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Google Pixel 4a vs. Apple iPhone 12 mini: Which should you buy?

Pixel 4a Iphone 12 Mini Lifestyle
Pixel 4a Iphone 12 Mini Lifestyle (Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a Product Image

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If you're looking for the best smartphone bang for your buck, you can't do much better than the Google Pixel 4a. It has the same primary camera tech and software as its more premium siblings, and it makes considered and intelligent sacrifices to get its price down to the affordable range.

Google Pixel 4a

Pixel 4 everyone

Much more affordable option
Three years of OS and security updates
Google's vaunted Pixel camera
Larger 5.81 OLED display
No ultra-wide lens
No 5G connectivity
No wireless charging
No official IP water resistance

Apple iPhone 12 mini

iPhone 12 mini in blue

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Ever since the original iPhone 5S, Apple fans have been clamoring for a small phone with all the bells and whistles of the larger flagships, and with the iPhone 12 mini, they finally have it. The only thing you're sacrificing here versus the larger 12 series is battery size, and for most, that's a worthwhile tradeoff.

Apple iPhone 12 mini

Most powerful tiny phone

A14 Bionic is more powerful than Pixel 4a's chip
Wide and ultra-wide camera setup
IP68 dust/water resistance
Qi and MagSafe charging
Smaller size ideal for one-handed use
Up to five years of OS and security updates
Starts at twice the price of the Pixel 4a
No USB-C port

These smartphones were two of the most anticipated and favorably reviewed devices of 2020, and they both promise to be valuable handsets for the foreseeable future. Aside from the obvious ecosystem differences, there are some important differences to consider when comparing the Google Pixel 4a vs. the Apple iPhone 12 mini. One phone is half the other's price (to start), but the compromises for the cheaper one aren't what you might expect.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Apple iPhone 12 mini Specs

Pixel 4a Iphone 12 Mini Lifestyle

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

While these two smartphones are often mentioned in the same breath in terms of value for their size, they really don't have much in common at all. From their screen sizes to their processors, from their operating systems to their special features, there are quite a few differences between the two phones. They're both great in their own right, but platform and price are the two factors you'll need to consider first. Then you can digest the rest.

Google Pixel 4aApple iPhone 12 mini
Operating SystemAndroid 11iOS 14
Display5.81-inch OLED
2340 x 1080
5.4-inch OLED
2340 x 1080
ProcessorSnapdragon 730Apple A14 Bionic
RAM6GB4GB
Storage128GB64, 128, or 256GB
Rear Camera 112.2MP
f/1.7
OIS
12MP primary
f/1.6
OIS
Rear Camera 212MP ultra-wide
f/2.4
120-degree FoV
Front Camera8MP
f/2.0
12MP
f/2.2
Battery3140mAhUp to 15 hours of video playback
Charging18W USB-C 3.120W wired charging
7.5W Qi wireless charging
15W MagSafe wireless charging
SecurityRear fingerprint sensorFaceID
3.5mm Headphone JackYes
Water ResistanceIP68
Dimensions144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm
143g64.2 x 131.5 x 7.4mm
WeightValue135g
ColorsJust Black
Barely Blue (Google Store only)
White
Black
Blue
Green
(PRODUCT) RED

What these phones do have in common are really nice 1080p OLED screens, fantastic cameras, and great sizes for one-handed use. Thanks to a recent limited-edition update on the Google Store, you can even pick up the Pixel 4a in a color other than black. However, that pales in comparison to the options available with the iPhone 12 mini.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Apple iPhone 12 mini Hardware

Pixel 4a and iPhone 12 mini

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Let's start with the obvious: What you can see. Both have beautiful 2340x1080 OLED screens, but while the Pixel 4a's display is larger at 5.81 vs. 5.4 inches, it has a lower pixel density (approximately 443 PPI vs. 476 on the iPhone 12 mini). The Pixel 4a is a pretty small phone in the Android world, but even it dwarfs the iPhone 12 mini.

The Pixel 4a is a physically larger device, which gives it more room inside for a large 3,140mAh battery cell that can last all day. Apple doesn't disclose the mAh size of the iPhone 12 mini's battery, though it does claim up to 15 hours of video playback. I've used both of these phones as my daily driver over the past several months, and the Pixel 4a generally ends the day with more battery left over, to the point where I feel perfectly fine not charging it overnight. The iPhone 12 mini gets me to the end of the day, but it's often well below 20% at bedtime. Both phones have very good battery saving modes to help you eke out a little extra juice when you need it.

The iPhone 12 mini features two 12MP cameras on the rear, including an ultra-wide lens, whereas the Pixel 4a only has one 12.2MP rear camera. The iPhone's selfie shooter is also 12MP while the Pixel's is 8MP. I find that both sets of cameras produce images to my liking in most conditions, but I still like the Pixel's Night Sight better than Apple's Night Mode. The iPhone 12 mini's video and audio are better, but it's not a deal-breaker for me to use the Pixel 4a to shoot short videos.

Finally, we come to some of the features that separate budget/mid-tier phones from their flagship counterparts, namely, waterproofing and wireless charging. The iPhone has them, and this particular Pixel doesn't. I wish the Pixel did, but Google had to cut out something to hit the amazing price point that it did. If you want those features, you can get them in the Pixel 5, which is still at least $100 cheaper than the iPhone 12 mini. But it's not all bad news for the Pixel 4a; Google generously left in the 3.5mm headphone jack, which we are so thankful for!

Google Pixel 4a vs. Apple iPhone 12 mini Software

Pixel 4a Iphone 12 Mini Lifestyle

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

As first-party hardware options, both the Pixel 4a and the iPhone 12 mini feature the best their respective software platforms have to offer. The Pixel 4a ships with Android 11 and the iPhone 12 mini with iOS 14. Both Google and Apple pledge to support each device with multiple years of OS upgrades and security updates. For Google, this means at least three platform updates and monthly security updates, and for Apple, this can mean as many as five years of platform updates and security support.

Aside from that very important software support, both the Pixel 4a and iPhone 12 mini have extra software goodies that other Android phones don't often see (or don't get until much later). In the case of the iPhone, users of the Apple ecosystem get to enjoy features like AirDrop, iMessage, and Apple's service bundles. In contrast, Pixel users get new features with each OS release, as well as regular "feature drops" like Google's Hold for Me or Extreme Battery Saver.

If you're firmly ensconced in one OS or the other, chances are you probably have looked longingly at some of the goodies the other side has to offer. As someone who regularly uses both platforms, I often lament the lack of AirDrop on my Android devices and how my iPhone can't screen or hold calls like my Pixel device. Both phones and both platforms offer plenty of great little extras that you just can't find on other devices, and depending on your OS loyalty, they may be enough to influence you to switch.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Apple iPhone 12 mini Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 4a

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

This is an Android site, and while we love everything Android and adore the Pixel lineup, there's no denying that Apple is on to something with the iPhone 12 mini. In fact, our own Joe Maring even speculated that the mere presence of the iPhone 12 mini would change Android phones in the best way possible over the coming year, and I believe him!

As great as the iPhone 12 Mini is, however, for this comparison, we just can't get past these two facts:

  1. It starts at almost twice the price of the Pixel 4a (and goes up from there).
  2. It runs iOS instead of Android.

It's a tough choice, but not only do we think the Pixel 4a is the best small Android phone, we think it's one of the best Android phones period. In our Pixel 4a review, we even called it the perfect phone for 2020. Chances are, if you're reading this article, you're also in the Android camp with us. Therefore, I'm giving the win to the Google Pixel 4a. Go pick one up and see for yourself. Better yet, pick up two of them for the price of one iPhone 12 Mini!

Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.