The Pixel 4a is Google’s affordable and entry-level smartphone with a £349 price tag – making it more affordable than last year’s Pixel 3a. The appealing factor of a Pixel device is that there is very little bloat as it is an Android experience that Google has envisaged and, of course, it features the Pixel camera with software processing to make your photos look great.
If you’re looking for a 5G device, Google has recently announced the Pixel 4a with 5G, although it does feature a slightly different design and internal specifications.
The Pixel 4a features a black plastic design with Gorilla Glass 3 on the front which feels great, it doesn’t feel cheap at all, the plastic has a matte finish all the way around which helps prevent the device from being covered in fingerprints or getting easily scratched. The mainly plastic construction also makes the phone incredibly lightweight, at 143 grams, it was the first thing I noticed when I took the phone out of the box.
The front of the device is home to the 5.8-inch display, which I think is the ideal maximum size for being able to comfortably use the device with one hand. Located within the display is a hole-punch cut-out in the top left for the selfie camera and a tiny earpiece cut-out at the very top which works with the two bottom facing speakers for when it comes to listening to music or watching videos.
Flipping over the Pixel, the back of the device is home to the fingerprint sensor and camera. I found it interesting how Google has put the Pixel 4a on the camera bump trend when the device only has a single camera, it can look a little odd having the camera and flash in such a big square bump – but it’s not really a big deal.
Looking around the edges of the device, a headphone jack can be found on the top – so if you want to plug in a pair of wired headphones you can do so as well as the USB Type-C port on the bottom for charging. As far as buttons go, the power and volume buttons are all on the right-hand side, the buttons have a good and clicky feel and can be differentiated by the coloured power button.
The Pixel 4a has a 5.8-inch rounded display with a 1080p resolution and 19.5:9 aspect ratio which means that you’ll be able to watch videos and TV shows without having to worry about the hole-punch camera creating a hole in your content.
The display looks great, providing sharp text and imagery as well as pleasant and vibrant colours with great contrast provided by the OLED panel. The colours can be adjusted within the settings app between three different profiles if you want to fine-tune your experience, by default it is in an adaptive mode. The display also supports HDR content, so if you have a favourite TV show or movie that you want to enjoy in HDR, you can do so on this device.
The display also features always-on functionality and viewing angles are decent, but the colours do start to fringe a little when looking from a sharp side angle. I also wish that the display was a little brighter as it can sometimes struggle to combat very bright sunlight.
The Pixel 4a ships with Android 10 but can be updated to Android 11. One major advantage of the Pixel line-up, in comparison to Android smartphones from other manufacturers, is that Pixel devices are one of the first to get the latest Android updates as both the device and operating system are within the Google ecosystem.
Thanks to this, there is no bloat at all, and the device is snappy to use and navigate which makes day-to-day usage of moving around between apps a breeze. The OS experience is also very nice, the interface is clean to look at and straightforward to use.
Being a Pixel device, the 4a also gets a bunch of smart features such as the voice recorder app which will also create a transcript of what the app is hearing in real-time as week as the features that Google Assistant brings to the table.
The Pixel 4a doesn’t have the most powerful specs, but thanks to the well-optimised user experience it still manages to feel snappy and responsive when using apps and multitasking between them. The device also provides a smooth and pleasant gaming experience, whether you like playing 2D titles such as Among Us or 3D games such as Real Racing 3 although it did appear that Real Racing had defaulted to lower graphics settings to provide a smoother gameplay experience.
The device features a Snapdragon 730G processor with 6GB RAM with an Adreno 618 powering the graphics. If you’re a fan of benchmark stats, within the CPU benchmark the Pixel 4a achieves a single-core score of 531 and a multi-core score 1514, within the compute benchmark it scores 1062.
As far as wireless connectivity goes, the device supports NFC so you can use Google Pay to make contactless payments, AC Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD. The Pixel comes with 128GB storage with no expandability, unfortunately, but unlimited Google Photos backup is included.
