Google has taken a slightly different approach to its Pixel phone hardware this year, rather than the traditional Pixel line in standard and XL sizes, and a Pixel “a” line in standard and XL they have released three variants.

The Pixel 4a, the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5. While it could be argued that the Pixel 4a 5G is just the XL variant of this years “a” line, the not insignificant change in internal specs makes that argument not hold water.

So if the Pixel 4a 5G isn’t quite a larger Pixel 4a, but isn’t branded as a Pixel 5 how do we review it? We’ve decided to take Google’s branding strategy as the basis of our review. According to Google, this is the 5G enabled and improved version of the Pixel 4a.

Having already reviewed the Pixel 4a, we know what it offers, where it’s value lies and what the trades-offs were for a $599 device? So what does $200 extra get you? Is the Pixel 4a 5G worth that extra few dollars? Read on to find out.

WHAT’S INSIDE?

The big feature of the Pixel 4a 5G is the size, this is the ‘large’ Pixel for 2020 measuring in with a 6.24-inch display compared to the 5.7-inch of the Pixel 4a and even the 6.0-inch of the Pixel 5. For those who favour larger devices, this is your only choice for 2020 from Google.

For me, the Pixel 4a 5G is just about the perfect size, while I got used to the size of the Pixel 4a, when I switched to the 4a 5G I immediately felt I was home.

Of course, the other headline feature is bringing 5G to the Pixel “a” line of devices. While the need for 5G right now is arguable, for devices that we hope live for years into the future compatibility with emerging technology is never a bad thing.

Compared to the Pixel 4a, the 5G also includes an upgraded Snapdragon 765G SOC, a second ultra-wide-angle camera, larger 3885 mAh battery and launched with Android 11. Those changes are actually significant, and it could be argued put the 4a 5G considerably ahead of the 4a from a technology perspective, almost to the point of being its own line of devices.

Check out the full specs below.

Pixel 4a
Display 6.24 – inch FHD+ (2340 x 1080) OLED 413 ppi
SOC Snapdragon 765G
1 x 2.4 GHz + 1 x 2.2 GHz + 6 x 1.8 GHz
RAM 6GB
Internal Storage 128 GB
SD Card No
Rear Camera 12.2 MP, f/1.7
16 MP Ultra-wide, f/2.2
Front Camera 8MP, f/2.0
Battery 3885 mAh
Charging 18W fast charging via USB-C
Fingprint Sensor Rear mounted
Speakers Stereo
Headphone jack yes – Top
NFC Yes
Wireless Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
GPS GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, Bei Dou
Colour Just Black
Android 11
Dimensions 153.9 x 74 x 8.2 mm
Weight 143 g

The Pixel 4a 5G shares the same design language as the Pixel 4a, with the same polycarbonate exterior, rear fingerprint sensor, hole-punch display and a very Pixel look and feel. From the outside, you’d be excused for thinking these were the same device in different sizes.

I personally like the simple styling of the Pixel and have no issues with the polycarbonate construction. Considering all of my devices end up in a case, I’m less precious about what my device is made of these days, and the polycarbonate is lighter than metal and less prone to damage than glass.

While Google has done away with the fancy power buttons this year, again I slap a case on my devices so I never saw them anyway. If you get a first-party Google case you’ll get a bit of colour on your power and volume buttons to satisfy that need.

Overall the Pixel 4a 5G is a well put together device, while it’s not made of ceramic reinforced carbon fibre, that doesn’t detract from actually using the device. If one of the trade-offs for less expensive devices is lighter polycarbonate construction, I’m ready to make the deal.

WHAT’S IT GOOD AT?

This is a Pixel, a few years ago that meant it was a stock device with a reliable camera, but Google has slowly been pushing their software and feature offerings on the Pixel devices. While much of the special software on the Pixel 4a 5G will roll out to some older devices it’s here on the 4a 5G now.

The Pixel 4a was no slouch in the overall performance category, and as such, you’d expect the 4a 5G running the updated Snapdragon 765G SOC to perform just as well, and it does. It’s hard to say how much better the 4a 5G may perform when we had no performance issues with the original Pixel 4a.

Suffice to say, if the Pixel 4a gave you a little headroom, then the 4a 5G should give you a lot more. Even though you can’t feel the difference, because the 4a was already buttery smooth, there is definitely an advantage to having a newer, more powerful SOC. Hopefully the updated chip will buy a little more longevity for the 4a 5G.

Paired with the same 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, the Pixel 4a line sets a strong bar what an upper mid-tier device should include. If I didn’t need anything more with the Pixel 4a, I’m certain I don’t need more power than the Pixel 4a 5G offers.

Cameras

Yes, that’s right, cameras. Google has brought two cameras to the Pixel 4a 5G, and right out of the gate this feature alone would likely see me drop $200 extra to get the 5G variant over the standard 4a.

The camera in the original 4a was the same competent, computational photography enhanced Pixel camera experience we’ve come to expect. That’s not to diminish it — many still argue Pixel sets the benchmark for smartphone photography.

However as we outlined with the 4a, one compromise you were making to get a $599 device was not getting additional cameras. No matter how good your algorithms are, nothing beats a dedicated lens.

The inclusion of an ultra-wide-angle lens takes the 4a 5G from good to great. I frequently find that I want to grab a wider image, and can’t always get further away from the subject.

If the Pixel set the bar for single-lens photography, they have moved that bar to finally include wide-angled images as well. We also found that the SuperRes zoom computation images were also improved, we suggest that Google is taking advantage of that second sensor to enhance their AI-powered zooming.

As far as wide-angle photos go, I’m completely happy, I can now grab the wider frame with one simple tap and the images are just as reliable as I’ve come to expect from Pixel. As for the zoom, it feels better than on the original, but I still think Google needs to start offering a dedicated 3rd zoom lens as well.

