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Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's mid-range general

There's a lot to love about Google's little wonder.

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's mid-range general
01 October 2020

Google aims low and hits high with the Google Pixel 4a. It’s a low-cost, mid-range smartphone that’s packed with tech that will have flagships turning their heads in envy.

Let’s just look at the price: at £349 it’s well under the current price of the Pixel 4 Series - which hovers around the £600 mark - and cheaper than the recently announced Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G.

How, then, has Google managed to create a phone that’s so much lower in price, but competing with handsets way above its pay grade?

UPDATE: The Google Pixel 4a is now available from Google - it's been a long-time coming, given it launched in the US in August - so is it worth the wait?

Here are five things to know…

1. This is a pixie Pixel

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's budget phone

Google has ripped up the design of the Pixel 3a and is offering something refreshing for the Pixel 4a. Gone is the circular camera lens on the back, replaced with a smaller but Pixel 4-like camera square. It’s not got the two-tone strip on the back, preferring a matte soft-touch finish of polycarbonate.

The fingerprint sensor is still there in the middle of the back and really easy to get to. Flip it over and there’s nothing but display, only interrupted by a punc-hole selfie camera in the top-left corner.

The Pixel 4a manages to pack a bigger screen on to what is a smaller chassis as well. The screen is a decent 5.80-inch challenger, that uses FHD+ OLED tech - so not 4K but we found it to be punchy and bright, good for both Netflix and doom scrolling through Twitter.

The body is more than 5% smaller than the Pixel 3a and it certainly feels dinky. In all, it’s only: 144mm (l), 69.4mm (w), 8.8mm in thickness and weighs 143g.

We went from a OnePlus 8 Pro to the 4a and the size difference is really noticeable. But that’s no bad thing. Yes, it takes time to adjust to a small screen and form factor but it’s really refreshing to use a phone that isn’t a tablet with a Napoleon complex in disguise.

And if you are an Apple user sniffing around this review looking to maybe go to the other side, then this is the same screen size as the iPhone 11 Pro.

2. The camera will make you smile

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's budget phone

Now, we have on niggle about the camera on the Pixel 4a - it takes up far too much real estate on the back of the device. We originally thought that there were multiple cameras on the rear because of the rather sizeable black square the lenses sit in but it’s just one 12MP sensor and a flash.

Yes, it means the phone takes design cues from the bigger Pixel 4 but we don’t think the camera bump needs to be that big for just one lens - it’s almost as if it’s social distancing from the flash..

Saying that, the pictures we took were excellent. Google really hasn’t just kept up with the other cameraphone crowd but surpassed them with its brilliant features such as its Night Sight and portrait mode. Both are present here and a joy to use.

The selfie camera on board is an 8MP wide-angle and made this particularly weathered journalist not look like a corpse awakened from its slumber. So 10 out of 10 from us. Seriously, though, the software Google uses to back its camera hardware is still among the best around.

3. You will love the massive hole on the top of the Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's budget phone

Don’t panic, there is nothing wrong with the device, it’s just that Google has decided to add a - shock, horror - 3.5mm headphone port to the Pixel 4a. We’re not one to get nostalgic about old tech but it makes complete sense given the price of the phone - this is a phone for everyone and not just those who can afford wireless headphones that actually work properly.

It counters this old-school tech with a really responsive fingerprint scanner on the back of the device, some fantastic AI with Google Assistant. Assistant used to be a bit shonky but it really has evolved into something you will want to use - whether that’s finding out what song is on the radio or getting it to organise your life a bit, it’s a lot of fun.

As this is a Google phone, the version of Android 10 that’s on board is the best you can get, as there is no pesky skin from another manufacturer. It has a really fresh feel and is easy to use; it’s simple and streamlined.

4. Battery life should stop overnight charging

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's budget phone

The battery on the Pixel 4a meant that we didn’t have to charge the Pixel 4a overnight. It was happy to keep going 30-odd hours and we instead just gave it a quick blast with the speedy charger that’s in the box. Now, this charger isn’t a patch on OnePlus’ 30W behemoth, but the 18W charger does mean you can get a nice battery boost in a short time.

We also like the adaptive battery feature in the 4a - it seemed to learn our phone habits and adapt the battery around those.

A bugbear is that the Pixel 4a doesn't have wireless charging. This might be a deal breaker for some, but because of what we’ve mentioned above we didn’t miss the ability to throw the phone on to a charging pad. It would have been great if it was on there but we suspect that would have pushed the price up.

5. The Pixel 4a performs admirably on demand

Google Pixel 4a review: 5 things to know about Google's budget phone

The Pixel 4a has more memory that we were expecting from the phone - 6GB of RAM is not to be sniffed at and there’s 128GB of storage on board. This is way up from the 3a which tapped out at 64GB. There is a reason for this, though, and that’s to make up for the lack of a micro SD card slot. We think you will be fine with 128GB of space, but it’s worth figuring out if you can survive on this number before buying.

The chip powering the Pixel 4a isn’t a top-of-the-range Snapdragon but it doesn’t need to be. The 730 that’s inside is more than capable for gaming and the like for a phone of this screen size that has a refresh rate of 6oHz.

We powered through Asphalt 9 and had no issues and while we hoped it would buckle under the pressure of Football Manager 2020 Mobile so we could finally curb our addiction, it played it with ease.

Final verdict

The mid-range smartphone space is a crowded one right now. But, for us, it’s between this and the OnePlus Nord for budget smartphone superiority or if you want to go down the Apple route, then definitely look at the even more diminutive iPhone SE.

With the OnePlus Nord you get 5G and a more powerful screen. With the Pixel 4a you get a phone that’s a joy to use, one of the best cameras we have used (on a phone under £400) and it has Google at its heart.

Which one you choose will depend on whether you are ready to go 5G or not. But you won’t be disappointed with either.

The Google Pixel 4a is out now.