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.
|Category||Moto Z4||Pixel 3a XL|
|Operating System||Android 9 Pie||Android 9 Pie|
|Display||6.4 inches, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 2340x1080 resolution, OLED||6 inches, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2160 x 1080 resolution, OLED|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 octa-core||Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 octa-core|
|Graphics||Adreno 612||Adreno 615|
|Rear Camera||48MP, ƒ/1.7, 1.6µm, OIS, PDAF||12.2MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.4µm, OIS, EIS, PDAF|
|Front Camera||25MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.8µm||8MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12µm|
|Security||In-display fingerprint sensor||Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0|
|Audio||Top-firing, headphone jack||Stereo (earpiece + bottom-firing), headphone jack|
|Dimensions||158 x 75 x 7.35mm||160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm|
|Colors||Flash Gray||Clearly 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.
Add new hardware features on the fly.
Thanks to continued support for Moto Mods, you can instantly augment the Moto Z4 with features like wireless charging, longer battery life, or 5G. The Z4 also has a high-quality metal design, along with convenient software gestures and splash resistance.
Google Pixel 3a XL
Never wait for a new version of Android again.
The Pixel 3a XL takes considerably better photos than the Moto Z4, and it comes with the guarantee of three years of software support. You'll have to with a lower storage capacity and a plastic frame, but this is the phone to buy if you value regular updates and photography.
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