Skip to main content

Skip the Google Pixel 5 — the Pixel 4a 5G is the phone to get

Google has finally taken the wraps off of the Google Pixel 5, offering a series of premium features like an OLED display, a dual-sensor camera system that will likely be incredible, 5G support, and a quick Snapdragon 765G processor. All those features together are likely to offer a premium experience, and at $699, it’s a great deal.

But it turns out, those features aren’t exclusive to just one Google phone. In fact, they’re all available in a $499 phone, too — one that Google itself makes.

The Google Pixel 4a 5G was also released alongside the Pixel 5, and it could represent a major shift for Google. Sure, it is missing some other features — but they’re likely features you don’t need, especially if it means saving $200 for a still-incredible phone. Ultimately, the Pixel 4a 5G is probably the Google phone to get this year.

How similar are these phones really?

The Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 have a lot more similarities than they do differences. They both have an edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch cutout in the top left-hand corner. The 4a 5G is slightly larger, at 6.2 inches versus 6 inches. They also both have a fingerprint sensor on the back, and the same general look.

Even the processing power is the same. Neither have a flagship processor, unlike previous-generation Pixel phones. The Snapdragon 765G may not be quite as powerful as the top-tier Snapdragon 865, but it should be more than fast enough for most, and in reality, you’re unlikely to notice a real difference in performance.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Both of these phones offer 5G support, too. Now, technically, the Pixel 5 can connect to faster mmWave networks, while the unlocked version of the Pixel 4a 5G cannot. But really that’s unlikely to matter much for most. As it happens, mmWave 5G networks — like Verizon’s — are barely available right now, and where they are available, they’re very unreliable. It’s just not worth buying a phone for its mmWave support right now.

Then there’s the camera — and it’s a big one. One of the main advantages to the Pixel series has always been the camera, and that remains true this year. The Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 have identical cameras, with one standard wide-angle lens and one ultra-wide lens. The result? You’ll get identically beautiful photos, with all the advantages of Google’s camera processing power.

Last but not least is software — and again, it’s identical here. That’s good news for those who want that scaled-back stock Android experience, complete with intelligent features like the new “Hold for Me” feature, in addition to everything else the Google Assistant can already do.

So what’s actually different?

Obviously, these models aren’t the same phone — but they’re close. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two phones comes in the form of a higher-refresh-rate display. To be clear, both of these phones offer an OLED display, which should make for bright colors and deep blacks, and run at 1080p resolution.

But the Pixel 5 also has a 90Hz refresh rate — which it has inherited from the Pixel 4. It helps make for smooth animations and a silky feel. But in this price range it’s not really a necessary feature. We’re hoping that high refresh-rate displays will make their way to cheaper phones in the near future — but until then, they’re not really worth paying $200 for.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are other differences, too — but again, they’re probably not all that important for most. The Pixel 5 is made of aluminum, so it may be stronger than the Pixel 4a 5G’s plastic, and the feel could be better — assuming you don’t just put a case on it. Perhaps more important is the fact that the Pixel 4a 5G isn’t water-resistant, so it’s probably not worth risking using near the pool or bath. And, there’s the fact that the Pixel 5 supports wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging), which makes keeping it topped up a whole lot more convenient.

Last but not least is memory. The Pixel 4a 5G has 6GB of RAM, which isn’t quite as much as the 8GB on offer by the Pixel 5. Now, it is true that the Pixel series has run into issues with memory management in the past, but those issues seem to have been largely fixed through software updates, and 6GB should still be enough for most — and for what it’s worth, the Pixel 4 series did well with 6GB over the last year.

What does $200 really buy you?

Both of these phones offer a classy design, a Snapdragon 765G, an OLED display, and more. Ultimately, for $200 more, you are obviously getting a better phone. But if features like a high refresh rate and wireless charging are important to you, then there are other phones worth considering, too, and perhaps even more so. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which is routinely available for $600, has a 120Hz refresh rate, beating out any of the Pixel phones.

The Pixel series has never been about specs and extra features like a high refresh rate. It’s about an incredible camera, a restrained design, a scaled-back software experience, and lots of delightful Google features. And you’re getting all of those things with the Pixel 4a 5G for just $500.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
There’s something about the Google Pixel 8 that worries me
A person holding the Google Pixel 8.

Google released the next generation of Pixel devices recently, including the Google Pixel 8 and Google Pixel 8 Pro. These have been the best Pixel smartphones in a while, as they pack the improved Tensor G3 chip inside, better cameras, brighter displays, and more — all in a slightly updated design. I've been using the phones for a couple of weeks now, and I really like what Google's done with them.

But Google also added some more photo editing capabilities to the Pixel 8 lineup, with a heavy reliance on AI with the Tensor G3 chip. While these AI-heavy editing tools can help you chase perfection, they shouldn’t be relied on too heavily or abused.
The Pixel 8's AI tools are impressive ...
Magic Editor on the Google Pixel 8 Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends.

Read more
Is the Google Pixel 8’s Tensor G3 chip any good? We found out
The Google Pixel 8 Pro sitting upright on a park bench.

Google launched the Pixel 8 series earlier this month with notable design improvements over the last generation, including a brighter display, faster charging, and more. One of the most exciting changes on the Google Pixel 8 and the Google Pixel 8 Pro is Google's new custom Tensor G3 chipset that delivers spectacular AI experiences right on the device.

Despite advancements in on-device AI processing, Google's Tensor chips have traditionally been reported to lag behind other flagship chipsets when it comes to performance. This year, the chipset receives substantial microlevel upgrades that bring it closer to the competition, at least on paper.

Read more
T-Mobile still has the fastest 5G, but its rivals are catching up
T-Mobile smartphone.

For most of 2023, we’ve seen median 5G speeds among the big three carriers remain fairly stable, leading us to believe that things were beginning to reach a plateau. However, it now seems that this may only be true at the very top end of the 5G speed race.

Today, Ookla released its latest market research on 5G speeds for the third quarter of 2023, and it’s an interesting mix of surprising and not-so-surprising developments in the 5G market.

Read more