Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Two great sub-$500 options

Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Two great sub-$500 options

Those looking for a new smartphone but don’t want to spend too much usually have a couple of options: buy a current generation mid-tier phone, or a last-gen flagship. One of the most even comparisons right now — at least going by price — may just be the brand new $449 Google Pixel 6a and the little more than a year old OnePlus 9, whose retail price has dropped to under $500, and sometimes as low as the Pixel 6a pricing.

Considering the OnePlus 9 was a very polished and well-rounded flagship in 2021, it should still hold up very well now in 2022. But the Pixel 6a is perhaps the best mid-ranger around right now. So which phone should you buy if you are looking for a new Android for under $500? Let’s find out.

XDA VIDEO OF THE DAY
    The Google Pixel 6a brings back a lot of what made the Pixel 6 awesome, but in a more affordable package.
    The OnePlus 9 is a year old now but still a very capable phone in 2022.

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Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 vs Google Pixel 6a: Specifications

OnePlus 9 Google Pixel 6a
Build
  • Fiberglass-reinforced polymer frame
  • Gorilla Glass 5 front and back
  • Gorilla Glass 3 front panel
  • Plastic back and side
  • IP68 water/dust resistance
Dimensions and Weight
  • North America/Europe:
    • 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm
    • 192g
  • India/China:
    • 160 x 73.9 x 8.1mm
    • 183g
  • 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm
  • 207 g
Display
  • 6.55-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
  • 402PPI
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 1100nits peak brightness
  • Supports sRGB and DCI-P3 color space
  • HDR10+
  • Automatic color temperature adjustment
  • Gorilla Glass 5
  • 6.1-inch AMOLED
  • FHD+
  • 60Hz
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
SoC
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Google Tensor
RAM and Storage
  • 8GB LPDDR5 RAM + 128GB UFS 3.1 storage
  • 12GB + 256GB
  • 6GB
  • 128GB
  • no microSD card slot
Battery and Charging
  • 4,500mAh battery
  • 65W wired fast charging (1-100% in 29 minutes)
  • 45W wired fast charging (USB PD)
  • 15W Qi wireless charging (North America/Europe only)
  • Warp Charge 65T charger included (supports up to 45W USB PD or PPS for non-OnePlus devices)
  • 4,306 mAh battery
  • No charger in box
Security
  • Optical in-display fingerprint sensor
  • Optical in-display fingerprint sensor
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 48MP Sony IMX689, f/1.8, EIS, PDAF+CAF
  • Secondary: 50MP Sony IMX766 ultra-wide, f/2.2, freeform lens
  • Tertiary: 2MP monochrome sensor
  • Dual LED flash
  • Primary: 12.2MP main
  • Secondary: 12MP ultra-wide
Front Camera(s)
  • 16MP
  • 8MP camera
Ports
  • USB Type-C
  • USB-C
  • No headphone jack
Connectivity
  • 5G
  • LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4G+5GHz)
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • 5G
  • LTE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6
  • Bluetooth 5.1
Software
  • Android 12
Price
  • $499
  • $449

Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Hardware and Design

The Google Pixel 6a brings back the Pixel 6’s design language, of which we are a huge fan. The main body and frame (back and sides) material has been switched to plastic though, but that’s understandable given this lower price tag. The Pixel 6a’s front side is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The OnePlus 9, since it was a flagship a year ago, uses more premium materials, Gorilla Glass 5 on front and back, with an aluminum frame.

Google Pixel 6a in hand with blurred background.

Looks are subjective, so your mileage may vary, but many of us at XDA really like the design language of the Pixel 6/6a phones, with the large camera visor. The OnePlus 9 is a good-looking phone too, its camera module is just a bit more conventional, therefore less visually striking. But there are those who think the OnePlus 9 come in better color options, including a gradient purple seen below.

OnePlus 9

Both phones are comfortable to hold, though the Pixel 6a by virtue of being smaller, may be on another level of ease of use. Both phones have curves all around so they will nestle in your palm gently, not jab at it like an iPhone 13 or Nothing Phone. If you want to protect your Pixel 6a, we have curated a selection of the best Pixel 6a cases here.

Display

The OnePlus 9 Pro rocks a larger and better display, a 6.5-inch, 120Hz OLED panel compared to the Pixel 6a’s 6.1-inch, 60Hz OLED screen. The 9 Pro’s screen also gets a bit brighter. The resolution is the same for both at 2400 x 1080, but I suppose this gives the 6a’s smaller screen an edge in pixel density.

Google Pixel 6a poster with a woman's image set as wallpaper and custom artwork in the background.

There are in-display scanners underneath both screens, and here, too the OnePlus takes the win, as the scanner is just a bit more responsive.

Black OnePlus 9 on white background

Processor and memory

The Pixel 6a is powered by Google’s own Tensor SoC, which specializes in machine learning tasks. The OnePlus 9, meanwhile, runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. Both of these are 2021 chips, and the Snapdragon 888 is a bit more capable, with more processing power. But the Tensor is designed to handle machine learning tasks and image processing. Neither chip will leave you short on power, as you’ll be able to do any smartphone tasks with these phones with ease.

