It was a long time coming, but Google finally has introduced the world to the Google Pixel 4a. We originally expected it to launch in early May, so the phone is nearly three months late to the party.
However, the wait appears to have been completely worth it. The Pixel 4a is looking to be a very strong contender as the best phone in its class for the year. It has a good specs sheet, a great design, and a surprisingly wallet-friendly price of just $349.
If you’ll remember back in May, I penned a piece for Android Authority about how Google keeps fumbling its Pixel line. The headline summed up my feelings pretty well: “The only reason the Pixel line isn’t Android’s crown jewel is Google.” The basic gist is that the flagship phones in the Pixel series are so bogged down with issues that it’s sometimes hard to recommend them, let alone feel passionate about them.
The Google Pixel 4a is something else entirely. This is a phone that represents the best of what Google can do at a price that pretty much anyone can afford. The Pixel 4a is making me change my tune a bit. Now, I’m of the opinion that Google can easily make the Pixel line the crown jewel of Android. Google just needs to use the Pixel 4a as the blueprint when it goes back to making premium phones.
The Google Pixel 4a trims away the fat
We’ve got plenty of coverage about the nitty-gritty details of the Google Pixel 4a, so I won’t rehash it all here. Suffice it to say that Google has designed a good-looking phone with an incredibly solid specs sheet at a stunningly low price.
Keep in mind that those three aspects — design, specs, and price — are where Google drops the ball the most when it comes to its premium smartphones. We’re used to seeing phones like the Google Pixel 3 XL, which is a device with a ridiculously ugly “bathtub” notch, a relatively small battery, a tiny amount of storage and RAM, and a laughable original price of $899.
Google has always shone brightest in the software and camera departments. The Pixel UI is one of the best Android skins ever, and the rear-facing camera system on nearly every Pixel phone has been heralded as one of the best of that particular year. With the Google Pixel 4a, the company is finally shedding away all the stuff it just doesn’t do well and instead giving all the focus to these core areas where it excels.
Sure, the Pixel 4a might not be a design masterpiece that offers the fastest speeds or the most impressive battery life. However, it doesn’t need to be, because it — and every Pixel phone prior — is simply a vessel to get the Pixel software and camera experiences into the hands of as many people as possible.
The Google Pixel 4a is the first phone from Google that feels like a cohesive product.
In other words, the Google Pixel 4a is the first phone from Google that feels like a cohesive product. It gives me the notion that it was created with confidence. I absolutely have never been able to say that about any phone in the Pixel line thus far. Even the Google Pixel 3a — as good as it was — felt a little like Google testing the waters. However, to me the Pixel 4a seems like the first phone that everyone on the device’s development team can truly stand behind with pride.
Some of you might say, “But I don’t want a mid-range Pixel, I want a premium flagship.” Don’t be discouraged, because I’m right there with you. But Google has been going about things backward this whole time. It needed to make a phone like the 4a first.
Google needs to start small and work its way up
It may feel like Google has been making smartphones for over a decade considering that the first “Google” phone — the T-Mobile G1, aka the HTC Dream — came out in 2008. However, that’s not really accurate. The Google Pixel, which came out in 2016, was the first phone designed and truly made by Google.
Even all the well-received Nexus-branded phones were made by other companies with Google as an “overseer” of the process. In essence, Google has technically been in the smartphone hardware game for only about four years, and it started out of the gate by making premium flagships.
The Google Pixel 4a shows that Google should hit the restart button. Google needed to make a truly great smartphone experience on a smaller scale, then work its way up to making something premium. I can think of no better “first step” in that process than the Pixel 4a.
One would think that a company as huge as Google wouldn’t need to start at the beginning, and maybe that’s exactly what the company thought originally. However, the Pixel line has proven to be a mixed bag of some incredible successes and some incredible failures — with maybe more failures than successes. Just like its broader product ecosystem ambitions, Google should’ve learned to walk before it tried to run.
With a Google Pixel 4a 5G confirmed for later this year at a reasonable price tag of just $499, it appears that “hitting the reset button” just might be what Google is doing. This could mean that Google really is viewing the Pixel 4a as a new beginning to build on for the future.
It's very possible Google is using the Pixel 4a as a metaphorical way to hit the reset button on the Pixel line.
Of course, if that’s true, that would mean a truly stellar premium flagship from Google would potentially be years away, especially as all rumors are pointing to the Pixel 5 being powered by a mid-range chipset. Perhaps the Pixel 6 could be the first truly great premium smartphone from the search giant.
As I stated in the previously mentioned opinion piece from May: I want Google to succeed in the smartphone space. I want to recommend a Google flagship to my friends and family. I want to be excited enough about a Google phone that I would buy one for myself. The Google Pixel 4a is proof that the company can make a great smartphone. We just need to wait for Google to learn how to make the truly great premium smartphone of our dreams.