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

The Google Pixel 8a is in my hand and will have been for a few days by the time you read this. It’s not long enough for me to give it our full in-depth review treatment, as the battery has only just settled down into everyday life and I’m still experimenting with the camera and features.

But there are some things I’ve quickly discovered about the Pixel 8a that you should know about. So, while we work on the review, take a look at what has already piqued our interest in Google’s newest, cheapest phone.

You’re going to notice the bezels

The Pixel 8a has a 6.1-inch screen, which is quite modest by today’s standards. And while it’s colorful and bright, it does have a sizable expanse of bezels surrounding it. I’ve come to the Pixel 8a from the Samsung Galaxy A35 and Galaxy A55, where I found the bezels didn’t distract me at all — which is likely to do with the bigger 6.5-inch screens on those two phones. The Pixel 8a is much smaller in general, and I’ve noticed the bezels a lot more.

Are they a reason not to buy? No, that would be silly. But you will have to accept they are there and get used to seeing them every time you turn on the screen. I’ve been using Google’s standard case for the phone, too, and it emphasizes them even more.

While we’re on the subject of the case, it’s the same dust magnet as before, but this time, it provides almost no grip and makes the phone surprisingly slippery. It’s a case to avoid if you’re a bit clumsy, and there are plenty of other Pixel 8a cases available that may suit you better.

It doesn’t have Gemini Nano yet

A person holding the Google Pixel 8a.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Google will tell you the Pixel 8a is the only phone under $500 with its Gemini Nano artificial intelligence feature, but this is only partially true at this stage. Gemini Nano is not on my review phone, and it won’t be available on the one you purchase either, as the feature is coming in a future Feature Drop and not at launch.

When it does arrive, Nano will be optional, and you’ll have to activate it in the developer options menu before anything works. After this, Nano will provide Smart Replies for selected messaging apps when you use the Gboard keyboard and the Summarize feature for Google’s Recorder app.

Google has at least come out and said Nano features will come to the Pixel 8a, which is far better than how it handled the Pixel 8 recently, but you’ll need some patience before they arrive. You can use Circle to Search straightaway, though.

It doesn’t feel too cheap

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

The Google Pixel 8a has an aluminum chassis and a plastic back, while the Actua Display screen is covered in Gorilla Glass 3. When the Samsung Galaxy A55, which costs about the same as the Pixel 8a, has a glass back panel and a metal chassis, you may worry this is where Google has saved some cash and made its cheapest phone feel exactly like that.

There’s good and bad news. The metal chassis makes the phone feel substantial in your hand, and although it’s quite a chunky thing, the low 188-gram weight means it never feels burdensome. I’ve slipped it into my pocket and quickly forgotten it’s there. However, the plastic back is rather flimsy, and you can see it flex when you press it down. It won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s something other than plastic.

Prepare for a wait, and change the display settings

The Google Pixel 8a's buttons on the side of the chassis.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When I set the Pixel 8a up, I wasn’t prepared for a major software update that needed to be applied before I even signed into my Google account. This may be because I’m using the Pixel 8a ahead of launch, and retail versions will already have the correct software installed. But if not, make sure you’ve got an hour to spare for it to download and install the update. Then let the phone prepare itself before you start to set the phone up.

The Pixel 8a’s screen has a 120Hz refresh rate, but I was surprised to find it was turned off by default on my review model. Digging into the settings menu after setting up the phone, I noticed the toggle for the Smooth Display feature was switched off, meaning it will stay at 60Hz all the time. The blurb for the feature says battery life will be worse using the 120Hz refresh rate, which may be the reason it’s deactivated by default. However, I’d recommend turning it on to enjoy a smoother display experience and less eye strain.

The camera’s good, but may need an update

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

You’ve probably already seen the headline specs for the camera — a 64MP main camera and a 13MP wide-angle, plus all Google’s AI tools, including Best Take and Magic Editor. However, as I’ve only taken a few dozen photos with it so far, I can’t give much in-depth analysis at this stage. The main camera takes vibrant, detailed photos, and there’s solid consistency between it and the wide-angle camera. The 2x zoom isn’t optical, but provided you don’t crop the image down, it can be surprisingly effective.

But it’s not all good news. The camera seems to struggle with exposure, contrast levels, and HDR in some lighting conditions, and you can see it across the main, wide, and even 2x photos. The indoor photos I’ve taken, some in lowlight, look great, so it’s not an issue all the time, but as it has shown up so early in my test, I really noticed it. Inconsistent camera performance isn’t uncommon on cheaper phones, but I don’t expect it on a Pixel phone.

I’ll know more when I’ve taken additional photos with the Pixel 8a, and I am also aware I’m using it ahead of its public release, so a software update may come before I complete my review. It’s certainly not terrible, and I’m not judging it at all just yet, but my expectations are always high (just like I’m sure yours are) for a Pixel camera, and the Pixel 8a needs to live up to them. The gallery above gives you a good idea of what to expect.

Don’t buy the black one

The Google Pixel 8a surrounded by daisies on a lawn.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When you go to buy the Pixel 8a, there will be a choice of four colors. I’ve been using the basic Obsidian model, which is a grayish black, as you can see in our photos, and there’s a white model available called Porcelain, too. But I hope most people will choose either the beautiful Bay color, a blue also seen on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, or the brand new Aloe version, which is a subtle, but very attractive lime green.

Why? The Pixel 8a has a great design. The dramatic curve at each corner gives the phone a naturally pretty shape and is far more modern, friendly, and appealing than the squared-off Pixel 7a. The camera visor sits proud of the body by just a few millimeters, so it has the same unique style that makes the Pixel 8 series look so cool. Make the most of it by getting it in a bright color.

Someone holding the green Aloe Google Pixel 8a.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Google Pixel 8a is available to preorder now and will be released on May 14. It costs $499 and competes with the OnePlus 12R, the Nothing Phone 2, and the Samsung Galaxy A55, among others.

Look out for our complete review very soon.

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