Due to the nature of my job, I was in contact with all sorts of smartphones over the years. For years now, those phones were mostly large. Compact Android smartphones were released very rarely, at least those that I would consider using on a daily basis. Well, that changed with the Google Pixel 4a, kind of. I decided to replace my OnePlus 8 with the Google Pixel 4a, and the main reason for that is the size. The Pixel 4a actually made me realize that large phones are a burden, at least in my particular case.
I loved, and still love, the OnePlus 8. It’s smaller and lighter than the OnePlus 8 Pro, and it’s a great phone all around. I had very little complaints when it comes to that device, but I was simply tired of large phones, and wanted to use something smaller. I didn’t have particularly high expectations when it comes to the Pixel 4a, but the device managed to surprise me. I’ve been using it for a while now, for weeks, as my daily driver, and I’m not really aching to get back to a flagship-grade phone.
I was skeptical because of its specs, but I was wrong
The main reason why I was skeptical when it comes to the Pixel 4a were its specs. I knew I won’t mind the design or its size, but was worried about the specs. I’m used to using an extremely powerful and fluid smartphone, as I hate hiccups and lagging on smartphones. Well, after weeks of usage, the Google Pixel 4a managed to convince me you don’t need a flagship-grade SoC, or top of the line specs, to enjoy a really good performance. The device hasn’t properly lagged on me, not even once. I did notice a couple of tiny hiccups, but those occurred very rarely.
Just to be clear, I’m not a gamer, but I am a heavy user in every other way. I’ve been pushing this phone hard with tons of apps, multitasking, image processing, video processing, lots of multimedia content, and have also taken a ton of pictures. I also use it quite frequently as a mobile hotspot, and a lot of other things. The phone managed to handle all that like a champ. Other than the performance, I was also worried about two other things, battery life, and whether I’ll miss a larger display. I’ll leave the display / size talk for the end.
The battery life is… well, good enough
So, battery life. Is it amazing? No, it is not. Is it good? Yes, it is. I was able to get 6 hours of screen-on-time out of the Pixel 4a constantly. My days usually run from 7 AM to 1-2 AM the other day. In that time span, I was able to get around 6 hours constantly, with a 5-10-percent charge left. On some days, I needed more power, so I had to charge the device at one point. Unfortunately, it charges at only 18W, so it was a considerable difference compared to Warp Charge OnePlus offers. It’s a big difference compared to 30W charging, let alone 65W one from the OnePlus 8T. Still, that didn’t bother me as much, as I had to charge it before the day was over on a couple of occasions only.
Okay, so what about the size? Well, I’m used to phones with 6.5-inch+ displays. The vast majority of phones I’ve tested over the last couple of years had huge displays. So I was kind of worried about using a 5.8-inch display, despite the fact I knew I prefer a smaller footprint. Well, the display did seem small in comparison to a 6.5-inch panel on the OnePlus 8 (my daily driver between reviews) at first, but after a day or two, it was more than large enough. A 5.8-inch display is not small, but it is small compared to today’s standard. That’s something worth noting, definitely.
After using the Pixel 4a for a couple of weeks, I fired up several considerably larger phones, and felt like I was using tablets. After using this thing for a while, I’d find it hard to switch back to “brick” phones, at least for longer periods of time. If something needs reviewing, of course, I’ll have to, but other than that, I think I’ll stick to smaller form factors. The Pixel 4a fits great in the hand, it’s just the perfect size for one-hand usage, while keeping that display large enough. My hands are above average in terms of size, by the way, but they’re not large.
It’s perfect for one-hand usage
The main reason why I wanted a really good “small” phone is for that reason, one-hand usage. I use my phone with one hand 80-percent of the time, at least. So doing that with larger devices never felt right. I always had to perform some sort of hand gymnastics in order to do it, and the heft of such phones didn’t really help the matter. My pinky finger was often crying out for something lighter, and with the Pixel 4a, the usage simply feels right. I would love it if that plastic wasn’t as slippery as it is, but that’s just nitpicking. I do plan to get a really thin case for it anyway, so that problem will be solved.
Reactions to the Google Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 were mixed, to say the least. Not only due to their size, but because even the Google Pixel 5, the most powerful devices Google announced, comes with a mid-range chip. Well, I think that Google did the right thing. Both of those devices feel like Nexus phones, more than like Pixel phones, and I love that. I always thought Google made a mistake by killing off the Nexus brand, and moving to more premium devices. The Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 are refreshing. They’re the perfect size, work great, and yet they’re both considerably more affordable than mainstream flagship smartphones.
That camera… that sweet, sweet camera
Many people are opting for the Pixel devices for their camera performance. The Google Pixel 4a is not an exception to that rule. One of the reasons why I decided to pull the trigger is its camera performance. The Pixel 4a has a single camera on the back, but it's the same camera that the Pixel 5 is rockin' as its main shooter. Pixel phones are well-know for shooting great photos, including the Pixel 4a.
That camera sensor may be aging, but Google's algorithms are doing great things with it. Images taken from the Pixel 4a look great, to say the least. They're quite detailed, and extremely well-balanced. The dynamic range is especially good, and the same goes for low light photography. Even when there's little to no light in the scene, the Pixel 4a can surprise you thanks to the Night Sight mode. This is a really good camera overall, and excellent for taking pictures.
Getting the Pixel 4a over the Pixel 5 may not be a bad idea
The Google Pixel 4a price is far easier to justify than the Pixel 5’s, and most people really don’t need the extras the Pixel 5 offers. Those are nice to have, the nicer design, wireless charging, ultra-wide camera, battery life benefits, and more powerful SoC… to name the most important ones. Still, most people don’t need those. To be quite honest, I was considering getting the Pixel 5 instead of the Pixel 4a, for all the listed reasons, pretty much.
I was put off by those display gap issues that surfaced, and I’m kind of glad I did. The Google Pixel 4a offers a lot for the price, and it saved me some cash along the way. I can easily recommend this device to pretty much anyone, as long as you don’t need a large device. There’s always the Pixel 4a 5G if you want something a bit larger, with a 6.2-inch display.
It is also worth noting that the phone’s stereo speakers are actually good enough. They’re better than what the Pixel 5 offers, and having the price tag in mind, I really have no complaints. The display is good enough as well, and Google’s animations are helping cover up the fact it’s a 60Hz panel. The camera is excellent, and you’ll get basically the same results as on the Pixel 5 (with the main sensor).
For those of you who need a 3.5mm headphone jack, even that is included, and was refreshing to see, to say the least. All in all, this is an excellent smartphone, especially considering its price tag. Not only did it not make me want to get back to a high-end phone, but it also made me fall in love with “small” smartphones once again. I don’t plan on going back anytime soon, and I would love to see more such devices hit the market in the future. That goes for both budget ones, and high-end ones.