The new Pixel 4a 5G is Google’s cheaper but larger 5G phone, and might just be the best.
It is available in black and costs £499, fitting in between the £599 Pixel 5 and the £349 Pixel 4a.
While the Pixel 4a 5G shares most of the same internal components with the Pixel 5, the look, feel and black plastic body matches the smaller Pixel 4a, just made larger.
The Pixel 4a 5G has a 6.2in FHD+ OLED screen that is bigger than the other Pixels this year. It looks good but won’t trouble the best from Samsung, OnePlus or Apple. The screen is flanked by stereo speakers that make video-watching in landscape really good.
The body is a soft-touch black plastic and feels solid in the hand, but a little cheap compared with metal and glass rivals. Most users will put it in a case anyway. At 168g the phone is fairly light and well-balanced for its size. There is even the lesser-spotted headphone socket in the top, but the 4a 5G lacks water resistance.
Screen: 62in FHD+ OLED (413ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB of RAM
Operating system: Android 11
Camera: 12.2MP + 16MP ultrawide, 8MP selfie
Connectivity: 5G, eSIM, wifi 5, NFC, Bluetooth 5 (AAC, AptX/HD, LDAC), headphones and location
Water resistance: None
Dimensions: 153.9 x 74 x 8.2mm
The Pixel 4a 5G has the same upper-middle-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5, but slightly less RAM with just 6GB. That also means it has a faster processor than the smaller Pixel 4a.
Performance is good. The phone feels snappy and responsive, apps load quickly, and switching between them is smooth. Processing photos shot in quick succession takes longer – as does opening complex websites – than rivals with a top-spec chip, but it handles everything I want it to do. Gamers looking for the fastest frame rates will want to look elsewhere.
Battery life is very good, lasting more than 48 hours between charges with the screen on for about six hours and using 5G for two hours and 4G for three hours, with the rest spent on wifi during that time. That means even with my relatively heavy usage, the Pixel 4a 5G lasts from 7am on day one until at least 7am on day three.
Google’s new extreme battery saver system will extend battery life greatly when needed by only allowing a select group of apps to run, suppressing all others.
The Pixel 4a 5G ships with an 18W fast charger that takes less than 90 minutes to fully charge the phone, hitting 50% in about 35 minutes.
Google does not provide an estimate for the expected number of full charge cycles from the Pixel 4a 5G batteries. However, the typical lifespan of a smartphone battery is at least 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% capacity. The Pixel 4a 5G is generally repairable. Out of warranty repairs cost £110 for the screen or about £60 for the battery through one of Google’s repair partners, iSmash, or via the Google Store.
The Pixel 4a contains about 47% of post-consumer recycled material in its plastic mechanical parts – part of Google’s commitment to include recycled materials in all its products launching from 2022. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products including the Pixel 4a 5G. Google will recycle all Pixel devices free of charge.
Android 11, Google’s way
The Pixel 4a 5G runs the latest version of Android 11 and can expect a minimum of three years of operating system and security updates, which is still some way behind Apple’s five-year support for iPhones.
The Pixel’s version of Android is slick and well-optimised, running just as well as on the Pixel 5. Generally speaking, it is simple and well-optimised, with good gesture controls, the upgraded media controls and conversation options built into Android 11.
You also get a few Google exclusives such as automatic transcription in the improved Google Recorder app, new Live view for Google Maps, which uses augmented reality to point out where friends are, improved smart reply suggestions for messages in chat apps, and the new, faster Google Assistant.
The cameras on the Pixel 4a 5G are identical in hardware and software to those on the Pixel 5 and therefore perform identically. That means the Pixel 4a 5G has some of the best point-and-shoot cameras available, including some of the crispest and best-looking photos and top-class low-light performance.
There is a main camera and an ultrawide, but no telephoto camera for optical zoom. Instead there’s a solid digital zoom that’s good for 2x magnification but has its limits beyond that. Video capture is pretty good, too, with excellent stabilisation to remove camera shake.
For more information please see the Pixel 5 review.
The Pixel 4a 5G costs £499 and is only available in black.
For comparison, the Pixel 4a has an RRP of £349, the Pixel 5 costs £599, the OnePlus 8T costs £549, the OnePlus Nord costs £379, the iPhone 12 costs £799 and the iPhone SE costs £419.
The Pixel 4a 5G is the best mix of battery life, price and capability of this year’s Google smartphones.
It isn’t as nice to hold as the £599 Pixel 5, but the rest of the experience is essentially the same, just with a slightly bigger screen and longer battery life of more than two days. That means you get a really great camera, good screen, decent performance and good software with three years of software updates.
There are smartphones that offer better hardware for similar money, but they simply can’t match the Pixel on camera or battery life.
At £349 the 5.8in Pixel 4a is better value if you’re not interested in 5G or want a smaller phone, but the Pixel 4a 5G is faster and ticks a lot of boxes, particularly if you can find it at a discount from its £499 RRP.
Pros: great camera, good screen, great software and update support, great battery life, relatively inexpensive, headphone socket, 5G.
Cons: no expandable storage, no water resistance, plastic body is a bit plain.
This article originally appeared on https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/oct/21/google-pixel-4a-5g-review-battery-screen-camera