The Google Pixel 4a is a half-yearly ‘value’ update following on from the now sold out Pixel 4 and 4XL.
It also portends the release of a Pixel 4a 5G version and the new Pixel 5 in the coming months.
Now when I say ‘value’ version, it is not a stripped-to-the-bone Pixel 4. It is specified to meet the $599 price point and uses most of the Pixel design philosophy and knowhow. The result is yet another wonderful example of what pure Google Android can be.
So, don’t think you are missing anything buying the Google Pixel 4a – you are not! This review is after four very pleasurable weeks of use.
Should you wait for Google Pixel 4a 5G or 5 5G?
Not if all you want is 4G. Given our Telcos abysmal coverage and the cost penalty of 5G handsets the answer is no. Perhaps by 2023 when 5G costs no more than 4G!
The Google Pixel 4a 5G uses the Qualcomm SD765G Soc and a larger 6.2” display. The Google Pixel 5 will use the same processor (it normally would use the SD8XX series) and a larger 90Hz screen. There is no word on a Google Pixel 5XL.
Australian review – Google Pixel 4a 6/128GB eSIM and Nano-sim Modem G205N
From: JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, and Google store. Don’t buy from the grey market as the Australian model eSIM is registered on the Australian database.
Elevator Pitch: Google Pixel goodness wrapped in a snack sizes bite
Warranty: 2 years ACL
Country of manufacture: Vietnam
Google is part of Alphabet Inc – an American multi-national BIG TECH company. You can read more on Google as part of our ‘Can you Trust?’ series.
Rather than a very long and involved review, we will publish the test results and use FAIL, PASS or EXCEED against test parameters. To be clear PASS is all we expect from any device for the price.
Google Pixel 4a base spec – EXCEED
5.81” 1080p OLED
Qualcomm SD730 (same as Samsung A71 and about 20 other mid-range phones)
6/128GB – no microSD but USB-C 3.1. Gen 1 OTG
3140mAh battery and 18W charger
12MP rear and 8MP selfie
Wi-Fi 5, BT 5, NFC
You may be a little concerned that this only has a single rear camera and no memory expansion. It is part of Google’s design, and neither affects its rankings.
Screen – PASS+
5.81” 2340×1080, 443ppi, 19.5:9 OLED Left side O-hole selfie 60Hz panel (Samsung supplied)
Brightness: Max 650 nits on auto-adaptive but typically 400/500nits Contrast: Infinity ∞:1 Adaptive (95% DCI-P3), Natural (105% sRGB) and Boosted (over saturated sRGB) Delta E between 2-3 (below 4 is good) HDR 16 million colours
Widevine L1 HDCP 2.3 for YouTube HD streaming Daylight readability: Despite very high brightness levels, its reflective Gorilla Glass 3 front makes it less readable. AOD display Good haptic feedback
Screen summary: At $599, it is terrific, but that does not compensate for the lower daylight readability. In part, that has to do with the default Eclipse Come Alive wallpaper, and you can get better readability by changing it to a lighter wallpaper.
Nor the perception that a 5.8” screen is so small after the 6.5” plus models of today. I found the fonts and icon sizes a little small, but at least you can enlarge these.
And we experienced some random auto-brightness fluctuations that really need a firmware fix.
Processor – PASS+
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G 8nm 2×2.2GHz and 6×1.8GHz Titan M Security Module Geekbench 5 single/multi-core: 552/1651 (similar to 2018 SD845)
Adreno 618 Decodes HEVC, VP9, AVC HRD support (downmixes HDR10/+ but does not upscale SDR to HDR) Supports Qualcomm Elite Gaming features, but it won’t achieve the frame rates that pro gamers expect. GeekBench 5 Compute scale (Vulcan) 1008
Memory and Storage
6 GB LPDDR4x 128 GB UFS 2.1 (105GB free) No micro-SD It has USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) and OTG support for up to 2TB external drives. It should also support ALT DP video
The SD730 is quite a good SoC with reasonable levels of AI – so much so that Google did not need to include a separate chip. It has responsive performance, although it can chug when post-processing photos.
In the 15-minute CPU Throttling test, it starts at 150,454GIPS and averages 135,107 – a 15% throttle. That shows good thermal design.
The lack of a microSD is really not an issue with high capacity OTG Flash drives and up to 2TB external SSD. The 5Gbps transfer rate means it could back up 128GB in under 4 minutes.
COMMS – PASS+
Wi-Fi 5 AC dual-band, 2×2 MIMO Signal Strength -31dDm/866Mbps at 2m from ASUS AX1000 router (good)
It has a good set of Comms and sensors – not usually all found at this price
LTE – PASS+
eSIM and single Nano-SIM Must activate eSIM in Australia first to use OS Single ring tone Signal Strength 3-Bar zone -103dBm (OK but not for regional use) but it does find the next nearest tower at -108dBm – good.
X15 modem 600/75Mbps (in theory). Test: 47/40Mbps.
Lack of dual sim ring tones can be a deal-breaker. The eSIM is for voice/data, but the nano-sim can be either. Dual Sim standby – only one can be active at the same time.
Otherwise, it’s a great global 4G phone.
