Google Pixel 4a second opinion review: Phenomenal Android value, itty bitty profile

Smart Launcher 5
(Image: © Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: The Pixel 4a delivers camera performance that punches above its weight class yet again while offering up the most well-rounded phone under $600. The doubled storage and increased RAM help you speed along through your day, and the battery life should get you through the average day with room to spare. Yeah, it looks boring on the outside, but it works great, and it's a third the price of a Galaxy S20. Slap a cute case on it, and let's go!

Pros

  • +

    Perfect size for smaller hands and one-handed use

  • +

    Ample storage and battery

  • +

    3 years of software updates

  • +

    Great camera shots

Cons

  • -

    Wish the selfie camera wasn't fixed focus

  • -

    Need more color options

  • -

    No wireless charging

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The $350 Google Pixel 4a is a siren song to me and my frugal girl tendencies. After all, a big part of why I absolutely love Chromebooks is that you can get a great computer for $300 instead of $900, and I scoff at $80 phone cases the same way your father probably does. After all, I could buy three better-quality cases and still have money left over for a pizza! All this is to say that while I love having all the latest features, I love saving money on my tech even more.

The Pixel 3a was my favorite phone of 2019 for this same reason: it was a solid little phone with a solid little price, and most of my family is using the Pixel 3a XL today. And while the Pixel 4 was a lackluster flagship, it laid the groundwork for what I think is the perfect phone for 2020: the long-awaited Google Pixel 4a, a great no-nonsense phone that offers up a more well-rounded experience than many phones twice its price. After one of the most confusing launch cycles in tech history it's finally here.

And for millions of us who can't afford to spend an extra $600+ right now, it was 110% worth the wait.

I've used the Pixel 4a for two weeks on AT&T before writing this review. I used it with Wi-Fi calling and LTE in and around Walt Disney World. I'm using Smart Launcher 5 for the home screen, with a WalliPop wallpaper (opens in new tab), KWGT (opens in new tab) music widget (opens in new tab) and Icon Pack Studio (opens in new tab) icons.

Google Pixel 4a Hardware and design

Google Pixel 4a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The Google Pixel 4a's design is a very minimal update to a phone that was already very minimally-styled: Google finally did away with the ridiculously big bezels from the Pixel 3a and gave us a bigger screen in a smaller-bodied phone. As a result, the Pixel 4a is the best phone for one-handed use that I've used in years, especially once I pair it with a PopSocket — I use a phone grip because years of pinky propping has wrecked my left pinky.

Google Pixel 4a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The bezels are still big enough to avoid random edge-touches, and the flat screen is easier to use and to cover up with a screen protector — something you'll want to do sooner rather than later given that the Pixel 4a does not come with a pre-installed screen protector the way the most mid-range and flagship phones do. The 5.8-inch 1080p 60Hz panel may not sound glamorous in a 2020 fraught with 90Hz and 120Hz screens, but 60Hz is just fine with me and frees up battery and processing capacity to deliver a longer-lasting phone.

The earpiece at the top of the screen doubles as a speaker, with a second bottom-facing speaker flanking the USB-C port rounding things out. You can get good volume out of these speakers, should you need to listen to a video without your headphones nearby. Speaking of headphones, the Pixel 4a does have a headphone jack, same as the Pixel 3a before it, in exactly the same place (up top, left of center) and with exactly the same quality. I've been a Bluetooth convert for almost a decade now, but if you still prefer wired headphones, it's here for you.

