After the disappointing launch price of the Pixel 3a in India last year, and the decision to not launch the Pixel 4, there has been little reason to get excited about the new models launched this year. Google is not launching the Pixel 5 or the Pixel 4a 5G in India, at least not yet, but it has launched the Pixel 4a. The most affordable member of this year's Pixel series, the Pixel 4a is priced a lot more aggressively this time around in India, at Rs. 31,999.
This year, Google is keeping things simple. There's just one version of the Pixel 4a, so no XL option. It's also available in only one configuration, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and in only one colour – Just Black. I have spent a lot of time with it following my initial impressions a few weeks ago, and now it's time to see if Google has done enough this year to get people interested again.
Google Pixel 4a design
There's something very likeable about the Google Pixel 4a's design. It's not flashy or in-your-face; in fact it's the exact opposite and yet it looks attractive. Google has used a unibody polycarbonate shell with a soft-touch matte finish. It looks nice and doesn't attract fingerprints. The Pixel 4a is relatively slim at 8.2mm and really light, at just 143g. The overall compact dimensions of the body and the rounded edges make it a very comfortable phone to handle.
The volume and power buttons are placed on the right, and offer good tactile feedback. There's a headphone jack on the top, a tray for a single Nano-SIM on the left, and the speaker and USB Type-C port on the bottom. The Google Pixel 4a only accepts a single physical SIM, but it does support an additional eSIM.
The back has a capacitive fingerprint sensor, so there's no in-display sensor despite this phone having an OLED panel. This isn't a big deal, as the fingerprint sensor works very well and can be used to pull down the notification shade with a swipe gesture. However, there's no option for face recognition on the Pixel 4a.
The Pixel 4a has a simple design and yet looks good
Google has thankfully ditched the massive bezel of the previous generation for much narrower ones on the Pixel 4a. The borders are still a bit thick but they're more or less even all around the display. You get a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera. The display is a bit larger than that of the Pixel 3a, measuring 5.8 inches diagonally. It's an OLED panel with a full-HD+ resolution. It supports HDR10 playback and is made using Gorilla Glass 3 for scratch protection.
One feature that's missing compared to last year's model is the Active Edge sensors. On previous Pixel phones, you used to be able to activate Google Assistant by squeezing the pressure-sensitive side panels. On the other hand, Google has kept the Now Playing feature, which automatically recognises songs being played in the background and displays the title and artist on your lockscreen or always-on display.
In the retail box of the Google Pixel 4a, you'll find an 18W Type-C charger, a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, a Quick Switch adapter for importing data from an older phone, a SIM tool, and documentation. You don't get any case or headset.
Google Pixel 4a performance and battery life
The Google Pixel 4a uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G SoC, which is not the most powerful SoC you'll find in phones at this price, but is good enough. There's 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of storage, which again, are fairly adequate. The Pixel 4a supports 4G VoLTE, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5, NFC, and four satellite navigation systems. There's no wireless charging or IP rating, but you do get stereo speakers. The Pixel 4a also features Google's Titan M security hardware for biometric authentication and other security-related functions.
The Pixel 4a runs lean stock Android without any bloatware
For software, units in the market at the time of the India launch are running Android 10 out of the box, but a final Android 11 update is available. My review unit was already running Android 11 when I began using it. If you've used a Pixel smartphone before, you know what to expect. The interface is completely clean, with no bloatware and just the essential Google apps preinstalled. There's a Personal Safety app from Google which lets you set up emergency contacts, etc. There's a Pixel Tips app to help first-time Pixel users get acquainted with their smartphone.
Google has incorporated some basic gestures, which can be found in the Settings app. You can enable gestures to quickly access the camera, silence an incoming call, etc. Being a Pixel phone, Google offers a minimum of three years of OS and security updates.
The relatively powerful hardware combined with Google's lean software makes the usage experience wonderful. Unlocking the phone with the fingerprint sensor is quick, the interface is snappy, and the always-on display is great for peeking at the time or unread alerts. Google Assistant is speedy too, be it transcribing what you just said or fetching search results. The Pixel 4a unfortunately misses out on a higher refresh rate display, even 90Hz, which would have made the experience even better.
I found the display to be pretty good for watching content on. Colours are vivid, blacks are deep, and text is generally sharp. The screen gets very bright too but whites look a bit murky even at full brightness. This is especially noticeable when compared side by side with something like the OnePlus Nord, which is in the same price segment. HDR content looks good, whether played locally or through streaming apps. The stereo speakers sound good and get decently loud, although the bottom-firing one is a bit louder than the earpiece.
Gaming was also enjoyable. Everything from simple titles such as Mars: Mars, to heavier ones such as Call of Duty: Mobile ran smoothly. I didn't feel any heating issues either, other than the side of the frame getting a bit warm.
