Google has finally announced the Pixel 4a officially! It will be available immediately for pre-order at the Google Store. Courts and Challenger online will follow suit on 4 Aug (Tuesday). Customers should receive the pre-order units once stocks are ready to ship, while online sales will commence on 10 September, including Amazon Singapore. Pixel 4a will retail at S$499 with 128GB storage in Just Black. There is no Pixel 4a XL announced.
Unboxing the Pixel 4a
Google shared that Pixel 4a continues its objective of delivering high quality phone in a compact size and affordable price. They do not seek to compete on specs, but to offer core software experience with a new design at a lower cost. Indeed, with the starting price below the psychological S$500 price point, the Pixel 4a should entice Android smartphone owners to make the switch to a phone that embodies everything Google.
Pixel 4a Specs vs. Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 3a
Here’s a brief table to highlight some feature differences among the products:
|Feature||Pixel 3a||Pixel 4||Pixel 4a|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 670|
2.0 GHz + 1.7 GHz, 64-bit Octa-Core
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 855|
2.84 GHz + 1.78 GHz, 64-bit Octa-Core
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G|
2.2 GHz + 1.8 GHz, 64-bit Octa-Core
|Display||5.6-inch (2220 x 1080)||5.7-inch (2280 x 1080)||5.81-inch (2340 x 1080)|
|Rear Camera||12.2 MP f/1.8 dual-pixel|
1.4 μm pixel width
|– 12.2MP f/1.7 dual pixel|
1.4 μm pixel width
– 16MP f/2.4 (telephoto)
1.0 μm pixel width
|12.2 MP f/1.7 dual-pixel|
1.4 μm pixel width
|Front Camera||8MP f/2.0|
1.12 μm pixel width
84° field of view
1.22 μm pixel width
90° field of view
1.12 μm pixel width
84° field of view
|Battery||3000 mAh||2800 mAh||3140 mAh|
|Memory||4GB, 64GB||6GB, 64GB||6GB, 128GB|
|3.5mm Audio Jack||Yes||No||Yes|
|Charging||18W, No Wireless||18W, Wireless||18W, No Wireless|
The Pixel 4a inherits many of the Pixel 3a features and improves with the Pixel 4 ones. For existing Pixel 3a owners, there isn’t much significant improvements, as most of the software features would end up in Pixel 3a anyway. For hardware, the rear camera is improved with larger aperture, while the processor sees a performance upgrade.
What’s probably radically different is the display is finally near bezel-free with punch-hole camera to keep up with the times. Compared to the Pixel 4 XL, the Pixel 4a display is slightly warmer, and at extreme angles, has reduced luminosity, while the Pixel 4XL retains colour better at extreme angles.
Another new design element is the rear. Instead of copying from the Pixel 4, as was the case for the Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a goes full matt polycarbonate, which is a good choice as it minimizes scratches. The large camera module only contains one camera lens and the LED flash.
How does it feel “downgrading” from Pixel 4 to Pixel 4a?
Actually, I don’t feel I missed a lot from Pixel 4 or 4 XL. Being Pixel, most of the software features are almost identical. While the Pixel 4a lacks a hardware Pixel Neural Core, most of the A.I. features are still available – like Live HDR+ with Dual Exposure Control, Portrait mode for pets, Night Sight with astrophotography. Maybe it’ll take longer to process but I don’t notice any exceptional lag.
The Pixel 4a does not support face unlock, and Google shared that it requires additional hardware for a more secure biometric enablement. The fingerprint unlock is definitely faster and more accurate, although I do miss the convenience of unlocking without reaching my finger to the rear of the phone. This is slightly inconvenient when the phone is on a stand.
What I am very glad is the increased storage to 128GB on the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4 XL I have been using is close to 90% full, and I had to constantly clear my storage. The battery on the Pixel 4a, although smaller than Pixel 4 XL, can last as long for the entire day.
As for 90Hz refresh rate, I disabled it on the Pixel 4 XL due to battery drain. It’s a feature that demonstrates well but in real life, it’s not essential, because you don’t need high refresh when scrolling content, while normal videos already deliver up to 60fps. Heavy gamers may need this but then they would have gotten a larger phone with larger battery for more immersive experience.
Camera Comparison (as at 3 Aug)
This is an assessment based on the preview unit prior to 3 Aug. Given constant improvements on the software, the quality may vary once the units are available on 10 Sep. Camera version is 7.4.201
While the rear camera specs are similar, the Pixel 4a appears to be slightly inferior when I zoom in to the details. Overall, the colour contrast and tonality seems to match.
Looking at the cropped image, the Pixel 4a appears to be slightly softer, albeit same resolution details. This might be the unfortunate result of a lack of dedicated Pixel Neural Core.
Testing the “Super Res” hybrid zoom, the Pixel 4a could only achieve 7x while the Pixel 4 and 4 XL can handle 8x. Even as I shoot at 7x on both cameras, the Pixel 4a is clearly less capable of reducing digital pixelation.
Photos shot at night using Night Sight appears similar in details for both phones. The Pixel 4a appears slightly warmer, and I attribute the difference to the lack of a dedicated Pixel Neural Core, which results in a different processing workflow.
For the front camera, the Pixel 4 XL shoots at a wider angle of 90-degrees compared to Pixel 4a 85-degrees. Pixel 4a appears to be soft, apparently unable to focus as sharply at near-focus. It might not be a bad thing since people prefer selfies that do not reveal the facial blemishes.
In general, the Pixel 4a is a poorer camera performer compared to Pixel 4 XL. I’ll share more comparison photos when I get the chance to try with other smartphone models.
The Underrated Google Pixel Experience
The Pixel 4a owners enjoy benefits like 3 months free Google One, YouTube Premium, and Google Play Pass. I also love the “Now Playing” feature where the phone can identify songs picked up by the mic over the air. The “Recorder” app is also outstanding as it actually transcribes speech to text instantaneously, allowing you to search for the content with great ease. The “Live Caption” is also a very useful feature where it transcribes captions for any media playing on the phone, such as video, audio, radio, podcasts, audio messages, even voice calls (new in Pixel 4a). All the processing and transcription is done offline without accessing cloud servers.
Another unique Pixel experience is the fabric cases, made from over 70% recycled material using a jacquard pattern to mask wear and tear. They are also machine washable. I liked using fabric cases so much that I would look for fabric cases for my other smartphones, to little avail.
Verdict and Conclusion
The Google Pixel 4a would highly appeal to consumers who are not committed to phone brands, doesn’t need the best specs, and very keen to experience a Google smart device. Indeed, the Pixel 4a feels very polished since it is an evolution of the existing Pixel line of features. Naturally, the apps will be updated regularly for continuous improvement, including image quality or battery performance.
More importantly, the unique Pixel experience is inimitable, as Google kept their best features to the Pixel devices and not part of AOSP. This, including the guarantee of at least 3 years of software updates, means the S$499 you spend on the Pixel 4a remains up-to-date for 3 years and longer. It would be a great smartphone to own and experience.