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Google Pixel 4a: Your buying guide
The Pixel 4a is one of the best budget Android devices around. It holds down the lowest rung on Google’s ladder, sitting behind devices like the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, but it packs plenty of the same great features. However, the phone has been discontinued by Google and is therefore hard to get, at least if you want it brand new.
In this Google Pixel 4a buyer’s guide, we bring you all the info you need to make a smart purchase decision and to make the most of your new phone.
Editor’s note: We’ll regularly update this Pixel 4a guide with more tips, resources, and details, so stay tuned.
Pixel 4a at a glance
The Pixel 4a was announced on August 3, 2020. It was Google’s most affordable phone for the year, and it’s still a great pick if you want:
- A cheap-ish phone from a trusted brand
- A great camera
- A smaller size
- Quality software and guaranteed updates.
The Pixel 4a launched at $349 in the US, where it was available in only one size, one color, and one storage configuration. It competes with the iPhone SE, the OnePlus Nord (outside the US), the Samsung Galaxy A52, and a slew of other affordable phones from brands like Xiaomi and realme.
You should avoid the Pixel 4a if you want:
- Top performance, especially for games
- Lots of bells and whistles
- A battery that holds several days
- 5G (get the Pixel 4a 5G version instead).
Read our Pixel 4a review for more details.
Further reading: The best Google products
Is the Pixel 4a worth buying?
We think the Google Pixel 4a is a great pick for the money, especially in the US, where value-focused brands like realme and POCO are less prevalent.
At its launch price of $349, it’s a great phone for those who want something solid and functional for day-to-day use, with added niceties like a high-quality camera and a beautiful screen.
Now, Google doesn’t have a stellar track record as a phone maker. Some previous Pixel phones have suffered from hardware issues. Also, Google phones are rarely on the cutting edge in performance and battery life. The Pixel 4a is no exception. Keep that in mind if you want the highest reliability or the best specs for your money.
The Pixel 4a is the follow-up to the Pixel 3a, which was very popular a few years ago. The 3a was our most recommended device of 2019, and the 4a nearly followed suit. In our Editor’s Choice awards for 2020, the Pixel 4a took third, and the Pixel 4a 5G took second. This means that for most consumers, they’re among the very best phones you can buy.
However, you have to consider that the phone is a bit old now, as the Pixel 5a has already been released. We recommend that phone over the Pixel 4a, even though it costs a bit more.
What reviewers are saying about the Pixel 4a
Our own David Imel reviewed the Pixel 4a and came away impressed. Calling it a “no brainer,” David noted that the Pixel 4a gives users “one of the best experiences on Android in a well-designed chassis, for one-third the price of modern flagships.”
That last point is crucial – many customers feel that flagship phone prices aren’t really justified. The Pixel 4a is not a flagship, but it offers a “good enough” experience for a very reasonable asking price. That helps it stand out.
Besides the value, David highlighted the “fantastic display,” great cameras, and good performance among the selling points of the Pixel 4a. On the downside, David noted there’s no IP rating or wireless charging. Also, the single camera on the back, while really good, can’t quite match the flexibility of multi-camera designs.
A few weeks later, Android Authority’s Jimmy Westenberg published a second opinion that was less positive than David’s take. He still liked the Pixel 4a but ultimately decided to return it in favor of the Pixel 5. The 90hz screen, slightly snappier performance, and promises of a more “flagship” experience lead to his buyer’s remorse.
Jimmy’s takeaway had more to do with timing than hardware. Google (and the global pandemic) pushed what would have been a killer phone in May back far enough that it’s competing directly with newer, better Pixel devices. That said, it is cheaper, and if you can do without the 90Hz screen, it’s still a fantastic buy.
What people like you think of the Pixel 4a
In a poll Android Authority ran back in May of 2020, almost 90% of the 6,000+ respondents said they’re excited for the Pixel 4a.
Some of that excitement might have been lost on the way, as Google inexplicably delayed the release of the device. Still, it’s safe to say most Android fans were looking forward to the Pixel 4a.
In another poll from July of 2020, we asked people to choose between the heavily leaked Pixel 4a and the heavily hyped OnePlus Nord. The Google phone came out on top, with 60% of the votes. That’s impressive, considering how popular OnePlus is and how well received the OnePlus Nord has been overall.
At the end of the year, we always run a Reader’s Choice award, where our readers get to vote on their favorite phone of the year. The Pixel 4a faced some stiff competition in 2020 but still managed to capture a significant amount of the vote.
Across the website, Twitter, and YouTube, the Pixel 4a took home 6.1% of the vote. The Pixel 4a 5G received 4.4%, so in total, the Pixel 4a lineup took more than 10% of the votes. Its bigger brother, the Pixel 5, took 9.9%.
