Pixel 4a review: the best phone Google has made in years

Guardian Technology 04 Aug 2020 06:00
The Pixel 4a may be one of the cheapest phones Google has made but it is also one of the very best. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Pixel 4a is a return to form for Google’s smartphone efforts: a lower-cost, mid-range phone that is high quality, long-lasting and fairly small, with a great camera.

The £349 Pixel 4a is very much an attempt to boil down a smartphone to only the essentials and then make them all work really well.

It slots under the higher-priced £669-and-up Pixel 4 series, replacing last year’s Pixel 3a and 3a XL with only one size of phone, taking the design of the 3a and expanding the screen to fill the front of the device.

A 5G version is coming later in the year but for now the Pixel 4a is 4G only.

Google Pixel 4a review
The matt black plastic back is smooth and feels high quality and durable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The body is high-quality, soft-touch polycarbonate and feels surprisingly nice. The 5.8in FHD+ OLED screen looks great: it is bright, crisp enough and has reasonably slim bezels all the way around. There is a fairly large hole in the top left of the screen for the selfie camera and the display does not have the 90Hz refresh rate of some slightly more expensive competitors but it does have HDR certification for watching movies.

The back of the device has a traditional fingerprint scanner that just works, and does so in all apps. Google’s face unlock on the Pixel 4 worked brilliantly for unlocking the phone but even nine months later, only a handful of third-party apps support it.


Snappy and long lasting

The Pixel 4a uses the upper-middle range Snapdragon 730G chip from Qualcomm, which is one of the last remaining new processors not to feature 5G and a significant step up from Snapdragon 670 used in the Pixel 3a last year. It comes in a single version with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

The Pixel 4a ships with Google’s version of Android 10 and buyers can expect a minimum of three years of operating system and security updates, which is good for a phone of this price but is still some way behind Apple’s five-year support for iPhones (including the £419 iPhone SE).

The Pixel 4a has Google’s excellent single-camera system. It lacks the second camera for optical zoom from the Pixel 4 but keeps most of its software features including Google’s industry-leading Night Sight for super low-light photography, an astrophotography mode to shoot the stars, live HDR+ allowing you to tweak the light and dark areas in real time, plus portrait mode for people and pets.

  • The phone has really powerful and good vibration for alerts and haptics.

  • There is no way to schedule the always-on display to turn on or off, such as at night.

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Samuel GibbsGoogleThe Guardian
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