September 18, 2020

Google Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4: Which should you buy?

Can Google's affordable phone take the fight to its premium flagship?

After months of delays, Google has finally revealed the Pixel 4a. Google’s new budget phone is primed to take on the likes of the iPhone SE and the OnePlus Nord. But is it good enough to be a classed as a worthy alternative to its far more expensive flagship counterpart, the Pixel 4? Let’s find out as we take a quick look at the Google Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4!

Editor’s note: We’ll mainly be referring to the standard Pixel 4 for the sake of this comparison. We’ll also mention the larger Pixel 4 XL when the specs and features differ. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t released a Pixel 4a XL. Those after a larger cheap phone from Google will have to wait for the Pixel 4a 5G coming later this year.

Our verdict: Google Pixel 4a review — Google’s best phone in years!


Google Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4


Specs

  Google Pixel 4a Pixel 4 Pixel 4 XL
Display 5.81-inch OLED
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Gorilla Glass 3
5.7-inch P-OLED
2,280 x 1,080 resolution
19.9:9 aspect ratio
Gorilla Glass 5
90Hz refresh rate
6.3-inch P-OLED
3,040 x 1,440 resolution
19.9:9 aspect ratio
Gorilla Glass 5
90Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
Adreno 618 GPU
Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Adreno 640 GPU
Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Adreno 640 GPU
RAM 6GB RAM 6GB RAM 6GB RAM
Storage 128GB
No microSD slot
64GB/128GB
No microSD slot
64GB/128GB
No microSD slot
Cameras Rear:
12.2MP, f/1.7
OIS + EIS
Front:
8MP, f/2.0
Rear:
12.2MP, f/1.7 + 16MP telephoto f/2.4
OIS
Front:
8MP, f/2.0
Rear:
12.2MP, f/1.7 + 16MP telephoto f/2.4
OIS
Front:
8MP, f/2.0
Battery 3,140mAh
18W fast charging
No wireless charging
2,800mAh
18W fast charging
Qi wireless
3,700mAh
18W fast charging
Qi wireless
IP Rating No IP rating IP68 IP68
Software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Colors Just Black Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange
Dimensions and weight 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
143g
147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm
162g
160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2mm
193g


Design

Google Pixel 4a back standing up on table 2
Google Pixel 4 XL design 16

The Pixel 4 and the 4a are quite different, which is understandable since there’s a huge price difference between the two. You get a metal and glass build, dust and water resistance, and wireless charging with the flagship Pixel 4, while the Pixel 4a skips all these premium features to keep the price as low as possible.

The Pixel 4a’s polycarbonate body doesn’t feel cheap by any means though. Many may even prefer its near bezel-less front when compared to the large forehead of the Pixel 4 which houses the Soli chip and other sensors. These sensors are essential for the Pixel 4’s hardware-based face unlock feature. The Pixel 4a instead opts for a physical fingerprint scanner, which isn’t as high-tech but is a tried-and-tested security option.

The headphone jack continues to be a major selling point of the budget-friendly smartphone as well. The Pixel 4 doesn’t have a 3.5mm port. Conversely, the Pixel 4 series offers Active Edge so you can squeeze to summon Google Assistant. This feature also appeared on the Pixel 3a, but has been dropped for the Pixel 4a.

Related: Google Pixel 4a vs Pixel 3a: Should you upgrade?

Google Pixel 4a headpone jack macro

Credit: David Imel/ Android Authority

The 4a might have the more “modern� design, and the Pixel 4’s look is certainly polarizing, but there’s something quintessentially “Pixel� about both smartphones. Whether it’s the square camera bump, the contrasting power button, or the unique orange colorway of the Pixel 4, both phones are easily recognizable in a world where smartphone designs tend to blend into one another.

See also: Google Pixel 4 XL revisited: The good and bad

Design is a personal preference, but the flagship has more to offer with regards to the display. Both screens are of the OLED, Full HD variety, however, the Pixel 4 has the benefit of a 90Hz refresh rate that makes everything seem that much smoother. That said, the Pixel 4a has one of the best displays we’ve seen in this price range, so you’re definitely not going to have a bad time with it. The 6.3-inch Pixel 4 XL’s display also bumps the resolution up to Quad HD, just in case you want the very best Pixel display out there.


