Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone 12: Which phone to buy?

Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone 12: Which phone to buy?

The Google Pixel 6a borrows a lot of good features from the Pixel 6 to deliver a compelling package under $500. It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a top-tier Android phone in 2022, but it’s hard to argue against its value. The Pixel 6a may not be competing with other premium flagships on the market, but there’s one device that’s looking over its shoulders — the iPhone 12. This one’s a close match-up because they have a lot in common. We also think it’s better to pit the Google Pixel 6a against the iPhone SE 3 (2022) and the iPhone 12 and let the Pixel 6/6 Pro handle the iPhone 13 series. We’ve already seen how the Pixel 6a vs iPhone SE 3 comparison plays out, so let’s check out the Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone 12 comparison to find out which one’s better to buy in 2022.

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Google Pixel 6a vs iPhone 12: Specifications

Let’s take a quick look at the specifications of each phone to find out what each of these phones brings to the table for the asking price:

Specification Google Pixel 6a Apple iPhone 12
Build
  • Plastic back
  • Aluminum frame
  • IP67 rating
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Glass front and back
  • “Ceramic Shield” for glass protection
Dimensions & Weight
  • 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm
  • 178g
  • 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm
  • 162 grams (Global)
  • 164 grams (USA)
Display
  • 6.1-inch AMOLED
  • 1080 x 2400 pixels
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 6.1″ Super Retina XDR OLED Display
  • 2,532 x 1,170 resolution, 460 PPI
SoC Google Tensor SoC Apple A14 Bionic SoC
RAM & Storage
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB flash storage
  • 64GB
  • 128GB
  • 256GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,306mAh
  • 18W wired fast charging
  • No wireless charging
  • 2,815 mAh battery as per certification listings
  • 15W Wireless Charging with MagSafe
  • 7.5W Qi Wireless Charging
Security
  • In-display fingerprint scanner
  • Titan M2 security chip
  • Face ID (TrueDepth camera for facial recognition)
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12.2MP main
  • Secondary: 12MP ultra-wide
  • Primary: 12MP
  • Secondary: 12MP, Ultra-wide angle
Front Camera(s) 8MP 12MP, f/2.2
Port(s) USB Type-C port Proprietary Lightning port
Audio Stereo speakers Single speakers
Connectivity
  • 5G (mmWave + Sub6)
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 5G
    • Sub-6
    • mmWave for USA
  • Ultra-Wide Band (UWB)
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Software Android 12 iOS 14
Other Features
  • 3 generations of Android updates
  • 5 years of minimum security updates
  • IP68
  • Colors: Black, White, Red, Blue, Green

Design and Display

Camera module of the Google Pixel 6a

There are a lot of differences between the Google Pixel 6a and the iPhone 12 and it all starts with the design and build quality. The Pixel 6a borrows the design from its more premium siblings, the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro. It features a horizontal camera bar at the back that runs across the back panel, giving it a very unique. Google has used a plastic panel instead of glass, but it stands out from the sea of other phones on the market with its two-tone design. That, along with some fun colorways makes the Pixel 6a instantly recognizable.

The iPhone 12 in white.

Apple’s iPhone 12, on the other hand, looks just like any other iPhone from the last few years. The company hasn’t compromised on the build quality of the iPhone 12, which comes with a glass back and aluminum frame design. The overall fit and finish of the phone, however, fails to spark the same level of excitement as the iPhone designs once used to. This one, in particular, looks just like the iPhone 11 that came out a year before it. In fact, the iPhone 13 also shares the same design, meaning you really have to look closely to tell the difference.

The Google Pixel 6a is both taller and a hair thicker than the iPhone 12, but it’ll probably be more comfortable to hold in hand, thanks to the rounded edges on the back. The back panel and the side frame on the iPhone 12 are both flat and have sharp edges which may not feel too comfortable in hand. It’s a few grams lighter than the Pixel 6a if that’s something you care about. In terms of durability, the Pixel 6a comes with an IP67 rating whereas the iPhone 12 gets an IP68 rating which we think is better for those with an active lifestyle. Apple is using ceramic glass to protect the display while the Pixel 6a comes with Gorilla Glass 3 on the front.

Punch hole camera of the Google Pixel 6a

Moving over to the front, the Google Pixel 6a sports a 6.1-inch AMOLED panel with a resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels. In comparison, the iPhone 12 also comes with a 6.1-inch panel but it’s Apple’s Super Retina XDR OLED display with a 2,532 x 1,170 resolution. Both displays top out at a 60Hz refresh rate, so no differences there. You’re not going to notice a lot of difference in quality too as they’re both equally sharp OLED panels with rich colors and good contrast ratios. The iPhone 12 tends to look a little dated from the front compared to the Google Pixel 6a, as it carries a notch on top of the display. Of course, the payout for that is Apple’s excellent Face ID system that works reliably at all times. The Pixel 6a has a punch-hole cutout for the selfie camera which looks modern and less distracting. It comes with an in-display fingerprint scanner for authentication which we found a bit slow to work with.

iPhone 12's 6.1-inch OLED screen.

Overall, we think the Pixel 6a is a better-looking phone out of the two even though it uses cheaper build materials. Apple is sticking to its tried-and-tested design for the iPhone 12, but we think the iPhones, in general, are in desperate need of a design refresh to attract more eyeballs. They’re not bad by any means, but the competing Android phones look a lot better with modern designs and even different form factors.


Internal hardware and cameras

Both Google and Apple are using their in-house chips for the phones in this comparison. The Pixel 6a comes with Google’s Tensor chip which happens to be the same one that runs the show behind the scenes for the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro. You can only purchase one variant of the phone that comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. Apple’s iPhone 12, on the other hand, comes with the A14 Bionic chip which is one of the best chipsets out there. Apple doesn’t explicitly mention how much its iPhones have but we now know that the iPhone 12 comes with 4GB of RAM as standard across all the variants. You can pick up an iPhone 12 with 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB storage. You get less storage with the iPhone 12 compared with the Pixel 6a when you pick up the base variant, so keep that in mind.

