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Google‘s Pixel 4a is finally here and although it has arrived a few months behind its rumored schedule, many are eager to buy one during these trying times. How much has been done to improve the Google-fied budget Pixel 3a from last year? Well, last year’s formula was quite successful that Google didn’t need to change it up too much. In fact, it lowered the price and doubled the storage.
The 4a gets a modest performance boost with a Snapdragon 730G chipset, 2 additional GB of RAM, and updated UFS 2.1 storage speeds (The Pixel 3a used eMMC 5.1). A slight boost in battery capacity is seen as well, and the display size was stretched out to cover more surface area, and there’s a punch hole selfie camera cut-out of the screen as well.
The backside and frame are both made of plastic, but the display glass is now made of Gorilla Glass 3. In addition, the camera, while otherwise identical in hardware, gets a slightly brighter f/1.7 aperture lens (the 3a had f/1.8). We are expecting to see camera performance comparable to what we saw on the Pixel 3a last year, which was wonderful to say the least.
Google Pixel 4a specs:
- Body: 144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm; 143g; Plastic body and frame
- Display: 5.81-inch OLED; 1080 x 2340 px resolution; 19.5:9 aspect ratio; 443ppi
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G (Octa-core (2×2.2 GHz Kryo 470 Gold & 6×1.8 GHz Kryo 470 Silver); Adreno 618 GPU
- Memory; 6GB RAM; 128GB UFS 2.1 internal storage (non-expandable)
- O/S Software: Android 10
- Rear camera: 12.2 MP, f/1.7, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS
- Front camera: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide), 1.12µm
- Video: 4K @ 30fps; 1080p @ 30/60/120 fps
- Battery: 3140 mAh battery: 18W charging
- Misc: NFC, Bluetooth v5.1, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner; Wi-Fi 5GHz b/g/n/ac; dualSIM (nano+eSIM)
Despite the taller screen, Google managed to shrink the footprint of the 4a (compared to the 3a) in both height and width. This is the first Google Pixel phone to feature a punch hole cut out for the selfie camera.
With the Pixel 4a, Google is solidifying its foothold in the midrange category. The higher-end Pixels that came before it excelled in camera technology, but these days the competition swerves around Google’s offerings. With the Pixel 3a, Google has proven it can make cheap hardware deliver a premium-feeling experience.
Let’s dig further into the Pixel 4a starting with the unboxing.
Unboxing the Google Pixel 4a
Inside the box is the Pixel 4a itself, a quick start guide and safety information card, SIM eject tool, a USB-C to C cable, and a USB-C Power Delivery charge adapter. There’s also a USB-C to A adapter, useful for transferring data from an iPhone or other Android device. This adapter doubles as an OTG input so you can mount a USB drive into the Pixel 4a.
The Pixel 4a doesn’t come with any earbuds, case, or screen protector.
Design and build quality
The Pixel 4a is built with a plastic frame and back panel while the display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Like the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, the Pixel 4a no longer has the “window” on the back, so it is completely matte on the back, save for the camera bump. It’s interesting to see this fingerprint scanner, which is also matte on the back, we can’t help but think it might have been more aesthetically pleasing to make it shiny to contrast the rest of the back.
The camera setup is square like its more expensive siblings, but it only houses a single 12.2MP camera, and a dual-LED flash. We like that the styling matches with the Pixel 4. The camera housing does protrude, but not enough to make rocking back and forth on the table a serious issue.
The rear cover and the frame are a single piece, so holding the Pixel 4a feels really nice and smooth with no breaks or seams. At 144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm, the Pixel 4a is slightly shorter and narrower than the Pixel 3a, despite having a screen that takes up more space. It’s even slightly lighter at 143g and its weight is well distributed.
It’s a well built phone, but we wonder if it has any structural weak points. It doesn’t creak or buckle under light pressure, so that’s worth something. Remember that the Pixel 4a is not rated for water or splash resistance, and we would not bet that it’s even sealed well for such an event.
