Pixel 4a is the second installment to Google’s budget smartphone lineup. It’s got the best-in-class camera, a fresh punch-hole display in a Pixel phone, and a compelling price of $349 / £349 / AU$599. If you are on a budget and love photography, should you upgrade to Pixel 4a? Here’s the full review to make things easier for you.
The Pixel 4a has a punch hole design upfront with an utterly outdated Gorilla Glass 3 protection. The back of the phone includes a square cutout copied from its so-called flagship Pixel 4 but only consists of a single primary camera with a flash. Both the back and sides of the device are made of plastic, but they do a great job of covering smudges and fingerprints.
The good news in 2020 is that the Pixel 4a still includes a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top like its predecessor. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the device, you get a USB-C port alongside one-half of the stereo speaker. It has the volume rockers and power button on the left side, while the SIM card slot is on the right. The buttons tactility is not like the top-end Pixels, but it’s still good enough. The fingerprint sensor is perfectly embedded at the back of the phone, and it doesn’t look and feel like a different part of the design like we see on other smartphones with fingerprint sensors at the back.
Like any other budget smartphone, manufacturers cut corners to bring down the price. Same goes with the Pixel 4a, it’s got a plastic back panel, which is the right choice in terms of durability, but it’s got some considerable amount of flex. You may have to be careful with tight pockets as it can lead to cracks under continuous pressure. The inclusion of Gorilla Glass 3 display is a big upset, but it’s a trend to lower the cost. Another thing to note, Pixel 4a doesn’t come with IP rating while its counterpart iPhone SE boasts the IP67 rating.
Fun fact, the Pixel 4a is the least expensive device to include an OLED display in the US. It has a 5.81 inches OLED display with 83.3% screen-to-body ratio. The display features 2340 x 1080 resolution with 443 PPI (Pixels Per Inch) density. It’s also the first Google phone to include a punch-hole display. Plus, the bezels are also substantially trimmed down compared to Pixel 3a. However, the screen is not suitable for outdoors as you can barely see things under direct sunlight (the same happened with the Pixel 3a).
Connectivity and Audio
In terms of connectivity, Pixel 4a includes a traditional SIM slot with an extra eSIM, which supports every leading US carries and LTE brand. Currently, the Pixel 4a doesn’t support 5G, but Google has said that it’s releasing its 5G version of Pixel 4A later this year and will cost $499.
The Pixel 4a comes with stereo speakers maxing out at the peak volume of 82dB. Sound quality produced from the speakers is average, it does get loud, but the bass seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, it’s still okay for media and calls.
You don’t get to enjoy the Wi-Fi 6, but it supports dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC.
Since 2018, Pixel phones are known for their top-tier camera performance, and Pixel 4a’s is no exception. It includes the same primary 12.2MP IMX 363 sensor introduced to the Pixel lineup in 2018 with Pixel 3. We know that by now, higher-megapixels doesn’t mean it produces excellent photos; it only works on delivering higher-definition images. Meanwhile, Pixel 4a includes both ingredients of capturing great true to life photos and providing excellent image quality. Like its predecessor, the Pixel 4a’s camera software is so nicely cooked, no matter what scenario you throw at it, it excels. It also includes Google’s highly praised Night Sight, one of the best night modes in any smartphone camera. At the price point of $349, it’s the best smartphone camera you can get, and photography geeks will surely love this one.
Moving on to the front, it has an 8MP front-facing camera, which delivers excellent photos. Budget smartphones are known for not having a great camera upfront. But in the case of Pixel 4a, again, its software processing does not compromise in dynamic range and detail. The portrait mode can struggle a little bit with edge detection under challenging scenarios, but it works in most cases.
Spoiler alert, the square cut out on the back of the phone looks like it includes a wide or telephoto lens but it doesn’t, it only got a primary sensor with a led flashlight. Some users who’ve previously used a wide or telephoto lens might miss it. But let’s be fair, most smartphones with extra cameras often have worse image quality. So, I think Google’s made the right decision to leave the numbers game and focus on producing exceptional photos.
Pixel 4a rocks the most popular mid-range processor, Snapdragon 730G, along with 6GB RAM and 128GB Storage (UFS 2.1). It doesn’t come with an external card slot, but in reply, Google has bumped up the storage to 128GB, whereas Pixel 3a only had 64GB.
The phone performs as most of the $300 segment budget phones. It’s solid enough to handle your daily tasks and provide you a good gaming experience on a budget. You will experience some lags here and there while opening apps, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
As like any Pixel phones, Pixel 4a delivers a stock Android experience. While it initially ships with Android 10, Android 11 is on the verge of releasing. One thing some tech nerds might be happy about is the software updates. Google regularly delivers software updates to fix any issues and make the OS experience better, which we don’t get to see with other Android phone manufacturers, except Oneplus. Pixel 4a offers a guaranteed three years of software update support.
With the Pixel 4a, you can enjoy the Call Screening feature exclusive to Pixel devices. It also includes the new Live Caption features with some makeovers. Now, you can enjoy live caption for telephone calls and calls made using popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, whereas previously, it was limited to video, podcasts, and audio.
People who record lots of interviews or meetings will cherish the new native Recorder app. It’s one of the best apps to record and transcribe the speech, plus you don’t even need an internet connection to let it perform its magic.
Pixel 4a comes with a slight increment in the battery department. It has a 3140 mAh battery compared to Pixel 3a’s 3000 mAh. The battery performance is excellent, thanks to the more power-efficient Snapdragon 730G and some software optimization. If you are a light user, it can last two days in a single charge, whereas having long gaming sessions and streaming might vary.
While many speculations about future phones not including the charging adapter in the box are spreading around, Pixel 4a is not one of them. Out of the box, it includes an 18W fast charging adapter, so you don’t have to worry running out of battery.
Suppose you are looking for the best phone for capturing outstanding photos and want to enjoy Google’s stock Android experience with guaranteed software updates on a budget. In that case, Pixel 4a is a no brainer.
If you are a heavy user who loves gaming and wants durable build quality, iPhone SE can be a better deal for you. It’s got Wi-Fi 6, IP67, wireless charging, fastest mobile chipset till now (A13 Bionic), and an extended software update support. However, it’s got a small battery (1642 mAh), and a smaller 4.7 inches display.
In the end, the answer comes down to your requirement.
Would you buy the Pixel 4a?