Ultimately the winner was the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with 17.7%, but that phone is in a completely different price category. As far as budget devices go, the Pixel 4a lineup is a fan favorite.
Google Pixel 4a specs
We have a full breakdown of the Pixel 4a specs and features here. Below you’ll find the key Pixel 4a specs at a glance.
|Google Pixel 4a
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Gorilla Glass 3
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
No microSD slot
12.2MP, f/1.7, 1.4µm pixels, optical + electronic image stabilization
8MP sensor, f/2.0, 1.12µm pixels, fixed focus, 84-degree field-of-view
No wireless charging
No IP rating
Dimensions and weight
144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Is the Pixel 4a camera good?
The Pixel 4a features the same 12MP camera sensor as its predecessor. There’s also only one lens on the back – no wide-angle, zoom, or depth sensors.
On paper, that doesn’t sound encouraging, but specs alone don’t paint the full picture. Like other Pixel phones, the Pixel 4a punches above its weight, thanks to great software optimization. As David put it in our review, “images from the Pixel 4a are classic Google. That is, they’ll look fantastic straight out of the camera in nearly any situation.”
The Pixel 4a’s single camera is refreshingly simple, but that’s its weakness too. Other phone makers push the hardware envelope, adding more lenses, bigger sensors, and more complex zoom systems. This gives users more power to capture each scene in the best way. Meanwhile, with the Pixel 4a, what you see is what you get.
Deep dive: The best Android camera phones you can get
How is the Pixel 4a battery life?
From our experience, you can expect around 6.5-7 hours of screen-on time from the Pixel 4a’s 3,140mAh battery, with medium usage. That’s a fairly good number for a battery this size, though it probably won’t be enough to get you through two days of use.
We ran the Pixel 4a through our battery test against two competitors – OnePlus Nord and LG Velvet – and two other Google devices. As you can see in the chart below, the Pixel 4a gives the Nord’s bigger battery a good run, while the 4,300mAh LG Velvet pulls ahead. The 4a clearly beats both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 4.
Is the Pixel 4a fast enough?
Like everything else about the Pixel 4a, the phone’s performance is good enough for the money. You won’t get flagship-level smoothness or the highest frame rates in Fortnite. You will get a nearly seamless, lag-free experience in day-to-day use, which is what most people who buy this kind of phone want and expect.
Our resident chiphead Rob Triggs benchmarked the Pixel 4a and noted that it’s “fast enough for a modern mid-range handset when it comes to the real world.” The “real world” part is key – in his testing, Rob found that the Snapdragon 730G processor simply doesn’t hold up to intensive use like long gaming sessions. The processor starts to slow down after about 25 minutes of heavy use.
See also: The Snapdragon chipset guide
In normal, non-gaming use, the Pixel 4a performs fairly close to phones equipped with the next fastest Snapdragon tier, the 765G.
To wrap up, the Pixel 4a is good enough for most use cases, but don’t get it if you want to run high-end games or other processor-intensive apps. If you plan to keep your next phone for more than two years, then you might want to choose a more future-proof Snapdragon 765G-equipped phone.
Pixel 4a vs Pixel 3a: What’s new?
Compared to the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a is very much an incremental update. That’s visible in the familiar design but also throughout the spec sheet.
The key updates concern performance and memory. The Snapdragon 670 processor on the Pixel 3a has been replaced with the 730G, which offers better overall speed and slightly improved graphic performance. RAM and storage have been bumped up to 6GB and 128GB, up from 4GB and 64GB on the Pixel 3a. That’s a welcome update, though it’s basically the bare minimum Google could get away with in 2020 and beyond.
The screen is slightly larger (5.81 inches vs 5.6 inches) and slightly taller (19.5:9 ratio, vs 18.5:9 last year), while the resolution stays the same. The Pixel 4a definitely looks more modern, giving up the Pixel 3a’s chunky top and bottom bezels.
Cameras are very similar, and the battery has received only a slight upgrade, to 3,140mAh, up from 3,080mAh. That said, battery life is notably better on the Pixel 4a, thanks to the newer processor.
What about the Pixel 4a (5G)?
In true Google fashion, the company has muddied the waters with a 5G version of the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a (5G) was released a few months after the non-5G device for $499. It came out at the same time as the Pixel 5, which also features 5G.
In many ways, the Pixel 4a 5G is more similar to the Pixel 5 than the Pixel 4a. It features an extra wide-angle camera, a more powerful Snapdragon 765G processor, and a slightly larger 6.2-inch display. The battery also sees a bump up, which should help offset some of the increased power consumption of a 5G connection.
