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Why I'm still using the $350 Pixel 4a over the $1000 Galaxy S20

Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 4a (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

2020 brought us a lot of great phones, and I myself spent the spring and summer on the Galaxy S20, which was a bit tall for my petite hands. Still, the screen was excellent, the power was great for my summer addiction to Disney Sorcerer's Arena, and the cameras worked well — what little I got to use them once the theme parks closed in March. However, all summer, I waited impatiently for one thing: the Google Pixel 4a.

Ah, the Google Pixel 4a really is both the perfect phone for 2020's purposefully destabilized economy and a perfect summation of 2020 as a year. Despite this unassuming phone being basically finished in the last months of 2019, it was delayed month after month, even after the Pixel 3a was discontinued early in the summer. When the Pixel 4a did launch, it did so with no event, no fanfare, and no color options. The phone seemed small, basic, and boring, but in fact, it was exactly the phone we needed, and ever since mine was contactlessly delivered to my front door, I've been in love with it. Oh, and the pretty pastel color option finally did show up months late and strangely limited in scope, like the mandatory mask orders that should've arrived nationwide in the spring.

My Galaxy S20 has sat abandoned these last three months, aside from taking pictures of my Pixel 4a. While the S20 is prettier, more powerful, and already set up with all my apps and digital distractions, I'm never going back to it full-time unless my Pixel 4a dies. Which I am protecting it from with a nice sturdy case, a stylish PopSockets PopGrip (opens in new tab) and a tempered glass screen protector like everyone should be doing.

Pixel 4a Caseology Parallax with a Popsocket

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central You are at least using a case on your phone, right? RIGHT?? (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

While Samsung makes some great software these days, and their hardware is second to none, I was tired of being stuck with the bug Android 10 should never have been allowed to ship with — being unable to use third-party launchers with Android 10 gesture navigation. That Samsung actively withheld this fix until the One UI 3.0 update that just finally came to the S20 last week, a full eight months after it was fixed on Pixel phones, is a goddamn embarrassment.

My home screen on the Gaalxy S20 (for now)

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Yes, Samsung is getting faster about updates, but the amount of legacy crap in their system that they have to test around and accommodate for is dragging down both the One UI system and the process for updating it. As an example, Samsung Themes are still somehow alive on One UI, but they don't work in dark mode, and they look more dated and janky with each passing release. Google and OnePlus have a simplified theming engine that doesn't cost money and looks great in light mode, dark mode, and reflects better system-wide, but Samsung clings to its old, paid ways like were still in the TouchWiz heyday.

Another grievance I could finally out to bed when I returned to the Pixel was having duplicate apps for all basic utilities and having to deal with Samsung being different for different's sake when it comes to details like how Settings are laid out. Again, Samsung has a lot of extra features it has to include settings for, but I write about phones for a living, and even I get lost in Samsung's Settings app at times.

Disney Emoji Blitz on the Pixel 4a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Giving up a 120Hz screen and the ultra-wide camera for Pixel's instant access to Android 11 and blissfully streamlined software was the easiest trade-off ever. If the Pixel 4a had wireless charging, I wouldn't even be giving the Pixel 5 longing side-glances from time to time.

While the Pixel 4a "only" has a flat, 5.8-inch 1080p 60Hz screen, it's a screen I'm more than happy to spend 4-8 hours a day on, and the only time it ever disappoints me is being unable to get as dim as I'd like when it's late at night, and my eye strain headache is pounding. (And to be fair, I think the last phone to get that dim for me was the OnePlus 6T.) It's still easy to type out this editorial on this screen, and it's easy to read it in full sunshine and on dim nights. This screen still makes me strain to reach the top right corner one-handed, but for the most part, the Pixel 4a is the perfect phone for one-handed use, especially paired with my trusty PopSocket.