Google has omitted Active edge from all Pixels starting with the 4a. Perhaps it realized that the pressure sensors placed in the frame take up more space than is worth the squeezy feature. You can do the same thing by swiping up from a corner, but it won’t be the same.
The front of this Pixel finally looks like it belongs in the present day. The Pixel 3 had large bezels (and the Pixel 3 XL had the bathtub notch), and the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL had the honkin’ upper bezel for the underwhelming Motion Sense hardware. The bezels on the Pixel 4a are the smallest we’ve seen on a Pixel phone thus far and the display fills the space nicely.
There’s a 5.81-inch OLED screen with a punch hole cut out for the 8MP selfie camera. This cutout does have a border that isolates it from the display. The front-facing speaker is now a slit that sits above the display, so we wonder if it will affect the stereo loudspeaker performance.
There’s a headphone jack at the top, which you don’t see on the higher-end phones anymore.
At the bottom is a USB-C port, and two symmetrical ports – the right one is a loudspeaker, and the other is a microphone.
The SIM tray is on the lower left side of the phone, and it only takes a single nanoSIM card. There’s no expandable storage here, but dualSIM is possible via eSIM.
The power key is accented with a slightly mint-colored white. The buttons themselves are very clicky and tactile, though not too sensitive.
The phone feels great in-hand. From its curvy matte back cover to the compact size, this is going to be a wonderful phone to hold and use. Finger gymnastics are still kind of needed to reach the top of the status bar, but the Pixel launcher already lets you swipe from anywhere on the home screen to reach the notification shade.
Android 10, soon to be 11
It’s interesting that Google released the Pixel 4a this close to the release of Android 11. We’re expecting it next month along with the new Pixels, so we’ll skim over Android 10’s most prominent features.
Upon setup, you’ll be offered the chance to transfer data from another Android device, iOS device, or restore from a Google Drive backup. You do have the option to transfer via a USB cable (via the adapter included in box), iCloud download, or Google Drive backup, but this won’t be as thorough as the other two methods.
Keep in mind if you skip the initial setup, you won’t be able to transfer from another device unless you reset the Pixel, so skip wisely.
Next, the setup prompted us to set up a screen lock and register a fingerprint. This process is quick, simple, and the fingerprint scanner unlocks the 4a in a pinch, and every time.
In case you haven’t opted for Android 10’s gesture navigation by now, you’re offered a quick tutorial on how to use it. You can always switch the setting if you prefer the classic navigation bar.
The home screens are clean and uncluttered. A weather and date widget are at the top, with a dock, Google Search bar and Google Assistant shortcut at the bottom. The app drawer pops up with a swipe upwards. A swipe to the right opens your Google feed. As before, there are plenty of pre-loaded and downloadable wallpapers for the Pixel launcher.
You can change the look of the UI’s icon and quick toggle shapes, fonts, and accent color.
All Android 10 phones have universal live captioning that is accessed from the volume menu. Be advised that this feature will consume more battery when it’s enabled. Since its launch, English is the only supported language.
Dark Theme is easy on the eyes if you primarily use your phone at night. It can also be set to switch between light and dark with your local sunrise and sunset.
Google‘s Personal Safety app combines an emergency contact page, a page with your health information, a Safety Check feature, and an automatic car-crash detection feature.
Always-on display is available in the Display settings. The 4a doesn’t have the Motion Sense hardware that the Pixel 4 has that woke up the phone with a wave, but it does have “Tap to check” and “Lift to check” options to make checking the time or notifications easy. Ambient Display will also briefly show notification as they arrive.
With every passing year, Google‘s software is more solid, polished, and keeps getting deeper integration with Google Assistant. Android 11 is coming next month, so we’re expecting a slew of new features to come. The Pixel 4a is expected to be among the first in the queue to receive the update.
