Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022): Which budget phone to buy?

Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022): Which budget phone to buy?

Google’s new Pixel 6a and Apple’s iPhone SE 3 (2022) offer a lot of bang for the buck for those who are looking to buy a phone for under $500. These two smartphones, in fact, offer the best value for money in markets like the US where there are hardly any value-for-money offerings from Chinese OEMs. The Pixel 6a brings a lot of the great features of the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro including its unique design with the two-tone finish, the powerful Tensor chip with AI smarts, a good set of cameras, and more. Apple’s iPhone SE 3 brings the same processor that’s running the show for iPhone 13, the reliable iOS software experience, and more in an ultra-compact form factor. There’s clearly a lot to like about these smartphones but let’s take a quick look at the Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE 3 comparison to find out which phone is the best for less than $500.


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Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022): Specifications

Before we jump into the comparison, let’s take a quick look at the specifications to find out what each of these phones bring to the table:

Specification Google Pixel 6a Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022)
  • Plastic back
  • Aluminum frame
  • IP67 rating
  • Glass back
  • Aluminum frame
  • IP67 rating
Dimensions & Weight
  • 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm
  • 178g
  • 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm
  • 144g
  • 6.1-inch AMOLED
  • 1080 x 2400 pixels
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 4.7-inch Retina HD LCD
  • 750 x 1334 pixels
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • Haptic Touch support
SoC Google Tensor SoC Apple A15 Bionic
RAM & Storage
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB flash storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB/128GB/256GB Storage
Battery & Charging
  • 4,306mAh
  • 18W wired fast charging
  • No wireless charging
  • 2,018mAh
  • 20W wired fast charging
  • 7.5W Qi wireless charging
  • In-display fingerprint scanner
  • Titan M2 security chip
Touch ID
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12.2MP main
  • Secondary: 12MP ultra-wide
12MP, f/1.8
Front Camera(s) 8MP 7MP, f/2.2
Port(s) USB Type-C port Lightning port
Audio Stereo speakers Stereo speakers
  • 5G (mmWave + Sub6)
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 5G (Sub6)
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Software Android 12 iOS 15
Other Features
  • 3 generations of Android updates
  • 5 years of minimum security updates
  • Multi-year software support
  • Physical mute switch

Design and Display

Google Pixel 6a in hand with blurred background.

Apple’s iPhone SE 3 looks exactly like the first iPhone SE that debuted back in 2022. This also means you’re getting a phone that essentially looks the same as the 2017 iPhone 8. It sports relatively thick bezels and a TouchID home button towards the bottom of the screen. It doesn’t shriek modern phone, unlike the Pixel 6a, but it is a better option for those who are upgrading from one of the older iPhones and don’t want to sacrifice the compact form factor or the Touch ID home button. In terms of the design, the Pixel 6a looks identical to its flagship sibling, the Pixel 6. It features a horizontal camera bar that stretches all the way across the phone. You also get the updated two-tone finish to make it look better than a sea of other phones on the market.

iPhone SE 2022

Even with thick bezels and the home button on the front, the iPhone SE 3 only stands 138.4mm tall, making it a lot shorter than the Pixel 6a which is 152.2mm tall. The iPhone SE 3 is also both thinner and lighter than the Pixel 6a, so it might be the one to buy if you’re looking to pick up a compact device. Both phones come with an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, so no differences in the durability department. You get a metal frame on both phones for sturdy construction, but the iPhone SE 3 has a glass back while the Pixel 6a has a plastic back with Gorilla Glass 3 on the front. The Pixel 6a has an in-display fingerprint scanner whereas the iPhone SE, as mentioned earlier, relies on the good old Touch ID sensor.

Punch hole camera of the Google Pixel 6a

Moving over to the front, you get a nearly borderless screen on the Pixel 6a with uniform bezels surrounding the display. Again, this looks clean and more modern compared to the retro look and feel of the iPhone SE 3. The Pixel 6a’s display measures 6.1-inch whereas the iPhone SE 3 sports a 4.7-inch panel. Google is also using an OLED display panel, which means you can expect to see all the typical OLED features including punchy colors, great contrast ratios for inky blacks, and more. The iPhone SE 3 uses an LCD screen, just like the one found on many other iPhones on the market. It’s not a bad LCD panel, but you’ll definitely find Pixel 6a’s display better for all practical purposes.

iPhone SE 3

Internal Hardware and Cameras

Perhaps the only thing that is common between these two phones is the fact that they both use the newest processors on the market. Both Google and Apple are using their in-house chips for these devices —  Tensor chip for the Pixel 6a, and A15 Bionic inside the iPhone SE 3. The Tensor chip is Google’s first in-house mobile processor which is going against Apple’s highly advanced A15 Bionic chip. That, however, doesn’t make the Pixel 6a’s Tensor chip bad by any means. You’ll get fast and reliable performance from both phones. The A15 Bionic is the same chipset that powers the iPhone 13 family, so you’re getting flagship-grade silicon in a phone that costs less than $500. It handily beats Google’s Tensor chip with its raw performance but there’s more to the Tensor chip than its performance.

