Google has been floundering as of late, when it comes to its smartphones. It hasn't really released a "good" Pixel since the Pixel 2. But the Pixel 4a is the best Pixel Google has ever released.
Yes, I know that might not be a popular take, but I stand behind it.
With the Pixel 4a, Google went back to basics. Which might sound familiar, as that is what OnePlus also did with the Nord. But for Google, that meant ditching several SKUs of the Pixel 4a, and sticking with one single SKU. That's why there is only one storage variant and one color available. It also meant giving exactly what consumers need, and nothing more. Google ditched some of the other "gimmicks" that we've seen on Pixel phones. Like the squeeze for Assistant feature.
Then the final piece was the price, $349 undercuts its most popular competitor – the iPhone SE (2020).
Google nailed the hardware
In order for the Pixel 4a to be the best, it doesn't need to have the latest and greatest specs. It just doesn't.
This is because Google is so good at optimizing software and making what little hardware it has, feel super speedy and fast. The Snapdragon 730G that is inside the Pixel 4a is pretty snappy. Don't let people tell you that the Snapdragon 700 series is crap, because it's not true.
The Pixel 4a is super speedy, and Google even put 128GB of storage inside this one, which is pretty incredible, when you consider the fact that the Pixel 4 comes with 64GB in the base model.
Then there's the actual build of the phone. Yes, it's plastic. But to be honest, I don't even care. Plastic doesn't shatter like glass, it also makes the phone feel lighter. On top of that, it doesn't hold fingerprints as much as a glass-backed phone, like the Pixel 4. Which is all great things for the Pixel 4a.
Oh, and there's a freaking headphone jack.
The battery actually lasts the whole day now
Google has thought for years that it could get away with a smaller battery in its Pixel smartphones, because it optimizes the battery life with software. Well, software can only do so much. Google has finally, sort of realized that, we think (and hope).
With the Pixel 4a, it added a 3140mAh capacity battery. Now that's not large at all, but it is bigger than the 2800mAh capacity battery in the Pixel 4 that is just a tiny bit smaller (physically) than the Pixel 4a.
Pair that larger battery with the fact that this is a 60Hz display and not 90Hz, and the Snapdragon 730G inside, and you're getting some impressive battery life.
I've been getting about five hours of on screen time every single day with the Pixel 4a. And once I'm done working for the day, I still have about 80% charge left. With the Pixel 4, I'd be lucky to be over 50%.
We're not saying the battery life here is amazing, or the best we've seen. But for a Pixel, it's very decent and will get you through the day. We are hoping that Google has learned to put in a larger battery and that we might see a bigger one in the new 5G Pixels coming this fall.
Features don't go over the top
There's so many Android smartphones out there, OEMs routinely have to find ways to make their phone stand out from the many, many competitors out there. One way to do this is by adding "useful" features.
But those "useful" features are usually not very useful. And a lot of them get turned off as soon as the phone is taken out of the box. LG is pretty notorious for this. Giving users features they don't want, or didn't ask for.
Google does this a little bit, not to the same extent as some companies, but there are few gimmicks on the Pixel. Like the Motion Sense on the Pixel 4, and Face Unlock, as well as the Active Edge (squeeze for Assistant). Google removed all of these on the Pixel 4a. Only giving users the needed features.
The Pixel 4a did keep some of the useful camera features like Top Shot, Night Mode and Astrophotography though. And that's largely because they don't need extra hardware. Unlike the features named above, which do.
The Pixel 4a is the best Pixel yet, because it keeps things simple. And in an ever-changing world, that is just what the doctor asked for.
In other words, the Pixel went on a diet for the 4a, and removed a lot of the fat. That also gives you more storage, which no one is going to complain about.
No 5G, and that's a good thing
Sadly, the Pixel 4a is likely going to be the only phone released this year that doesn't support 5G.
That's because the carriers want all of the phones it carries to have 5G support. But 5G isn't ready. And won't be for at least another year.
So with the Pixel 4a, you're getting a 2020 smartphone without one key 2020 feature. Which is 5G. That helps keep the price down, and you're not paying for something that you're likely never going to get to use. Though that does mean the Pixel 4a isn't going to be very future proof, it will still be good to keep for a few years.
Currently, in the US, 5G is pretty tough to find. Verizon is using mmWave for 5G right now, which is almost non-existent for most of the country. Then you have T-Mobile which is using low-band 5G first, and the speeds are really not much faster than 4G LTE. So there's no real point in getting a phone with 5G right now.
It doesn't get better than this at $350
At a price of just $350, the Pixel can't get any better.
Of course spec heads are going to wish it had the Snapdragon 865 and 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. But you won't get that for $350. Not even OnePlus was able to do that for €400 – though it did get close with the Nord.
But the Snapdragon 730G is plenty fast. It ticks all of the boxes when it comes to performance and can even play some graphic-heavy games like Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG Mobile without any real issues.
On top of that, you're getting the incredible Pixel camera for this price, which is really incredible. Oh and we can't forget, your phone is actually going to get updated. That's not something you can say about other phones in this price range.
The Pixel 4a is the best Pixel Google has ever made. And we have high hopes for the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5. Google, please don't let us down.
And in a world where smartphones are increasingly blowing past that $999 mark, getting a truly great smartphone for about a third of that price is definitely needed. While the Pixel 4a might be Google's way of growing market share, it's a good way to do it.