Popsockets Spread Pixel 4a Rose Star Wars Disney

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central I might have a slight addiction to PopSockets. (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Three months in, and I've only filled the 128GB storage halfway, meaning I've got plenty of space for the movies I'll download for the two-day drive home. (I listen to them like podcasts on long drives, quoting along keeps my energy up.) I'm still somewhat irked that the Pixel a-series doesn't do microSD cards, but at least Google learned from the 3a's 64GB mistake and doubled it for the 4a.

Then, of course, there's the price. While the S20's $1000 price is somewhat justified by the beefy specs inside, that was still just too damn high for most folks buying a phone in 2020, which is in part why the S20 FE sold like hotcakes during its $550-$600 Black Friday sales over the last six weeks while the S20 looked absolutely lethargic at $700-$800. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a has been selling like hotcakes for most of the fall, including quickly selling out of its $300 sale at the Google Store.

After all, the S20 might be about 35% more phone between the extra features and the beefier specs, but it's definitely not worth 135% more money than a Pixel 4a. I said back in April that the only two phones worth caring about in 2020 were the Pixel 4a and the OnePlus Nord because $1000 phones were an absurdity in 2020, and I was right. The $700 "value flagship" space exploded this year with the Pixel 5, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, and other phones like the OnePlus 8T.

Pixel 4a Camera View

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I'm a huge believer in not wasting money buying more than I need. I have worked full-time from Chromebooks for years, and most of that time, I've spent on $300-$400 Chromebooks because they're all I need, and they're what I'm most likely to recommend to others. I love being able to tell people, "Oh yeah, this is what I use, it's absolutely worth $300, and it does everything I need it to except recording podcasts".

And the same goes for the Pixel 4a: it's what I use all day, every day, it's absolutely worth $350, and it does everything I need it to.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

