It took a long while, but the Pixel 4a is finally here. Like the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a attempts to offer a premium Android experience at a far more affordable price, cutting out expensive hardware bits and packing everything into a smaller phone.
Compared to the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a offers upgraded storage and RAM, faster performance, and an even more attractive price tag. It is available in just one colour – Just Black – but in typical Google fashion, there’s a pop of colour in the form of a contrasting mint-coloured power button.
The design is relatively modern, and this is the first phone from Google to ditch the notch and top bezel entirely in favour of a discreet pinhole camera in the top left corner. This means there’s none of that fancy Motion Sense and Face Unlock tech you see in the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. In their place, the Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor makes a return, and I may actually prefer it as a way to unlock the phone. It takes seconds to set up and allows for quick and reliable access to the phone. Swiping down on it also lets you pull down the notification shade, which I really missed being able to do on the Pixel 4.
Those who have decried the removal of the headphone jack from the vast majority of modern smartphones will also be happy to see that the Pixel 4a has retained the 3.5mm jack from the Pixel 3a. There are no headphones in the box, however.
Build quality feels solid, but the phone unsurprisingly features a matte black polycarbonate back in place of glass. The back curves around the sides of the phone as a single, uninterrupted piece, and there’s no metal frame as in the Pixel 4 either. That said, the phone is slim, light, and easily pocketed – I really enjoyed being able to text with it using just one hand, something that I’m not able to do with the Pixel 4 XL.
The 5.81-inch dis-play looks a lot better than the one on the iPhone SE, mostly because of how much thinner the bottom bezel is. The display is crisp, sharp, and bright, although it still struggles under direct sunlight. Colours are accurate and vivid, but the phone is missing the Ambient EQ feature on the Pixel 4, which can dynamically change the screen colour temperature to match your surroundings.
Other features you give up coming from the Pixel 4 are the IP68 water and dust resistance, and support for wireless charging. Google is also ditching its Active Edge feature, a mainstay on the Pixel line since the Pixel 2, but this isn’t that big of a loss, and I didn’t miss it at all.
There is just one storage configuration available, which thankfully comes in at a decent 128GB. It’s nice to see this on a mid-range device, particularly as there is no option for expandable storage. The Pixel 4 being offered in a measly 64GB was one of my biggest gripes. This is particularly significant as Google also removed support for unlimited photo storage at original quality on the Pixel 4, so the extra onboard memory is much appreciated.
Speaking of photos, the Pixel 4a has just a single rear camera. This is the same 12.2-megapixel main camera on the Pixel 4, complete with Google staples like Night Sight, a dedi-cated astrophotography mode, Live HDR+ with dual exposure controls, Portrait Mode, Super Res Zoom, and of course, Google Lens.
The Pixel 4a produces pictures with good detail and contrast even in the evening light and is capable of holding its own against the Pixel 4. When it comes to video, the rear camera supports up to 4K capture at 30fps or 720p video at 240fps. For a budget phone, that’s pretty impressive.
The Pixel 4a is powered by a Snapdragon 730G chip, a mid-range octa-core SoC that’s actually a tweaked Snap-dragon 730 optimised for gaming. In addition to support for Wi-Fi 6, its Adreno 618 GPU is also clocked 15 percent higher than the regular Snapdragon 730.
The Pixel 4a held its own in our benchmarks, outperforming most mid-range devices like the Vivo V19 and Sony Xperia 10 II, with the exception of the Huawei Nova 7 SE (its Kirin 820 chip packs more muscle than the competition).
The Google Pixel 4a comes with a 3,140mAh battery, much larger than the tiny 2,800mAh of the Pixel 4. This phone can last me a full day with no issues, something my Pixel 4 XL struggles to do one year on.
The Google Pixel 4a is an extremely competent midrange device. You get all of Google’s Android smarts, in a phone that costs just $499. Google has cut out all the fat from the Pixel 4 and distilled the phone down to its essentials. What’s left is possibly the best phone Google has made in years, and one that deftly checks all the boxes when it comes to what makes a good phone, including great battery life, a solid camera, and reasonable performance.
AT A GLANCE
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
5.81-inch, 2,340 x 1,080-pixel (443 ppi), OLED
A bigger 3,140mAh battery lets the Pixel 4a last a full day comfortably.
A SUPREMELY WELL-ROUNDED DEVICE, OFFERING MANY CONVENIENCES IN A VERY ATTRACTIVE PACKAGE.
One rear camera, but computational photography wizadry like Night Sight makes the Pixel 4a a decent pocket shooter.