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Google Pixel 4a Review: Great Pocket-Friendly Pixel We Cannot Wholly Recommend
Google Pixel 4a is the most interesting smartphone I've reviewed this year. It's a tight slap on the face of every other smartphone, irrespective of the price segment, that boasts of its multi-lens camera setups, unimaginable big displays, and beastly specifications. The Pixel 4a keeps things simple and the best part, it doesn't cost a bomb. For the first time, Google has hit the sweet spot with the pricing. The Pixel 4a has an MRP of Rs. 31,999 but is currently available at a launch price of Rs. 29,999.
- Best-In-Class Android Experience
- Perfect Size For One-Hand Use
- Impressive Camera Performance For The Price
- 3.5mm Headphone Jack
- Swift Performer
- Poor Battery Life
- No 5G Connectivity
- Dated 60 Hz Display
- Body Feels Cheap
- Dated Corning Glass Protection
The mid-range price for the latest generation Pixel device makes the Pixel 4a an interesting deal for anyone looking for a no-fuss Android smartphone with a capable camera and stock Android experience. I used the device for a week to find out if the Pixel 4a's humble specs and pure Google experience makes it a better daily driver than handsets with multiple cameras and powerful innards. Here's what I found out.
Design- They Don’t Make Phones Like Pixel 4a Now
The Pixel 4a feels refreshing amongst the big and bulky smartphones we have become accustomed to. It has the perfect size and grip for an enjoyable one-hand user-experience that I am sure most users will find welcoming. The phone feels extremely lightweight and nimble; however, it also feels cheap due to average quality plastic construction. The Pixel 4a has a sleek polycarbonate unibody chassis, rounded corners, and a curved back that makes it fit snugly in your palm. The 5.8-inch screen is very approachable with one hand, something we all have almost forgotten with handsets flaunting screen sizes as tall as 6.7-inches.
And finally, the Pixel 4a ships with a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner in the days when even the budget phones are hard-pressed to offer an in-screen fingerprint scanner. The physical biometric scanner is snappy and very reliable.
Pixel 4a Gets Basics Right
The cute little Pixel 4a comes equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack making it perfect for users who still prefer listening to music via wired earphones/headphones. Additionally, the phone has a stereo speaker setup which produces clean and immersive audio. The sound output via dual speakers is better than most of the devices selling in the same price bracket. The back panel looks clean and minimal. The top-left corner has a square-shaped camera module housing just one mighty sensor aided by a flashlight.
Moving on, the Pixel 4a has a Type-C 3.1 charging port at the bottom and a power button along with volume rockers on the right side. The power button has the Pixel's signature white finish adding contrast to the all-black design. There's no microSD card support on the Pixels. Google has introduced the Pixel 4a in only ‘Just Black' color variant which is slightly disappointing as this little Pixel deserves some exciting bright colors. Also, the entry-level Pixel 4a isn't water-dust resistant.
Overall, the Pixel 4a brings one of the most exciting phone designs of the year which would please buyers who prefer friendly one-hand designs.
Display- 5.8-inch Full HD+ OLED Display
The Pixel 4a's smaller footprint is due to the reasonably sized display that serves just fine for all phone-related tasks. It's a 5.81-inch OLED panel with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a tiny punch hole at the top-left corner. The display is crisp and vivid, thanks to 2340 x 1080 pixels resolution (443ppi) and HDR support. However, videos do not feel immersive due to the smaller screen size. If you prefer watching movies and series on your smartphone, the Pixel 4a wouldn't be the best choice.
As far as display quality is concerned, this is one of the best OLED panels we have tested in the year 2020. The colors look vivid, contrast is top-notch (100,000:1) and deep blacks ensure impressive viewing angles. It's a pretty good screen to browse web pages, scroll your social media timeline, and watch videos occasionally on YouTube and streaming apps.
Pixel 4a Display lacks Higher Refresh Rate & Latest Gorilla Glass
The Pixel 4a lacks a higher refresh rate panel, which has become increasingly popular in the year 2020. The OLED screen runs at a traditional 60Hz refresh rate which feels a bit dated if you have spent some time with a 90/120Hz refresh rate panel. That said, if you are shifting from a higher refresh rate panel, you will feel the difference in the start but over time, you will appreciate the 60Hz OLED display on the Pixel 4a because it feels super responsive and fluid, thanks to impressive hardware-software optimization and subtle animations. I am using OnePlus Nord simultaneously, which has a 90H OLED screen, and honestly, it's tough to tell a difference between the panels with naked eyes. In short, good hardware-software optimization plays a major role in the end-user experience and Google has done a wonderful job here.
Also, Google has only offered the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection for the Pixel 4a's display. It should offer some degree of protection but falls back in terms of durability standards when compared to the latest Gorilla Glass panels.
There's no fancy camera setup at play here and everything is handled by a single lens, which means the Pixel 4a's camera hardware isn't quite feature-rich and might not please every shutterbug out there. The phone uses the same 12.2MP single-lens camera with f/1.7 aperture that's offered on the Pixel 4, the device that never made it to the Indian market. The OIS+EIS-enabled lens has a 1.4µm pixel size and supports autofocus with dual pixel phase detection. It has a pretty standard 77° field-of-view so you can forget about capturing wide landscape shots. Also, there's no macro lens, no telephoto, and also no dedicated depth-sensor. But what the Pixel 4a has is Google's computation photography algorithms that get the job done for almost every time you press the shutter button.
For videos, the Pixel 4a can record 4K @ 30fps videos, 1080p @ 30/60/120 fps videos and 720p videos @ 30/60/240 fps. As far as selfie camera is concerned, the phone has an 8MP front-facing shooter with 1.12 μm pixel size. It's a fixed focus lens with ƒ/2.0 aperture and 84° field-of-view. The selfie camera can shoot 1080p @ 30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps and 480p @ 30 fps videos.
