There is one thing that wizards call misdirection, where they get noticed with one thing while something more important happens elsewhere. Whether modern smartphones are considered magic is probably a little too philosophical here, but the Pixel 4a 5G certainly gave me the feeling of misdirection. The heading feature, 5G connectivity, is spot on in the name, but I’m not sure anyone should buy one just because it might have faster data in it.
Even Google seems to agree on this as there is a confusing fact that there are two versions of the phone. The regular Pixel 4a 5G costs $ 499 and supports sub-6 GHz 5G. If you want compatibility with mmWave for Verizon’s ultra wideband network ̵
That comes with a premium of $ 100 and comes in at $ 599. In contrast, the Pixel 5 is simply the Pixel 5, and you get both Sub-6 and mmWave support regardless. It’s also only $ 100 more than the Pixel 4a 5G UW.
Still confused? In all honesty, the best advice I can give you is to ignore the 5G part altogether. The Pixel 4a 5G’s true value isn’t mentioned in the name, but the larger display, dual cameras, and faster processor are welcome improvements over the Pixel 4a.
With its 6.2-inch OLED panel, the Pixel 4a 5G has the largest screen in Google’s 2020 lineup. If it doesn’t feel that big in practice, it’s just because we’re used to even more massive phones . Day after day, the size is a joy, even if the resolution of 1080 x 2340 is no greater than that of the siblings.
That means it has the lowest pixel density – 413 ppi – and it’s a 60 Hz panel instead of the 90 Hz of the Pixel 5. You notice the former with a little more blurring on smaller text and the latter on high-speed scrolling, however i think they are acceptable compromises. The colors are bright and the outdoor visibility is fine, which are more important factors in my opinion.
The rest of the phone is the epitome of surreptitious advertising, the Pixel 4a only enlarging it slightly. The plastic body made of polycarbonate from Google has a pleasant soft-touch finish that is neither too slippery nor too grippy, but the color Just Black won’t attract any glances. The power button is the only bright spot, and even then it’s muted. I longed for the soft Sorta Sage of the Pixel 5. Also, try not to drop the phone as Google only budgeted for the aging Gorilla Class 3 screen protector, or get wet as there is no IP68 dust or dust Gives water resistance.
As with the Pixel 5, you get the Snapdragon 765G chipset from Qualcomm and 128GB of non-expandable storage. However, the Pixel 4a 5G combines it with 6GB of RAM, 2GB less than the more expensive phone. It’s not the only sacrifice you’ll make, either. The case is bigger, but the battery is smaller – according to Google an average of 3,885 mAh compared to 4,080 mAh – and there is no wireless Qi charging, only 18 W fast charging via USB-C.
There is a fingerprint sensor on the back, which is in a small dot and is admirably fast. Wearing a mask so frequently has severely affected facial recognition biometrics. So the ability to quickly unlock the Pixel 4a 5G without a PIN or passcode was a welcome change. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is quite unusual these days. The downside is that Google uses two microphones rather than three. Callers told me that this creates more background noise. I’m also not very impressed with the Pixel 4a 5G’s speakers, which lack bass and sound a little unbalanced.
That doesn’t apply to the cameras. Google’s computer photography has long been a primary concern of its phones, and this mid-range pixel is no exception. You get the same dual rear cameras as with a Pixel 5, a familiar 12.2-megapixel primary sensor with dual-pixel phase detection AF and OIS, and a new 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera with a 107 -Grade field of view that is significantly sharper at the corners than its counterpart on many competing phones. The Pixel 4a 5G can shoot 4K at up to 60 frames per second or 1080p at up to 240 frames per second, and there is an 8-megapixel front camera with fixed focus for selfies.
With identical camera hardware and software, everything I said about the Pixel 5 applies to the Pixel 4a 5G. Expect clean, crisp, balanced, natural-looking shots that don’t lead to common mistakes like oversaturation or excess grain. Night Sight is now activated automatically instead of having to be activated manually, and it also works with Portrait mode for improved low-light shots with faux-bokeh. You can still turn it off if you don’t want the light gain, however.
Again, the new Google Photos editing tools are there and correct, including Portrait Light, which allows you to tweak the lighting of images with depth data. Portraits inevitably still work better with people than with pets. On the video side, Google’s new film stabilization modes are interesting, although I still prefer footage from the iPhone 11 Pro. They’ll likely show up on your Instagram feed soon.
Personally, I prefer a telephoto lens to an ultra-wide lens, but that’s just a matter of taste. I can’t see that most people are disappointed with the photographic talents of the Pixel 4a 5G, and in all honesty, it surpasses anything almost anything else in the price segment can offer. Since so much of it depends on the cleverness of the software that Google intends to fall back on many previous Pixel devices, it is a legitimate question to ask if this is a reason to upgrade.
The same applies to 5G. Yes, if you have 5G coverage it can be faster than 4G LTE. That’s not a given – at least not when it comes to Sub-6s – and while mmWave networks are rightly fast, they are also in vanishingly small numbers. You could own the Verizon-specified Pixel 4a 5G UW for next year, even two, and never find yourself with Ultra Wideband service.
The presence of WiFi 5 instead of WiFi 6, which I found so confusing on the Pixel 5, is easier to forgive on a cheaper device. There is also Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC. I had no problem working on one charge for a full day, although the 18W charger seems a little slow compared to the 25W chargers we usually see elsewhere.
What these other phones don’t have is pure Android. When shipped, you get Android 11 exactly as Google intended, and at least three years of operating system and security updates are promised. Optimized for the Snapdragon in the middle area inside, I have no complaints about the overall performance. Sure, there is a couple of seconds of delay as the Pixel 4a 5G handles some high performance images like Portrait Night Sight shots, but I think that’s acceptable.
Owners get their first taste of new features like Hold for Me, which promises “Your Call Matters” and the endless music on hold. The assistant notifies you when a real person is on the line. The recorder has also been updated with the ability to switch between keywords that the wizard deems important, edit sections, and even export as a video clip with transcription and audio.
It’s all smart, but it won’t be unique to the Pixel 4a 5G, at least not forever. Owners may get these features first, but Google is making them available to other Android users as well. For example, if you’re a Pixel 4a owner, a little patience will do.
Pixel 4a 5G verdict
The Pixel 4a 5G feels a bit like a phone that Google designed for carriers, not consumers. It sits between the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 5 and can’t compete with either the aggressive pricing of the former or the specifics of the latter. If you’re a network looking for that all-important “5G” on the datasheet, that’s probably still enough, but the rest of us have a tougher choice.
The battery life and camera performance are great, but they’re also on the Pixel 4a, and that’s in line with the new camera features too. The faster chipset makes the Pixel 4a 5G a bit faster in everyday use, but I don’t know if most people would notice this without them side by side. The Pixel 4a is a steal, and unless you really need a bigger screen and that ultra-wide camera, this 5G version doesn’t change that fact.
If your goal is future-proofing with 5G, you probably want the mmWave version, and at this point you are $ 100 away from the Pixel 5. The device has a better display, wireless charging and a larger battery. In short, while Google’s Tweener phone is good, I’m not sure if the Pixel 4a 5G does enough to stand out from the great phones that include it.