Review Roundup: Google Pixel 4a – a solid budget smartphone with an amazing camera
At under $400, there seems to be a lot to like here.
The Pixel 4a has only just been announced by Google, but devices have been in reviewers’ hands for a hot minute and the reviews are out. Well, not from us but we’ll bring you the relevant parts from around the internet.
The surprising part? All the reviews pretty much say the same things, with one dissenting voice from Input Mag. I guess that just means it’s consistent, and nobody really found any glaring issues, especially with that $349 price tag coloring any critical blame.
If you don’t want to read all the way down, just know that at $349, it will sell in droves. Well, maybe. I mean, the Pixel line hasn’t really got the sort of name recognition as an iPhone, and with two 5G handsets in the range coming fairly soon, it’s not like any of the mainstream carriers in the US are going to push this cheap phone to customers. Then again, the reasons you buy a Pixel over any other phone are the camera quality and the essential Android experience, so for $349, does the Pixel 4a have that?
About that solitary camera…
I’m just going to repeat my earlier statement here, the only reason anyone buys the Pixel line is the camera performance. Every Pixel device before this has come with a class-leading camera, which has been let down by the rest of the device. Yes, that’s exactly why I kept getting new Pixel devices even after 20+ RMAs over my ownership years.
Do I need to go on? Every outlet says the same thing, that the Pixel 4a has the best camera in the class, if not in the entire market. Whew.
Design (or lack thereof)
So Google did things differently with the Pixel 4a, in that it is the first all-screen phone the company has produced. That means no notch, a tiny hole-punch for the selfie camera, and small bezels. Oh, and it’s OLED, which is great to see on this low-price device. I guess they really were listening when we all complained about the fat chin and bad haircut on all prior Pixel devices.
The Pixel 4a trims some of the flagship price by switching to a polycarbonate shell, which is one color across the device. That should have made it easy to keep wireless charging, but that was trimmed for cost as well. Stereo speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack were not trimmed though, so maybe that makes up for it for most users. You can’t squeeze the phone to invoke Google Assistant anymore either, a nifty but presumably costly feature on the flagship devices.
Just be aware, as Wired notes, that it doesn’t have any IP-rating for water or dust resistance, has no microSD slot, and the volume of those speakers isn’t the best.
Google’s Pixel range has long had battery life levied at it as a major drawback, and for the most part that’s justified. When I had my Pixel 4 I needed to recharge usually mid-afternoon, while almost every other handset I’ve owned could go on into the next day. The 4a fixes that with a 4,130mAh battery, bigger than the smaller Pixel 4’s battery. It’s also helped by the “more power-efficient Snapdragon 730G processor, [ending] up with acceptable battery life.” That’s four and a half hours of screen-on-time, according to The Verge, which is fairly representative of most people’s daily phone use.
Android Police found they were getting six hours of screen-on-time a day, a truly excellent score. I have to wonder what the disparity between the two reviewers scores is here, whether the devices were different or the mix of app and phone usage was drastically different.
Android Police did go on to mention they had to “really, really push it with things like long video calls, tons of max brightness time outdoors, and constant connection to my Bluetooth headphones, I can probably drain it with 4 or 4.5 hours of screen time,” so maybe it’s the combination of multitasking and Bluetooth and brightness that does the trick. Is that going to be a normal use case for most users? I don’t really think so.
Is the Pixel 4a the best budget Android experience?
You’re not going to get flagship performance at the $349 price, period. You know what though? That’s okay. In a world where flagships are trending over $1,000; maybe it’s fine to get ‘just enough’ with one or two standalone features. You buy the Pixel range for the camera, and for the vanilla Android experience, not for the flashy features. I’m fine with Google realizing that, and the prior low-cost Pixel, the 3a, outsold pretty much everything Google has ever released phone-wise, so we’ll know in a few months if the 4a can also do those numbers.
The Snapdragon 730G isn’t the flagship SoC this year, but it’s still no slouch. Sure, the lower-powered Adreno GPU won’t win any gaming benchmarks, but who cares? The Pixel 4a with its 1080p screen doesn’t need that much graphical horsepower, and it’s not like it has a high refresh rate panel or is marketed at gamers. It’s marketed at budget-conscious Android fans who want a good camera, and that’s exactly what it does. Google upped the battery, upped the storage, and took out the frippery of wireless charging. Great. Three years of Android updates is a big plus, as Android Police notes, going on to give it a 9.5/10 while calling the camera “industry-leading.”
Wired calls it “Pixel Perfect,” which sounds completely fitting to me. You don’t expect much from an Android handset in this price range, with most of the alternatives having sluggish performance or useless cameras. The Pixel 4a has neither, making it a fantastic choice for a low-cost Android handset.
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