I was looking forward to doing this Pixel 4a review. After an astonishing Pixel 3a, a disappointing Pixel 4 for its price, the Pixel 4a arrives with a low price, and an ultra compact format that will please (or displease) depending on expectations.
Google is changing strategy. After Pixel 3, 3a and 4 available in XL version, this Pixel 4a is satisfied with a single format. The giant seems to want to simplify its offer on the mid-range, and the progress made at the level of the screen allows to achieve a panel close to that of the Pixel 3XL, in a much smaller body. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in several postponements of the Pixel 4a, which will finally arrive in October, with pre-orders in September.
Like the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a is a much more affordable model than its top-of-the-line version, and the main concession is made on the materials and SoC used. The consequence is direct: the Pixel 4a is launched at 349 €, a very aggressive price.
Is Google’s recipe for offering an affordable smartphone and a smooth experience with this Pixel 4a? Does it address the shortcomings of its predecessors? Do we have to wait until Pixel 5? First elements of answers in this test of the Google Pixel 4a.
Pixel 4a test and video review
We have decided to launch a new series of videos called Take it / Leave it. So this is not one, but two videos that I offer for the Pixel 4a, one focusing on its strengths, the other on its weaknesses. If you like the concept, subscribe to the channel, and share your thoughts on this Pixel 4a in the comments. For the full Pixel 4a review, it’s under the videos.
Design & Hardware
As with most of our tests, let’s start with the technical specifications of the Google Pixel 4a. As I explained, Google chose a mid-range SoC, to keep the price of the Pixel 4a under $ 400. It is therefore the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G which was chosen, and it is coupled with 6 GB of RAM and an Adreno 618 GPU. If it is not the most powerful processor available for Android, daily navigation proves to be fluid and pleasant. Don’t expect to run greedy games like Fortnite, Asphalt 4 or PUBG at full blast, however.
To draw a parallel with the Pixel 4 (which uses a Snapdragon 855), the score under Antutu Benchmark is 264,000 on the Pixel 4a vs. 409,000 for its predecessor. The real question is the durability of this SoC / RAM combination, but I’ve never had a background app shutting down, slowing down, or freezing on the Pixel 4a. For me, it is more than sufficient for most of the potential uses. If you are a gamer, it is better to turn to a model like the OnePlus Nord, which surpasses this Pixel 4a in terms of power.
Significant novelty compared to other Pixels, this Pixel 4a offers 128 GB of basic storage. This is a real good progression, knowing that it has never been possible to add a microSD. It is also dual SIM, with a NanoSIM / eSIM combination. This technology is starting to be used more and more by French operators, so you can have two phone numbers on your Pixel 4a.
Unlike the Pixel 4, this Pixel 4a has a built-in jack port, and this is one of the very latest models to do so. If you’re looking for “True Wireless” headphones, the Pixel Buds are perfectly integrated, and they impressed me during my review. Another nice detail, the Pixel 4a offers stereo sound, which is doing quite well.
One of the main flaws on the Pixels 3, 3a and 4 was their screen. If the Pixel 4 has already improved a lot with finer contours and the Pixel 4a finally offers a panel with a size / screen ratio in line with what is being done in 2020. The front photo sensor takes the form of a punch in the upper left part. Concession also, the 5.7-inch OLED display only offers a refresh rate of 60 Hz, against 90 Hz on the Pixel 4. On a daily basis, the animations of the stock version of Android remain very fluid, and using this Pixel 4a is a real pleasure. Importantly, the brightness is very good, even if it is not the best on the market.
The back and the frame of this Pixel 4a are made of polycarbonate, and the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. If the grip is pleasant, and going from glass to plastic is not a problem for me (the Pixel 4a is very light thanks to that), Gorilla Glass 3 is a negative point. This technology is supposed to protect the screen, but it is far from the most robust. I am very careful with the smartphones I test, and I already have a few scratches on the Pixel 4a’s display. I therefore strongly advise you to buy a protective glass so as not to have any bad surprises. That’s a detail, but the buttons are quite noisy …
This Pixel 4a has a fingerprint sensor on the back of the smartphone. It works great, and I have always loved this way of unlocking my smartphones. Since there is only one version of this Google Pixel 4a, you have no choice of color. I find the black model proposed for France particularly successful. Google has also announced the release of a Pixel 4a 5G, which will be presented this fall and sold for 499 euros.
To conclude this part of the Google Pixel 4a test, the handling is excellent. The compact size makes it easy to use with one hand, and it is very light. The gain on the screen is not negligible and the absence of 90 Hz is not disturbing. It really wowed me during this test, and if everything went smoothly in use, I will be closely monitoring its progress. At this price of 349 €, the technical choices on the Pixel 4a are very interesting.
The Google Pixel 4a is an ode to simplicity in Android
Android Stock, a real pleasure
Twice a year, for the release of Google smartphones, I have the opportunity to spend several weeks on the stock version of Android. The results are the same every time, with a very smooth experience, a design improved year after year, and perfect software / hardware integration. The Google Pixel 4a will inevitably be one of the first models on the market to benefit from the arrival of Android 11 in September. As it comes out in October, you will have it under the latest version.