Sound – PASSable
Yes – top
Earpiece and bottom-firing speaker – wrongly called stereo Dual CS35L41 Cirrus Logic amp/DSP at 5W, 1% THD that should be capable of better volume and frequency response than it delivers. This is a firmware issue that could be fixed.
Two with noise suppression (does not work in windy conditions)
Media – 73.7dBCall (in earpiece) – 60dB Ring – 75dB Alarm – 72dB Music max – 75.8dB Handsfree – 71dB
I hate it when manufacturers call a disparate earpiece speaker and a down-firing speaker ‘stereo’. It is not.
The sound stage skews badly towards the bottom speaker, and it is no wider than the phone. At max volume it is unpleasant, but you really need max to get anything out of it. Frequency response is strongly clipped.
Handsfree is fine with little distortion, but we question the efficacy of the dual mic sound reduction.
The cabled buds were surprisingly good with a mid-focus for clear voice. BT on our reference Sony WH-1000xM4 headphones with the LDAC codec (well all codecs) was perfect.
Sound signature – Barely PASS
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – nil
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – nil
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – some vague hints
Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat
High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
Treble:4-6kHz – flat – flat
High Treble: 6-10kHz – slight dip to avoid harshness but does not work
Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – flat to 15kHz then drops off a cliff
You can read more about sound signatures here but this a bright vocal sound signature (bass recessed, mid/treble boosted). It is better for vocal and string instruments but makes them harsh.
There is no EQ for speaker adjustment, and that is something Google needs to include in Android.
Battery – PASS+
5V/3A and 9V/2A (18W) USB-PD 2.0 compatible
Battery Drainer 100% screen on load: 8.5 hours GFX Bench T-Rex: 317.3 (5.29 hours) minutes and 3327 frames 150 nits Wi-Fi and web surfing: 9.5 hours Video loop 150nits aeroplane mode: 19 hours Battery drain at idle – approx. 100mA or approx 20+ days to discharge PC Mark – 12.25 hours Charge 0-100% – 2 hours Charge 0-30% – 30 minutes
Battery Summary: It is an 18-24-hour charge device.
Build – PASS+
144 x 69.4 x 8.2 (mm) x 143 g
Gorilla Glass 3 front – not as drop proof as later versions Polycarbonate wrap around plastic Unibody
Just (boring) Black – a matte finish
Glass slab – lacks the rear highlight panel of the Pixel 4
18W power adapter 1m USB-C to USB-C Cable (USB 2.0 cable – if you need USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 you must buy a rated cable) 3.5mm buds USB-A to USB-C ‘switch’ adapter Missing – bumper case
I appreciate the elegant simplicity of the design and build, but it is not as flashy as the competition.
Android – it is Google silly – EXCEED
Minimum 3 years of OS and security updates
Google Assistant, Google Lens and G-suite
Perhaps the phones strongest point is the pure Android and three years version and security updates. But there is a lot more to Android.
First, there is no ‘Active-edge’ in this model, and I say good riddance. Active Edge was a pain when using a tripod and unintentionally triggering apps.
So now it is about Android 10 Gesture Navigation. This is a little different to Android 9 with an app draw and home, back buttons. It takes a little getting used to, but you can swap back if you need to.
Google Assistant if voice matched will respond without a button press, or you can swipe up from the bottom left or right. It is now contextually responsive and will know your location.
There is also more on-device AI. I like the Live Caption that automatically captions speech in audio or video, podcasts, and audio messages. It now works for phone calls and Duo calls. There is also a recorder that brings search to recordings.
Camera – PASS+
12.2 MP, f/1.7, 1.4μm, 65.6° FOV Sony IMX363 Dual pixel phase detection (PDAF) OIS and EIS HDR+ takes a bracket of shots and combines them Single LED flash Max 4K@30fps no EIS
8 MP, f/2.0, 1.12μm, 72.4° FOV Sony IMX355 Fixed focus Max 1080p@30fps
Now Google is a stickler for showing what a single (and dual) camera can do with ‘computational’ photography. That means it uses AI and the Qualcomm processor to produce the shot. It can often be different from what you see in the ‘view-finder’. The question is really how does it stack up now against 48/64/108MP binned cameras with ultra-wide and wide-angle sensors and ToF? We think pretty well!
The sensor is the same as the Pixel 3a/XL, 4/XL and as used in the LG V40/50 ThinQ, Nokia 8.1 so it is no slouch. Large 1.4um pixels and a very fast f/1.7 aperture make this a great all arounder.
Add to that Super Res Zoom (digitally cleaned zoom) and Live HDR+ as well as astrography and it’s a pretty good camera.
The selfie camera is a carry-over from the Pixel 3/XL, and frankly, it was a poor performer in low light.
GadgetGuy’s take – the Google Pixel 4a is a back to basics class leader
At $599 there is not a lot within $100 either way that I would buy. Maybe the OPPO A91 ($499 4.9/5) or Samsung A51 ($529) but both are sufficiently different to give the Pixel 4a the edge.
And it is pure Android – so we won’t even mention that fruit flavoured SE operating system.
It is refreshing to see a smaller, light 143g handset for those that don’t want big (my daily drive is a Note20 Ultra).