out of sync with Modern Times. The Pixel 6a in India is available in chalk (white) and charcoal (black-ish), while the iPhone SE comes in black, white and Product Red. We are going to give this one to the Pixel 6a — it looks 2022 and will stand out in a crowd.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Display: Retina delight or pixel peeping?

This is one of the most one-sided rounds of this contest. The iPhone’s 4.7-inch HD LCD retina display is a good one, but it is outclassed by the 6.1-inch full HD+ OLED display on the Pixel. There is simply more display real estate and a great pixel density (pun unintended) on the Pixel 6a. The iPhone’s display is good for its small display size, with the lower resolution resulting in larger icons and fonts, but the Pixel 6a wins this round very comfortably indeed. Incidentally, both phones come with 60 Hz refresh rate displays, which might seem out of place in a price segment known for displays with twice that refresh rate, but still perform very ably indeed.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Processor: Tensor Tension for the Bionic Boss?

The biggest USP of both the iPhone SE and the Pixel 6a is the fact that both phones run on processors that are similar to the ones seen on their more premium siblings – Google’s Tensor chip and Apple’s A15 Bionic. These are both flagship-level chips and you would be hard pressed to find any difference between their performance in day-to-day tasks, as both handle casual gaming and multi-tasking with ease. Start pushing matters into zones like editing and shooting video, and Genshin Impact at maxed-out settings, however, and the Pixel 6a stutters and even heats up a little, while the iPhone SE keeps rolling along smoothly. Most experts also have tended to rank A15 Bionic above the Tensor, which is supposed to be just a notch below the Snapdragon 888. You are unlikely to see the difference in everyday usage but if you intend to push your phone, we would go with the iPhone SE in the processor power department.

Winner: iPhone SE

Storage and RAM: Giga-bytten memories!

It is difficult to compare the two devices in terms of storage and RAM, as Apple never officially discloses the RAM on iPhones. The Pixel 6a comes in a single RAM and storage variant of 6GB / 128GB. The iPhone SE on the other hand, does offer a bit of variety in the storage department, providing you with 64GB 128 GB and 256GB variants. The RAM of the iPhone SE is not officially known (it is supposed to be 4GB RAM) but iPhones have seldom had problems in that department. The iPhone SE takes this round on account of offering more storage options.

Winner: iPhone SE

Cameras: A surprisingly close snappy sensor shootout

This was a bit of a surprise for us. Yes, the Pixel 6a did take this round, but it did not do so quite as comfortably as we expected it to. On paper, the two cameras (12.2-megapixel main and 12-megapixel ultrawide) on the rear of the Pixel 6a should have made mincemeat of the single 12-megapixel one on the iPhone SE. But in reality, the battle turned out to be much closer. Perhaps it is just that camera technology and software have improved significantly, but the iPhone SE held its own against the Pixel 6a in most conditions and actually shot better videos. The Pixel 6a’s additional sensor, however, did give it a clear edge in terms of variety. We also found the Pixel 6a generally serving up a little more detail (although it seemed exaggerated at times). In the selfie camera department, the 8-megapixel shooter of the Pixel 6a comfortably outgunned the 7-megapixel one on the iPhone SE in terms of both colour and detail. We give the round to the Pixel 6a, but we did not expect the iPhone SE to put up such a good fight, especially given the Pixel’s near legendary status in photography.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Gaming and multimedia: Display size does matter!

In terms of gaming and multimedia, the battle between the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE is a fascinating one. The Pixel 6a has the better display but the iPhone SE has the better processor. Both phones come with stereo speakers too, and the iPhone SE holds a slight edge here, producing better quality audio. All of which makes this quite a tough round to call. When it comes to high-end gaming, things do seem smoother on the iPhone SE, but then the Pixel 6a handles games well too and comes with a significantly larger (6.1-inch as compared to 4.7-inch) display, giving one more space not just for viewing the game but also to manage controls. The larger display of the Pixel 6a also makes it a better option for watching shows and videos. The iPhone SE’s display seems way too tiny for such purposes. We are handing this one to the Pixel 6a, even though the SE has a more powerful chip and slightly better audio.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Battery life and charging: No chargers, but still in charge of all-day performance

Like RAM, Apple does not disclose the size of the battery in its iPhones. The iPhone SE is unofficially supposed to have a battery of around 2,018mAh. That may not sound like much but then it does have to deal with a smaller and lower resolution display. The Pixel 6a on the other hand comes with a much larger 4,410mAh battery. In terms of performance, both phones get through a day of normal to heavy usage easily. We felt that the Google Pixel 6a, however, just gave us a few more hours and often got to a second day more comfortably than the iPhone SE. Neither phone comes with a charger in the box, but the iPhone has a few aces up its sleeve in the charging department – it supports 20W charging and also 7.5W wireless charging, while the Pixel 6a supports 18W charge and does not support wireless charging.

