Google Pixel 4a is here: Your buying guide

Google Pixel 4a is here: Your buying guide
Google Pixel 4a is here: Your buying guide

The cheapest phone from Google in 2020 is the Google Pixel 4a and it’s a great budget Android device. It might be the lowest rung on the ladder beneath the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, but it offers many of the same great benefits.

In this Google Pixel 4a buyer’s guide, we bring you all the info you need to make a smart purchase decision and to make the most of your new phone.

Pixel 4a at a glance

The Pixel 4a was announced on August 3, 2020. It’s Google’s most affordable phone for the year and it’s a great pick if you want:

  • A cheap-ish phone from a trusted brand
  • A great camera
  • A smaller size
  • Quality software and guaranteed updates.

The Pixel 4a costs $349 in the US, where it’s available in only one size, one color, and one storage configuration. It competes with the iPhone SE, the OnePlus Nord (outside the US), the Samsung Galaxy A51, and a slew of other affordable phones from brands like Xiaomi and Realme.

You should avoid the Pixel 4a if you want:

  • Top performance, especially for games
  • Lots of bells and whistles
  • A battery that holds several days
  • 5G (get the Pixel 4a 5G version instead).

Is the Pixel 4a worth buying?

We think the Google Pixel 4a is a great pick for the money, especially in the US, where value-focused brands like Realme and Poco are not present.

At $349, it’s a great phone for those who want something solid and functional for day-to-day use, with added niceties like a high-quality camera and a beautiful screen.

Now, Google doesn’t have a stellar track record as a phone maker. Some previous Pixel phones have suffered from hardware issues. Also, Google phones are rarely on the cutting edge in performance and battery life. The Pixel 4a is no exception. Keep that in mind if you want the highest reliability or the best specs for your money.

The Pixel 4a is the follow-up to the Pixel 3a, which was very popular last year. The 3a was our most recommended device of 2019 and all signs suggest the Pixel 4a will follow in its footsteps.

What reviewers are saying about the Pixel 4a

Our own David Imel reviewed the Pixel 4a and came away impressed. Calling it a “no brainer,” David noted that the Pixel 4a gives users “one of the best experiences on Android in a well-designed chassis, for one-third the price of modern flagships.”

That last point is crucial – many customers feel that flagship phone prices aren’t really justified. The Pixel 4a is not a flagship, but it offers a “good enough” experience for a very decent asking price. That helps it stand out.

Besides the value, David highlighted the “fantastic display,” great cameras, and good performance among the selling points of the Pixel 4a. On the downside, David noted there’s no IP rating or wireless charging. Also, the single camera on the back, while really good, can’t match the flexibility of multi-camera designs.

A few weeks later, Android Authority’s Jimmy Westenberg published a second opinion that was less positive than David’s take. He still liked the Pixel 4a, but ultimately decided to return it in favor of the Pixel 5. The 90hz screen, slightly snappier performance, and promises of a more “flagship” experience lead to his buyer’s remorse.

Jimmy’s takeaway had more to do with timing than hardware. Google (and the global pandemic) pushed what would have been a killer phone in May back far enough that it’s competing directly with newer, better Pixel devices.

What people like you think of the Pixel 4a

In a poll Tech by Android ran back in May, almost 90% of the 6,000+ respondents said they’re excited for the Pixel 4a.

Some of that excitement might have been lost on the way, as Google inexplicably delayed the release of the device. Still, it’s safe to say a majority of Android fans are looking forward to the Pixel 4a.

In another poll from July 20, we asked people to choose between the heavily leaked Pixel 4a and the heavily hyped OnePlus Nord. The Google phone came out on top, with 60% of the votes. That’s impressive, considering how popular OnePlus is and how well received the OnePlus Nord has been overall.

Google Pixel 4a specs

We have a full breakdown of the Pixel 4a specs and features here. Below you’ll find the key Pixel 4a specs at a glance.

Google Pixel 4a
Display 5.81-inch OLED
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Gorilla Glass 3
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
2x Cortex-A76
6x Cortex-A55
GPU Adreno 618
Storage 128GB
No microSD slot
Cameras Rear:
12.2MP, f/1.7, 1.4µm pixels, optical + electronic image stabilizationFront:
8MP sensor, f/2.0, 1.12µm pixels, fixed focus, 84-degree field-of-view
Headphone jack Yes
Battery 3,140mAh
18W charging
No wireless charging
IP rating No IP rating
Software Android 10
Colors Just Black
Dimensions and weight 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm

Is the Pixel 4a camera good?