Apps and games run well on the Pixel 4a, with no real heating issues
The Google Pixel 4a has a 3,140mAh battery, which is a modest capacity by 2020 standards. Unsurprisingly, it didn't fare too well in our HD video battery loop test, running for a little more than twelve and a half hours. However, I am happy to report that with medium to light real-world usage, I was able to make the Pixel 4a last for one full day on a single charge. On days with lots of camera usage and video watching, it did drain a bit faster, so if you're expecting a phone that can last more than a day, you might be a little disappointed.
The Pixel 4a can fast-charge its battery with the bundled 18W adapter to about 52 percent in half an hour, and up to 88 percent in an hour. It took about 15-20 minutes more to reach full capacity. Since it uses the USB Power Delivery (PD) standard, you can use any Type-C PD charger to quickly charge the Pixel 4a.
Google Pixel 4a cameras
The Google Pixel 3a had an impressive set of cameras, not just for its segment, but in general. The Pixel 4a sticks to a single front and rear camera, with the same resolutions as their predecessors. The rear camera has a 12.2-megapixel sensor and an f/1.7 aperture, dual-pixel PDAF, and optical stabilisation. The front camera uses an 8-megapixel sensor and has an f/2.0 aperture. Sadly, there isn't a physical ultra-wide-angle rear camera like you get on the 5G variant of the Pixel 4a, and on most other phones at this price level now.
The Pixel 4a has just a single rear camera
However, Google hasn't skimped on camera features in software, which are mostly the same as what you'd get with the flagship Pixel 5. There's Night Sight, Top Shot, Super Res Zoom, Motion Autofocus, and Live HDR+. Frequent Faces is a feature, which when enabled, is said to recognise and recommend shots that are focused on specific faces that you capture often, when selecting a Top Shot or Motion Photo. When shooting stills, the Google Pixel 4a lets you tweak the exposure and shadows independently before taking a shot, and even shows you the effects of each adjustment in real-time in the viewfinder. For videos, you can manually adjust the exposure too, and tapping the viewfinder once will begin focus tracking.
The camera app has nearly all the shooting modes one would expect. There's no manual mode, but you can enable RAW capture through the Settings menu.
Landscape photos shot during the day looked stunning. The Google Pixel 4a managed to capture natural-looking colours and well-balanced exposures. Details were fairly good, but when magnified, I noticed a bit of noise, and finer textures and edges didn't have very good definition. Close-up shots had very good details, rich colours, and a pleasing background blur. In Portrait mode, I could digitally zoom in up to 4x. Portrait shots generally looked striking with good edge detection, details, and colours.
Google Pixel 4a camera sample (tap to see larger image)
Google Pixel 4a close-up camera sample (tap to see larger image)
Google Pixel 4a portrait camera sample (tap to see larger image)
The Pixel 4a did an equally good job with low-light photos. Even without Night Sight, images looked clean with minimal noise, colours were vivid, and details were well defined. Night Sight helps correct the exposure a bit, and in very dark scenes, it can make an impactful difference.
Pixel smartphones have thus far been very good for selfies, and that continues. Selfies shot in daylight pack in very good detail, and thanks to the wide field of view, you can get quite a bit of the background in the frame. Portrait mode works well for selfies too. In low light, Night Sight makes a big difference to the type of photos you can capture. When used in combination with the screen flash (which is more of a fill-light than a flash), the results are even better.
Google Pixel 4a Night Sight camera sample (tap tp see larger image)
Google Pixel 4a selfie camera sample (tap to see larger image)
The Google Pixel 4a can shoot up to 4K video at 30fps. During the day, I found the quality and stabilisation to be very good. Videos captured with the selfie camera are also electronically stabilised. Even in low light, video quality is pretty decent, with good exposure and a tolerable amount of shimmer when you walk.
I really wish Google had included an ultra-wide-angle camera, as that would have made the setup pretty much perfect. Even so, both cameras on the Pixel 4a deliver consistent and reliable results.
Verdict: Should you buy the Pixel 4a?
The Google Pixel 4a is being sold on Flipkart at a promotional price of Rs. 29,999, which is a bit lower than its official retail price of Rs. 31,999. I think it's a good buy at this price for anyone looking to capture good photos and video with their smartphone. Unlike last year's Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a isn't crippled too much in terms of processing power. It features a good SoC as well as enough RAM and storage to offer a decent gaming performance. Battery life might not be as good as what the competition achieves, but despite its small capacity, you should expect this phone to last nearly a full day on average.
The OnePlus Nord is a very tempting competitor to the Google Pixel 4a, and it manages to one-up this phone in almost all areas, on paper anyway. So which one should you buy? That's a discussion for another article, coming up very soon.