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Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Pixel 6a: What’s the latest go-to Android phone?

TechRadar logo TechRadar 8/8/2022 Jon Mundy
Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a image on colorful background © Provided by TechRadar Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a image on colorful background

Google’s latest mid-range smartphone is now in shops, offering a classy experience for half the price of a flagship. But what are its chances against the current people’s champ, the Samsung Galaxy S22?

There are some fascinating points of comparison between these two phones, with the two manufacturers taking very different approaches to their art. Who comes out on top?

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S22 hit shops on February 25 in the US, March 3 in Australia, and on March 11 in the UK. Prices start from $799 / £769 / AU$1,249 for 128GB, while $849 / £819 / AU$1,349 will get you the 256GB model.

The Pixel 6a arrived in shops on July 28, 2022. It’s priced at $449 / £399 / AU$749 for the sole 128GB capacity model available.

It’s a clear win for Google’s phone, then, with a $350 / £370 / AU$500 lower asking price. However, with the Galaxy S22’s earlier release, it’s now possible to find it at a heavy discount.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a design

There’s a fundamental difference in design language between these two phones. The Galaxy S22 has a slightly more traditional look compared to the Pixel 6a’s bold two-tone approach, with flat surfaces and a shiny, subtly curved frame.

Both phones stand out for their camera module designs, but in very different ways. The Galaxy S22 has the company’s stylish ‘Contour Cut’ camera element, which swoops and melds into the frame. Google’s Pixel 6a, meanwhile, has a width-spanning visor that splits its dual-tone colors.

Talking of which, the Pixel 6a offers just three color options: Chalk, Charcoal, and Sage. The Galaxy S22, meanwhile, comes in Phantom Black, White, Pink Gold, Green, Graphite, Sky Blue, Violet, and Cream; though precise availability depends on region.

Despite having the same-sized display (as we’ll go on to discuss), the Samsung Galaxy S22 is a much smaller phone than the Google Pixel 6a. The Galaxy S22 measures 146 x 70.6 x 7.6mm, while the Pixel 6a measures in at 152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9mm. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S22 weighs a mere 168g, more than 10g lighter than the 179g Pixel 6a.

Samsung’s phone justifies its higher price with a full IP68 rating, meaning it’s more water resistant than the IP67-rated Pixel 6a.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a display 

As mentioned already, both of these phones utilise 6.1-inch displays. Both use OLED panels, and both have FHD+ resolutions. Another shared feature is that both sport centrally mounted punch-hole selfie cameras.

Where the Galaxy S22 screen wins is with its refresh rate. At 120Hz, it’s literally twice as fluid as the Pixel 6a’s 60Hz equivalent. That gives the Galaxy S22 an advantage in terms of the smoothness of scrolling through menus and web content.

Both phones use in-display fingerprint sensors, but Samsung uses a more advanced and more secure ultrasonic system.

All in all, it’s a win for the Galaxy S22 display on smoothness grounds. But these are otherwise two bold, bright, color-rich displays.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a camera

Samsung and Google are two of the best phone camera makers in the business, but they take different approaches to mastery. At the risk of oversimplifying things: Google is mostly about the software, while Samsung is largely about the hardware.

The Pixel 6a gives you some downright creaky camera hardware, with the same 12MP main camera that’s been in the family since the Pixel 2, which launched way back in 2017. That’s backed by a similarly humble 12MP ultra-wide, and unlike the Pixel 6 Pro, there's no telephoto sensor at all.

It doesn’t matter too much, though. Thanks to the company’s image processing chops, aided by its bespoke Tensor silicon, the Pixel 6a takes really good photos. As we said in our review, “they’ll beat out nearly any other handset at this price”.

Of course, as we’ve established, the Galaxy S22 isn’t at the same price as the Pixel 6a. To that end, Samsung has invested more in premium hardware, with a brand new 50MP wide sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide, and – praise be – a dedicated 10MP telephoto camera, capable of 3x zoomed shots.

