Google Pixel 4a Unboxing – Review: $349 for the basics

PIXEL 4A HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE

The word I use most often to describe Pixel hardware is “unassuming.” It’s basic: no frills, no fanciness, just an easy-to-hold phone without any embellishments. It’s a little boring, but at least it isn’t tacky.

The Pixel 4A has a one-size-fits-all 5.8-inch display. Google is using a hole-punch for the first time, which allows the screen to go closer to the edges. The bezels are still bigger than what you’ll get on a flagship, but they’re smaller than many phones at this price point.

It’s an OLED screen, which used to be a rarity at this price range. As OLED screens go, it’s not able to stand up to the screens on phones that cost more. There’s some red shift in the dark, significant drop-off when viewed at an angle, and it barely manages to get bright enough to stand up to direct sunlight. It’s also covered by Gorilla Glass 3, which is four generations old at this point.

But remember that reminder: for $350, this 1080p screen is more than acceptable. If you aren’t the sort of person who immediately knows pixel density and high-refresh rates when you see them, you’ll probably be fine with it. I didn’t have any major problems.

The body itself is plastic with the fingerprint sensor on the back. It feels sturdy enough, but the lack of wireless charging is a little bit frustrating. However, Google kept the 3.5mm headphone jack, and I’m happy to see it as always. I’m also glad to see stereo speakers, something that’s often cut at this price point. You can’t squeeze the phone for Google Assistant, but you can swipe in from the bottom corners or say “Hey Google.”

You can get any color you want as long as it’s black. Google uses cutesy names for its paint colors, and the “just black” branding here is right on the money. The power button is a nice seafoam green, though.

Google’s version of Android is as unassuming as the Pixel’s hardware. It lacks a lot of fancy features, but it makes up for that by being simple and easy to understand.

There are a few “Pixel-first” features, the kind of things that should make their way to other Android phones eventually. The best among those is probably the safety features like car crash detection, but the most useful day-to-day is the ability to get speech-to-text in phone calls.

When you turn it on, the caller on the other end hears a message that their words are going to be transcribed. Then it works just like Android’s closed captioning, showing you the words being spoken on the call in nearly real time with surprisingly great accuracy. It all happens locally on the phone, and transcriptions are not saved.

 

PIXEL 4A SPECS

TheThe specs are a good news / worrisome news kind situation. The good news is that Google has put in enough RAM (6GB) to run Android well and put in enough storage (128GB) to accommodate most users without hassle or annoyance. That 128GB of storage is especially notable because it’s double what the base iPhone SE offers — meaning an equivalent iPhone SE with 128GB of storage is $100 more than the Pixel 4A.

That all seems great, but the iPhone SE has a ridiculous advantage over the Pixel: its processor. Where Apple can use its economies of scale to put the fastest mobile processor ever made into its low-cost iPhone SE, Google has to make do with the options Qualcomm offers at this price point. That means the Pixel 4A uses the midtier Snapdragon 730G, which is the worrisome news.

It is fast enough for day-to-day use. Out of the box (and after Android gets over the usual first-day sync chug), it’s the kind of phone I would be happy to use every day. It takes a beat longer to open apps, and there’s some wonky scrolling in Chrome and Twitter, but it’s not slow.

What I worry more about is longevity. Android phones have a reputation for not lasting as many years as iPhones — and the processor is a big part of that. There’s just not as much headroom for future software complexity here. Google promises at least three years of software updates and says last year’s Pixel 3A (which also has a lower-tier processor) is aging well, but it’s something to think about. I would say if you want a phone that’s sure to last four or more years, look elsewhere.

But to me, the most important spec is probably battery life. Here, I think Google has recovered from the awful decisions it made with the Pixel 4. The 4A has a 3,140mAh battery, which is larger than the one on the smaller Pixel 4. Combine that larger battery with that more power-efficient Snapdragon 730G processor, and you end up with acceptable battery life.

A little more than a week in, I am averaging around four and a half hours of screentime, lasting through an entire day with no sweat. There was a day when I saw significantly worse performance and was concerned — until I realized that I had been actively providing mobile hotspot Wi-Fi to the other devices on very weak Verizon service all day long. So it’s not a battery champ, but it’s good enough for me.

 

GOOGLE PIXEL 4A SPECS

  • Display: 5.81-inch 1080 x 2340 OLED, 443 ppi with hole punch camera
  • Dimensions & weight: 5.7 x 2.7 0.3 inches; 144 grams
  • Battery: 3,140mAh
  • RAM and storage: 6GB; 128GB
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
  • Rear camera: 12.2-megapixel, 1.4 μm pixel width, dual pixel phase detection autofocus, OIS and EIS, f/1.7 equivalent aperture, 77-degree field of view
  • Video: 1080p at 30, 60, or 120fps; 720p at 30, 60, or 240fps; 4K a 30fps
  • Front camera: 8-megapixel, 1.12 μm pixel width, ƒ/2.0 equivalent aperture, 84-degree field of view
  • Other: Stereo speakers, headphone jack, USB-C, no wireless charging
  • Supports 4G but not 5G
  • Includes 18W USB power adapter and cable in box, no headphones in box
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