The difference in charging speed might not seem to be too massive on paper, but this is where the iPhone’s smaller battery comes into play – the iPhone SE gets topped from 0 to 100 in about an hour and twenty minutes while the Pixel 6a takes about half an hour more. Which makes this a very tough round to call – the Pixel 6a lasts a bit longer, but the iPhone SE charges a bit faster. The presence of wireless charging wins this one for the iPhone SE, but we can see people opting for the Pixel 6a!

Winner: iPhone SE

Software: iOS vs Android wars

The iPhone SE would have easily prevailed over any other Android phone in terms of software, but the Pixel is a very different kettle of fish. Google’s Pixel range comes with its own vision of Android, special features (magic eraser to just remove unwanted objects from images), zero bloatware and assured updates. Android on the Pixel 6a is as pure as it can get on any phone. In terms of ease of use, there is therefore not too much to choose between the two phones. Both work smoothly and the interfaces are simple and uncluttered. The difference springs up in the update department. Pixel phones are often the earliest to get Android updates, and Google has committed to three major OS updates and five years of security updates for the Pixel 6a. Those are impressive figures for Android. However, Apple has an ever more formidable iOS update record – its phones normally get software updates for five years and some get them for even longer. Choosing an interface is a matter of personal preference and we liked both the iPhone SE and Pixel 6a equally in this regard, but Apple’s impressive iOS update record makes the iPhone SE the better long-term option and wins it this round.

Winner: iPhone SE

General performance: Super phones in Bruce Wayne mode

iPhone SE 2022

With near flagship processors and plenty of RAM under their hoods and clutter-free, clean software driving them, both the iPhone SE and the Google Pixel 6a handle day-to-day tasks effortlessly. The Pixel’s larger display makes it the better option for extended web browsing, social networking and any task involving extending viewing and reading, but the iPhone SE’s much smaller size makes it so much easier to use – you can actually use it easily with one hand. Both phones also come with support for 5G. However, a major point of difference is the fingerprint sensor – the iPhone’s large fingerprint sensor beneath its display might be a bit of an eyesore for those who hate bezels but it is far more speedy than the in-display sensor on the Pixel 6a (which is also having some security red flags raised about it as we write this). It is this factor that wins the day for the iPhone SE. We do expect Google to fix matters with a software update in the coming days, though.

Winner: iPhone SE

Value for money: Pricey, but still kinda-sorta affordable

They might be the most affordable versions of the new iPhones and the Pixels, but both the Pixel 6a and the iPhone SE have received a lot of criticism for their pricing. Many have considered the phones to be overpriced for what they offer in spec sheet terms, but that does not change the fact that they are the best options for anyone wanting to embark on their iPhone or Pixel journey on the tightest possible budget. Both phones actually start at almost the same price point – the base 64GB iPhone SE starts at Rs 43,900, while the 6GB / 128GB variant of the Pixel 6a (the only variant available) starts at Rs 43,999. The iPhone SE also comes with a 128GB variant for Rs 48,900 and a 256GB variant for Rs 58,900. The Pixel 6a’s only variant thus offers twice the storage of the base iPhone SE variant for an extra Rs 99, but then the iPhone SE does have two extra variants and has also better resale value thanks to its software update record. We are calling this one a tie – if money is very tight, the Pixel 6a is the better option, and if you want lots of storage, the iPhone SE is the only one.

Winner: Tie

Which one to pick: Budget Godphone or A-rated Android flagship?

In terms of sheer numbers, it would seem that the iPhone SE has actually edged out the Pixel 6a – it wins on five of the ten parameters, loses on four and ties on one, Interestingly, however, the Pixel 6a wins in areas that many users consider to be very important – a more contemporary and distinct design, camera, display and gaming. It also ties in the value for money round and actually does not lose any round by a wide margin. So which of the two should you be going for? If you want a compact and powerful phone for the long haul, the iPhone SE is easily the better choice, as long as you are ready to put up with that rather old-ish design. It has a more powerful processor, wireless charging support, an outstanding software update record and seems more sturdy of the two devices. However, the bigger and higher resolution display of the Pixel 6a does make it better for content consumption, and its cameras are better (though not THAT much better) than those on the iPhone SE.

A lot is going to depend upon how much you value phone size, software updates and processor speed. If they matter a lot, the iPhone SE is the phone for you. If design and cameras come into the picture (pun intended) and you wish for more pixels in that display (pun intended again), the Pixel 6a is the better option. The choice might seem a tough one, but no matter which one you choose, you are unlikely to regret it – you will end up with either the most affordable new iPhone or the most affordable new Pixel. Not a bad choice to have!

With inputs from Akriti Rana