Google Pixel 8a vs OnePlus 12R: The OnePlus mid-range game is strong this year

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Intro

Earlier this year OnePlus released an awesome mid-range phone, the OnePlus 12R. It packs a ton of performance and even some flagship-level qualities, making it hard not to recommend for a starting price of just $500.
Now the OnePlus 12R has some serious competition to worry about, the Pixel 8a, or otherwise said Google’s 2024 mid-ranger. The Pixel 8a might not have a chipset that is as powerful, but unlike the 12R it packs many of Google’s AI-related features.

In fact, as far as software goes, the Pixel is arguably the better phone here, especially when you factor in that it comes with 7 years of guaranteed Android updates. Suffice it to say, this is an interesting comparison to make, so let’s get into the details.

Pixel 8a vs OnePlus 12R differences explained:

Table of Contents:

Design and Display

Two very different looks and durability choices

The design situation is a bit interesting when comparing the Pixel 8a to the OnePlus 12R, as we have quite the mixed bag here. For starters, the Pixel is much smaller and compact, take a look:

A small detail to point out is that the Pixel 8a comes with a plastic back panel vs the glass one on the OnePlus 12R. That said, we were left with the impression that both phones have good build quality, so we don’t think this should be too big of an issue.

When it comes to durability, there’s a choice to be made when picking either of these phones. If you value a more sturdy screen that will scratch and break less easily, then the OnePlus 12R’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2 will be the better choice compared to the Gorilla Glass 3 on the Pixel 8a.

If you want higher protection against the elements, though, the Pixel has a significantly higher dust and water resistance rating (IP67 vs IP64 on the 12R).

Of course, we cannot forget to mention how different these handsets look. The Pixel 8a is rocking a more subtle version of the iconic camera bar, which, in our opinion, looks much better than the circular camera island of the 12R. Also, the Pixel looks much more oval and round thanks to those curved edges, whereas the OnePlus is has a more rectangular shape in comparison.

Here are the color options for both phones:

Pixel 8a colors

  • Bay (blue)
  • Aloe (green)
  • Obsidian (black)
  • Porcelain (beige)

OnePlus 12R colors

The unboxing experience that Google offers is very different (and arguably worse) compared to that of OnePlus. While Pixel 8a buyers get just the phone and a cable, OnePlus 12R buyers get an 80W power adapter, type-A to C cable, a welcome letter, a pre-applied screen protector, and a logo sticker.

Moving on to the front, The Pixel 8a comes with a 120Hz display variable refresh rate (upgraded from 90Hz on the Pixel 7a), which is what you also get with the OnePlus 12R. That is where the similarities end, though.

Size-wize, of course, the OnePlus 12R definitely takes the cake with its 6.8-inch screen here, at least if you want as big of a display as possible. It is also a curved display, versus the flat one on the Pixel 8a, so yet another point of decision making in case you are particular about that aspect.

Additionally, the Pixel 8a only supports the HDR10+ format for HDR content, whereas the OnePlus 12R also supports Dolby Vision.

Display Measurements:

Okay, so Google claims a peak brightness of 2000 nits for the Pixel 8a while OnePlus states that the 12R is capable of a staggering 4500 nits. Truth of the matter is that these measurements don’t reflect what a user would experience in their daily usage.

Our display lab tests showed us that the Pixel 8a is in fact the phone with the brighter display, managing to score about 350 nits more than the OnePlus 12R.

Things get reversed when we take a look at the color accuracy test, where the OnePlus has done visibly better. Keep in mind, however, that color accuracy can vary from unit to unit. Then again, OnePlus tends to generally be consistent with its quality assurance, so we would expect similar results even if we tested more units.

Performance and Software

New does not mean better
The Tensor G3 in the Pixel 8a is about a year newer compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 that’s powering the OnePlus 12R, but that doesn’t meant it is capable of more. In fact, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is significantly more powerful, as you will see from our benchmark tests below.

For regular tasks, however, we did not notice too big of a difference in terms of how fluid and responsive the phones felt. This is good news, especially if you don’t tend to do anything too system-taxing like playing graphically intensive mobile games or using creative apps such as the mobile versions of Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop, for example.

With the OnePlus, you also have the option to go up to 16GB of RAM, making the phone much more capable at handling many tasks at the same time. We have the 16GB OnePlus 12R here at the office, which did seem to close less minimized apps compared to the Pixel.

Both phones come with the same 128GB and 256GB internal storage options. Neither has expandable storage.

Benchmarks aren’t always a great representation of actual experience you get from a phone, but when one of the devices has this clear of an advantage it is safe to say that it’s genuinely more powerful. The results above resemble the performance difference between two chipsets that are one generation apart, but the twist here is that the older Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is the more capable one.

As for software, the Pixel 8a comes with vanilla Android 14, and the OnePlus 12R comes with an Android 14 skin dubbed OxygenOS 14. OxygenOS is a fairly simplistic and neat Android skin that offers a bit more customization.

Where the Pixel 8a wins is in its AI prowess, showcased with features such as Circle to Search, Live Translate, Generative Edit, Chat Assist, and more. This is something that the 12R is sorely missing in 2024, and likely won’t get anything of this sort in the future.

Speaking of the future, one major benefit that comes with the Pixel 8a is its 7 years of software support (updates and security patches), whereas the OnePlus 12R only comes with 4 years of Android updates and 5 years of security patches.

Camera

Both are great, but differ slightly depending on the scenario

If you want a phone with a dedicated telephoto camera, then you probably should look at another option, like the S23 FE, for example. Neither the Pixel 8a, not the OnePlus 12R come with a telephoto camera. Here’s what they do come with.

