iPhone SE vs. Google Pixel 6a: It’s the ecosystem that matters most

Apple doesn’t make budget phones. The closest you can find is the iPhone SE, which is updated about every two years and starts at $429. In the Android world, there are many budget phones, where a brand new model costs $300 or less. They are not badbut most people would be happier with something “mid-range,” and that’s where Google’s Pixel a-series phones come in.

Google’s latest budget phone is the Pixel 6a, easily the most similar thing in the Android world to the iPhone SE: it’s a mid-range phone made by the same company that makes the software ecosystem it works in, and priced at $ 449 it costs almost the same. Our sister site TechAdvisor has reviewed the Pixel 6a and loved it, saying it “crams in the best bits of the more expensive Pixel 6 and 6 Pro at a very attractive price.” So if you have between $400 and $500 to spend on a phone, which one should you pick? Let’s compare the differences.

iPhone SE vs Pixel 6a: Design and Display

Apple and Google have very different design philosophies for their mid-range phones. Google is trying to make its phone completely modern, mimicking the aesthetics of its more expensive siblings with an edge-to-edge display and an under-display fingerprint scanner. The iPhone SE takes a year-old iPhone case, complete with oversized bezels and Touch ID home button, and replaces the inside with the latest iPhone processor. Here’s how the two differ in size and weight:

iPhone SE: 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches, 5.09 ounces
Pixel 6a: 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 inches, 6.3 grams

The Pixel 6a is significantly larger and heavier, but has a much larger screen at 6.1 inches compared to the iPhone SE’s paltry 4.7 inches. The iPhone SE’s old Touch ID design and large bezels really hold it back here: Apple’s newer designs fit a lot more screen in a case of this size (for example, the iPhone 13 mini is physically smaller but has a much larger screen). Surface). The Pixel 6a is comparable in size, weight and screen area to a regular iPhone 13.

Google has a built-in fingerprint scanner, so the screen extends to the edges just like iPhones with Face ID. Many users were dissatisfied with the slow response of the in-display sensor on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, but Google uses a different sensor with the 6a. Reports are mixed, some say it’s much faster and more reliable, and others don’t see much difference. Anyway, the sensor on the iPhone SE is extremely fast and reliable.

Both phones are available in three colors. The iPhone SE is available in Midnight, Starlight and Product(red). The Pixel 6a is available in sage, chalk and charcoal. In other words, you get a very dark gray, a very light white, and green or red.

Our take: Those who prefer smaller and lighter phones will appreciate the iPhone SE, but that large bezel design and home button are just outdated and take up a lot of visible screen space.

iPhone SE vs Pixel 6a: Processor, Specs and Battery

This year’s Pixel 6a is quite different from last year’s Pixel 5a in that it uses Google’s proprietary Tensor processor rather than Qualcomm’s midrange chip. The latest iPhone SE is essentially a 2017 iPhone 8 with the latest A15 processor inside. Here’s how the specs break down:

iPhone SE

Processor: A15 BionicRAM: 4GBStorage: 64GB/128GB/256GBBattery: 2018mAhCharging: Lightning, 18WConnectivity: 5G (sub-6GHz only), Wi-Fi 6Water/dust resistance: IP67OS: iOS 15 currently, iOS 19 likely

Pixel 6a

Processor: Google TensorRAM: 6GBStorage: 128GBBattery: 4410mAhCharging: USB-C, 18WConnectivity: 5G (sub-6GHz* only), Wi-Fi 6 and 6EWater/dust resistance: IP67OS: Android 12 currently, Android 15 guaranteed

Google’s Tensor processor is the same as in the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, but it doesn’t come close to the A15 in CPU or GPU performance. Apple chips are basically twice as fast. (Tech Advisor recorded a 2745 multi-core score in Geekbench 5 while the Phone SE placed 4713).

Don’t be fooled by the Pixel’s higher RAM and battery numbers either: iPhones are known for doing a lot more with less in those areas. Since battery life is one of our main complaints with the iPhone SE (although the 2022 model has improved over the awful 2020 model), we wouldn’t be surprised if the Pixel 6a lasted longer. Most reviews are complimentary about battery life, with tech Advisor calling the battery life “excellent”.