OF course, there is an argument about the $799 price point and including a 3rd lens. Perhaps the Pixel 5 should have included the 3rd lens, that would have made the extra $200 upgrade to the Pixel 5 a more compelling upgrade.

Don’t get me wrong, the Pixel 4a 5G takes excellent photos, and competes shoulder to shoulder with the top of the line devices. For the point and shoot photographer, there’s very little more you would want, for the pro, is a smartphone really what you’re after anyway?

G G G G G

I’m not sure if this is two and a half race horses or the next evolution of cellular technology, but the Pixel 4a 5G has all of the G’s, sort of. Some people will go crazy if we don’t mention that the Pixel 4a 5G in Australia does not include a millimetre wave 5G radio.

Right now zero Australian telcos have licences for mmWave spectrum. The auctions for that spectrum are scheduled for the beginning of 2021. This means deployment will be even longer away — limited rollout late 2021 if you’re lucky.

While it would be nice to see both the sub-6 frequencies and mmWave included, Google said simply that this was a price point decision, and not including it brought the device in on target price. We’re sure that will change over the years, and we do prefer devices to last longer, however at this end of the 5G market it’s not a significant trade-off.

As for 5G performance today? I drove to the newest tower I was aware of in my area, I had seen Telstra complete it only in the past two weeks. I parked within line of sight and about 500m away.

As you can see, it’s certainly fast, there’s no denying that, and perhaps if I was trying to cram all of the Netflix onto a device before boarding a plane (remember planes?) I may just be grateful for that speed.

So there’s no doubt the device is 5G, and 5G is starting to roll out, I’m just personally needing to be convinced exactly what the ‘killer’ use case will be. That said I’ll never say no to faster bits, I’m just not sure I would pay extra to get it, for either the device or the connection.

Everything else

When comparing the Pixel 4a 5G to the Pixel 4a, everything else is the same. The same great software. The same excellent battery life, in fact even better thanks to the larger battery. The same Pixel software exclusives.

The same guaranteed updates, in fact, three months better, and the device launched 3 months later. This means that the Pixel 4a 5G will receive support as per the below.

Phone No guaranteed Android version updates after No guaranteed security updates after No guaranteed telephone or online support after
Pixel 4a 5G November 2023 November 2023 November 2023

When compared to the Pixel 4a, the 4a 5G is just better in a few ways. Otherwise, it’s a very similar feel, I bet if I used the Pixel 5, I would feel the same.

WHAT’S ARE THE COMPROMISES?

It’s always hard to say what a compromise is, are you comparing something to the theoretical ‘best in the market’. Or are you indexing to what is needed to ‘get the job done’? Perhaps it’s a compromise to what a buyer is looking for?

Just those limited three scenarios all paint a very different picture. For me, it’s about what am I not getting that I could easily get elsewhere, or something I want. The issue is that’s different for all of us.

For me the loss of a headphone jack would be a compromise, that’s one of the things I love about the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G. To others having a headphone jack is considered a compromise, somehow!

So let’s look at the utility of the device. When compared to the ultra flagships of the day, not having a solid dedicated zoom lens is definitely a compromise. With OEMs like Huawei shipping extremely competent 7x optical zoom on their phones, you CAN see the difference.

For those like me, the lack of wireless charging will be a disappointment. At this stage, not including Qi feels like an artificial constraint to make the premium devices more desirable rather than a real technical or cost limitation.

As with all purchases, when reviewing the compromises you have to look at the price. At $799 the Pixel 4a 5G sits in a strong position in the market. You are getting a large form factor device, buttery performance, two excellent cameras and very little in the way of real-world sacrifice.

If anything I wonder if the Pixel 4a 5G is too good, and may just cut into the Pixel 5 market just a little too much for Google. Of course, I’m sure Google is happy with any device sale, it’s more a sale transfer than a loss.

CONCLUSION

Would I recommend the $799 Pixel 4a 5G to someone, 100% yes I would. It’s a well put together device, that offers everything an Android Phone needs, and packages in excellent cameras, finally a wide-angle lens, and Google’s guaranteed software updates. To get all of this sub $800 is outstanding.

Now, would I recommend the Pixel 4a 5G over the Pixel 4a? Yes, but maybe not to everyone. For me, the Pixel 4a 5G is the clear winner. I prefer larger phones. I wanted a wide-angle lens, and I can afford to pay that bit extra.

Getting an improved Snapdragon 765G and 5G thrown in is a bonus for me, and may just be a selling point for other people. However, if your budget is tight, or you prefer smaller phones and you don’t care about wide-angle photos, then the Pixel 4a is still a remarkable device at $200 less.

For me, I’m looking at the Pixel 5 and trying to figure out why I’d buy that over the Pixel 4a 5G. I don’t feel the device needs the extra RAM, I prefer the larger size, and while I want the Qi charging I feel I might just give up too much up get it?

We are almost embarrassed for choice this year with the Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, if I had one complaint it’s that there isn’t a clear upgrade from the Pixel 4a 5G to the Pixel 5 line, perhaps if there was a Pixel 5 XL, or some other feature separating it I would feel different.

Whichever way you go, rest assured you’ll be getting one of the best Android phones of 2020.

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Tom Sekulic
Tom Sekulic
4 days ago

Pixel 4a 5G is a clear winner this year and no brainier for anyone wanting a big Google phone. Great review that touched on all important points required to make an informed decision.

Jamie S
Jamie S
5 days ago

Great review Duncan. I was also torn between the 4a 5G and Pixel 5 but opted for the 5 mainly due to IP68 and the wireless charging. The 3 Pixel phones this year are very similar and it’s very hard to choose which one to buy. I’ll be going straight to my local JB store this morning to pick up my Pixel 5.