The Pixel 6a only comes in one configuration: 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, while the OnePlus 9 comes with an extra 2GB of RAM plus the option for double the storage.

Cameras

Both phones offer essentially dual-camera systems covering the wide and ultra-wide focal range. The Pixel 6a has a pair of 12MP sensors handling those shots, while the OnePlus 9 uses a 48MP main camera and a 50MP ultra-wide that then produces binned 12MP and 12.5MP photos. There’s also a useless 2MP monochrome sensor that we can ignore.

In terms of camera hardware and software processing technology, the OnePlus 9’s is a bit ahead. The IMX789 sensor OnePlus uses for its main camera is newer than the Pixel 6a’s IMX363, and it has a larger image sensor to boot. But Google’s computational photography is unmatched, and that, along with Tensor, really helps the Pixel 6a’s cameras punch way, way above its weight class. Simply put, the OnePlus 9’s main camera is really good, but the Pixel 6a is great. This will be noticeable, particularly in low light shots, in which Google’s “night sight” not only produces a brighter image, but also one with excellent colors and contrast.

For ultra-wide photography, however, the OnePlus 9’s shooter is arguably better, as the camera sensor is larger, and pixel binning allows OnePlus to generate more light and details in a shot.

Camera module of the Google Pixel 6a

Battery, haptics, and other hardware bits

Battery sizes are just about even — 4,500 mAh in the OnePlus 9, and 4,410 mAh in the Pixel 6a. Since the Pixel 6a has a smaller, slower display, and it has Google’s own SoC which boosts energy efficiency, this allows the Pixel 6a to achieve better battery life. Neither phone is going to an endurance champ, but the Pixel 6a can likely go an entire day of heavy use, while the OnePlus 9 likely won’t.

However, the OnePlus 9 comes with a charging brick while the Pixel 6a does not, and the OnePlus 9 charges much faster too, at 65W to the Pixel 6a’s measly 18W charging speed.

Haptics and speakers are solid for both phones — typing on either device is a joy, and the stereo speakers pump out satisfactory audio. There is no headphone jack in either phone, however.


Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Software

The Pixel 6a being a newer phone — and a Pixel at that — means it runs on the absolute latest Android version. The OnePlus 9 ships out of the box with the older Android 11, but depending on where you are, you may get the Android 12 update.

Even on Android 11, though, the OxygenOS screen running on the OnePlus 9 is a joy to use, with speedy, ultra-fluid animations and lots of shortcut gestures. The version of Android running in the Pixel 6a is perhaps the purest form of Android (it is, after all, made by Google for its baby), but it doesn’t have as many shortcut gestures.

But in return, the Pixel 6a’s software is very smart, with the best voice dictation in any smartphone, as well as Pixel exclusive features like “Magic Eraser,” which can remove objects from the background of photos.

OxygenOS 11 on the OnePlus 9 Pro


Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Performance

As mentioned, the Snapdragon 888 powering the OnePlus 9 actually scores higher in benchmarks than the Tensor, but you won’t really notice much performance differences between the two unless you’re a heavy gamer. Otherwise, for basic smartphone usage, both phones perform very well in 2022. We generally think the OnePlus 9 is just a beat faster at launching apps, but the Pixel camera is a bit more intelligent. For example, have you ever sat in a bar and wondered “what’s this song playing?” The Pixel 6a will identify that for you and show the track title on the phone’s Always-On Display. It’s a nice little touch that shows the Pixel is a bit more “aware” than other phones. You can, of course, turn this off if it creeps you out. Both phones have excellent speakers, though the OnePlus 9’s larger screen will make videos feel more immersive.

Chalk Pixel 6a on white background.


Google Pixel 6a vs OnePlus 9: Which phone should you get?

It’s a close battle but if prices are even, we recommend the Pixel 6a because it has an objectively better camera and more years of guaranteed software updates. There are areas in which the OnePlus 9 is superior, such as having a better display, more premium build quality, and a slightly more powerful GPU, but these are things that matter less than general camera and software updates in our opinion.

Pixel 6 in three colors on a gradient neon background

Notice in the above paragraph we said “if prices are even,” that’s because the OnePlus 9 being a year old means there could be frequent sales and lots more availability in the pre-owned, second hand market. We have seen some OnePlus 9 listing on Amazon for as low as $350, which would put it $100 cheaper than the Pixel 6a. The Pixel 6a has deals too, but being a new phone, it’s unlikely to see major price drops any time soon. If there is going to be a three-digit price difference, then the OnePlus 9 jumps back into contention — but only if you’re okay with not getting software updates nearly as fast as the Pixel 6a. Either way, both of these phones are really good handsets if you don’t want to pay more than $500.

    The Google Pixel 6a brings back a lot of what made the Pixel 6 awesome, but in a more affordable package.
    The OnePlus 9 is a year old now but still a very capable phone in 2022.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.

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