It’s a far more flexible camera than Google’s, but there’s something to be said for Google’s peerless exposure and clearer, cooler color science. Samsung’s punched-up colors can be a little much for some, and certainly aren’t what you’d call true to life.

Google has brought across some of the stand-out photographic tricks from the Pixel 6, including Magic Eraser – letting you delete background elements with a touch.

Samsung, for its part, gives you a full suite of manual controls in its Pro mode, with Expert RAW giving you more editable results. Single Take, meanwhile, lets you take videos and snaps simultaneously.

Around front, Google gives you a slightly underwhelming 8MP selfie camera, while Samsung goes with a sharper 10MP front camera.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a specs and performance

Both of these phones run on nominally flagship silicon, though neither is at the very top of the tree.

As is Samsung’s faintly exasperating wont, the Galaxy S22 is split between two different processors, depending on your region. Most people will get the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which until recently was the fastest Android chip on the market. The rest get Samsung’s own Exynos 2200, which is broadly similar, if slightly inferior.

Google has equipped its phone with a home-brewed Tensor chip, which doesn’t perform quite as well in conventional benchmark tests. We’re talking a Geekbench 5 multi-core score of around 2800, while the Galaxy S22’s two chips burst well past the 3200 mark.

The Tensor chip is slightly less advanced, as this suggests, having been built to a less efficient 5nm (as opposed to the Snapdragon’s 4nm) standard.

Samsung has the edge in memory terms too, with 8GB of RAM to the Pixel 6a’s 6GB.

Still, raw performance wasn’t what Google was gunning for here. It’s all about that machine learning, which is why the Pixel 6a can do things like that Magic Eraser camera trick, or perform real-time transcription.

Both of these phones perform well in the hand, but the Galaxy S22 has the edge. Our reviewer found that the Pixel 6a “was snappy enough for navigation and most tasks, but now and then it slowed down when we were taxing it too much”.

Meanwhile, our Galaxy S22 reviewer found that the phone had “more than enough power for casual mobile tasks (web browsing, app work) and extra juice for videos, games, 4K video shooting, and editing”. Only 8K video recording really made it break out in a sweat.

Google strikes back with its pure Android 12 software, which is blissfully free of the clutter and bloatware that continues to affect all Samsung devices. Some of that stuff, as usual, might be useful to you, but we’d take Google’s clean approach over Samsung’s busy One UI any day.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs Google Pixel 6a battery 

Samsung has supplied the Galaxy S22 with a 3,700mAh battery, which is significantly smaller than the Pixel 6a’s 4,410mAh cell.

In practice, while neither phone particularly impressed us with their stamina, the Samsung phone arguably comes out stronger. We managed to get through an intensive day of usage – just about – whilst the Pixel 6a “often struggled to last a full day” from “everyday medium use.”

Neither phone charges particularly fast, but again, Samsung has the edge. The Galaxy S22 support 25W charging, while the Pixel 6a only stretches to 18W.

The Galaxy S22 also wins bonus points for supporting 15W wireless charging. Google’s mid-ranger doesn’t support wireless charging at all.

Takeaway

In the Pixel 6a, Google has created a handsome, powerful phone at a keen price point. Ultimately, however, it simply isn’t as good as the Samsung Galaxy S22.

Samsung’s phone has more power, a more flexible camera system, more reliable battery life, a smoother display, and a more compact body, not to mention welcome features like IP68 certification and wireless charging. Only its cluttered software really suffers in comparison to its pure Android rival.

True, Samsung’s flagship phone goes for a correspondingly flagship price. But there’s a sense of balance to it that Google’s mid-ranger doesn’t quite achieve, even within its more affordable price bracket.

Given the Galaxy S22’s age, you might even be able to get it for a price that’s a little closer to the Pixel 6a’s if you shop around or if this comparison has clarified that neither phone is for you, our rundown of the best smartphones on the market, might make for a better fit.

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