There will be many new features in Android 11, and I hope that exclusives reserved for Anglo-Saxon countries such as live transcription of calls and content will arrive in France quickly. I was able to test the combo with the Pixel Buds, and the integration of Google Assistant is getting deeper, faster and more interactive. The main argument for iOS lovers is the complexity of Android. I only have one piece of advice: try a pixel, and you’ll understand.
This software approach is reflected in the overall experience with the Pixel 4a. It’s an ode to simplicity in Android. While customizations are possible, they are less numerous than on many overlays, and using a Pixel is a snap.
The photo always on top
Although the back of the Pixel 4a features a square photo block, it does contain a single 12MP sensor. As a reminder, the Pixel 4 offered a dual sensor, including a x2 zoom. As we had seen with the Pixel 3 XL, the difference between the two models is minimal, even if the processing takes longer with smartphones of the “a” range from Google.
While doing this Google Pixel 4a review, I felt exactly the same as with the brand’s previous models. Multiplying the sensors is good, but the processing is very important. A new time, the Pixel 4a and its unique 12 Mpx sensor does perfectly well in most situations. It doesn’t have a ToF sensor on the back, but shoots excellent portraits. It doesn’t have a built-in zoom, but the digital zoom technology is good. It doesn’t have 64 or 108 Mpx, but the night photos are stunning, without using Pixel Binning.
In fact the pixel photo experience is more like computer art than photographic art. No need to master the concepts of aperture, shutter speed or ISO, you grab your Pixel 4a, aim, and pull out a really nice shot. Importantly, the lack of a high-end SoC results in slower image processing, which can take a few seconds. Overall, I didn’t see any major quality difference with the shots I took in my Pixel 4 test, except for the zoom, which is still better thanks to the dedicated sensor on the top-of-the-line model.
I also had the opportunity to test the astrophotography mode, and it’s a real treat. If you’ve always wanted to take star shots, step away from the city’s light pollution, grab a tripod, and wait for 4 minutes. This shot, price in the middle of the night attests to the capabilities of the Pixel 4a. The strong light behind the car was that of a village light.
The video quality of the Pixel 4a is very good, but settles for 4K at 30 fps or 1080p at 60 fps. 1080p 4x (120 fps) or 720p 8x (240 fps) slow motion mode is featured, as is video stabilization. With the 8MP front sensor, it does very well, and the portrait mode is also good.
Such quality for a device at € 349 is simply unheard of on the market
The important thing for me in a smartphone camera is to trust it, and that is again the case with this Pixel 4a. Such quality for a device at € 349 is simply unheard of on the market. If the two criteria in buying a smartphone are photo and compact size, there is no rival that comes close to the Pixel 4a.
I can’t wait to see what the Pixel 5 can do, and see if it finally features a wide-angle rear view, which could further enhance the range of possibilities on the Pixels. But Google once again confirms that it is the king of photophones.
Google Pixel 4a autonomy: better
The Pixel 4’s battery life was a complete drag on buying. On the Pixel 4a, Google is doing much better. Despite a small capacity of 3140 mAh, I made it through the day’s use during these two weeks of testing the Google Pixel 4a. This improvement is undoubtedly due to a SoC that consumes less energy than the 855, and optimizations on the Google side.
I also saw a great improvement over time with adaptive mode. Small disappointment, the supplied 18w charger takes 1h30 to recharge the Pixel 4a. Wireless charging is also part of the sacrifices of this model. On its competitors, endurance will be better on the Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite, the Oppo Find X2 Lite, while the iPhone SE is lagging behind. The battery life of the Pixel 4a is better than that of the Pixel 4.
It remains to be seen whether the arrival of Android 11 will further improve this battery life, but I already find it sufficient for most uses. The conclusion is ultimately the same as during my test of the Pixel 3a, the mid-range models are more enduring than the high-end Pixels.
My opinion on the Pixel 4a
This Pixel 4a review was a real pleasure. The improvements in design, a still excellent photo, a very nice Stock version of Android and this compact size clearly won me over. Difficult to find fault with it, even if I have some doubts about its durability, between the SoC and Gorilla Glass 3. To put in perspective with two of its direct competitors who have passed through my hands, the iPhone SE does not has for him the power against this Pixel 4. For its part, the OnePlus North is more enduring, larger and more powerful.
The more time goes by the more I like this compact size, as it had been with the Samsung Galaxy S10e. I think the Pixel 4a is one of the top picks under $ 400, and the best affordable camera phone. But there is a catch.
Its real weakness is certainly its commercial launch. Google having had to postpone the release of this Pixel 4a by several months, it will be launched a few days before the presentation of the Pixel 5. The latest rumors suggest a Snapdragon 765G on the latter, which could make it more affordable than the Pixel 4 The choice between a Pixel 4a and a 5 could therefore be more complicated depending on the price placement of the latter.
If you’re interested in the Pixel 4a, you’ll have to wait until September 10 for pre-orders to open, with delivery in early October. If you have any questions or want to give us your opinion on the Pixel 4a, feel free to share in the comments.
Google Pixel 4a
10.0 / 10
- The camera
- The format
- Android Stock
- The price
We like less
- Gorilla Glass 3
- Release date