31 Comments
  • That is one ugly phone case. A waste of money.
  • How was it a waste of money if she likes it? I doubt the intended function of the case was to impress randoms in comment sections.
  • Why didn't she consult you before buying it
  • "I'm still somewhat irked that the Pixel a-series doesn't do microSD cards" makes it sound like other Pixels do have microSD slots, which, unfortunately, no Pixel does.
  • i think the implication is that other value-oriented phones in this price range (like Nokias and Motorolas) do have the slot. i agree with ara, it's an oversight.
  • I'm using a Samsung because of their theme engine... In a roundabout way. But I agree about how needlessly confusing their software is. I bought my mum a pixel 4a, and Moto G before it, because I honestly think Samsung phones are a bad choice for "normal" folks.
  • Okay I always hear pixel better because of natural android, but Samsung and others have help push Android forward. I love Samsung phones because why they do put the everything in kitchen in its OS it has something that feels new. Basic Android just got split screen baked in at Nexus 6 when it was out got years. Google need to add more features to Android OS so it can be utilized by everyone not just the OS that has that features. Basic Android is boring and uninspiring.
  • Greetings Ms. Wagoner. I enjoy reading your articles and thank you for putting the time into writing them. We share very similar opinions on tech subjects. However, I found two issues with this article. First, there is no need to cuss in a tech article (repeatedly). Secondly, leave it just to tech, not matters of health. I agree with you: mandatory mask orders should have been put in place extremely early, but that point does not belong on AndroidCentral.com. Thank you for reading this, if you do.
  • I humbly agree with your points
  • FYI President can't issue mandatory face mask orders. Not sure what you mean should have been earlier...there has never ever been a nationwide mask order.
  • I had to read the post a second time to figure out what you meant... If any of the words in it offend your delicate sensibilities i highly recommend you leave the internet immediately and don't look back. I'm not being mean, it's for your own good, you DO NOT want to see the stuff that's out here.
  • I'm using a 4a my third Pixel phone. I had endless trouble with my Pixel 3, but my 4a has worked flawlessly. Google did a great job, particularly in increasing the screen size without increasing (or very minimally) the size of the unit. I just read this article in it's entirety and didn't notice one offensive word. I'm not saying there aren't any, just that I didn't notice them. Perhaps it's me, but you may be a bit too sensitive for the internet these days.
  • I'm glad you are happy with settling. For me, I only paid $300 for my S20 and would never go to something like a Pixel 4a over it.
  • I agree with this writer 👍🏼 like her I have worked & created from my Pixel 4a & Chromebook flawlessly daily and used it for my entertainment chromebook 300$ or less. I have peace 🤗 of mind knowing I am constantly updated and protected from malware & junk Software is top notch
  • The size of that 4A is the problem. Way to small. Now the 4a 5g...that's different.
  • Definitely one of my favorite Android phones of the year for it’s compact size, decent speakers, fast updates, headphone jack, excellent camera, and great price. Will be looking at the Pixel A series after my iPhone.
  • The 4A has an 800 dollar in it. Plus stock Android, night sight that competes with the top 🐕 ies. The 3.5 jack, 6gigs of 🐏 & 128gb's of storage. All for just 349.00 buck-a-roos. You can't beat that!
  • Haha you can easily beat with Samsung 20 FE for $699, better specs...stock android is over rated. Has 1st pixel and wasn't impressed.
  • Then be happy you paid more for what you liked. There's an appeal to stock that some will not like. Many though do. That and a very reasonable price is just what many will be looking for.
  • The only thing keeping me on my pixel 3 XL is lack of wireless charging on the 4a 5G. I tried the Pixel 5, but it's just too small for me coming from the 3 XL. I'm too invested in wireless to not use it.
  • This statement is embarrassing but not for the reason you think. It's wrong. Samsung fixed this with OneUI 2.5 back in August: "I was tired of being stuck with the bug Android 10 should never have been allowed to ship with — being unable to use third-party launchers with Android 10 gesture navigation. That Samsung actively withheld this fix until the One UI 3.0 update that just finally came to the S20 last week, a full eight months after it was fixed on Pixel phones, is a goddamn embarrassment."
  • "Another grievance I could finally out to bed when I returned to the Pixel was having duplicate apps for all basic utilities" Just uninstall them man. "and having to deal with Samsung being different for different's sake when it comes to details like how Settings are laid out." Non-issue.
  • Agreed. Sounds like griping just because Samsung suffers from a Pixel. While it may take a bit longer to initially set up a Samsung, once that part is complete, you're pretty much set. Many of the most commonly used settings can be accessed via the quick panel and the duplicate apps (there aren't many), can either be uninstalled or disabled.
  • Fwiw, I agree with AjStone. For me, the use of (imo gratuitous) profanity detracted from an otherwise good article. It's true, there are lots of places online where anything goes, but I, for one, hope we'll always have at least a few sites that don't take that approach. I found it jarring to encounter a word like, "goddamn", in an article on AC. I doubt anyone would ever stop reading AC for not having enough profanity, but some might avoid it for having too much or any at all. If you're AC, and you need all the clicks you can get, why take that chance?
  • That's hardly profanity.
  • What profanity? I read the whole article and don't recall any.
  • Good opinions that confirm you don't need to spend $1,000 when the $300 - $400 price range can get you something that works fine
  • If my Essential phone died tommorow, I'd definitely be getting a 4a, unless gesture navigation is the only option on the 4a. I despise the gesture navigation that Android added and always switch back to the three button controls.
  • "it's a screen I'm more than happy to spend 4-8 hours a day on,"
    If I spent that much time staring a phone I'd blow my head off.
  • I picked up a S20+ 5G from Microsoft a couple weeks ago for $750. I had to agree to 5-6 different terms of service while setting up the phone. The settings are so overwhelming it is practically paralyzing. For the last four years I've been using the Pixel XL and Pixel 3XL. Even with how great the S20+ is, I'm going to return it and hope that Google can release a phone I want to use. The 12GB of RAM is awesome in the S20+, apps rarely close in the background.
  • I'm still using a Note 9... running beautifully.