Google Pixel 4a vs. Google Pixel 4: Save money or go all-out?

The Google Pixel 4a is Google’s latest shot at securing itself a piece of the midrange market, following the success of last year’s Pixel 3a. But we all know the new Pixel has competition within its price bracket, so how does it fare when put against a member of its own stable? The Google Pixel 4 may have been discontinued in the U.S. Google Store, but it’s still available from a number of stores like Best Buy — and at a bargain price, too.

With that in mind, should you buy the new Pixel 4a or spend a few extra hundred dollars and grab the Pixel 4 while you can? It’s a tough question to answer, but we’re here to help. We’ve taken deep dives into both phones to help you decide which phone is the better choice for you.

Specs

Pixel 4a Pixel 4
Size 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm (5.67 x 2.73 x 0.32 inches) 147.1 × 68.8 × 8.2mm (5.7 × 2.7 × 0.3 inches)
Weight 143 grams (5.04 ounces) 162 grams (5.71 ounces)
Screen size 5.8-inch AMOLED 5.7-inch AMOLED
Screen resolution 2340 x 1080 pixels (443 pixels per inch) 2280 × 1080 pixels (444 ppi)
Operating system Android 10 Android 10
Storage 128GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Snapdragon 730 Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
RAM 6GB 6GB
Camera 12.2-megapixel rear, 8MP front Dual 12MP and 16MP telephoto rear, 8MP front
Video 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version 5.1 5.0
Ports USB-C, headphone jack USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes, rear-mounted No
Water resistance No IP68
Battery 3,140mAh

Fast charging (18W)

2,800mAh

Fast Charging (18W)

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support Most major U.S. carriers Most major U.S. carriers
Colors Just Black Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange
Prices $349 $550
Buy from Google, Verizon, US Cellular Best Buy
Review score 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

These phones may not be too far apart in release date, but their designs are acres apart. Oddly, it’s the cheaper phone that’s more initially pleasing to the eye, as the Pixel 4a embraces 2020’s design ethos with a punch-hole display and slim bezels. By contrast, the Pixel 4 has relatively large bezels on the top and bottom of the display, and while they’re required for the radar-like air gestures, it’s still a design you can describe as “retro” if you’re being kind and “outdated” if you’re not.

The feel of the devices puts the Pixel 4 back on top, though. It’s glass, while the Pixel 4a is made from plastic. That does give the Pixel 4a the edge in durability, but it still feels cheap and, honestly, a little boring. Do be careful with the Pixel 4a near water too, as it lacks the Pixel 4’s IP68 rating for water and dust-resistance.

The displays are also similar, with both devices sporting a 1080p resolution. The Pixel 4a’s display is larger, but it has a boosted resolution to make up for it, so both AMOLED displays should look equally crisp. The Pixel 4 does have a 90Hz refresh rate, and while it’s somewhat inconsistent, it’s still a point in the more expensive phone’s favor.

The Pixel 4 may not be as stylish as many other flagships, but the Pixel 4a’s plastic build is definitely a bigger point against it. The Pixel 4 wins here.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Performance, battery life, and charging

pixel 4 front and back design
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s a pretty big processor gap here. The Pixel 4 uses last year’s Snapdragon 855 chip, while the Pixel 4a uses the Snapdragon 730 chip. Performance on the Pixel 4a is fine, but it’s not going to be able to chew up demanding games and apps in the same way as the Pixel 4. However, the Pixel 4a holds its own in other ways, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as standard.

The biggest weakness of the Pixel 4 is undoubtedly the battery. A 2,800mAh cell is minuscule in this day and age, and it simply doesn’t hold up well enough. In our review, the Pixel 4 only just survived a full day, and that’s before the battery naturally starts to weaken over time. During busy days, expect to need to charge it multiple times. By contrast, the Pixel 4a has a strong battery life, and moderate use saw it run to two days on a single charge during our review period. Both have 18W fast charging, but only the Pixel 4 has access to wireless charging.

The battery life may be bad, but the faster processor and access to wireless charging just pips this for the Pixel 4. But it’s close, and if you value battery life, feel free to mentally award this one to the Pixel 4a.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Cameras

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Google’s Pixel range has traditionally been the home of some of the best smartphone cameras, and this year is no exception. The Pixel 4’s camera suite is comprised of a 12-megapixel main lens and a 16MP telephoto lens, and it’s a stunner. Google’s software has proven to be a winner again and again, and the Pixel 4 takes great-looking photos in a range of situations. The star of the show is the low-light performance, though, and you’ll get incredible looking shots, even at night.

The Pixel 4a is a small step down and does away with the second lens, but it takes some absolutely stunning photos. The camera quality is one of the key reasons to buy this phone, and the Pixel 4a consistently churned out amazing look shots that needed little in the way of edited before sharing.

The extra lens and versatility give the Pixel 4 the win, but it’s a much closer fight than the price tags would make it seem.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Software and updates

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Android 10 running on the Pixel 4 and 4a is the cream of the crop. It’s smooth, snappy, and comes with a bunch of features not available with your usual stock Android device. However, that means both devices run exactly the same software, so there isn’t really much to differentiate the two here. It’s the same story where updates are concerned, and you can expect to see security updates and new versions of Android hitting both devices at about the same time, so expect Android 11 on both. There’s next to no difference here, so it’s a draw.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Despite its midrange price, the Pixel 4a has access to a good amount of special features. It’s got artificial intelligence call screening in the U.S., the Now Playing feature that identifies nearby songs, an augmented reality mode in Google Maps, and more. But the Pixel 4 has access to those and more, thanks to the air gesture Motion Sense powered by the Project Soli chip. While it’s certainly gimmicky, having the ability to skip tracks or pause alarms by waving over your phone and unlocking your phone with a secure face scan push the Pixel 4 past its cheaper sibling in this round.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Price and availability

The Google Pixel 4a is currently available in the U.S., and it costs $349. The Pixel 4 has officially been discontinued in the U.S., but you can still find it for sale at just $550 from third parties like Best Buy. But you’ll want to be quick, as stock won’t last forever.

Take a look at some of the best Google Pixel deals and smartphone deals we’ve found ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 4

With such a big gap in price and hardware, it could only be the Google Pixel 4 that came out on top in this battle. The additional camera lens, faster hardware, and fun air gestures were pivotal to its win, and it’s why we can say that the Pixel 4 is the better of the two on offer.

But we knew that already — a midrange phone was always going to struggle to beat a flagship. The real question here was how big a difference exists between the two phones, and, well, it’s not as big as you might imagine. The Pixel 4a is a good midrange option, and while the design lets it down, the battery life is good, and the camera is excellent, and genuinely one of the reasons to buy the phone. If you’re looking for a great camera phone, the Pixel 4a is a worthy competitor for the Pixel 4, and if you’re looking to save a couple of hundred dollars, buying the Pixel 4a instead of the Pixel 4 is definitely worth considering.

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