Just good old basics and a killer camera -- at the right price.
There are two ways to look at Google’s new Pixel 4a. In isolation, it is the best Android phone that “most” people can buy today. And then, there’s the usual way. You know, the one where we start to weigh in the competition. Suddenly, every other Android phone, or least a majority of them in and around its price, seems better — superior.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t reviews typically supposed to reflect both sides of the coin, and you’re right. But here’s the thing — the Pixel isn’t your typical Android phone.
It is The Google Phone. That has always been one of its key selling points. The other is, you expect it to have a great camera. The Pixel 4a is a phone made by Google with a great camera. Period. No other Android phone, no matter how superior, can take that away from it.
But there’s also another aspect to a Pixel, something that has given it a bad rap in markets like India. It is how Google prices these phones. Last year’s Pixel 3a came in at a hefty Rs 39,999.
The real question to ask in the case of this year’s Pixel 4a, is not whether or not it is a better Android phone — spoiler alert, it is — but is it actually affordable, the way it is meant to be. I think I answered that question right in the beginning when I said that most people will be able to buy the Pixel 4a. I say this relative to the Pixel 3a of course. The Pixel 4a is priced at Rs 31,999 — for a limited period, you can get it for Rs 29,999.
So, the Pixel 4a is a phone made by Google with a great camera that’s priced a lot better than any other Pixel phone in the past. On any given day, those are the things that most people — into these phones — would really care about and that’s all that really matters. That’s it. That’s the TL;DR version of this review. Let’s dive into the whole thing now, shall we.
Pixel 4a — the good stuff
The Pixel 4a stands out from the crowd in two ways. The biggest takeaway is the size. It’s small and very light weight. It’s the sort of thing that would easily fit inside your pocket. The sort of thing that would be easy to use and operate with one hand. You can’t do that with a lot of phones today. So, in a way, the Pixel 4a is a blast from the past — and I am all for it.
It is made of plastic. But it is good quality plastic. With its soft matte finish and unibody design, the phone feels nice in the hands — and solid. If you’ve ever crossed paths with a Pixel, the Pixel 4a would feel just like home to you. Warm and welcoming. The fingerprint scanner — that Google calls Pixel Imprint — is in its familiar position on the back. It is fast and reliable. The power button has a character of its own with its distinct minty hue — while the phone comes in black.
The screen is getting a major revamp this year with Google stretching it out on all sides and punching a cut-out at one end. This allows for a phone that offers a bigger screen — 5.8-inch — in a body that’s roughly equivalent to the Pixel 3a. The resolution is 1080p. The panel is OLED with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on top for protection. It can get sufficiently bright. Contrast levels are good too. Not a lot to complain here. There is also support for HDR.
On paper, the biggest upgrade comes by way of RAM and storage. While the Pixel 3a came with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, the Pixel 4a gets 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. Google is also using faster LPDDR4x RAM and UFS 2.1 storage — the Pixel 3a infamously came with eMMC.
The same is true about battery capacity. Not only has Google put in a bigger 3,140mAh battery inside the Pixel 4a, it is also using better optimization algorithms to ensure longevity. Most people would be able to easily squeeze a full day’s worth of usage out of it. Battery life isn’t great, but at least, it’s good this time. The phone supports 18W fast charging. Google is bundling a compliant charger in the box.
Rounding off the package is a headphone jack and dual stereo speakers — these can get surprisingly loud with little or no digitization at peak volume.
Pixel 4a — the great stuff
Like clockwork, the headlining feature of the Pixel 4a is its clean, unadulterated Android software. This is Android 11. Google will also continue to support this phone for three years — at least. (In case you want to read more about Android 11, do make sure to read our in-depth analysis of all the top features of the latest version of Android here.)
That software is also the brains behind the Pixel 4a’s — or any other Pixel for that matter — best-in-class still camera. That’s right, no beating around the bush needed here. It just lives up to its name, bringing much more expensive phones to shame with its level of detail and dynamic range — and Night Sight. Despite it having one camera and an ageing sensor.
The Pixel 4a has the same camera setup as the Pixel 4, Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3 before it. There’s a 12MP dual-pixel main camera (Sony IMX363 sensor with f/1.7 aperture) with optical image stabilization plus electronic image stabilization. The Pixel 4’s hallmark smart HDR+ technology with dual exposure controls, Portrait Mode, Top Shot, Night Sight with astrophotography capabilities and fused video stabilization are all carried forward in the Pixel 4a. Just goes to show the sort of impact good software can have. On the front, the phone has an 8MP camera that shoots near true-to-life selfies across lighting scenarios.
Pixel 4a — stuff that you should keep in mind before buying it
This is the part where I’ll weigh in the competition because even though I like how the Pixel 4a sticks to the basics and also nails most of them, the thing about India’s smartphone scene is, there are a lot of fancier options available. Some of them nail the basics too, you know. Just to make things simpler, let me jot it down in bullet points.
- I like the look and feel of the Pixel 4a but I can see how its design can be bland and boring for a lot of people. The Pixel 3a’s dual-tone body brought some variety to the table. The Pixel 4a also comes in just one colour, so that is also something to keep in mind. Plus, there’s the whole plastic versus glass thing to consider. The Pixel 4a does not have any sort of water resistance either. The screen, though it is modern, still has sizeable bezels and a conventional 60Hz refresh rate in comparison to rivals.
- The Pixel 4a is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G, a tried and tested mobile processor that we have seen in many phones South of Rs 25,000 already. While it is good at everyday tasks, even some high-end gaming and multitasking today, I am not too sure about long-term performance. The reason why I am bringing this up is because Google has designed this thing to last for three years at least, but whether or not that hardware will be able to sustain for that long and pull all of the new features coming with future updates is something only time would tell.
- The Pixel 4a is best-in-class when it comes to still photography, but not all Pixel phones are created equal. The more expensive Pixel phones have additional hardware for faster post-processing et al but the Pixel 4a does not. Also, it can’t hold a candle to rival phones like the iPhone SE at videos. So, you will have to be doubly sure what it is that you are exactly looking to do with it.
- Software is a key differentiator for Pixel phones but there will be many people who would rather pick custom skins like a MIUI or an Oxygen OS or a One UI, for added functionality.
Pixel 4a — should you buy it?
Google does not take the Indian market very seriously when it comes to its Pixel hardware, is a conversation I have had countless times with countless people. That’s not entirely incorrect. History is not on Google’s side. Last year’s Pixel 4 never came to India. This year’s Pixel 5 is not coming to India either. And the Pixel phones that have somehow managed to make their way to India, well let’s just say, Google could have priced them better.
Come to think of it, the Pixel 4a is a rarity. It’s also an oddity in India, where every other phone brand is trying to beat the other by throwing in every perceivable spec and making those specs available at rock-bottom prices. It’s a rat race, is what it is.
Earlier in the year, the iPhone SE tried to break that norm and came out winning with flying colours. The Pixel 4a is Google’s shot at doing something similar and while it may not be as premium and powerful, it’s the only phone holding the fort on the Android side of things. My only concern is, it might just be a little late to the party. The phone was announced in August and arrived in India only in mid-October, giving the iPhone SE (and others like the OnePlus Nord) enough legroom to attract people’s attention. The delay was attributed to coronavirus. It would be interesting to see how Google handles after-sales and repairs for the Pixel 4a in India.
Be that as it may, the Pixel has always had a select clientele. So, I am assuming that’s not going anywhere. If anything, the Pixel 4a should ensure more people who had been eying the Pixel can get on-board now.
- Made by Google phone
- Clean Android software with 3 years of promised software updates
- Great camera
- Uninspiring design
- Core hardware could be better