iPhone SE 2022 and iPhone 13 Mini

Google’s Tensor chip powers some of the best machine learning and AI-enabled features like live audio dictation for text messages, Magic Eraser to remove unwanted objects from photos, and more. The iPhone SE 3 also uses the A15 Bionic to power some great features that aren’t available on older iPhones with aging processors, but they still aren’t as impressive as the Pixel features. You get more RAM with the Pixel 6a, but we all know how well iOS handles memory to enable smooth performance. The iPhone SE 3 is also better when it comes to storage because the Pixel 6a tops out at 128GB of internal storage while the iPhone gets up to 256GB. The base variant of the iPhone SE 3 only has 64GB of memory, so keep that in mind. Both smartphones support 5G connectivity but it’s worth making a note that the iPhone SE 3 doesn’t support mmWave-based 5G, meaning it can’t connect to those networks for super-fast speeds.

Google Pixel 6a in-hand

Apple doesn’t explicitly mention the battery capacity of its smartphones, but we now know that the iPhone SE 3 packs a 2,018 mAh unit. It’s significantly smaller than the 4,410mAh battery found inside the Pixel 6a, but they both should last a full day on a single charge. Neither of these phones will impress you with their battery performance, but they should have no problem making it through a full day with moderate usage. The iPhone SE 3 supports up to 20W wired charging while the Pixel 6a tops out at 18W. However, you’ll have to purchase the charger separately with both phones. Unlike iPhone SE 3, you won’t be able to charge the Pixel 6a wirelessly. It’s probably not a deal-breaker for most people, but still worth considering.

Moving on to the optics, we’re looking at a dual-camera system on the Google Pixel 6a versus a single-lens camera on the iPhone SE 3. You get a 12MP primary and a 12MP ultrawide shooter with the Pixel 6a whereas the iPhone SE only has a single 12MP camera. The Pixel 6a offers more flexibility while taking photos thanks to its secondary ultrawide camera, but the shots captured using the primary sensor of both phones are pretty evenly matched. Both phones can capture some stunning photos provided there’s good light in the scene. You can get some decent shots at night when there’s visibly less light, but we think the Pixel 6a is better overall in terms of the image quality. The iPhone SE 3 also lacks a dedicated night mode for low-light photography, so the Pixel 6a gains an edge over it in this space.

We weren’t able to capture the same set of photos using both phones for a side-by-side comparison, but we’ll leave some camera samples below for you to check out. As for the selfie camera, you get an 8MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture on the Pixel 6a and a 7MP sensor with f/2.2 aperture on the iPhone SE 3. Both phones can also record 4K videos at up to 60fps with OIS.

Google Pixel 6a camera samples:

Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) camera samples:

Google Pixel 6a vs Apple iPhone SE 3: Which one should you buy?

Google’s Pixel 6a is available to purchase for $449 whereas the Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022) can be had for $429 in the US. The software remains a huge part of the conversation when it comes to buying either of these phones. You get iOS 15 with the iPhone SE 3 while the Pixel 6a ships with Android 12 out of the box. Both phones will easily be one of the first ones to receive new software updates and you can expect to receive them for many years to come.

Apple, as you probably already know, is reliable with its multi-year software support for its phones. Google is also promising three years of major OS upgrades for the Pixel 6a along with up to five years of security updates. You get good software support with both phones, but it comes down to personal preference. Both iOS and Android have advantages and disadvantages of their own, and they both are very reliable with plenty of features to look forward to. Your choice on which phone to buy is likely to have already been decided on the basis of whether you are Team Android or Team iOS.

All things considered, it’s safe to say that both phones offer a great value for money, but they do it in a unique fashion. The iPhone SE 3 is an excellent option for longtime iPhone users who are looking to switch from one of the older iPhones without spending a lot of money. If you don’t mind the retro look and the lack of Face ID, then the iPhone SE 3 is a fantastic device that’ll set you up well for many years to come with reliable day-to-day performance, decent battery life, and great software experience.

Similarly, the Pixel 6a is one of the best budget Android phones on the market that brings many of the premium Pixel 6 series features at an affordable price. If you don’t mind switching from iOS to Android, then we think the Pixel 6a shines overall with new and unique features. It looks more modern, has a larger OLED panel with a nearly borderless design, and a more versatile camera setup. Notably, you also get some noteworthy features including an in-display fingerprint scanner, more storage with the base variant, and better support for 5G connectivity. Long story short, the Pixel 6a tops the iPhone SE 3 (2022) overall, but they both offer a great experience for the price, especially if you’re shopping for these phones in the US.

    The Google Pixel 6a is a mid-range smartphone with Google Tensor and a high-end camera.
    Apple's new iPhone SE (2022) is the most affordable iPhone running the all-powerful A15 Bionic chip, which improves everything from battery life to camera performance

So which smartphone are you planning to buy? Let us know by dropping a line in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out our collection of the best Apple iPhone SE 3 deals and the Pixel 6a deals page to see if you can save some money on your purchase, and use it to buy, say, the best chargers for iPhone SE or the best accessories for the Pixel 6a.

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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