Features

The Pixel 4 series is powered by the 2019 flagship processor of choice, the Snapdragon 855. On the other hand, the 4a comes with the decidedly mid-range Snapdragon 730G. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will handily beat the 4a in an all-out sprint, or with processor-intensive gaming, but we found no issues with everyday performance with the latter.

The fact that both come with 6GB of RAM and an identical software experience — thanks to the ultra-clean Pixel UI — makes it a little closer. It wouldn’t be fair to expect similar performance given the significantly different processing packages, but the Pixel 4a doesn’t disappoint.

Related: The best Google Pixel 4a cases you can get

Google Pixel 4a using in hand screen 1

Credit: David Imel/ Android Authority

Where the Pixel 4a has the definite advantage is in battery life. A screen on-time of 6.5 hours may not be as impressive when compared to a lot of other phones out there, but that’s still a big improvement over the around 4-hour screen-on time of the Pixel 4. The Pixel 4 XL fares a little better due to its larger cell, but you’ll still be reaching for a charger by the end of the day, or in some cases even earlier. Google’s decision to go with relatively small batteries with the Pixel 4 series is still baffling, and it’s good to see the Pixel 4a bucking that trend.

Both phones come with the same 12.2MP primary shooter. The Pixel 4 series gets the added benefit of a secondary telephoto lens though. However, the Pixel 4a does get all the fantastic camera software enhancements available with its flagship counterpart, like astrophotography mode and dual exposure sliders.

Google Pixel 4a review header
google pixel 4 xl oh so orange camera module

Given the similarities, it’s no surprise that Pixel 4a produced images similar to those of the Pixel 4. Images have great color and dynamic range, and maintained more contrast than other devices currently on the market. The Pixel 4 has one of the best smartphone cameras around, and it’s fantastic to see its budget sibling go down the same road. Check out our shootout against the iPhone SE for some sample shots from the Pixel 4a. We’ll be pitting the budget phone against the Pixel 4 in another shootout very soon, so stay tuned.

See also: Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE camera shootout: You pick the winner!

The Pixel 4a and Pixel 4 are completely identical on the software side of things. Both phones are running Android 10 and will be among the first get the update to Android 11 and beyond. You’ll get to enjoy all the new Android features with the Pixel 4a, including the new Google Assistant, Call Screening, and more. Pixel UI may not be for everybody, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the cleanest and most minimalistic takes on the OS around.


Price

Google Pixel 4a screen in hand 3

Credit: David Imel/ Android Authority

The Pixel 4a is priced at $349. It comes in Just Black with a single 128GB storage option and begins shipping in the US from August 20. The Pixel 4a is also coming to the UK for £349, and the rest of Europe for between €349-€389. It’ll be available in these regions for pre-order September 10 and on sale starting October 1. An India launch is also coming in October, with pricing to be confirmed.

Read more: Google Pixel 4a price and release date: What you need to know

The Pixel 4 is priced at $799 (or £699/€659 in the UK/Europe) for the base 64GB model, but typically is sold for around $700. The MSRP goes up to $899 for the 128GB variant. It is available in Just Black or Clearly White colorways. There’s also an Oh So Orange option but it’s no longer sold via the Google Store and is quite hard to get ahold of these days. The Pixel 4 XL, meanwhile, starts at $899.


$349
.00
Google Pixel 4a


Buy it Now


Google Pixel 4a

Buy it Now



$349
.00


$699
.00
Google Pixel 4


Save

$100
.00


Buy it Now


Google Pixel 4

Buy it Now



Save

$100
.00




$699
.00


Google Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 4a taking a photo horizontal

Credit: David Imel/ Android Authority

The choice between a flagship and a mid-ranger is usually pretty straightforward. However, it’s actually quite hard to make the case that the Pixel 4 is the objectively better option here. Yes, it has a faster processing package, better build quality, and wireless charging. The display comes with a higher refresh rate, you get Motion Sense and Active Edge, and there’s a secondary rear shooter for improved zoom and Bokeh-style shots.

The Pixel 4a makes a strong case for itself though. The Pixel 4a is essentially what’s left if you remove the premium add-ons from the Pixel 4 and kept all the essentials. You’ll still get a fantastic camera experience with the 4a, the performance is impressive for a mid-ranger, the battery life is much better, and the software package is identical. More importantly for many, the Pixel 4a is less than half the price of the Pixel 4.


Are the huge savings enough to put the Pixel 4a over its high-end namesake? You tell us!

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