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

The buttons are placed in a sweet spot about one-third down the right side of the phone, with my thumb resting on the power button when I'm holding the phone in my right hand. The power button is a bright mint color, the only splash of color on the entire Just Black phone. While previous Pixels always had some color option — the Pixel 3a's Purple-ish with the lemon yellow accents was absolutely darling — but the Pixel 4a only launched in black.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryGoogle Pixel 4a
Display5.81-inch OLED, 2340x1080 (19.5:9, 443 ppi)
HDR
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 730
Adreno 618
Titan M Security Module
Memory6GB LPDDR4x
Storage128GB
Non-expandable
Rear Camera12.2MP dual-pixel, 1.4-micron, ƒ/1.7, OIS
Phase detect auto focus
Front Camera8MP, 1.12-micron, ƒ/2
Fixed focus
84-degree FoV
Battery3,140 mAh
18W USB-C PD 2.0 charging
Connectivity802.11ac Wi-Fi, Cat12 LTE, eSIM
Bluetooth 5.1
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
AudioDual speakers
3.5 mm headphone jack
Dual microphones
Water Resistance
Dimensions144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm
143 g

Back in the spring, when the Pixel 4a was slated for a May release, rumors swirled of the Pixel 4a possibly coming in blue or a minty green, as well as a white version, and those colors may launch later this fall when the Pixel 4a comes to more countries. In the meantime, the lack of color is an annoyance that most of us will get over the moment we take the phone out of the box and slap a case on it.

Moving from the outside to the inside, the Pixel 4a has a Snapdragon 730 processor paired with 6GB of RAM, a very nice upgrade from last year's adequate-but-underwhelming Snapdragon 670 and 4GB of RAM. We also get double the storage this year, which is a huge boon because Google still steadfastly refuses to put a microSD slot in its phones, even if literally every other phone in this price bracket does except the iPhone SE. The rear camera is the same one used in the Pixel 4, and the front camera is the same one used in the Pixel 3a, which we'll swing back to in a bit.

You'll notice for the charging that there's no mention of wireless, and indeed one of the only disappointments on the Pixel 4a is that it doesn't get wireless charging the way the Pixel 4 and Pixel 5 do. 18W PD charging is fast enough — I usually get from 25-30% back up to full in an hour — but the convenience of just plopping my phone down on the wireless chargers next to my mechanical keyboard and my bed would've been worth an extra twenty bucks to me.

At least I'm not needing to top off the Pixel 4a nearly as often as the Pixel 4; 3,140mAh lasts quite a ways when you're not powering a Snapdragon 855 and 90Hz screen.

Google Pixel 4a Software and camera

Google Pixel 4a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Google's vision for Android is always front and center on Pixel phones, keeping things clean, simplified, and ready for whatever you want to do with it. If you want to kick over to the Android 11 Beta, it'll take you less than half an hour to enroll in the beta and have the OTA push to your phone. If you don't care about new features but just want to make sure that your phone is patched against the latest exploits, Google Pixel phones get security updates ASAP.

In previous years, I could complain about Pixel's being too plain compared to the theming options on OnePlus and Samsung. Still, between Android 10's system-wide dark theme and the simplified theming options in the Display settings, I can customize the Pixel well enough, changing the system accent color and font.

Source: Android Central

Google's services are all front and center, but Pixels also have upgraded versions of system apps, like a Voice Recorder app that comes with built-in audio transcriptions and a Personal Safety app that can help loved ones find you if something goes wrong. And of course, Pixels get all the new goodies before other phones, such as the new, slicker Google Assistant UI.

Pixel 4a Battery Life

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

Performance of that cleaner software has been nice and smooth as well, with the only app I notice struggling being Disney Sorcerer's Arena, a resource-heavy turn-based RPG that even gums up my S20 from time to time. App switching is quick and painless so long as you're not bouncing between six media apps constantly, and none of the issues I saw on the Pixel 3a — music killed when using the camera and apps dumped from memory too quickly when multi-tasking — have been seen on my Pixel 4a so far.

While I've been bringing the Pixel 4a to the parks with a new battery pack that I need to test out, but the Pixel 4a isn't helping me because it's been getting through the day pretty easily while I'm out and about. Over five hours of screen time on a full charge has been the norm for me, even when continually bouncing between Wi-Fi networks and LTE while on a Google Meet happy hour call while walking around the Animal Kingdom.

Camera