Both phones support 5G, but only sub-6GHz networks. (Verizon in the US sells a version of the Pixel 6a for $499 that supports mmWave 5G. You don’t get wireless charging with the Pixel 6a, either.)

Our opinion: look through TechAdvisor’s benchmarks in its Pixel 6a review, it’s clear that Apple is still running in circles around Google, in terms of performance. But we couldn’t get through a whole day without charging the iPhone SE, and most reviewers say the new Pixel easily gets through the day and then some. Do you want “fast enough” with decent battery life, or “super fast” with disappointing battery life? With the iPhone SE, you can choose from three different storage sizes (64GB, 128GB and 256GB). The Pixel 6a is only available with 128 GB.

iPhone SE vs Pixel 6a: Camera

Apple and Google both put an emphasis on the cameras of their most affordable phones. You expect the same quality as the flagships that cost twice as much, but these aren’t cheap $400 cameras either:

iPhone SE

Front: 7MP front camera, ƒ/2.2

Rear: 12 MP wide, ƒ/1.8, OIS

Pixel 6a

Front: 8MP front camera, ƒ/2.0

Rear: 12.2 MP wide, ƒ/1.7, OIS
Rear: 12MP Ultrawide, ƒ/2.2

Google leads the way here with an additional 12MP ultra-wide camera with a 114-degree field of view. It also supports dark mode, Google’s equivalent of night mode, which is missing from the iPhone SE. So for most shots, the iPhone SE will perform quite well. Without night mode, it struggles quite a bit in low light.

Our take: The Pixel 6a has better hardware, and Google’s image processing and features are top notch for photos. Without making a head-to-head comparison, we think the Pixel 6a is probably the better phone for taking photos, but Apple’s video quality is second to none.

The Pixel 6a looks like a modern smartphone.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

iPhone SE vs Pixel 6a: The Real Difference

Of course, hardware and feature lists only tell part of the story. The real reason to prefer one over the other is because of their ecosystems. Android vs iOS. Google vs Apple. Siri vs Google Assistant. Far more than all the hardware differences, these are the considerations that will tell you which phone you will enjoy more.

If you’re using a Mac or an iPad, you’ll appreciate the seamless way the iPhone interacts with it. If you want an Apple Watch, you pretty much have to have an iPhone. If AirPods are your thing, you’ll love the way they work with Apple gear, while they’re just another pair of bluetooth earbuds when used with Android phones.

But if you live in the Windows world or use Google software and services all the time (Gmail, Maps, Assistant/Home, Chrome), you’ll like a good Android phone, especially a Pixel.

Your phone is no longer an island in itself. It’s part of, if not the center of, an entire digital life. The way it connects to the other parts of your digital life is the best feature of all.

iPhone SE vs Pixel 6a: Conclusion

Both phones offer tremendous value, but in different ways. They both offer smooth performance and excellent cameras. Apple has a much faster processor, but an older design with a smaller screen and only one camera on the back.

If the Apple vs. Google ecosystem doesn’t interest you, it’s hard to look at what’s on offer here and not think the Pixel 6a is the better phone overall. No, it’s not nearly as fast as the iPhone SE, but it’s still fast enough for its price. The modern design with edge-to-edge display makes a huge difference, and the camera is fantastic with premium processing and an extra ultra-wide rear camera. The battery life is also longer.

We’ve said it before, but Apple made a mistake when it reused the iPhone 8 case in the latest iPhone SE. The original iPhone SE in 2016 used an iPhone 5S, meaning it went back 2.5 years. The second-generation iPhone SE in 2020 used the iPhone 8 body, again 2.5 years old. Now, the third-generation model, introduced in 2022, uses the same 4.5-year-old design and is unlikely to be updated for another two years.

iPhone users would be better served if the next iPhone SE (probably in 2024) used the iPhone 13 design, which is then 2.5 years old. Instead of focusing on the latest A-series processor, Apple can use the previous-generation processor (then the A16) to keep it affordable. This would probably make it faster than any other Android phone in its price range, and the big improvements to the screen, camera and battery that go along with the newer casing and design would make for a much better overall experience.

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