With smartphones getting more expensive, there becomes less of a reason to upgrade your phone every 1-2 years. But in recent years, we’ve seen the rise of more affordable smartphones like the iPhone SE or the new Pixel 4a.
Design & Hardware
From the outside, the Pixel 4a looks like it’s a smaller version of the Pixel 4/4 XL from last year. The 4a has a 5.8-inch screen with a resolution of 1080 x 2340 and a 60Hz refresh rate (compared to 90Hz on the flagship). While the 5.8-inch might seem big to some, the device feels much more compact.
While most flagship smartphones are using materials like glass and metal, the Pixel 4a has a plastic body, which is a sign of a cheaper phone but this phone feels solid in the hands. It doesn’t feel like it’s a cheap phone.
Powering the phone is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor with 6GB of RAM and the Titan M security module. There’s also a 3,140 mAh battery along with 128GB of storage. It would have been nice if Google added a 256GB option, which the iPhone SE (2020) is available in.
Battery life was great on the Pixel 4a and easily lasted a day. And if you need to top off your battery, the device comes with an 18W USB-C charger in the box.
Having the 6GB of RAM gives the device some extra room when running multiple apps. On the back of the display, you have a fingerprint sensor that works well but I wish it was slightly more indented.
The bottom of the phone has the USB-C port and there’s a headphone jack on the top.
While the Pixel 3a/3a XL was available in a few colours, the Pixel 4a only comes in Just Black and a hint of colour with a mint power button.
The phone is available from the following retailers and carriers in Canada:
- Google Store
- Freedom Mobile
- Best Buy
The Pixel 4a costs $479 CAD, which is significantly cheaper than the latest iPhone SE, which starts at $599 CAD.
The Pixel 4a out of the box comes with Android 10 but is upgradable to Android 11. For the majority of this review, I used the Pixel 4a with the Android 11 update but it offers slight improvements over Android 10.
One thing to note is that the Pixel 4a will get three years of software and security updates. So you’ll most likely be able to upgrade your 4a to at least Android 14 in 2023.
Android 11 isn’t a major overhaul that Android 10 was but it still brings some new features.
One of the new features is how messaging is handled. There’s now a dedicated Messaging row in the Notifications shade, so your conversations don’t get lost within your other notifications. Chat Bubbles are also new to Android 11 to let you continue the conversation and multi-task at the same time.
You can also control your smart home from the power menu to make it easier. Media Controls have also been redesigned and stay on the notifications tray. There’s also a built-in screen recorder in Android 11.
If you have a compatible head unit or vehicle, Android 11 brings Android Auto Wireless to all devices, not just Pixel phones.
On the privacy side of things, Android 11 now offers one-time permissions that allow you to grant single-use access to the microphone, camera and location permissions. And if you haven’t used an app in a while, Android will auto-reset permissions for that unused app and notify you as well.
The Pixel 4a gets access to software features like the new Google Assistant, Recorder app, Live Caption and the Personal Safety app.
The highlight of any Pixel phone is the camera and the one on the Pixel 4a is no exception. The device features a single 12MP rear-facing camera. It can shoot up to 4K video at 30 fps and 1080p at 30/60/120 fps. The front camera is 8MP which is great for selfies.
Photos taken on the Pixel 4a look great, they’re a lot of vibrancy and details that come through. They’re basically on par with other Pixel phones. The low-light performance on the Pixel 4a is also great thanks to Google’s improvements to their Night Sight mode.
Videos shot on the Pixel 4a look good but nothing that’s gonna blow you out of the water.
Overall, the Pixel 4a is a great affordable device that includes the features of a more expensive flagship including a great camera.
- Compact design despite its 5.8-inch screen
- Good battery life
- Three years of software and security updates
- Great camera with excellent night mode
- The headphone jack is back
- Pixel Imprint sensor works well
- Reasonably priced
- Only available in one colour and one screen size
- No wireless charging
- No 90Hz display