Google Pixel 4a Camera Performance- Effortless Photography Experience
As expected, the Pixel 4a captures amazing pictures in daylight and does not fail to impress even when the light conditions aren't favorable. In fact, this 30K device even beats the mightiest flagship devices in low-light photography, thanks to Google's Astrophotography mode. The daylight pictures look crisp and show a good dynamic range. The sensor captures a wide range of tones as it gets the exposure right, most of the time. I am simply amazed by the fact that the mid-range phone's HDR capabilities are as impressive as Google's flagship Pixel devices giving you well-exposed shots even in complex light scenarios.
Google also does well with color science if not the best. The images and videos have slightly warmer tones but the overall results are pleasing to the eyes. The same also applies to the front camera which beats even some of the most widely popular selfie-centric smartphones in color science, skin texture, and overall picture/video quality.
No Depth Sensor Is No Problem
Despite lacking a dedicated depth sensor, the Pixel 4a captures stunning portraits. The software-induced bokeh is pleasing to the eyes and gives a realistic feel to pictures. It is tough to believe that this 30K phone creates a stunning background blur effect that's even better than high-end flagship phones with dedicated depth sensors. Moreover, the portrait mode also works very well with selfies and not just with images shot from the rear camera.
Night Sight And Astrophotography Mode
I took the Pixel 4a on hills for a spin to evaluate its low-light and night photography abilities. The shots you see above are captured via Pixel's ‘Astrophotography' mode. The four-minute long-exposure shot on Google's mid-range phone beats every night mode implementations on a smartphone in the market. Not even the mighty Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Vivo X50 Pro, and other flagships come close in terms of capturing details in poorly lit scenarios. If you have a tripod handy and a spot to capture the night sky or just random photogenic subjects without artificial light, the Pixel 4a can blow your mind. The noise control, detailing, and color science is top class. This is a phone to buy if you love capturing the night sky on a mobile device with very little effort.
How Good Is Video Recording?
The Pixel 4a captures well-exposed stable videos in daylight, thanks to the OIS+EIS-enabled 12MP sensor. The 4K 30fps videos show ample details and punchy colors. There are very few controls to play around with the video camera mode; however, the end results will please you with video quality which matters most while recording videos. The 1080 60fps and slow-motion videos also look impressive.
It is worth mentioning that the Pixel 4a also lacks a manual mode, just like its premium siblings and previous Pixel devices. Google only offers RAW photo mode to let you tweak image properties in post-processing. While the RAW mode is always preferred, I would love to see a manual mode to play around with Google's impressive camera hardware. It would give some much-needed control in hands to create a desire image output from the amazing mono camera setup.
Overall, the Pixel 4a is the best sub-35K camera smartphone in the market, despite some of its shortcomings. It can hand down beat some of the flagship smartphones in terms of image quality and camera user experience on a mobile device.
Hardware And Software Performance
The Pixel 4a doesn't deliver the most powerful processing and gaming performance but it comes close. It smoothly fares with all day-to-day phone related tasks and can even run some of the most demanding apps and games when required without any major performance issues. The Snapdragon 730G SoC with 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of storage ensures fluid performance throughout the day. The phone does heat up with intense usage and you can feel the heat signature at the back panel.
Despite lacking a higher refresh rate panel, the Pixel 4a feels buttery smooth, thanks to the highly optimized stock Android UI with no additional layer or bloatware at play. The Android 11 gestures and UI navigation are buttery smooth, in fact, smoother than the OnePlus Nord which has a faster chipset and higher refresh rate panel.
And while the user interface feels blazing fast, the stock Android 11 isn't free of bugs. The YouTube app's minimize/maximize shortcut button behaves abruptly or just stops working sometimes. Once you close the app from the background and restart it, then only it works as it should. Also, the video call window on Duo and WhatsApp freeze if you minimize it and try to use some other app in the background.
I also faced some issues with stock Google apps while testing the Pixel 4a. It seems a software update might be required to streamline the apps' performance on the latest Android flavor.
Moving on, the Pixel 4a isn't the ideal device for gaming and video consumption. The small display and poor battery life hamper the user experience. If you are an avid gamer and love to stream videos on a loop, the Pixel 4a isn't the device you should invest in.
Battery Life And Connectivity
The worst thing about the Pixel 4a is its poor battery life. The sleek and lightweight device cannot last one day even with moderate usage. The 3,100 mAh battery just couldn't withstand heavy loads and even moderate usage for full-day use. If you make a lot of calls, use social media throughout the day, and like to stream videos on your device, keep a charger or a power bank handy. You would need it halfway as this phone isn't built to last a heavy day of usage. The phone ships with a modest 18W power brick that takes around 1 hour 12 minutes to recharge the battery cell from flat to 100%.
Also, the Pixel 4a is a 4G only device and if you explore the market, you can get a 5G-ready smartphone at a lower price-point. The OnePlus Nord retails at Rs. 27,999 (and Rs. 29,999) and offers 5G connectivity, 90Hz refresh rate, and marginally better battery life.
The Pixel 4a is a great entry-level Google phone but we find it hard to recommend it to every smartphone user. It offers the much desired one-hand design, smooth and clean stock Android software, and best-in-class camera performance. The processing and multitasking performance is also satisfactory but the entire user experience is held back by a major shortcoming- poor battery life. If you don't mind carrying a power bank or a charger all day long, the Pixel 4a is a great sub-35K smartphone to buy in the year 2020, especially if you keep photography in your highest regards.