Pixel 8a camera specs:

  • 64 MP main with f/1.9 and OIS
  • 13 MP ultra-wide with f/2.2
  • 13 MP front with f/2.2
OnePlus 12R camera specs:

  • 50 MP main with f/1.8 and OIS
  • 8 MP ultra-wide with f/2.2
  • 2 MP macro with f/2.2
  • 16 MP front with f/2.4

Both phones are capable of 4K 60FPS with the main cameras, but only the Pixel can record 4K 30FPS with the selfie camera. The 12R can only go up to 1080P 30FPS with its front snapper.

Now that we have the nerdy specs out of the way, let’s take a look at some sample shots and see real-world examples of these two phone camera systems.

Main Camera

Compared to the Pixel 8a, the OnePlus 12R has handled the HDR much better here. There’s more detail in the shadows, which reveals more of the leafs and grass. Contrast is also higher, as the highlights appear brighter. In short, the 12R has a much more pleasing image versus the rather dull-looking example from the Pixel 8a.

Okay, accidental silly faces aside, we there are some differences here that are clear as night and day. For starters, the 12R’s main camera has captured more detail in the darker areas, which is what we want in a low-lit environment such as this.

The two other major differences are that the OnePlus has a wider field of view so it has capture more inside the shot, and it has a more saturated look with with a slight purple tint vs the more greenish and toned down photo of the Pixel.

Zoom Quality

Given that neither of these phones has a telephoto camera, they are actually not half bad at 5X zoom. The 12R seems to apply more post-processing and has gone with a colder white balance, while the Pixel 8a offers much more accurate colors with slightly less sharpness.

Ultra-wide Camera

Here we actually prefer the more toned down photo of the Pixel 8a, as you can see more from the scene. The 12R has applied too much contrast, which has resulted in some of the areas not being visible enough.

The 8a’s ultra-wide camera also captures more in the shot compared to the 12R, thanks to its wider field of view. 

Selfies

The Pixel 8a‘s selfie camera offers a sharper image compared to the OnePlus. It also seems to have more true-to-life colors. The image from the OnePlus 12R appears with a slight green tint.

Technically, the OnePlus 12R has one more camera meant for macro photography. That said, it is quite a useless camera so we can’t really call it an advantage over for the 12R.

Video Quality

Video Thumbnail

The OnePlus 12R does a decent job at stabilizing the video when recording, but we think the Pixel 8a produced a more stable image here. Also, a big downside to the OnePlus 12R is that you cannot switch between the main and ultra-wide cameras once you have started recording.

Audio Quality and Haptics

OnePlus phones, even the more affordable OnePlus 12R, have great speakers. The 8a also has pretty good audio quality, but we prefer the sound from the 12R, as it has a richer sound with more depth. Both get loud enough, though, so no need to worry about volume with either.

Haptics are a similar story. Even though Google upgraded the vibration motors of the more expensive Pixel 8 series, it seems the more affordable 8a remains with the same haptic feedback as its predecessor. The OnePlus 12R, on other other hand, comes with great haptics, especially for its price.

Battery Life and Charging

OnePlus 12R has much faster charging but no wireless

The OnePlus 12R comes with a 5,500 mAh battery vs 4,492 mAh on the Pixel 8a. Of course, there’s more to battery life than just the battery capacity and the end result is also affected by the power efficiency of a phone. Tensor G3, for example, is not as efficient as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.

PhoneArena Battery Test Results:

The combination of a significantly larger battery and a chipset that is more power efficient makes the OnePlus 12R a much better choice compared to the Pixel 8a if you are looking for a phone that will last you longer. As you can see from our battery tests, that is especially true if you play a lot of games and watch videos.

PhoneArena Charging Test Results:

Charging is kind of a no-brainer most of the time when a OnePlus phone is in one end of the ring, as its phones typically have faster charging then most of the competition.

The case here is exactly that, the the OnePlus 12R sporting a maximum of 80W wired (100W outside the US) charging compared to the 18W of the Pixel 8a. That said, the OnePlus does not come with wireless charging, unlike the Pixel, which can be wirelessly charged at a maximum of 7.5W.

Specs Comparison

There is almost no resemblance between the Pixel 8a and OnePlus 12R spec sheets. For the most part, the OnePlus is equipped with more impressive hardware, given its larger display and battery, faster charging and chipset, as well as the option to go for more RAM.

Which one should you buy?

For $500, you can have much of what you would expect from a flagship phone with the OnePlus 12R thanks to its premium hardware. OnePlus really took us back to the time when it made relatively affordable phones with performance and user experience that rivaled the premium market.

On the other hand, the Pixel 8a opens a door to all of the Google software that makes Pixel phones (and other Pixel devices) impressive, and does that for a significantly lower price than Google’s flagships. Of course, there’s also the longevity aspect when we talk about the Pixel, particularly when it comes to those 7 years of software support.

Looks are also important to many buyers out there, and we genuinely think the Pixel 8a has the OnePlus 12R beat in that department, easily. But at the end of the day, this is a more personal preference kind of thing.

Besides the longer battery life, larger display, and more powerful chipset, the OnePlus 12R also has better audio quality than the Pixel 8a. Objectively speaking, the OnePlus offers you a somewhat more complete package for the same price. Yes, the camera performance might not be exactly on the same level as the Pixel’s, but it is pretty close. If the longer software support or any of the Pixel-specific AI features are not important to you, then the OnePlus 12R might be the way to go.


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