The Pixel 4a features the same 12MP camera sensor as its predecessor. There’s also only one lens on the back – no wide angle, no zoom, no depth sensors.

On paper, that doesn’t sound encouraging, but specs alone don’t paint the full picture. Like other Pixel phones, the Pixel 4a punches above its weight, thanks to great software optimization. As David put it in our review, “images from the Pixel 4a are classic Google. That is, they’ll look fantastic straight out of camera in nearly any situation.”

The Pixel 4a’s single camera is refreshingly simple, but that’s its weakness too. Other phone makers are pushing the hardware envelope, adding more lenses, bigger sensors, and more complex zoom systems. This gives users more power to capture each scene in the best way. Meanwhile, with the Pixel 4a, what you see is what you get.

How is the Pixel 4a battery life?

From our experience, you can expect around 6.5-7 hours of screen-on time from the Pixel 4a’s 3,140mAh battery, with medium usage. That’s a fairly good number for a battery this size, though it probably won’t be enough to get you through two days of use.

We ran the Pixel 4a through our battery test against two competitors – OnePlus Nord and LG Velvet – and two other Google devices. As you can see in the chart below, the Pixel 4a gives the Nord’s bigger battery a good run, while the 4,300mAh LG Velvet pulls ahead. The 4a clearly beats both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 4.

Is the Pixel 4a fast enough?

Like everything else about the Pixel 4a, the phone’s performance is good enough for the money. You won’t get flagship-level smoothness, or the highest frame rates in Fortnite. You will get a nearly seamless, lag-free experience in day-to-day use, which is what most people who buy this kind of phone want and expect.

Our resident chiphead Rob Triggs benchmarked the Pixel 4a and noted that it’s “fast enough for a modern mid-range handset when it comes to the real world.” The “real world” part is key – in his testing, Rob found that the Snapdragon 730G processor simply doesn’t hold up to intensive use like long gaming sessions. The processor starts to slow down after about 25 minutes of heavy use.

Google Pixel 4a – Benchmarks

In normal, non-gaming use, the Pixel 4a performs fairly close to phones equipped with the next fastest Snapdragon tier, the 765G.

To wrap up, the Pixel 4a is good enough for most use cases, but don’t get it if you want to run high-end games or other processor-intensive apps. If you plan to keep your next phone for more than two years, then you might want to choose a more future-proof Snapdragon 765G-equipped phone.

Pixel 4a vs Pixel 3a: What’s new?

Compared to the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a is very much an incremental update. That’s visible in the familiar design, but also throughout the spec sheet.

The key updates concern performance and memory. The Snapdragon 670 processor on the Pixel 3a has been replaced with the 730G, which offers better overall speed, but only slightly improved graphic performance. RAM and storage have been bumped up to 6GB and 128GB, up from 4GB and 64GB on the Pixel 3a. That’s a welcome update, though it’s basically the bare minimum Google could get away with in 2020.

The screen is slightly larger (5.81 inches vs 5.6 inches) and slightly taller (19.5:9 ratio, vs 18.5:9 last year), while resolution stays the same. The Pixel 4a definitely looks more modern, giving up the Pixel 3a’s chunky top and bottom bezels.

Cameras are very similar, and the battery has received only a slight upgrade, to 3,140mAh, up from 3,080mAh. That said, battery life is notably better on the Pixel 4a thanks to the newer processor.

What about the Pixel 4a (5G)?

In true Google fashion, the company is muddying the waters with a 5G version of the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a (5G) released a few months after the non-5G device at a price of $499. It came out at the same time as the Pixel 5, which also features 5G.

In many ways, the Pixel 4a 5G is more similar to the Pixel 5 than the Pixel 4a. It features an extra wide-angle camera, a more powerful Snapdragon 765G processor, and a slightly larger 6.2-inch display. The battery also sees a bump up, which should help offset some of the increased power consumption of a 5G connection.

Pixel 4a (5G) will go on sale in US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. You can learn more about all three 2020 Pixel phones in our full comparison piece.

What are some good Pixel 4a alternatives?

The answer to this question depends a lot on where you live. In the US, the options in the Pixel 4a’s price range are limited, while in Europe and Asia, Chinese brands offer much stronger competition.

