Google Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 3a: Which should you buy?

Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a
Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Google Pixel 4

Google Pixel 4

The Pixel 4 is Google's latest flagship smartphone offering, and while it is more expensive than the 3a, you're getting a lot for your money. The 90Hz display is a joy to have, the addition of a telephoto camera opens up new shooting possibilities, and the upgraded performance is a great bonus for power-users.

Google Pixel 4

Premium Pixel

Fluid 90Hz display
Two rear cameras
Motion Sense gestures
Speedy face unlock
Newer processor + more RAM
Smaller battery

Google Pixel 3a

Google Pixel 3a

The Pixel 3a is a worthy alternative to the Pixel 4. Yes, it has a less impressive processor, display, and only one rear camera, but the day-to-day experience of using the phone is sublime. Not only is it considerably more affordable, but the 3a also beats the 4 in some regards.

Google Pixel 3a

Best for less

OLED screen looks great
Excellent camera
Fast and reliable fingerprint sensor
3.5mm headphone jack
Competitive price
Doesn't have wireless charging
Only 4GB of RAM

Price and availability: Why you should skip the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4 to get the Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central The Google Pixel 3a (left) and Pixel 4a (right) (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

The Pixel 3a is now over a year old and the Pixel 4 is approaching its first anniversary. As such, the Pixel 4 is getting harder to find, the Pixel 3a is out of production, and the Pixel 4a is finally here, though a few months later than expected. The Pixel 4a is a great budget phone and a significant upgrade over the Pixel 3a. It has a bigger screen in a smaller profile, twice the storage and a lower price to boot, which is why we recommend going with the Pixel 4a over either the Pixel 3a or Pixel 4.

The Pixel 3a had been selling for $325-$350 before the Pixel 4a launched, but now that it has, the Pixel 3a has snapped back up to its list price of $400 at what few retailers have it left in stock. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4 has dropped from $700 to $550 over the last several months. However, with the Pixel 4a at $350 and the upcoming Pixel 4a 5G coming in at $500, you're more than likely better off with either of those instead.

Here's every reason to buy a Pixel 4a instead of the Pixel 4

Why you should splurge for the Pixel 4 vs the Pixel 3a

When comparing a flagship phone against a mid-range one, such as in this case, you're going to find obvious advantages with the more expensive handset. The Pixel 4 costs twice as much as the Pixel 3a, and while that is a great deal more, we think it does an excellent job of justifying the price difference.

For starters, the Pixel 4 is one of the few devices on the market to ship with a 90Hz display. This means that everything on the screen refreshes at a faster rate than most other phones, resulting in apps, games, and websites to move with more fluidity than you usually see. It's hard to explain in words, but once you see it in person for yourself, you'll know exactly what we're talking about.

Another big win for the Pixel 4 is its camera package. Not only is the primary 12-megapixel camera upgraded with better low-light performance, you also benefit from having the 16-megapixel telephoto camera to go along with it. This allows you to zoom up close to your subjects, making it easier to pull off great photos of things that are far away.

There are two other big differentiators between the two phones, and they are face unlock and Motion Sense.

We've seen countless Android phones try to offer their own face unlock system, but the one on the Pixel 4 aims to be the best one we've seen yet. Along with being outrageously fast, it's also secure enough to be used for unlocking sensitive apps (such as your banking app) and authorizing purchases.

As for Motion Sense, these are gestures you perform by waving your hand over the top of the Pixel 4 to perform specific functions. This is currently limited to silencing alarms, dismissing phone calls, and skipping through songs in media apps. It doesn't always work as intended, but if you want to check it out, it's a pretty unique way of interacting with your phone.

On top of all that, there's the usual array of benefits you get with a flagship phone. The Pixel 4 has a much faster Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM compared to 4GB on the Pixel 3a, Qi wireless charging, and a proper water resistance rating.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Google Pixel 4Google Pixel 3a
Operating systemAndroid 10Android 10
Display5.7-inchOLED2280 x 108090Hz refresh rate5.6-inchOLED2160 x 108060Hz refresh rate
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 855Qualcomm Snapdragon 670
Rear camera 112MPf/1.7 aperture1.4µm12MPf/1.8 aperture1.4μm
Rear camera 216MP telephotof/2.4 aperture1.0µm
Front camera8MPf/2.0 aperture90-degree field-of-view8MPf/2.0 aperture76-degree field-of-view
Battery2,800 mAh3,000 mAh
Charging18W wired chargingQi wireless charging18W wired charging
AudioStereo speakersUSB-C portStereo speakers3.5mm headphone jack
Water resistanceIP68
SecurityFace unlockFingerprint sensor
Dimensions147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2mm

Making a case for the Pixel 3a vs Pixel 4a

There's not a doubt in our mind that the Pixel 4 is a top-notch phone, but in that same breath, it's also perfectly understandable that not everyone wants to spend close to a thousand dollars on a new phone. If you like the idea of the Pixel 4 and want a similar experience but for considerably less money, picking up the Pixel 3a is a smart move.

The Pixel 3a was released back in May 2019, and while it isn't as new as the Pixel 4, it holds up admirably well.

What really makes the Pixel 3a stand out is its 12-megapixel rear camera. It's almost identical to the 12-megapixel camera on the Pixel 4, and as such, it takes fantastic pictures. They're detailed, handle low-light scenarios with ease, and have true-to-life color. Not only does the Pixel 3a take the best pictures for a phone in its price range, it takes some of the best pictures of any smartphone out there. Period.

Other aspects of the Pixel 3a aren't quite as strong, but they still create for a great user experience. The OLED display is easy on the eyes, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack (something you won't find on the Pixel 4), and the battery is even a little bit bigger.

You are missing out on things like wireless charging and a proper waterproof rating when you buy the Pixel 3a, but as a complete package and for how much Google's asking for the phone, it's hard to complain too much.

Get the Pixel that fits your budget

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

At the end of the day, a comparison like this ultimately comes down to how much or little you're willing to spend on a new phone. No matter how you slice it, the Pixel 4 will always be better than the Pixel 3a.

What you need to decide is whether or not its advantages over the Pixel 3a are worth the price difference. For some people, the Pixel 4 will be well worth it. For others, the 3a and its cost savings will make the most sense.

These are both incredible phones, so no matter which one you choose, you'll be in for a real treat.

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.