Don’t forget about the Pixel 5a
The Pixel 5a is Google’s latest budget smartphone and the successor to the Pixel 4a. It’s better in many ways, sporting a faster chipset, 5G support, a bigger battery, and an extra camera at the back. It also comes with a larger display, which can either be a good or a bad thing depending on your preference.
Read next: Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 4a
The phone costs $449, making it $100 more expensive than the Pixel 4a at launch. It’s definitely worth it in our opinion, although the Pixel 4a is still a great option for those who want to spend less.
What are some good Pixel 4a alternatives?
The answer to this question depends a lot on where you live. In the US, the options in the Pixel 4a’s price range are limited, while in Europe and Asia, Chinese brands offer much stronger competition.
Here are some Pixel 4a alternatives you should consider:
- Pixel 5a ($449): It’s more expensive, but it’s also newer and offers more. You get two rear cameras instead of one, a bigger battery and display, 5G support, and more.
- Pixel 3a (~$300): If you can get your hands on one, the now-discontinued Pixel 3a is not that far behind the Pixel 4a. That said, we strongly recommend you spring up for the 4a.
- iPhone SE ($400): You’d have to switch to iOS, but the iPhone SE (2020) is a solid player in this price range. That’s mostly thanks to its truly flagship-grade processor. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a gives you a nicer screen and a better camera.
- OnePlus Nord N200 ($240): A decent entry-level phone with 5G onboard. It’s one of the newest Nord-series devices, though it will soon be joined by the Nord 2. Grab it for the massive battery and affordable price point, or wait for the more powerful sibling.
- POCO X3 Pro ($260): This one is another budget pick, but it packs the performance chops of a more expensive device. It’s a turbo-charged POCO X3, with a 5,160mAh battery and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 860 chipset.
- realme X7 Pro (~$415): realme kept the design simple and beefed up the internals in a big way. The cameras and fast charging are excellent, and the price isn’t too much higher than that of the Pixel 4a.
- Samsung Galaxy A52 ($499): Samsung’s mid-ranger is closer in price to the Pixel 4a 5G, but it packs plenty of punch. It’s larger than the Pixel 4a siblings, and it picks up an IP67 rating for water and dust. If you have the budget, it may be the way to go.
- Redmi Note 10 Pro ($300): The popular Redmi Note 10 Pro has a bigger 5,020mAh battery, 33W charging, and a budget-busting main camera. The software experience is much improved with Android 11, though performance isn’t always perfect.
Where to buy the Pixel 4a
The Pixel 4a has been discontinued and is no longer available from Google. You may get it at a few other retailers that still have it in stock, otherwise, you’ll have to go for a used or a renewed model.
The story is similar in other countries. Google no longer sells the phone, but some carriers and retailers may still hold stock of the device.
Pixel 4a software and updates
Like all Google phones, buying a Pixel 4a means skipping the line for software updates. Google usually (but not always) pushes out security and system updates in a timely fashion, meaning the Pixel 4a will stay current and fresh.
Pixel feature drops are another incentive for buying a Pixel 4a. Google constantly adds new software features to its Pixel phones, eschewing the need to wait for a major update.
The Pixel 4a shipped with Android 10 and was updated to Android 11 in early September 2020. It was also recently updated to Android 12. Google promises at least three years of system and security updates for the Pixel 4a, which is a better commitment than what most other Android manufacturers offer.
Top Pixel 4a questions and answers
Q: Where’s the Google Pixel 4a XL?
A: Despite some rumors, the Pixel 4a doesn’t have an XL version. The Pixel 4a 5G packs a slightly larger 6.2-inch screen and a few other improvements.
Q: Is there 5G?
A: The standard Pixel 4a does not support 5G. Its processor, the Snapdragon 730G, is not a 5G chip. If 5G is a must for you, get the Pixel 4a 5G for $499.
Q: Does the Pixel 4a have a headphone jack?
A: Yes, the Pixel 4a does have a 3.5mm audio jack.
Q: Does the Pixel 4a has a microSD card slot?
A: The Pixel 4a doesn’t have a memory card slot, so you won’t be able to expand the storage beyond the internal 128GB.
Q: What colors is the Pixel 4a available in?
A: The Pixel 4a launched in Just Black for US customers, later arriving in Barely Blue for those who want a bit more pop.
Q: Is the Pixel 4a waterproof?
A: The Google Pixel 4a doesn’t have an official IP rating for water and dust resistance. You shouldn’t expose it to any liquids.
Q: How do you enable Active Edge on the Pixel 4a?
A: The Pixel 4a does not have the Active Edge feature. Found on previous Pixel phones, Active Edge allowed you to squeeze the sides of the phone to open Google Assistant or silence alarms.
Q: Does the Pixel 4a screen offer 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rates?
A: No, this is a standard 60Hz display.