When I reviewed the Pixel 4a 5G back in October, I ran the headline that Google had priced itself into a corner. The Pixel 4a was already such a spectacular deal for anyone who simply wanted a good phone at a fair price. Meanwhile, enthusiasts who wanted the best Android phone Google could offer would be better served with the top-end Pixel 5.
I've touched on this topic quite a few times with AC's managing editor Daniel Bader on the Android Central Podcast. He's continually maintained that the Pixel 5 is just a touch overpriced and that the Pixel 4a 5G is the better deal for most consumers. And you know what? I'm starting to think he's right.
The Pixel 4a 5G trims the fat from the Pixel 5 to reach a far more enticing price point.
I've been using the Pixel 5 every day since wrapping up our Pixel coverage for the season, and have been astounded by both the performance of the Snapdragon 765G and the battery life — yes, finally, a Pixel phone has not just good, but fantastic battery life. And yet, that's just as true on the Pixel 4a 5G. In fact, almost everything about the 4a 5G mirrors the pricier Pixel 5, save for some tradeoffs made to the hardware design.
I love the Pixel 5's aluminum body, and the way Google cleverly integrated just enough of a plastic opening under the bio-resin coating to still support wireless charging, but despite consisting entirely of plastic, the Pixel 4a 5G feels strangely just as well-made. It drops that wireless charging support, along with the Pixel 5's IP68 water resistance certification, but it's just as rigid and weighty.
For better or worse, even the cameras are the same. We gave both the Pixel 5 and the 4a 5G some flack for yet again resting on the laurels of the same main sensor Google's used on every device since the Pixel 2. It's still a great camera, of course, but other manufacturers have finally started to catch up to the wide lead Google has enjoyed for years, thanks to larger sensors and improved AI-based photography.
If you can live without wireless charging and water resistance, however, there's really not much reason to spend the extra money on the Pixel 5. Sure, its 90Hz refresh rate is smoother than the Pixel 4a 5G's 60Hz panel, but at least as far as I'm concerned, that's hardly a make-or-break feature. The 4a 5G cuts some of the Pixel 5's unnecessary perks in exchange for a $150 saving.
Conversely, if you're looking for the best deal and considering the Pixel 4a, the 4a 5G does have a few niceties that make it worth the extra dough. For one, of course, it supports 5G networks — still hardly a necessity, but it's nice to be future-proofed if you plan on keeping this phone around for a few years. The 4a also features just a single camera, while the 4a 5G adds a 0.6X ultra-wide lens, and ups the overall image processing with its newer, faster processor.
You'll also get a larger display for your money — 6.2 inches on the 4a 5G versus 5.8 on the Pixel 4a. I'm personally a fan of smaller phones, so I'm not sure that's necessarily a perk for everyone, but a larger screen is always nice to have for watching videos or even running two apps in split-screen view.
I really like all three phones in Google's 2020 lineup; each device makes the appropriate sacrifices to reach its price expectation without detracting from the overall user experience. But as much as I enjoy the Pixel 5, I think if you're buying a new Pixel this year, the Pixel 4a 5G is the perfect balance between the 4a's price-based concessions and the Pixel 5's high-end features.
Toeing the line between affordability and power
Priced between the cheaper Pixel 4a and the more premium Pixel 5, the 4a 5G offers a terrific blend of value and performance. Its cameras are competitive with phones more than double the price, and its ultra-modern Android 11 software flies on the Snapdragon 765G processor.
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