Earlier this year, Google released the Pixel 4a, a relatively cheap device at $349 with no real interesting characteristics besides from it being a cheap Google phone with a good camera. For some, maybe that’s good enough. Now, we have a beefed up version of that device called the Pixel 4a 5G, which does a bit more than just bring 5G connectivity for an extra $150 at $499.
Versus the Pixel 4a, the 4a 5G is a bit larger, has a faster processor, bigger battery, an additional camera lens, plus the 5G connectivity. For $150 more, that’s a solid little list. But is it the new Pixel phone you should get over the $699 Pixel 5? Let’s take a closer look.
This is our Pixel 4a 5G review!
What’s good about the Pixel 4a 5G?
Specs – For its $499 price, the Pixel 4a 5G packs some decent specs, though, this section of affordable devices is becoming crowded with phones that pack better specs than this phone. But this is Google, a company not known for overdoing things in the spec department.
Pixel 4a 5G features a 6.2″ AMOLED (2340×1080, 413ppi, 60Hz) display, Snapdragon 765G processor, 6GB LPDDR4x RAM, 128GB storage, 3800mAh (18W fast charging), dual rear cameras (12.2MP w/ OIS + 16MP wide-angle lens), 8MP front-facing camera, 5G connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, rear-facing fingerprint reader, stereo speakers, headphone jack, plastic body, and Android 11.
For $499, this seems like a good list of specs, but if there was anything for me to complain about, it’d be that this phone lacks a 90Hz display and offers no IP rating. Those are the two big things for me. Typically I wouldn’t be sad about it at this price point, but with OnePlus and its Nord device coming to the US, we know that it’s likely doable for Google to include things like that. Oh well, nothing we can do now.
Software – While arguably boring when compared to custom skins from OEMs like Samsung and OnePlus, Google’s software experience is one of the reasons many Pixel fans keep coming back. This phone launches with Android 11, the latest and greatest version, and the 4a 5G will continue to run the latest version of Android and receive the latest security updates ahead of non-Pixel phones for the foreseeable future. For specifics, you should get two major Android version upgrades, plus three years of security updates. That’s just how Pixel phones roll, yo. If you appreciate that, you’ll appreciate a Pixel.
What I appreciate about the Pixel experience is simply the straightforwardness of it all. It doesn’t feel like there are hidden menus and secret things hiding behind swipes of the finger. You have gesture navigation, Google’s Discover feed built into the launcher, all of the latest Google Assistant stuff, Always-on Display, and I suppose that’s about it. There’s no “Advanced Features” menu or anything too wild, just the barebones basics that Google handles quite well. And again, I get it if this isn’t your thing, but I’m all for this basic approach. In my mind, it means less things that can go wrong.
Battery Life – Kellen and I did a dedicated battery life post for the 4a 5G and Pixel 4 devices already. The main takeaway for both devices? Both get exceptional battery life! On this 4a 5G, I’m getting 5-6 hours of screen-on-time with ease (7am to 11pm), so I’ve been very happy with it. Read the full post here for more battery details.
Hardware – There isn’t much I can say here that Kellen didn’t mention in his Pixel 4a review. This phone is plastic. Don’t expect anything special, though, there is one thing that I’ve really enjoyed — a rear-facing fingerprint reader! Chicka-chicka yeah, chicka-yeah! Oh my, how sweet it is not to deal with an in-display fingerprint reader.
Beyond that, what else can I say? The phone is light enough, even though it’s a tad on a larger side, obviously due to its plastic body. Ultimately, it’s not a bad looking phone, though. I’d go so far as to say it’s kinda handsome in this black color. It has hardly any bezel on the front, a nice little camera housing, plus a bold “G” logo on the back. It’s a solid little device that feels great in-hand, even if it doesn’t ooze luxury or a premium feel. That’s sorta the point of cheaper devices, so I’m not complaining.
Camera – When embargoes lifted for the 4a 5G and Pixel 5, we treated you to a big ol’ camera sample post. You can view that here, but what we didn’t do was break down the overall shooting experience on the device. Allow me to do that now.
The Pixel 4a 5G is a fantastic point-and-click camera, capable of capturing what I think is a very true representation of what the eye sees. This is what Pixels do best, even with Google using the same Sony-made image sensor for the past few Pixel phones. The colors are accurate, lighting never seems overly done, and the software’s HDR is just downright perfect.
