It’s impossible to recommend a cheap Google Pixel phone

Google Pixel 8a Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I had a terrible time explaining which budget Pixel 8 phone you should buy when I reviewed the Google Pixel 8a. In the end, I settled on the Pixel 8a is the cheap Pixel phone you should buy… except when it’s not.

This confusing situation is entirely Google’s doing and it’s really terrible for us as users. This isn’t entirely about the phones’ specs and design, but the uncertain pricing of the Pixel 8a and Pixel 8 and the delayed release dates for both.

Prices are not set in stone

Google Pixel 8a in Aloe.
Google Pixel 8a Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The retail price of the Pixel 8a starts at $499 and the Pixel 8 starts at $699, which doesn’t sound like a stretch. When writing my review of the Pixel 8a, I had a hard time pinpointing exactly why you should spend an extra $200 to get the Pixel 8, which isn’t a slight against this pricier phone, but rather an affirmation of how good the Pixel 8a is in comparison with him. It does pretty much the same things, just with slight tweaks that might not bother everyone, so why spend more?

So, then? A cut-and-dried situation where you can compare specs and decide if there’s enough value in the Pixel 8 for you personally to spend that extra bit of money to own it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and this is where it becomes quite difficult to say which phone is the best to buy – and this is all because the price of the older Pixel 8 varies quite a bit.

Just weeks before the Pixel 8a was announced, the Pixel 8 was available at Best Buy and Amazon for $549 — a significant discount off its regular retail price and just $50 more than the Pixel 8a. At this price, it should definitely choose the Pixel 8 over the Pixel 8a, and even if those two deals aren’t happening as you read this, I’d expect that if they happened once, they’ll happen again as retailers struggle to drum up interest in the aging phone.

Release date chaos

A person holding a Google Pixel 8.
Google Pixel 8 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

That’s right, I said aging because the Pixel 8 is getting a little better. It was released in mid-October 2023, more than six months before the Pixel 8a hit the scene. This makes the phone ripe for discounts, as it won’t be long before the Pixel 9 and Pixel 9 Pro are announced, and the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro will suddenly (and wrongly) be much less desirable. Driving interest in a 2023 smartphone mid-life is common practice.

That difference between the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8a is already a conundrum, and the resulting Pixel 8 discounts make the 8a a tough sell when you’re forced to ignore pure retail prices like this. What’s more, the Pixel 8a deals have already started happening, with Amazon throwing in a $100 voucher with the phone, effectively discounting it by that amount. Why has this already happened? When a slightly better version is available for just a little more money, cutting the regular retail price of the “smaller” but newer phone (or splurging it with a tempting deal) will help ensure that it doesn’t remain on the shelves.

What should you, the impatient buyer, do in this frustrating situation? You can wait for a deal on the Pixel 8 instead of buying the Pixel 8a, but also make sure you look for a deal on this phone, which might not sell quickly due to the Pixel 8 deals that have been spotted recently. The Pixel 8a is a very good phone, but you should buy the Pixel 8 if it’s only $50 or even $100 more. But also, if the Pixel 8a suddenly shows up for $399, then It is brilliant buy too. The fact that these scenarios have already happened makes recommending one over the other virtually impossible.

It’s not just Google

Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus in hand.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (left) and Motorola Razr Plus Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

Google’s delayed release dates for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a only add to the price and decision-making chaos, but various other manufacturers are also playing with pricing in a way that makes it difficult to make a final and informed choice. Motorola has been endlessly slashing the prices of its phones, including the Razr Plus and Razr (2023) flip phones, to the point where it should just call the lower price retail and stop messing around.

Samsung’s retail prices are also indicative only, especially during the pre-order period, where trade-ins and additional discounts can make upgrading to the new model look very attractive. But wait and more discounts or offers will arrive, so you should be patient if you prefer to buy your next phone at a lower price.

Motorola and Samsung’s price games are less irritating because the phones in question come out at the same time and the price structure adjustments usually apply to all models. You choose your phone and decide whether to wait for a better price or not. That’s not the case with the Pixel 8a, because it’s coming out many months after its closest competitor, and retail prices apply much less to the older phone, which in turn affects the price of the new phone.

Which Pixel 8 should you buy?

Google Pixel 8a on a table.
Google Pixel 8a Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It’s still solid advice to buy the technology product you want now and not wait for the next big thing, as you’ll just be waiting forever if you don’t. Also, getting the latest model is usually good advice as well. But in the case of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a, it’s not that simple, so what do I do really Do I recommend?

If you can find the Pixel 8 for under $600, or you’re willing to wait until you do, then it’s a great buy. If you see the Pixel 8a for under $400, that’s a great buy too. If both are full retail then the Pixel 8a is very good, but if I buy it I’d always wonder what the Pixel 8 would have been like if I’d been a little more patient. If I bought a similarly very good Pixel 8 at full price, I’d always wonder if I could have saved a bit of money and still been just as happy with the Pixel 8a.

There you have it, a clear-as-mud recommendation on which one to buy, all because of the aggressive pricing and annoying release date strategies that make choosing a Google Pixel phone really frustrating. Until Google announces its entire Pixel lineup at the same time, maybe just buy the iPhone 15 instead. That way, at least the incredibly rare and usually paltry discounts on Apple devices mean you always know where you stand.

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