The Pixel 4a only supports a single form of biometric unlocking with the fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint reader is extremely fast and responsive and can be used to wake and unlock the device when it is sleeping. The placement of the reader is also good, as my finger naturally rests upon the reader when I pick up the device.
I was quite surprised by how good the speakers sounded on this device, considering it is one of the more affordable options out there, they sound better than some of the more high-end phones I’ve tested. The speakers manage to provide enough bass to sound balanced and not lacking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a phone speaker, but it’s much better than I would expect. The bottom-firing speaker works with the earpiece-speaker to provide a better listening experience sounds fairly immersive.
As can be expected with a Pixel device, the Pixel 4a camera performs well for the price. The camera provides sharp images that are well exposed and offers portrait modes with a single camera on the device thanks to Google’s photo processing technology.
The camera works well for landscape photography, effectively exposing for both the bright sky and land. During my testing, the weather was mainly overcast which can be tricky to photograph in without the sky blowing out into the highlights but the Pixel managed to keep everything controlled and contained, knowing when to take an HDR image and process darker parts of the photo. The camera can sometimes struggle a little in darker conditions, so making use of the dedicated night mode can be beneficial if you have a still subject to ensure that you’re able to capture as much detail as possible.
The saturation of colours between photos is okay, I did find the colour balance to change slightly between a couple of photographs of the same scene, but overall, it behaves and performs well with providing a consistent result.
The camera can provide Portrait mode functionality by using software processing without an additional depth sensor. The effect works well, but I do think that the depth sensor on the Samsung Galaxy A90 provides a slightly better result as, on the Pixel, the device can sometimes think that background objects may be the subject – when they are not.
The portrait mode works with a range of different subjects and manages to provide a nice and convincing bokeh blur, considering it’s all being done with a single camera it’s quite good.
The rear-facing camera is 12.2-megapixels and features image stabilisation, this is carried through to the video mode which can record in up to 4K 30fps resolution and still support image stabilisation – which is very impressive to see and great that you can get smooth high-resolution video, typically on other devices I’ve not been able to max-out resolution and keep image stabilisation active.
The selfie camera performs well for capturing a quick selfie, like the rear-facing camera it also supports HDR as well as that portrait mode functionality for achieving a blurred background, this is where I’d say the Pixel has the edge over other devices as it has great processing to provide a blurred background for a selfie. The resolution of the selfie camera is a little lower at 8-megapixels, so you won’t be able to record at 4K with this camera, unfortunately, only 1080p.
The experience of using the camera app is extremely simple and straightforward as it offers the various modes supported and not much else, so it may be too simple for some folks but if you want to capture a photograph or video in the moment, it’s perfect for that.
I do have a little pet peeve with the layout of the app as I kept tapping the mode switcher instead of the shutter button but I think I would get used to the placement over an extended time and is most likely me being too used to iOS having the layout inversed.
An interesting feature built into the Photos app is that you can blur the background of a portrait after-the-fact, which could be handy in some situations.
The Pixel 4a features a 3140mAh battery which I have been able to use comfortably for a couple of days before needing to charge again. I’ve mainly been using social media apps and the camera for taking photos and video, so your battery life may vary depending on your usage.
The device does feature an Adaptive Battery feature which will help extend battery life by learning about how you use the device to provide a good experience and better performance. When it does come to charge up the device, there is, unfortunately, no wireless charging but there is 18W fast charging.
The Google Pixel 4a is a great choice for an Android phone on a budget that provides a great quality camera and great value for money performance. The device feels good to use and provides a pleasant software experience for using throughout the day.
The device does lack some features such as wireless charging and top-end gaming performance, but it performs well at what matters most. If you’re into mobile photography or just want a device that will be able to capture great quality moments, the Pixel 4a is a great option.
Google Pixel 4aGoogle Pixel 4a
- Lightweight design
- Smooth and fluid software experience
- Great camera software and processing
- No wireless charging
- Only one camera lens
- Portrait mode not always accurate