Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Should you upgrade?

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

Best answer: If you love your Pixel 3a, but it's feeling a bit old, the Pixel 4a is a fine upgrade. It's better than the 3a in terms of specs, storage, battery and screen size. But it's still compact and easy to use one-handed, and has the same great camera quality. It's also cheaper than your 3a was new.

What's the Pixel 4a offer compared to the Pixel 3a?

The Pixel 4a brings some notable visual changes, and a few spec upgrades, but not an overall change in philosophy for Google.

The 4a takes the typical Google style and tightens everything up, with a much more modern look.

In the hardware, the Pixel 4a just tightens everything up. The still-plastic body is more compact and even simpler than the 3a's, with much smaller top and bottom screen bezels. There's still a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, as well as a headphone jack and the same speaker setup, but the 4a is somehow even simpler in design than the 3a.

Even though the 4a is actually smaller than the 3a, it has a subtly larger display with a bit taller aspect ratio. The OLED panel is comparable in quality, with the only notable difference being its smaller bezels and top-corner hole punch camera cutout. From the front, this looks like a much more modern phone than the 3a.

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CategoryPixel 4aPixel 3a
Operating SystemAndroid 10Android 10
Display5.81-inch OLED, 2340x1080 (19.5:9)5.6-inch OLED, 2220 x 1080 (18.5:9)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 730
Adreno 618
Titan M Security Module
Qualcomm Snapdragon 670
Adreno 615
Rear Camera12.2MP, 1.4-micron, ƒ/1.7, OIS
Phase detect auto focus
12.2MP, 1.4-micron, ƒ/1.8, OIS
Phase detect auto focus
Front Camera8MP, 1.12-micron, ƒ/2
Fixed focus
84-degree FoV
8MP, 1.12-micron, ƒ/2
Fixed focus
84-degree FoV
SecurityRear capacitive fingerprint sensorRear capacitive fingerprint sensor
Battery3,140 mAh
18W USB-C PD charging
3,000 mAh
18W USB-C PD charging
Connectivity802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2x2 MIMO
3xCA, 2x2 MIMO, Cat12 LTE, eSIM
Bluetooth 5.1
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2x2 MIMO
3xCA, 2x2 MIMO, Cat11 LTE, eSIM
Bluetooth 5.0
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
AudioDual speakers
3.5 mm headphone jack
Dual microphones
Dual speakers
3.5 mm headphone jack
Dual microphones
Water Resistancen/an/a
Dimensions144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm
143 g
151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2 mm
147 g
ColorsJust BlackJust Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish

Internally, you'll find multiple solid upgrades. The processor jumps to a Snapdragon 730, and the RAM moves to 6GB (matching the Pixel 4). Those combine to give you a nice bit of headroom for running more intense apps and more smoothly multitasking, even if the differences in day-to-day performance for basic tasks aren't really noticeable. You'll definitely appreciate the 128GB internal storage, though, because in 2020 having just 64GB can feel really tight.

There are subtle upgrades throughout the spec sheet, but critically the camera hasn't changed.

The battery bumped up ever-so-slightly to 3,140 mAh, making sure that the 4a has full-day battery life without issue. The 3a actually did quite well on battery, so if you're happy with what you have now you can rest assured that you won't be downgrading in battery life in order to get the newer and more powerful specs.

Critically, the Pixel 4a doesn't bring any camera upgrades over the 3a, which is in one sense disappointing a year on but at the same time is understandable considering how far ahead the 3a was to begin with. Both the rear and front cameras are essentially the same in 2020, aside from a tiny change in aperture on the back. The resulting photos are still just as great, though, so this is hardly a disappointment. It's just notable that Google didn't add a secondary rear camera in this generation, as it did on the Pixel 4.

Should you upgrade to the Pixel 4a?

Google Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

The Pixel 4a is undeniably a better overall phone than the 3a. It has a sleeker and more modern design, a slightly bigger display, and new specs that will run more intense apps for longer. But at the same time, it may not be enough of an upgrade to justify replacing a Pixel 3a. Its cameras are unchanged, the battery is only slightly bigger, and there are no new hardware features. And remember the Pixel 3a has the same software as the 4a, and will get Android 11 this year too.

Thankfully the Pixel 4a is only $350, which is $50 less than the 3a was new — and offering everything the 3a has plus year-on improvements. If you like having a compact phone, and want something newer than your 3a, your options are limited — and the 4a is an easy pick. Just know that it's an evolution, not revolution, beyond the Pixel 3a.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.