Not too long ago, there were plenty of compelling reasons to spend over $900 on a smartphone. Nowadays, you will have to find an excuse to pay so much.

I’ve run out of reasons to splurge and stopped buying fancier phones with the “Pro” moniker in the last two years. That’s not just because I’m frugal. Cheaper phones have become increasingly indistinguishable from higher-end ones, and the few features that set them apart are rarely worth the extra cost.

Google’s new budget phone hitting stores this week, the Pixel 7A, is the latest testament to the maturity of the smartphone market and presents an opportunity to save money. The entry-level phone, priced at $500, is in many ways on par with its premium counterpart, the $900 Pixel 7 Pro. And based on my week-long testing, I’d recommend the budget model for the most Android users.

Bear with me as I break the tradition of reviewing phone features. Putting the value of the Pixel 7A into perspective requires a lesson in smartphone history.

For most of the last decade, the biggest downside to buying Android phones over Apple iPhones was that they were short-lived. Most Android phones received software updates for about two years, by which time they became less safe to use because they lacked security protections against the latest vulnerabilities. By contrast, iPhones received updates for about six years.

Many Android phone makers had trouble keeping up with software updates because they relied on chips and components from a variety of different manufacturers, and it was difficult to keep new operating systems working with all those parts.

So, for a long time, spending more on an Android phone made sense. Samsung’s high-end Galaxy smartphones, which cost between $700 and $1,000, got software updates several years longer than other Androids, in part because the South Korean maker tightly controlled its hardware production.

But Google recently gained an advantage. In 2018, the search giant acquired mobile phone maker HTC, allowing it to make its own mobile computing chip, called the Tensor. Google now controls its Pixel hardware and Android software, so it can guarantee software updates for its Tensor-powered Pixel phones for at least five years.

That longer lifespan, combined with Google’s Tensor, which makes Pixel phones faster and more power-efficient, is a win for consumers.

“They want the latest features and they want them to stay secure, so those are the things we focus on the most,” said Brian Rakowski, a Google executive who oversees Pixel phones.

With all that in mind, the Pixel 7A, which packs the same Tensor chip as the higher-end Pixel, offers the best value for money among Android phones. That is how.

The most obvious difference between the Pixel 7A and the higher-priced Pixel is the screen. At 6.1 inches diagonally, the screen is slightly smaller than the Pixel 7 Pro’s 6.7-inch display. Whether that’s good or bad depends on you and your body type. For me, a person with a slim build, the Pixel 7A is a reasonable size that feels easier to operate with one hand and fits more comfortably in a pocket.

Google also says that the glass on the Pixel 7 Pro’s screen is of a higher quality than the screen on the Pixel 7A. But in my experience, all phone screens are susceptible to breaking when dropped on a hard surface, and it’s always a better idea to use a protective case.

The other main difference between the premium model and the cheaper one is the camera. The Pixel 7A has a dual-lens camera, and the Pixel 7 Pro has a triple-lens system that can zoom to a higher resolution. Otherwise, both phones include the same camera software, including a night mode that makes them capable of taking photos in low light, and a tool for sharpening blurry photos. The Pixel 7A’s camera excels in all of these features.

What matters most in a camera is how the photos look in daylight, because that’s how we take most of our photos. I took photos of my dog, Max, with both phones, and the images from both devices looked sharp and detailed. While images taken with the Pixel 7 Pro’s camera overall looked a bit better, they certainly didn’t look $400 better. (You are the judge.)

Finally, the Pixel 7A’s battery lasted long enough to get through a normal day of general use, including web browsing and checking email, just like the Pixel 7 Pro.

The blurred line between budget and premium phones raises questions about the sales tactics used by tech companies to market their high-end products. Companies like Apple, Google and Samsung often say their expensive phones are aimed at “professional” users, the high-income road warriors who spend hours talking on the phone, texting and juggling apps.

However, the image of the professional user has become a marketing myth in the context of smartphones. In almost every occupation, whether you’re a college student, truck driver, or white-collar professional, people rely heavily on phones, and most phones at this point excel at all of those tasks.

So choose a phone based on your needs, your body type, the operating system you prefer, and the apps you use. A budget phone like the Pixel 7A may be just the thing, regardless of what marketers want you to think.

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