Google officially announced the Pixel 4a on August 3, 2020. While it arrived a little later than many were expecting, at $349, it was quickly called the budget-friendly phone of the year. In terms of the overall lineup of Google Pixel phones, the Pixel 4a is the follow-up to the Pixel 3a.
Google Pixel 3a owners may consider upgrading to the Pixel 4a in order to get a newer Pixel. But instead of going from the Pixel 3a to the Pixel 4a, you may want to check out the Pixel 4 or the Pixel 5 instead. You may even be tempted by the new Google Pixel 6, so make sure to keep reading to learn more about how the Pixel 4a stacks up against other models in the Google Pixel lineup.
Specs: Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4 vs Pixel 5
The Pixel 4 and Pixel 5 are part of Google’s flagship line. And, the Pixel 4a, as signified by the “a” in the name, is a budget-friendly, mid-range model. The $349 retail price point of the Pixel 4a for a brand-new phone is appealing. But if you start comparing new vs newish, you can find a newish Pixel 4 at a lower price point, and a newish Pixel 5 for roughly $100 more. Going with a Pixel 4 or Pixel 5 means getting a bit of a bump in the hardware due to moving from the mid-range lineup to the flagship lineup.
We already have an in-depth Pixel 4 vs Pixel 4a comparison, so check it out if you want to dive deep into the technical differences. But first, let’s take a look and see how the hardware specs compare from phone to phone.
|Pixel 4a||Pixel 4||Pixel 5|
|Display Size||5.81-inches (with Gorilla Glass 3)||5.7-inches (with Gorilla Glass 5)||6 inches (with Gorilla Glass 5)|
|Display Resolution||FHD+ (1080 x 2340) OLED at 443 ppi and HDR suport||FHD+ (1080 x 2280) flexible OLED at 444 ppi and HDR support||FHD+ (1080 x 2340) flexible OLED at 432ppi and HDR|
|Rear Camera||12.2MP dual-pixel, 1.4um pixel width, f/1.7, auto-focus with dual pixel phase detection||12.2MP dual-pixel, 1.4um pixel width, f/1.7, auto-focus with dual pixel phase detection|
16MP, 1.0um pixel width, f/2.4, auto-focus with phase detection
|12.2MP dual-pixel, 1.4um pixel width, f/1.7, auto-focus with dual pixel phase detection|
16MP, 1.0um pixel width, f/2.2, 108-degree ultrawide
|Front Camera||8MP, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, fixed focus||8MP, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, fixed focus||8MP, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, fixed focus|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|RAM||6GB (LPDDR4x)||6GB (LPDDR4x)||8GB (LPDDR4x)|
|Storage||128GB||64GB or 128GB||128GB|
|Battery||3,140 mAh (with 18W fast-charging)||3,140 mAh (with 18W fast-charging, and Qi wireless charging)||4,080 mAh (with 18W fast-charging, and 12W Qi wireless charging)|
|Size||5.7 (H) x 2.73 (W) x 0.32 (D) – inches||5.7 (H) x 2.7 (W) x 0.3 (D) – inches||5.7 (H) x 2.77 (W) x 0.31 (D) – inches|
|Weight||5.04 ounces (143 grams)||5.71 ounces (162 grams)||5.33 ounces (151 grams)|
A quick glance at the specs reveals a fair bit of similarities. However, there are some key differences that may have you wanting the Pixel 4 rather than the Pixel 4a.
Beginning with the similarities — the display sizes aren’t identical, but they are pretty close between the two phones. The Pixel 4a display is 5.81-inches and the Pixel 4 display measures in at a slightly smaller 5.7-inches. The overall dimensions of the two phones are also just about the same. Additionally, the front-facing camera, RAM, and internal storage is a near match. Of course, while the Pixel 4a is only available with 128GB, the Pixel 4 comes with either 64GB or 128GB.
Overall, the Pixel 4 is the better buy when comparing it to the Pixel 4a or the Pixel 5.
However, it should also be noted that the Pixel 5 is a year newer than the Pixel 4, which means it will receive Android version and security updates longer. Google currently has plans to update the Pixel 4 through October 2022, and the Pixel 5 through October 2023. The Pixel 4a will receive updates through August 2023.
Features: Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4
The first differences you’ll notice when picking up both phones are build quality and weight. The Pixel 4 is 0.67-ounces (19 grams) heavier, due to its more premium materials and construction. The Pixel 4 has an aluminum frame, whereas the Pixel 4a has a polycarbonate unibody. Both phones will hold up just fine with day-to-day use, but the aluminum frame found in the Pixel 4 means the phone will feel a bit more durable.
The Pixel 4 also has IP68 certification, which means the phone can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes. The Pixel 4a does not have an official IP rating for water or dust resistance.
Processor & Performance
The Pixel 4a is a mid-range phone, and as a result, it has a mid-range processor. The Pixel 4a is powered by the Snapdragon 730, with the Pixel 4 getting its power from the Snapdragon 855. With basic everyday use, the Snapdragon 730 should hold up pretty well. However, if you consider yourself more of a power user, or spend a lot of time playing games — you will be better served with the more powerful Snapdragon 855 processor found in the Pixel 4.