The Pixel 4a doesn’t stutter, slow down, or take a second to really think about what it needs to do. It handles multitasking like a champ thanks to those 6GB of RAM.
The Pixel 4a is currently on pre-order with a price tag of around 350 bucks – regardless whether that means dollars, pounds or euros where you reside.
The market has never been so full of great midrange propositions. The Google Pixel 4a enters a heated arena where all smartphones are already offering great performance and smooth user experience. It’s a compact phone so we’d admit that if that’s a particular feature you are after, you’d be hard-pressed to find equally matched counterparts as the industry has generally moved past the 6-inch mark.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is one compact option to consider but we won’t actively recommend it at this stage because it’s already 1yr and a half old which means it’s unlikely to get major software updates going forward. It’s also considerably more expensive off-contract than the Pixel 4a.
The Samsung Galaxy A41 is a more recent midrange smartphone. It has not launched in the US yet but it’s enjoying a warm reception everywhere else and we were quite happy with it when we reviewed it. It’s got a 6-inch AMOLED screen and a larger battery than the Pixel 4a. Its great battery life is thanks to the chipset which is more tuned for power efficiency rather than performance. As a result, performance is one area where the Pixel 4a has the upper hand. The camera performance of the A41 is good but not outstanding too, which puts a second mark on the Pixel 4a checklist. However, the A41 is priced some 100 euros less than the Pixel 4a, so if camera performance is not super important, the A41 sounds like the better deal.
The iPhone SE 2020 has the camera performance to match the Pixel 4a as well as the fast-track OS updates and it’s got a much more premium build with water resistance. It’s got awesome performance thanks to Apple’s latest CPU but battery life is uninspiring and it also has a much smaller screen. Coupled with the higher price tag, it’s the phone you get if you want the cheapest or most compact iPhone possible (or both). The purchasing decision will likely not be down to specs but rather to the preferred OS ecosystem.
If the compact size is not a must-have, there are a few other alternatives hovering around the 6.5-inch mark. Due to their increased size, they’ve all got better battery life than the Pixel 4a aside from increased screen real estate.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite 5G offers an amazing value package as well with a great AMOLED screen, and superb battery life while costing around 300 euros. It even throws in 5G connectivity in the mix but camera performance is not as good.
For around 350 euros, the OnePlus Nord is another 5G capable phone that is better than the Pixel 4a. And when we say 5G we mean this comes with a better grade chipset overall even if you don’t have access to a 5G network.
With many other midrange devices in the same price range, the Google Pixel 4a offers a fully rounded Pixel experience in a compact size and at a budget-friendly price point.
As midrange smartphones are now coming with triple and even quad-cameras, the Pixel 4a‘s Astrophotography feature, dead-simple camera UI, and distinct style of photography that it produces makes it competitive enough to stand out in its class.
The screen is plenty bright and nicely sharp. The phone’s compact size is comfortable and easy to handle – a nice break from all the budget smartphones that come in the mid and upper 6-inch range.
Software is as expected. Android 10 runs smoothly and quickly, though we are kind of puzzled that Google would release a Pixel so soon before it officially releases Android 11. It’s generally known that Google severely delayed the launch of this phone because of the ongoing pandemic.
This feels more like a refresh of the widely successful Pixel 3a, which is fine too. We have a feeling that Google is saving all the jaw-dropping changes for the upcoming Pixel 5.
If you’re coming from the Pixel 3a or the 3a XL, there isn’t any incentive to upgrade to the 4a. The phones are identical on paper and aside from the 4a’s design, added RAM and storage, and marginally better CPU, there isn’t really anything surprising about the Pixel 4a.
- Great display
- Comfortable, compact size
- Plenty of RAM and storage
- Headphone jack
- Smooth, snappy software
- Still images nearly indistinguishable from Pixel 4XL, astrophotography
- Not much of an upgrade over Pixel 3a and Pixel 5 launch is imminent
- Battery life is average
- Selfie camera’s focus plane is too far