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Tested: Is the Google Pixel 4a powerful enough for a budget phone in 2021?
The Google Pixel 4a is here, offering another affordable entry point into Google’s smartphone ecosystem. Much like 2019’s Pixel 3a, this latest model isn’t attempting to win over the performance-enthusiast crowd. Instead, the Pixel 4a offers just enough of everything you need in a comprehensive, reliable smartphone package.
At least that’s the theory. However, the Google Pixel 4a’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G chipset and 6GB RAM looks rather anemic next to the similarly priced OnePlus Nord, with its 5G-enabled Snapdragon 765G and up to 12GB of RAM. Even more so when compared to the £399 (~$519) powerhouse POCO F2 Pro and its flagship-tier Snapdragon 865 processor.
Is the Google Pixel 4a powerful enough for a budget phone in 2021? Or is Google lagging behind with slow hardware? Let’s find out with some Pixel 4a benchmark testing.
Our verdict: Google Pixel 4a review: Google’s best phone in years
Snapdragon 730G vs Snapdragon 765G
Before diving into the benchmark numbers, here’s a little recap on the Snapdragon 730G. This is the G variant, which benefits from a little more graphical grunt, as well as a few extra display features. It also packs in two heavy- lifting Cortex-A76-based CPU cores to assist with the odd, more demanding workload. That’s an upgrade over the two Cortex-A75-based cores in the Google Pixel 3a’s Snapdragon 670, and quite close to the Snapdragon 765G setup. Just without a higher clocked “Prime” core.
The Pixel 4a isn't as powerful on paper, but does it actually matter?
The graphics package is more reserved, featuring the Qualcomm Adreno 618 that will perform slower than the 765G’s Adreno 620. That being said, we’re again looking at a notable upgrade over 2019’s Adreno 615 inside the Pixel 3a. There’s also a Hexagon 688 DSP with Tensor Accelerator, for enhanced AI processing in the Pixel 4a’s SoC, but there’s no 5G integration like on the OnePlus Nord. The Pixel 4a’s chip is built on an 8nm process, leading to better energy efficiency than the previous generation. Although, it’s not built on the 7nm process of its more expensive siblings.
Overall, the Pixel 4a’s Snapdragon 730G processor is a notable upgrade from 2019 and a decent package. However, it’s definitely missing a few features and higher performing parts that you’ll find in the 4a’s competitors.
Classic benchmarks: Google Pixel 4a running AnTuTu, Geekbench, and 3DMark
Let’s start with a quick look at classic industry benchmarks to see how the Google Pixel 4a compares in the CPU, GPU, and overall system departments.
The results are pretty much what we’d expect, based on the chipset discussion. The POCO F2 Pro looks to have a healthy lead over these other inexpensive handsets. The gap between the Pixel 4a and the OnePlus Nord isn’t that big in the single-core CPU department, and the handset is within roughly 10% of the LG Velvet‘s Snapdragon 765G implementation. Google’s latest phone is more than capable of handling demanding apps.
The biggest gulf is in the graphics department, though. The Pixel 4a clocks in part way between its previous incarnation and its closest contemporary. High-end gaming still looks to be out of the question.
That being said, the Pixel 4a is still a major step up from 2019’s universally beloved Pixel 3a, particularly when it comes to CPU and overall system scores. It’s a definite improvement.
One-time benchmarks give us a snapshot of peak potential, but they don’t tell us anything about how a phone handles longer-term stress, or if performance throttles back to extend battery life when the tank runs low. For that, we turn to Speed Test G running on a loop.
The Google Pixel 4a results here are much more interesting. The phone starts out fairly comparable to the LG Velvet’s Snapdragon 765G, but can only sustain competitive performance for about 25 minutes. We can see why by turning to the CPU chart, where performance continues to fall over the length of the test. This is likely a result of excessive heat build-up in the Pixel 4a’s tiny frame. Ultimately, the phone can’t run at full tilt for protracted lengths of time, unlike some of its rivals. On the plus side, there’s no sign that Google slashes performance at low battery levels.
With graphics, the Pixel 4a lands pretty much exactly where we’d expect. It’s a fraction better than the Pixel 3a. However, performance fluctuates over a prolonged session (3o minutes +), and it certainly doesn’t keep up with its higher-end competitors. The flagship-tier GPU in the POCO F2 Pro results in a greater than 2x faster rendering speed versus the Pixel 4a in our graphics benchmark.
The Pixel 4a is competitive in short bursts, but can't keep pace for long sessions.
On that note, this test shows just how badly the POCO F2 Pro stands up to long term abuse. While it can offer 2020 flagship-level performance for a little over 20 minutes, the CPU quickly throttles back to somewhere between the Nord and the Velvet. Incidentally, these two are the most consistent of these mid-rangers. The POCO F2 Pro is still the fastest handset, but it doesn’t deserve quite the praise that the one-shot benchmarks suggest. Even so, the extra graphical power of the POCO F2 Pro still makes it the best affordable option for gamers.
Benchmarks ≠ real-world use
Sustained performance clearly isn’t the Pixel 4a’s strong suit. That said, we need to look at the big picture. The handset isn’t targeting the sort of consumer who is likely to binge two or three-hour gaming sessions at a time. It’s built for browsing, checking email, and zipping through Google’s suite of apps.
Most workloads only need a quick burst of processing and minimal graphics, hence why the Pixel 4a feels so snappy to actually use.
As our benchmarking showcased, the Google Pixel 4a actually punches above its weight for burst use cases, which is how most phones end up being used. This is reflected by David’s time spent with the handset, where he called it “nearly seamless.” Even after a couple of days without clearing out recent apps, he noticed no hiccups or stutters. Just don’t attempt to make it do anything too strenuous, for too long.
In summary, yes, the Google Pixel 4a is fast enough for a modern mid-range handset when it comes to the real world. While not the fastest, the Pixel 4a offers enough performance that you’ll struggle to notice any difference between other mid-rangers or even flagship-tier chips in day-to-day tasks. Google’s latest affordable phone performs where it counts. However, those looking for an affordable workhorse or gaming phone may want to check out the OnePlus Nord or the less-consistent POCO F2 Pro.