The software stuff is bland, but hey, there’s Night Sight for all you astrophotographers. There’s also Google’s Portrait mode, which I think dominates most of the other OEMs out there. One thing people always ask is about video quality. Users have the option of recording up to 4K resolution video at up to 60fps. That’s cool, but in addition, Google has a revamped stabilization suite that allows the user to choose between how proactive the stabilization is. Also cool. To sum it up for you, shooting pictures is great and shooting video is also quite nice.
Here are some samples for you.
What could use some help?
Display – Pixel 4a 5G has a 6.2″ FHD display at 60Hz. I’m totally fine with the size and totally fine with the FHD resolution given the phone’s price, but damn, 60Hz? Dang it. You’ll see below that I mention performance of this device, and while I don’t want to chalk every device stutter up to 60Hz being poopy, it sure would be cool if this phone came with 90Hz. I really think it’d help the feel of this device, at least from a smoothness standpoint.
Beyond me complaining about the display’s refresh rate, there’s another thing I’d like to have and that’s a brighter display. The 4a 5G gets bright enough for use outside, but I do wish it’d get brighter. If you’re someone who enjoys a dark display, you’ll likely love the Pixel 4a 5G because it has no problem getting plenty dark at night or whenever you might need to have the screen dimmed. Night Light also works wonderfully with its sweet orange tint set to automatically turn on when the sun sets in my area. Other than what I’ve mentioned, I appreciate the 4a 5G’s display plenty fine. Its colors are good, the contrast looks nice, and again, its 6.2″ size is great.
Performance – With its Snapdragon 765G processor and 6GB RAM, this phone has plenty fine performance, but there are little hiccups here and there where a slight stutter or pause does rear its ugly head. I find it most common when snapping pictures. For example, you’ll see the phone process the pictures somewhat slowly or maybe there’s a hiccup when tapping quickly on the shutter button. That can be annoying. However, more times than not, the performance of the phone seems fine. Going through apps and scrolling through things is fast enough, so don’t take this as me saying the phone is slow. There just happens to be little stutters that Google could solve down the road via software updates. I won’t hold my breath, though.
IP Rating – The next couple of things are somewhat nitpicky considering this phone’s price, but it plays into the overall narrative I have for this review. The Pixel 4a 5G is an awesome device, but it’s missing a few things that would make it a perfect little phone. One of those things is the lack of an IP rating. An IP rating costs money, so it’s no surprise that this phone doesn’t have one, but with the wet weather inbound in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t help but wish I could use this phone in the rain and not have to worry about it. Will it survive a splash or some rain droplets? Most likely, but with no IP rating, there’s no guarantee and you should always be very careful with your tech toys.
Charging Speeds – This phone charges at 18W, which is quick, but not as quick as many other devices currently on the market. I don’t think this should be a dealbreaker bullet, but it is something to note for potential buyers. If you’re coming from a Pixel device, it’ll be fine for you. If you’re coming from a OnePlus device, where a full battery charge takes place in like 45 minutes, there’s a big difference. Again, this might seem nitpicky, but I do wish Google would start getting more serious about “fast charging.”
Price and Availability
This phone will cost $499 when it arrives in the US, so long as you’re smart enough to avoid Verizon’s $599 model. The unlocked model that Google and others will sell carries the $499 price because it lacks 5G mmW, which the Verizon model has. Honestly, unless you live a block away from one of Verizon’s mmW spots, just don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
As for when you can buy it, mid-November is when you can find it readily available for purchase. We’ll let you know when the time to order this phone arrives.
Should you buy the Pixel 4a 5G?
If I leave you with one theme to take away from this review, it should be that this is an excellent phone, but it’s missing a few creature comforts, such as the higher refresh rate and official IP rating. At the $499 range, you can find other devices that offer these things and it’ll be interesting to see what all is offered inside of the OnePlus Nord for the US market. As it sits, though, the Pixel 4a 5G is sweet and I can see it pleasing plenty of potential buyers, no doubt. It has a great camera, will receive plenty of updates, and the straightforward hardware/software combo is something I can really get behind and support.
If your budget is maxed out at $499, the Pixel 4a 5G should be on your short list.