Here are some Pixel 4a alternatives you should consider:

  • Pixel 3a (~$300): If you can get your hands on one, the now-discontinued Pixel 3a is not that far behind the Pixel 4a. That said, we strongly recommend you spring up for the 4a.
  • iPhone SE ($400): You’d have to switch to iOS, but the iPhone SE (2020) is a very strong player in this price range. That’s mostly thanks to its truly flagship-grade processor. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a gives you a nicer screen and a better camera.
  • OnePlus Nord (~$500): A very good mid-range phone that’s not available in the US. Get it if you want a bigger screen, a faster processor, and longer battery life, along with smooth software. A future Nord-series phone will be coming to the US this year, so you may want to wait for that.
  • LG Velvet ($600): This one is much more expensive, but for the money you get a stylish design, a faster processor, 5G support, and a massive battery.
  • Realme 6 Pro (~$400): Faster processor, a 90Hz LCD screen, a beefy 4,300mAh battery with 30W charging, and four cameras on the back, giving you all the imaging flexibility the Pixel 4a lacks.
  • Samsung Galaxy A51 ($280): Samsung’s mid-ranger has a bigger screen and battery, but performance is lacking. We think the Pixel 4a is a better pick.
  • Redmi Note 9 Pro ($330): The popular Redmi Note 9 Pro has a bigger 5,020mAh battery, 30W charging, expandable storage, and an ultra-wide camera. The software experience won’t be as good though.

Should you buy now or wait?

Google has dragged its feet releasing the Pixel 4a, which was originally supposed to go out in May. Now that fall is almost here, you might want to wait a month or two to see what phone makers are working on for the end of the year.

Google itself released a 5G version of the Pixel 4a. 5G is a big deal for carriers, but it shouldn’t be a priority to most customers. We don’t think most people should hold out for the 5G model, as the benefits of 5G today are limited, at best.

Pixels phones regularly go on sale, though you may need to wait several months for the first discount to appear. Definitely keep an eye on the Pixel 4a around Black Friday and the holiday season, when you can expect a 10-20% discount.

Where to buy the Pixel 4a

The Google Pixel 4a is available from the Google Store and via Google Fi. Other retailers that will offer it include Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart.

In the US, Google will also sell the Pixel 4a on C Spire, Spectrum Mobile (Charter), US Cellular, Verizon, and Xfinity Mobile (Comcast). The Pixel 4a is now available in a variety of other countries as well, as emails have been sent out to users who signed up for the waitlist.

Pixel 4a software and updates

Like all Google phones, buying a Pixel 4a means skipping the line when it comes to software updates. Google usually (but not always) pushes out security and system updates in a timely fashion, meaning the Pixel 4a will stay current and fresh.

Pixel feature drops are another incentive for buying a Pixel 4a. Google constantly adds new software features to its Pixel phones, eschewing the need to wait for a major update.

The Pixel 4a shipped with Android 10 and was updated to Android 11 in early September. Google promises at least three years of system and security updates for the Pixel 4a, which is a better commitment than what most other Android manufacturers offer.

Top Pixel 4a questions and answers

Q: Where’s the Google Pixel 4a XL?

A: Despite some rumors, this year the Pixel 4a doesn’t have an XL version. The Pixel 4a 5G packs a slightly larger 6.2-inch screen, as well as a few other improvements.

Q: Is there 5G?

A: The standard Pixel 4a does not support 5G. Its processor, the Snapdragon 730G, is not a 5G chip. If 5G is a must for you, get the Pixel 4a 5G for $499.

Q: Does the Pixel 4a have a headphone jack?

A: Yes, the Pixel 4a does have a 3.5mm audio jack.

Q: Does the Pixel 4a has a microSD card slot?

A: The Pixel 4a doesn’t have a memory card slot, so you won’t be able to expand the storage beyond the internal 128GB.

Q: What colors is the Pixel 4a available in?

A: In the US at launch, the Pixel 4a is only available in black.

Q: Is the Pixel 4a waterproof?

A: The Google Pixel 4a doesn’t have an official IP rating for water and dust resistance. You shouldn’t expose it to any liquids.

Q: How do you enable Active Edge on the Pixel 4a?

A: The Pixel 4a does not have the Active Edge feature. Found on previous Pixel phones, Active Edge allowed you to squeeze the sides of the phone to open Google Assistant or silence alarms.

Q: Does the Pixel 4a screen offer 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rates?

A: No, this is a standard 60Hz display