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Don’t pay the Verizon 5G tax for the Google Pixel 4a 5G

Interested in picking up the new Google Pixel 4a 5G? You’re not alone. With a relatively powerful chipset, incredible camera, and more, the device is shaping up to be one of the best devices available for under $500 this year.

Unless you’re a Verizon customer.

Unfortunately, the Pixel 4a 5G that Verizon is selling comes in at $600 — a $100 markup. At that point, you’re only $100 from the Pixel 5, which Verizon doesn’t charge a premium for. Ultimately, buying the Pixel 4a 5G from Verizon just doesn’t make sense at its MSRP, and if you want a new Pixel to use on Verizon’s network, it’s worth either considering the Pixel 5, or buying the Pixel 4a 5G unlocked and saving $100.

What’s with the price bump?

There’s a reason the Pixel 4a 5G costs $100 extra from Verizon — though it’s not a very good one. It all boils down to the “5G” part of the new Pixel’s name.

New 5G networks exist in a few different forms. Some 5G networks use ultra-high-frequency radio waves — called mmWave — to make for really fast connections. But those mmWave connections are spotty at best, and barely available beyond a handful of areas in major cities around the country. Other networks use low-band frequencies — called Sub-6 — which deliver widespread coverage that isn’t as fast as those high-frequency connections. Ultimately, good 5G networks will use both.

The standard unlocked Pixel 4a 5G only supports Sub-6 5G networks. As mentioned, the majority of actually usable 5G networks are built on that low-band connectivity. While T-Mobile, for example, primarily uses Sub-6, Verizon’s network is built entirely around mmWave.

So, to get a Pixel 4a 5G model that actually supports its mmWave 5G, Verizon needed a different version of the device that includes a new radio. Hence, the extra $100. (And technically, a new name: Pixel 4a 5G UW.)

The main problem with that is that you may never use Verizon’s spotty 5G network, at least during the life span of this phone — and if you do, it may only be for a few minutes at a time. Yet you’re paying 20% more for what is otherwise identical to the unlocked model.

But I want a Pixel 4a 5G

Yeah, that’s fair. It looks like a great phone. If you don’t want to pay the Verizon 5G tax for the Pixel 4a 5G, there are a few different routes you could go. If you were willing to spend the extra $100 for the Pixel 4a 5G on Verizon, then you should consider spending another $100 for the Pixel 5. You’ll get a high refresh rate display, more RAM, wireless charging, water resistance, and a stronger metal build.

Alternatively in this price range, you could get the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. It doesn’t have the scaled back software experience on offer by Pixel phones, but it does have better performance, a 120Hz display, a still-great camera, wireless charging, and more. It’s arguably the best deal in phones under $700 — and it’s regularly available for only $600.

The other option is you still get the Pixel 4a 5G, but get it unlocked for $100 less than the Verizon model, and just use it with your Verizon SIM, assuming Verizon authorizes the unlocked model to work on its network. Having 5G would be a bonus, but the overall experience probably won’t change much without it, especially if you’re a Verizon customer anyway.

Or, you could get the standard Pixel 4a, which costs only $349. While it doesn’t have as good of a chipset, or a dual-sensor camera, it still has a great camera and the software experience you know and love on Pixel phones. With the price savings, perhaps you’d end up just upgrading the phone sooner and seeing how 5G networks look this time next year.

One thing is for sure though: It’s just not worth paying that extra cash for the Verizon Pixel 4a 5G.

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Christian de Looper
Christian’s interest in technology began as a child in Australia, when he stumbled upon a computer at a garage sale that he…
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