Google Pixel 4A Review

This entry-level smartphone comes with incredible features at a reasonable price.

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Tshaka Armstrong
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December 10, 2020
5 min read

In a post-COVID world, low-cost options for smartphones are everything. We've recently had a few people chime in on our reviews about how they purchased a mid-range phone over a flagship phone because it actually did everything they needed it to.

But what happens when someone puts out a $350 entry-level phone (for the U.S. market at least) with some features which outdo its price point? That’s the Google Pixel 4A, and I'm going to walk you through why this phone might be your next upgrade.

Cost savings without sacrificing quality

So, what are you looking for in a smartphone right now? I've been asked about phones that can multi-task and handle a new work-from-home paradigm. I've also been asked about phones under $200 because cost was the most important factor in that purchasing decision for that user on a fixed income.

The Google Pixel 4A fits nicely somewhere between those two sets of needs as it will handle just about anything you throw at it, but you’re going to pay $350. In some cases you're still saving more than $1000 when compared to some flagship phones.

Let's take a look at what you get for your money. The front of the phone sports a 5.8-inch full HD plus OLED display that gets as bright as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and it supports HDR. Video looks beautiful on the OLED panel, which has a pixel density of 443 pixels per inch.

For example, when you look at Our Planet’s coastal seas on the Google Pixel 4A, the underwater world comes to life in full immersive color. But what happens when the content is dark and moody? On some displays, you'll lose detail. At worst, those darker, moody movies become unwatchable. At $350, you're getting a display that rivals much pricier displays for image brightness and quality. While I prefer larger displays, you don't lose much beyond size with the Google Pixel 4A.

The body of the Google Pixel 4A is made from polycarbonate, or plastic, albeit the durable type. On the front of the display, you’ll get a hole-punch camera on the left side. On the right side of the phone you'll get a volume rocker and the color-contrasting power button. The bottom of the phone has the USB-C port and one half of the stereo speakers is a microphone. Left side of the phone is where you'll find the SIM tray. In this case, it's a single SIM tray with no expandable storage.

Internal storage and device colors

You can get the Google Pixel 4A in any color you want, as long as it's black, and with any storage capacity you want, as long as it's 128 gigabytes with no expandable storage. This is actually important because once you consider your operating system, all your apps, and all the pictures and videos you will take—that space goes quite fast. In my case, I was up to around 25 gigabytes.

One feature I recommend turning on if you're already using or want to pick up the Google Pixel 4A is: Smart Storage. Turning it on will remove photos that have already been backed up to Google Photos. From the Photos app, click on your thumbnail image in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, choose the backup and sync option, turn it on and choose the upload size. It will back up all of your photos for free. You can choose to back them up in a size smaller than the original size, or you can pay for more storage and backup the original quality photos.

Top of the Google Pixel 4A is where you’ll find another speaker and a three and a half-millimeter port for audio out. This is an important feature for budget-friendly phones as you don’t have to have a pricier Bluetooth earpiece for phone calls (though you can find some really inexpensive options on Amazon, but I digress). Back of the phone, you'll get some stealthy Google branding, a fingerprint scanner that works flawlessly, and a single 12-megapixel camera with a large 1.4-micron pixel size, optical image stabilization, and 1.7 aperture.

Robust camera

The camera on the Google Pixel 4A is sort of a big deal. In multiple reviews, the Pixel's cameras are touted as being among the best, especially when it comes to computational photography and night mode. So, let's take a look at both.

I compared pictures from the Google Pixel 4A to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I took pictures of my wife and I having breakfast on a socially distanced patio one morning. The thing to notice in these pictures is the restaurant next door, Toscana. The iPhone took the most true-to-life image of the restaurant, which presented the most realistic reproduction of the sunlight on the front of the building. The Google Pixel 4A and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra gave a warmer, toned down reproduction. All three photos look wonderful, and it’s really a matter of preference.

Next up: those pesky reds. The Google Pixel 4A captured a beautiful, red flower quite well. Between the three cameras, the iPhone and Google Pixel 4A captured an image with the most contrast and detail in the petals. while all three did a fine job with the stamen and other details of the flower. While all three images are equally pleasing, I'd rate the captures from the Google Pixel 4A and iPhone to be the best.

Let’s not forget to discuss shutter speed and ability to capture moving objects. I took snaps of my dog rolling around on the ground. The Google Pixel 4A captured several images of her in motion without blur.

What about night mode? I went to my nighttime metro stop location and took pics. All three photos from all three phones looked great. The big tell in camera quality was the sharpness of the image, especially in the palm tree leaves. With lesser cameras, these fronds would become a muddled mess. With the Google Pixel 4A, the fronds have a significant amount of detail and contrast and look every bit as good on the more expensive Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

With my grandpa statue picture test, I compared all three phones again. In this case, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra had the best capture for its ability to focus on the statue, details, contrast, and overall image quality, but the Google Pixel 4A was a very close second (and that's $1000 difference in phone.) The iPhone 11 Pro Max had an issue focusing on the statue and instead captured the background in sharp detail, leaving the statue soft-focused.

Flagship-worthy accessibility features

You really shouldn't have to spend a week or more worth of pay to get a flagship smartphone. Phones like the Google Pixel 4A make a compelling argument for cost versus feature set. Something I don't think is talked about often enough is accessibility. This phone is fast, and that should be acknowledged. The interface is fast and smooth, and it will get updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the US.

It also supports Google Pay, which has most of what you need. Then there’s Live Caption. I've tried this feature on other phones, but when you do, those phones’ overlays or custom operating system enhancements often break Google's full functionality.

With Live Caption, one of the features I haven’t been able to get to work on other phones is real time transcription of phone calls. Not the case on the Google Pixel 4A. Live Caption is amazing for taking calls in a loud area and is especially helpful if you are one of the approximately 37 and 1/2 million American adults aged 18 and over who reports some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health. Along with Live Translate, the Google Pixel 4A is a device that really meets the demands of 21st century living.

Seal of approval

If you're looking for an entry-level device that punches well above its weight, I’ll have to give the new Google Pixel 4A my top recommendation. Of every smartphone I've reviewed in this price point this year, overall, Google Pixel 4A is my top pick.

This phone actually has front firing speakers, as opposed to just one speaker at the bottom, like some 4G phones which cost a lot more. And the sound quality is quite good; it’s immersive. But not as loud as I’d like.

And there are phones that have larger batteries, but they may not have rapid or 18-watt charging with the 18-watt charger in the box like the Google Pixel 4A does. The phone still gave me seven and a half hours of screen time with three hours of runtime left after some 20 odd hours of light use.

If you're in the market for a relatively inexpensive 4G phone and a massive screen isn't a necessity for you, pick the Google Pixel 4A up.

Tshaka Armstrong
Written by
Tshaka Armstrong
Tshaka is a nerd and Griot. Founder of the non-profit digital literacy organization Digital Shepherds, he’s also been a broadcast technology reporter, writer, and producer. In addition to being an award-winning broadcast storyteller, he’s also covered tech online and in print for everything from paintball gear technology, to parenting gadgets. He blathers on about his many curiosities on social media everywhere as @tshakaarmstrong.

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