The iPhone 12 notch cutting into video content.

The fact that the iPhone 12 has less memory compared to the Pixel 6a isn’t a deal breaker since we all know how good the memory management on iOS really is. The iPhone 12 is also running on a slightly older chipset but you’re not going to notice a whole lot of difference when it comes to the day-to-day performance. The overall user experience is going to remain largely the same on both despite the difference in the raw performance of the chips. Both phones will have no issues handling day-to-day tasks and even some resource-intensive workloads including gaming. Google’s Tensor chip allows the Pixel 6a to have some interesting features like advanced voice dictation, a magic eraser, and more. The iPhone 12 is also extremely capable and can handle all the new iOS 16 features with ease.

As for the battery, you get a 4,306 mAh unit inside the Google Pixel 6a whereas the iPhone 12 comes with a relatively smaller 2,815 mAh battery. Don’t let the smaller battery scare you because Apple’s A-series chipset and iOS software are quite efficient at handling power. You can easily rely on both phones to last you through a day’s worth of usage without any issues. The Pixel 6a will charge slightly faster as it supports 18W wired charging as opposed to the 15W wired charging speed on the iPhone. But you get Magsafe and wireless charging support with the iPhone 12, which we think will improve your overall user experience. You don’t get a charging brick with either of the phones, meaning you’ll have to buy one separately.

Google Pixel 6a in hand

The Pixel 6a received some criticism for using the same 12.2MP camera that we’ve seen on a lot of Pixel phones in the past. It is accompanied by a 12MP ultrawide camera to complete the dual-camera setup at the back. The iPhone 12 also comes with a 12MP main and a 12MP ultrawide camera. The camera setup is essentially the same on both phones, meaning they’re both equally versatile when it comes to different shooting modes. Without getting into too many details, it’s safe to say that both phones can capture some stunning photos and videos. Despite using an old sensor, the Pixel 6a will give fantastic results to keep up iPhone 12, with equal dexterity in bright and low-light conditions. You can learn more about the Pixel 6a’s camera performance in our review which is linked earlier in this article.

The iPhones have generally been quite reliable for videos, and that’s the case with the iPhone 12 too. Both phones can capture videos at 4K resolution with up to 60fps on board. The iPhone 12 can also capture Dolby Vision HDR videos at up to 30fps with stereo sound recording. If you plan on using your phone to capture a lot of videos then we recommend picking the iPhone 12. Just make sure you’re spending more on the variant with more storage to make sure you don’t run out of space. Selfies are handled by a 12MP f/2.2 camera on the iPhone 12 while the Pixel 6a comes with an 8MP f/2.0 camera. We weren’t able to capture the same set of shots from both for side-by-side comparison, but we’ll leave camera samples below for you to check out.

Google Pixel 6a camera samples:

Apple iPhone 12 camera samples:


Software

The software enabling day-to-day experience is just as important as the internals and other aspects of a phone. It’s a more important discussion in the case of an Android phone vs an iPhone. The Google Pixel 6a comes with Android 12 out of the box while the iPhone 12 is now running on iOS15. Both devices will be first in line to get the latest software update, which is good. The software experience, however, is entirely subjective. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages of their own, but they both offer some great features and a good experience overall. The phones themselves are also capable of running the show smoothly, so you won’t be disappointed with the overall user experience.

But if your purchase decision is purely based on how long these phones will be supported with the latest software, then you’re probably better off buying the iPhone 12. iPhones are known for their exceptional software support from Apple, so the iPhone 12 will last you for many years to come. Just to put things into perspective, the iPhone 7 launched back in 2016 will receive the upcoming iOS 16 update. So the iPhone 12 is likely to get new software for at least the next five years. Google has promised three major Android OS updates and up to five years of security updates for the Pixel 6a.


Google Pixel 6a vs iPhone 12: Which one should you buy?

The Pixel 6a is now available to purchase in the US for $449 whereas the iPhone 12 is still going for $729. There is a stark price difference but it’s still an important match-up as they’re both cheaper than the top-tier flagships from each company. A slightly cheaper alternative from Apple, in this case, would be the iPhone 12 Mini, which essentially offers the same internals and features in a smaller package. Despite being leagues apart in terms of pricing, both phones are similar in many areas. Your purchase decision will also largely depend on the software you want to experience, and — more importantly — how much you’re willing to spend.

If you don’t have any budget constraints, then the iPhone 12 might be the phone to buy. It may not be the best-looking phone on the market, but it makes up for it with great performance, a good set of cameras, exceptional software support, and good battery life with wireless charging support. It’s a true flagship phone that has aged very well and will continue to do so for many years to come. But if your budget doesn’t allow you to splurge $729 on an iPhone and you’d rather prefer the freedom of Android, then the Google Pixel 6a is a safe fallback option that’ll deliver a good experience. Alternatively, you can also spend $150 more and pick up the Pixel 6 instead of the Pixel 6a to get a significantly better experience overall.

    The Google Pixel 6a is one of the best mid-range smartphones you can buy with Google Tensor and a high-end camera.
    The iPhone 12 is still one of the best phones you can buy if you don't want to spend a lot of money on the top-tier flagship from Apple.

So which smartphone are you planning to buy? Let us know by dropping a line in the comments below. Also, be sure to take a look at the best Pixel 6a deals page to see if you can snag a good deal and save a few dollars on your purchase. We’ve also rounded up some of the best Pixel 6a accessories for you to check out if you want to improve your overall user experience.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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