Google's somewhat-odd staggering of its phone releases, with months between the flagship-level Pixel and the mid-range "a" version, introduces an interesting dynamic. We all have lots of time to analyze the latest high-end Pixel and wonder what features and design elements will be carried over to the cheaper model. This year, with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL being rather divisive in their value proposition, lots of people have immediately shifted to wondering what Google can bring to the table in the value segment with the Pixel 4a.
But here's the thing: Google doesn't really have to do much, or make a bunch of changes from the Pixel 3a, in order for the Pixel 4a to be a success.
As a mid-range phone with a reasonable price, the Pixel 3a is already focused on value and not being on the bleeding edge of specs and features. By design, if you're selling a phone for about $400, you're going to have compromises — and buyers don't expect to get everything. And that gives Google (or any other company) the leeway to be strategic about what to upgrade from generation to generation. You don't have to upgrade the screen, cameras, speakers, processor, memory and storage all at once — you can pick one or two to focus on, and that's plenty, so long as the upgrades are notable.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are already great, even now several months on, and that means Google really doesn't need to feel the pressure to change things just for the sake of being new. It just needs to tweak and upgrade where it's cost-effective to do so and leave the rest as-is. Just because it isn't "all-new" doesn't mean the Pixel 4a won't be well-received or a great phone.
Early leaks point to the Pixel 4a getting a new screen, a slightly tweaked overall design, and a new processor. The rest of what we've seen is the same as the 3a: a headphone jack, a capacitive fingerprint sensor, a great single camera, the latest Google software, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage ... and purportedly, the same $400 starting price. That means no Motion Sense or face unlock, and no extra cameras or noteworthy features. But that's the perfect formula; make a few solid changes, leave the rest of what worked to continue working, and charge the same price.
The Pixel 4a can be largely the same as the 3a, and still be an absolute hit for 2020.
I'm not saying you shouldn't get excited for the Pixel 4a. I'm saying we should get excited for the right reasons: for what it's likely to bring is a complete package at a great price, even if that's not massively improved over the 3a. And we need to understand that means there isn't a whole lot to read into leading up to its announcement; I wouldn't be surprised in the least if what's already leaked is all we should expect in the 4a when it's announced.
The best part of the Pixel 4a is likely to be the same as the Pixel 3a: getting the basics done incredibly well, pairing it with an awesome camera and slick Google software, and doing it at a great price. I'm happy with that.
The current mid-range champ
Google Pixel 3a
Still a phenomenal value several months on.
We're now eagerly looking forward to the Pixel 4a, but the Pixel 3a is still worthy of consideration. It has an impressive spec sheet, takes gorgeous photos, and will keep getting updates and security patches through May 2022. It's also come down in price since its initial release, making it even more affordable.
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