The Google Pixel 4a 5G has a great pedigree. The Pixel 3a was the perfect tonic for a world in need of an excellent smartphone camera without a bank-breaking price. No gadgets or gizmos — one camera: point, shoot, bam; you’ve got a fine-looking picture.
A year on and the need for affordable smartphones is greater than ever, and Google knows it. For the first time, its flagship phone, the Pixel 5 isn’t a turbocharged powerhouse. Instead, it combines curated flagship and midrange elements, hitting a lower price than last year’s Pixel 4. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a 5G pares things back even more for a saving of $200 / £100.
• Read Google Pixel 5 review • Best Google phones
Unlike the Pixel 5, the 4a 5G doesn’t feature a high refresh-rate screen, metal frame or wireless charging. It also features a smaller battery (despite a bigger screen), and isn’t available in the very handsome Sorta Sage color - that’s exclusive to the Pixel 5.
What you’re left with in the Pixel 4a 5G is a true midrange phone in every area other than that camera. At $499 / £499 though and with stiff competition from the OnePlus Nord in the UK, and the Samsung Galaxy A51 5G in the States. is it still too pricey to compete?
Google Pixel 4a 5G: Design and screen
Combining a 6.2-inch screen size with a resolution of 1080 x 2340, the 168g Pixel 4a 5G is a bigger phone than the 6-inch, 151g Pixel 5. Measuring 8.5mm thin, it’s still comfortable in-hand, and its matte plastic body feels sufficiently grippy.
Unlike the Pixel 5, the 4a 5G is only available in Just Black, which is a crying shame for anyone who’s fallen in love with the occasional color pop style Google showcases on its phones. Meanwhile, ports and highlights include a USB-C port at the base, stereo speakers, power, and volume buttons.
The AMOLED screen on the Pixel 4a 5G is very good in isolation — bright, punchy, sharp enough; but it isn’t competitive. This is especially true for UK buyers. The OnePlus Nord costs just £379 in the UK, and sports a better display with a 90Hz refresh rate. In turn, while the Pixel 4a 5G checks a lot of boxes in other areas, it doesn’t shine with premium design, and its competent screen is good but fails to be great.
Google Pixel 4a 5G: Cameras
Just like the Google Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G’s main camera module features a 12.2MP resolution with an f/1.7, 27mm lens. The 1/2.55" IMX363 sensor has been in use since the Pixel 3, and sports 1.4µm pixels. This combines with dual pixel PDAF and OIS for tried and tested reliable performance.
There’s no telephoto camera here, but there is a secondary ultrawide lens with an f/2.2 aperture and a 107˚ field of view, combined with a 16MP resolution sensor with 1.0µm pixels.
With a front camera resolution of 8MP, combined with an f/2.0, 24mm lens, the punch hole selfie camera shoots with a crop of 1.4x by default but can be expanded out to a full field of view. This gives the illusion of a dual-camera without the ugly, large dual-camera cutout.
As with the Pixel 5, shooting modes include Night Sight, Portrait, Auto, Panorama, Photo Sphere, and Lens. There’s no manual mode on the Pixel 4a 5G, however, with RAW shooting, and generally reliable exposure, most will be well catered for with the modes on offer.
If you’ve read our Pixel 5 review, you will know exactly what to expect from the Pixel 4a 5G. They have exactly the same camera setup and take exactly the same kinds of photos which is excellent news.
This all means you can expect broad tonal ranges with rich colors and a realistic look to most shots you take. The pixels have smart UI ergonomics too, with a haptic on-screen level tool, vibrating slightly when you’re holding the phone horizontally - very intuitive.
As far as pictures go, subjects tend to look reliably great, with detail being very good for a 12MP camera phone. The Pixel 4a 5G can’t compete on detail with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, or the upcoming Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro and their 108MP sensors, but its more nuanced processing edges it ahead for day to day point and shoot moments.
The Pixel 4a 5G’s colors are on-point for the most part, with capable AWB delivering natural shots that pop in just the right places. As with any camera, the 4a 5G can struggle in darker scenes to get the white balance right, especially in portrait mode, with results veering towards more tungsten hues. That said, Google’s processing always makes photos look stylized in a good way, with responsive contrast and saturation.
In auto mode, you can comfortably shoot across lighting conditions, and with a steady hand (and subject), your shot should look decent across lighting conditions — no need to jump into Night Sight (night mode).
If you do opt to switch to Night Sight though, it’s still one of the best night modes on the market, seeing in the dark and artificially brightening things up beautifully. As with the Pixel 4, it can even capture night skies and stars with finesse thanks to astrophotography mode.
The same software that tunes shots from the main camera works its magic on the ultrawide camera — great dynamic range, tonal and color balance are the order of the day. There’s little in the way of distortion, and Night Sight helps it out when the lights drop. Despite its 16MP resolution, it isn’t as sharp as the main camera, but still grabs all the detail you need for limited cropping, 10x5 printing, and social sharing.
Video on the Pixel 4a 5G is captured at up to 4K, 60fps, and it looks fantastic. It’s very well held together and with four stabilization options: Standard, Locked, Active, and Cinematic Pan, helps you tailor the stabilization to the kind of clips you’re shooting.
Google Pixel 4a 5G: Additional specs
Powered by a Snapdragon 765G paired with 6GB RAM, only gamers will grump about the lack of power inside the Pixel 4a 5G.
Everyday experiences are lag-free, with the Snapdragon 765G having proven itself time and time again on the OnePlus Nord, Oppo Reno 4 Pro, and the Motorola RAZR 5G. It still handles games without getting too hot, and we didn’t notice many dropped frames even with brand new titles, however, ramp up the graphics settings and you’ll see a few cracks.
Running Android 11, the Pixel line is as futureproofed as any Android phone can be from a software point of view. It’s refreshing to use such a smooth, stock version of Google’s OS - especially having come from the heavier OnePlus 8T with its new Oxygen OS 11. Additionally, with convenient features like smart transcription, an always-on display that shows your next calendar appointment, and zero bloatware - smart, light and airy is the name of the UI game here.
The 4A 5G comes with 128GB storage, though no microSD card slot, which should suit most. As for the 3885mAh battery, it charges at up to 18W, so takes in excess of an hour and a half to fill up completely. While battery life isn’t quite Pixel 5 good, the 4a 5G will get you through a day without too many headaches unless you’re seriously hammering that screen with brightness ramped up.
Google Pixel 4a 5G: Verdict
How good the Pixel 4a 5G is will largely depend on where you are. If you’re in the US, the 4a 5G is a cheaper phone owing to conversion rates and Google’s pricing. Meanwhile, in the UK, the competition is more fierce thanks to the OnePlus Nord, and the Pixel 5 is just £100 more than the 4a 5G. That’s versus a $200 difference in the US. This all adds up to make the Pixel 4a 5G a great option in the States, and a less clear-cut one in the UK.
Yes, the cameras are the same as the Pixel 5, and are therefore excellent. The Pixel 5 feels much better to use though. Its Sorta Sage color is packed with personality for starters. It has a metal frame, as well as a high refresh-rate screen, water resistance, wireless charging, and better battery performance. Worth £100 extra? Definitely. Worth $200 more? That depends on you.
If all you care about is the camera though, and are happy with the simple, plastic design of the Pixel 4a 5G, it is the best current-gen smartphone camera you can get for the price. No, it doesn’t have a telephoto lens, but what it lacks in zoom and flourishes, it more than makes up for in imaging finesse. Additionally, if you’re picking one up on a low monthly contract or the price drops even slightly, it could be a great, reliable option across the board.
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