At first glance, there are quite a few similarities with the camera setup on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4a. Both phones share the same front-facing camera, which is an 8MP, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, fixed focus camera. Both phones also share some similarities with the rear-camera setup as well, which means they both have a Sony Exmor IMX363 camera (wide-angle 12.2MP camera with f/1.7 aperture). But the Pixel 4 also has a second camera on the back, which is a 16MP telephoto lens with f2.4 aperture.
The telephoto lens gives the Pixel 4 an edge over the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4 has Super Res Zoom, allowing it to capture better images from far away. Of course, as we’ve seen with previous models of the Pixel — a fair amount of the camera magic comes by way of Google software. Both the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4a support key software-based camera features such as:
- HDR+ with dual-exposure controls: Automatically adjusts the color and lighting.
- Night Sight with astrophotography: Allows for clear pictures in low light settings.
- Portrait Mode: Capture a professional-looking portrait image by adding an artistic blur to the background (bringing the focus to your subject).
Battery Life & Charging
Similar to what we saw with the camera setup, there are some similarities with the battery and charging features. Both phones support 18W fast-charging, allowing you to get up to 7 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes of charging time. But while both phones support fast-charging, the battery in the Pixel 4 is a bit smaller. The Pixel 4 has a 2,800 mAh battery, whereas the Pixel 4a has a slightly larger 3,140 mAh battery. However, the feature that sets the Pixel 4 ahead of the Pixel 4a is support for wireless charging. The Pixel 4 has support for the Qi wireless charging standard.
At first glance, there are quite a few similarities between the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4a displays. They are both FHD+ OLED, and they both have HDR support, True black level, and a 100,000:1 super contrast ratio. They are also pretty close in size and resolution, with the Pixel 4 being 5.7-inches (2280 x 1080) at 444ppi, and the Pixel 4a being 5.8-inches (2340 x 1080) at 443ppi.
There is a small difference in the level of impact and scratch resistance between these two phones. The Pixel 4 uses Gorilla Glass 5, whereas the Pixel 4a uses of the slightly older Gorilla Glass 3. But perhaps the key difference between the two phones is refresh rate. The Pixel 4a has a 60Hz refresh rate, whereas the Pixel 4 runs at 90Hz, making for a much smoother viewing experience on the Pixel 4.
A key reason people decide to go with a Pixel smartphone is the software, both in terms of the phone not having any bloatware, but also in terms of knowing you will be getting regular software updates that come directly from Google.
Looking at the Pixel 4 vs the Pixel 4a, these phones are sitting in a pretty similar situation. Both phones are currently running Android 10, and both will get the Android 11 update later in the year. There is one difference that may come down the road, should you end up keeping your phone for several years.
The Pixel 4 was released in October 2019, and the Pixel 4a came out in August 2020. That means the Pixel 4 has a guaranteed update date of October 2022 and the Pixel 4a has a guaranteed update date of August 2023.
It’s time for a little background info on the Pixel software update timeline. Google previously stated that Pixel phones will “get Android version updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store.” Google also offered a set timeline for Android security updates, with Pixel phones set to get security updates for at least 3 years following release.
Future software updates are great — but it is important to buy a phone for what it can do at launch, rather than what it may be able to do with future software updates.
Price: Pixel 4a vs Pixel 4
Quite often, price is the ultimate deciding factor when it comes to purchasing a phone. The Pixel 4a falls into the mid-range (budget-friendly) category, while the Pixel 4 falls into the flagship category. In general, this means the Pixel 4 will be a more expensive phone. But when you consider a new (mid-range) vs newish (flagship) — you may actually find yourself paying about the same price.
- Pixel 4a: $349 (128GB)
- Pixel 4: $799 (64GB) and $899 (128GB)
When simply considering retail pricing, the Pixel 4a seems rather appealing. After all, it is less than half the price of the Pixel 4, making it pretty easy to overlook any feature omissions. But when you factor in the price for a newish Pixel 4 — it becomes clear that you shouldn’t have to settle for missing features.
Current Swappa pricing for a gently used Pixel 4 is much less than the retail price of the Pixel 4a.
Should you buy the Pixel 4a or Pixel 4?
As always, buying a phone is a personal decision. You should start by determining the features you need, and what matters most to you. It is also important to consider your budget, and whether you want to buy a new phone at retail price, or save money by shopping for a newish phone instead.
While features are important, there’s one last thing to consider. The Pixel 4 is available in different color and storage options. We suspect that many will opt for the 128GB Pixel 4, but you could be living entirely in the cloud and be happier saving money on the 64GB model. As for colors, the Pixel 4a is available in Just Black, while the Pixel 4 can be found in Just Black, Clearly White, or Oh So Orange.
Still not sure which Pixel is right for you? Head over to our Google Pixel Roundup 2021 to see how the most popular Pixel phones compare.