Moto Z4 vs. Pixel 3a XL: Which should you buy?

Moto Z4
Moto Z4 (Image credit: Android Central)

Moto Z4

The Moto Z4 has a large screen with slim bezels, a futuristic in-display fingerprint sensor, and a modular attachment system for adding new features on the fly. Its camera isn't as good as the Pixel's, but it's one of the cheapest ways to gain access to Verizon's 5G network.

Moto Z4

Modular mid-ranger

Moto Mod attachments
Great battery life
High-end build materials
Splash resistance
In-display fingerprint sensor isn't great
Camera isn't as good as the Pixel
Unlikely to receive updates

Google Pixel 3a XL

The Pixel 3a XL takes some of the best photos in mobile, making use of the same sensor and computational data as the more expensive Pixel 3. It's missing a few features like expandable storage and water resistance, but it's an excellent value with years of software support.

Google Pixel 3a XL

Top-tier camera

Phenomenal cameras
Three years of software updates
Useful features like call screening and Now Playing
Great battery life
No water resistance
No microSD expansion

Motorola's new Moto Z4 and the Pixel 3a XL are two sub-$500 phones that both offer large displays and clean Android software, but each has its own distinct advantages that set it apart from the other, depending on the type of user you are. The Moto Z4 is the clear choice if you're a Verizon customer within a 5G city, but many will prefer the Pixel's camera and longterm support. So, which is better?

Longterm hardware versus software support

It's pretty incredible what you can get for under $500 these days. The Moto Z4 has a thinner, flatter design with a metal frame and soft-touch glass backing that feels every bit as premium as a phone that costs twice as much. There's a massive display up front with slim bezels and a tiny teardrop notch, and an optical fingerprint sensor hidden under the glass.

The Pixel 3a doesn't feel as ritzy as the Moto Z4, with a matte plastic frame, but make no mistake — it's still terrifically well-made, and some even prefer the less fragile nature of plastic. There's also a traditional fingerprint sensor mounted on the back; while it may seem less futuristic than the Moto Z4's in-display sensor, it's significantly more reliable.

But the Moto Z4 moves to an in-display sensor for a reason. Motorola decided to continue supporting its Moto Mod system beyond its initial three-year promise, meaning that a rear fingerprint sensor would be obfuscated when using a Mod. These magnetic attachments allow you to add any missing or new features to the Moto Z4 — whether that's a bigger battery, a louder speaker, or even support for Verizon's new 5G network.

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CategoryMoto Z4Pixel 3a XL
Operating SystemAndroid 9 PieAndroid 9 Pie
Display6.4 inches, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 2340x1080 resolution, OLED6 inches, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2160 x 1080 resolution, OLED
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 675 octa-coreQualcomm Snapdragon 670 octa-core
GraphicsAdreno 612Adreno 615
Expandable StorageMicroSDNo
Rear Camera48MP, ƒ/1.7, 1.6µm, OIS, PDAF12.2MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.4µm, OIS, EIS, PDAF
Front Camera25MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.8µm8MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12µm
SecurityIn-display fingerprint sensorRear-mounted fingerprint sensor
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0
AudioTop-firing, headphone jackStereo (earpiece + bottom-firing), headphone jack
Water ResistanceP2iNo
Dimensions158 x 75 x 7.35mm160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm
ColorsFlash GrayClearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish

That's actually the biggest reason to buy the Moto Z4. If you live in Chicago or Minneapolis, where Verizon has already launched its ultra-wideband 5G network, the Moto Z4 paired with the 5G Moto Mod is one of the cheapest ways to access it. The Pixel 3a XL, by contrast, only supports 4G LTE, with no way of retroactively adding 5G support later.

Buy the Moto Z4 for 5G connectivity on Verizon. Buy the Pixel 3a XL for its class-leading camera and software support.

On the other hand, while both phones offer an extremely clean build of Android 9 Pie, the Pixel 3a XL has a big advantage in longterm software support. Motorola has a terrible track record when it comes to updates, and it's safe to assume that the Moto Z4 likely won't receive Android Q any time soon. Google promises three years of platform updates and regular security patches for the Pixel 3a XL, and users can already install the Q beta if they're so inclined.

Another big win for the Pixel is its camera. The 3a XL uses the same computational software as the higher-end Pixel 3 XL to take absolutely remarkable photos that beat out even flagship devices from other manufacturers, thanks in large part to features like Night Sight and Google's excellent Portrait Mode. The Moto Z4's 48MP camera is no slouch either, with a much larger sensor and pixel binning for detailed 12MP images, but it simply doesn't hold a candle against the Pixel 3a XL. On the bright side, Amazon sells the Moto Z4 with a 360 Camera Mod bundled in the box for more creative shots.

So, which should you choose?

If you're interested in trying out 5G and you live in one of the 20+ cities where Verizon plans to deploy its network by the end of the year, then the choice is easy: buy the Moto Z4, and pick up a 5G Moto Mod while it's on sale. But for most others, the Pixel 3a XL is simply the better device. Between is a class-leading camera, longterm software support, and slightly lower price, it's easy for most to live without some of the Moto Z4's advantages like modularity and expandable storage. No matter which device you choose, however, you'll be getting a large, powerful phone at a bargain.

Hayato Huseman

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.