Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE: The best phone under $500

Google hasn’t fully opened the curtain on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro just yet, but it has just upgraded its lower-cost smartphone selection with the Pixel 6a. The latest Pixel model has a Tensor processor, an OLED display, and multiple cameras, and starts at $449. That price makes it comparable to Apple’s iPhone SE, which starts at $429.

The Pixel 6a isn’t released until July 28 and we won’t have a final verdict until we’ve fully tested it, but for now we can compare the specs to help you decide which phone is right for you.

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Design

The Pixel 6a is similar in size to the Pixel 6, while the iPhone SE’s SE could stand for “Small Edition.” At 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches (HWD) and 6.3 ounces, the Pixel easily beats the iPhone SE’s small 5.5 x 2.7 x 0.3-inch, 5.1-ounce bezel (then again, some people prefer smaller phones).

Size isn’t the only difference in design. With an almost edge-to-edge display featuring a hidden fingerprint sensor and a stunning black stripe that holds a dual-lens camera array on the back, the Pixel 6a is visually in line with its more expensive iPhone SE siblings. Apple’s budget-friendly phone looks less elegant and more narrow than the iPhone 13 (or even the iPhone 11), with a thicker bezel around its screen. Simply put, the iPhone SE looks old.

You can take both phones anywhere, at least. Fortunately, the Pixel 6a and iPhone SE are both water- and dust-resistant, with IP67 ratings. They can survive being immersed in water and washed out without a problem.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Screen

Apple iPhone SE (Photo: Molly Flores)

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

A bigger phone means a bigger screen, and the Pixel 6a has a 6.1-inch OLED touchscreen display with a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels, at 429 pixels per inch. The iPhone SE’s Retina HD LCD display is more modest, measuring 4.7 inches with a resolution of 1,334 x 750 pixels, at 326 pixels per inch.

Both claim high contrast levels and wide colours, but we’ll have to compare them to our eyes. Judging by the numbers, the Pixel 6a’s display appears to be noticeably sharper.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Hardware

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

As for absolute speed based on benchmark scores, Apple will likely have the advantage. We haven’t tested the Pixel 6a yet, but the Pixel 6’s Geekbench 5 numbers are already a little behind the iPhone SE, and we doubt the 6a will perform better. Of course, benchmarks aren’t everything, and the Pixel 6 and iPhone SE handle everyday performance and mobile gaming with confidence. This may be due to the noticeably smoother experience than any solid numbers between the two phones.

Winner: iPhone SE

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Camera

Cameras are one of the most common parts phone manufacturers have to skimp on when making budget models, because premium lenses and sensors can be pricey. Neither the Pixel 6a nor the iPhone SE has high-end cameras like their higher-end siblings, but on paper at least the Pixel is making a great try.

The affordable Google phone maintains a dual rear camera stack with an f/1.7 standard lens and an f/2.2 ultra-wide lens, both with 12MP sensors. The iPhone SE has a single 12MP rear camera with f/1.8 aperture, without a wide-angle option. None of the phones are as ambitious as the Pixel 6 or the iPhone 13 in terms of camera range and resolution, but the Pixel 6a seems to have an edge.

Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a

As for the front cameras, both affordable phones are certainly modest. The Pixel 6a has an f/2.0 8MP primary selfie camera, while the iPhone SE has an f/2.2 7MP sensor. You can shoot 1080p video at 30fps with either camera, but they won’t do anything fancy, and they don’t have face detection to unlock the phone.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Network

Apple and Google have learned to fully prepare their phones for optimal networking. Both phones support 5G sub-6GHz 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 one not used in the US), which is a poor trade-off for not fully supporting 5G millimeter wave. The Pixel 6a has a millimeter waveform with the n260 and n261 bands, but you need to make sure you get that specific version of the phone. Both also work on the full range of LTE and GSM networks, for slow connections.

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For local wireless connectivity, the Pixel 6a and iPhone SE both support Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 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 latest routers for your home network or stay on the cutting edge of Bluetooth Low Energy devices, you may want to go with the Pixel.

Winner: Pixel 6a

Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE: Price and Capacity

Right now, Google has announced only 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 may 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.

Winner: iPhone SE

Goodbye, headphone jack

On paper, the Pixel 6a and iPhone SE appear to be equally stacked. We can’t say which one is better for sure until we get the Pixel to test, but there’s one obvious loser in this equation: the 3.5mm headphone jack.

That’s less of a contrast between the two phones and more about Google catching up with the unfortunate trend, but the Pixel 6a, like the iPhone SE, lacks a headphone jack. It will be missed.

Loser: everyone

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