After a two-year hiatus, the Google Pixel 6a finally made it to India, bringing a standout Android flavor to a market brimming with tons of terrific mid-range options. It’s the only phone that can get you the coveted pixel experience in the country, ranging from all the little software touches to an outstanding camera.
However strong it may be on those fronts, the budget Pixel has to compete with the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi, and OnePlus in India. These brands have localized their products and software to meet the needs of Indian users. This is where the Pixel 6a lags. The Pixel 6a is a US-first phone that presents a unique set of challenges for those coming from any other Android smartphone brand.
Where does your other SIM go?
Like in many Asian and African markets, using dual SIM cards simultaneously is common in India. The data rates are so affordable in this part of the world that people use a separate phone number, say, only for work.
With the Pixel 6a, you get one physical and one eSIM. This means you can’t pop in a nano SIM for your secondary number.
While India’s two largest network providers — Jio and Airtel — let you switch to an eSIM from your home, Jio’s process is complicated, and it requires you to send multiple texts in a specific format. And if you slip up even slightly, your only option is to visit a Jio store, where you’re required to do a lot of paperwork for the new SIM issuance. Also, your physical Jio SIM may lose signal until the eSIM activation is completed at the store.
Considering Jio has hundreds of millions of users, an involved process like this is bound to be troublesome for many users.
Of all the telcos in India, Airtel has the most straightforward SIM conversion process. Meanwhile, Vodafone (Vi) only allows you to use an eSIM on a postpaid connection (which isn’t as common in India), and BSNL doesn’t have an eSIM option for consumers.
It’s smooth sailing after the initial hassle
Using an eSIM isn’t a problem. The phone treats it as a regular SIM, and your usage isn’t affected in any way, including for banking and UPI apps.
It’d be wrong to blame it on the eSIM tech for the troubles essentially created by a single carrier. It’s the implementation that needs work. If you use Jio and plan to pick up a Pixel 6a or another phone with an eSIM, there’s a good chance you’ll need some assistance managing your SIM transfer.
An iOS 16-like quick eSIM to eSIM transfer is the ideal way to go in the future (present?) with port-less phones, but with the kind of fragmentation in Android, Google will have to step in.
I now have a WhatsApp Business account
I don’t run a business, but I still have a business account with WhatsApp. Having two phone numbers also means two WhatsApp accounts. Most Android skins from Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Samsung allow you to ‘clone’ an app to run two accounts simultaneously, which is helpful in the case of WhatsApp and for many other services.
Without the cloning feature on the Pixel 6a, I now have to use the WhatsApp Business app for my secondary number. iPhone users also have to use the same workaround. It isn’t ideal, but it’s better than setting up another device profile or carrying two phones.
Google is reportedly working on a native app cloning tool for Android, but that’s at least a year out, if not more.
When someone says the Google Pixel 6a is hot, they’re not speaking figuratively
The Google Pixel 6a runs hot, and there aren’t two ways about it. The Tensor chip under the hood heats up quickly. Light productivity work or charging can make the phone feel warm, even through a relatively thick Spigen case. Meanwhile, gaming extensively or using the camera can also trigger the phone to heat.
This is happening during India’s relatively cool (but humid) monsoon months. And it isn’t hard to imagine how worse it could get around May and June when the harsh north Indian summer is at its peak.
Google’s after-sales support, or the lack thereof
In a country of 1.4 billion people, Google has one service center, which is outsourced to another company. The result? A shabby experience for customers, who must wait close to a month for basic repairs and, in many cases, without proper communication from the company.
Google’s service partner offers a home pickup and drop facility, but that’s the only good part. For some, the lack of proper device support has resulted in subpar repair jobs that do more harm than good.
A smartphone is an expensive investment for many people who plan to use it for several years. So, it becomes imperative to have physical contact points where people can walk in and talk to someone to develop trust in the company. With Google, even its official online store for India doesn’t inspire much confidence. Brands like Samsung and Xiaomi, on the other hand, have nailed that aspect.
Many Pixel-exclusive features are also US-exclusive
One big selling point for Pixels is its unique software treatment over Android. From Now Playing to Magic Eraser, plenty of Pixel features are fan-favorites even in India. However, not every Pixel feature is available in the country.
For instance, crash detection and assistant voice typing that the Tensor chip enabled aren’t available for those in India. Call screening is another miss, along with Live Translation, which is only available in the Messages app for Hindi. Given WhatsApp is the most popular choice in the country, it would’ve made more sense to allow translation across different apps. And India, with more than 20 languages, would be the perfect test ground for such a feature.
Other than these, the option to record calls is absent, even though Google’s dialer supports it on other phones. And there’s no quick toggle to switch the mobile data SIM, which you can do only from network settings.
No charger is not good
Most people upgrading from another Android phone to the Pixel 6a don’t have a spare charger with a USB Type-C out. The Pixel ships with a cable that has a Type-C connector on both ends, which means nearly all buyers will end up getting a charger separately.
The official 30W charger from Google costs over ₹2,000 (~$25), further increasing the upfront cost of a phone that isn’t cheap at its full price in India.
A similarly priced Realme GT Neo 3 gets a beefy 150W charger bundled in the box.
Most other brands continue to include chargers with phones, but not just any charger. We’ve seen some cutting-edge charging tech being offered as an in-box accessory. While we don’t endorse the unbundling of chargers from any phone in emerging markets, at least budget and mid-range phones should be spared.
The Pixel 6a is uniquely a US-first phone
Google doesn’t have a meaningful share in the smartphone market outside its home country. So, it makes sense that the device and software optimizations are geared toward the market where its largest pool of customers is.
Many of the above-listed caveats of getting a Pixel 6a in India aren’t necessarily the limitations of the device but are a sign of Google’s approach and priority. It would take more than having English (India) or Hindi as a language option to give Indian buyers a better Pixel experience. That starts with learning the usage pattern and what the local needs are.
Will these issues be a dealbreaker if you’re eyeing a Pixel 6a in India? Maybe not (except for the service part). The situation isn’t very different from iPhones. Apple phones don’t take into account the local needs, and you must work around its quirks. If you’re coming from a Xiaomi or a Realme, the Pixel 6a will be a nice refresh that makes you overlook its imperfections.