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Will Google undermine the Pixel 4a to make the Pixel 4 look better?

Is Google changing strategy for the second budget Pixel phone?

Published onJanuary 2, 2020

google pixel 4a leak renders

I’ve been stewing over the Pixel 4a renders for a few days now, and I’m already a little worried Google is heading down the wrong path with the Pixel 3a successor.

While we should obviously take any unofficial info with the grain of salt it deserves (especially when dealing with CAD renders), the source’s track record suggests what we’re looking at will be pretty close to what the final product will be.

If that’s true, I think Google’s strategy may be changing for its second budget Pixel phone, and that might be a reason for concern.

The Pixel 4a leaks

Just to recap, let’s quickly go through what we may have learned about the Pixel 4a from the leak.

The most obvious upgrade over the first Xa-series Pixel — the Pixel 3a and 3a XL — is the punch-hole display. Personally, I’m really not a fan of punch-hole selfie camera cutouts, but it at least means the Pixel 4a will apparently have a near bezel-less screen. That’s a good start.

There’s also good news for audio fans, as the headphone jack is still present and correct.

The overall design is starkly reminiscent of the Pixel 3a, albeit with very minor tweaks to make it vaguely resemble the flagship Pixel 4. As much as we love some nice rear glass here at Android Authority, plastic is infinitely more durable, and a more logical fit for a budget phone, so it’s great that it looks to be making a return.

The square camera module from the Pixel 4 series has made its way over too, complete with the telepho…. oh. No, that’s a single camera lens right there. Oh dear.

There’s also no Soli (which isn’t a huge surprise, Google has to cut costs somewhere), and I doubt Google has crammed all the necessary face unlock sensors we saw on the Pixel 4 into that punch-hole. Instead, we have the same rear-mounted fingerprint sensor we saw on the original Pixel in 2016.

Lingering questions

Pixel 3a back on table

Before we start dooming the Pixel 4a as an immediate failure because of its single-lens camera and uninspired looks, it’s worth remembering that it isn’t immediately obvious from the renders whether or not Google has addressed some of the more common complaints regarding the Pixel 3a.

We don’t know if the base storage is more than 64GB (I personally doubt it). We have no idea if Google has somehow squeezed in a larger battery in what is apparently a smaller chassis (again, seems unlikely). There’s also no word on the processor, or the presence/lack of some kind of water resistance.

It’s not a great sign that the most logical upgrade — the dual-camera — isn’t here, however. The Pixel 3a cut its cloth by packing all the Pixel 3’s best features into a cheaper model, but already it seems the Pixel 4a is about to fall at the first hurdle in that regard.

From Pixel 4 XL to the Pixel 2 XL: What I learned from downgrading
Google Pixel 2 vs Pixel 4 design

We’ve already lamented the Pixel 4’s baffling lack of an ultra wide-angle camera in an age of triple-camera phones in basically every price segment. But even if you’re happy to accept just two lenses, sticking with a single shooter for the 4a — especially when we’ve seen how good the Pixel 4’s zoom lens is — boggles the mind. Switching to a square module and not adding a second or third sensor is a pretty evil bait-and-switch.

But perhaps making a cheaper Pixel 4 isn’t actually what Google wants from the 4a series.

Pixel 3a Plus?

google pixel 4 vs pixel 3 vs pixel 3a 6

If we take the renders at face value, the Pixel 4a is starting to look a bit like a Pixel 3a Plus than a true Pixel 3a heir.

Even if Google does cram in the under the hood tweaks we’ve been hoping for, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ll be looking at an iterative refresh of the Pixel 3a as opposed to a budget Pixel 4. This makes me wonder if Google is purposely hobbling the Pixel 4a to create a broader distinction between its flagship phones and its budget offerings.

Hard figures for Pixel phones are hard to come by, but all indicators point to a historically low sales. That all changed with the Pixel 3a. By further distinguishing the two series’, Google may be attempting to cement the Pixel 4a as the money-maker, and raise the flagship Pixel’s status as its aspirational, prestige phone. Perhaps Google hopes it’ll make its inherently flawed flagship look better by comparison too.

Unfortunately, while this approach makes some sense in theory, it would be to the detriment of the Pixel 4a itself, and all those consumers hoping to see a Pixel 4 Lite-type phone.

Read more: Buy a Pixel if you want timely updates… Oh wait.

As much as I actually quite like the Pixel 4 XL that I’m currently using as my daily driver, warts and all, the Pixel 3a XL was my personal phone of the year for 2019. I voted for it to win our Editor’s Choice award without hesitation. Was it a particularly exciting phone? No, but it took everything that made the Pixel 3 series great and even added a headphone jack for good measure.

After seeing the Pixel 4a renders, and specifically that barren square camera bump, I’m already worried that we’re about to see a strategy shift from Google that will turn the Pixel 4a into half the phone it could and should be.

If that turns out to be the case, it’ll be a disappointing state of affairs for the follow-up to one of the best phones of the preceding decade.

Correction: I originally suggested the Pixel 4a will have a single-speaker like its predecessor, but I apparently forgot the Pixel 3a was so good it had dual speakers too (one at the top, one at the bottom). This has been removed from the article.

What do you make of the Pixel 4a leak? Share your reactions in the poll below or hit up the comments to share your thoughts in more detail.

What do you think of the Pixel 4a leak?

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