Google Pixel 4a 5G review

The Google Pixel 4a 5G sits in a very awkward place in Google’s 2020 smartphone lineup. As the newest member, the 4a 5G might initially seem like a no-brainer purchase over the Pixel 5 or the Pixel 4a. And for some it will be. But a closer inspection by a discerning buyer will reveal equally compelling arguments to upgrade or downgrade to either of its siblings—unless you definitely want a Pixel with 5G.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 4a 5G is the awkward middle child in Google’s Pixel family.

Everything’s a trade-off. If display matters, the 4a 5G has a slightly larger display than the Pixel 4a and 5 (6.2 inches versus 6 inches), but a slower refresh rate than the 5 (60Hz vs 90Hz). The 4a 5G has a headphone jack like the 4a, but it doesn’t have wireless charging like the 5. Got all that? 

Even that 5G feature has its caveats. If you want Verizon’s speedier mmWave, it’ll cost you an extra $100, bringing the phone’s cost even closer to that of the $699 Pixel 5. 5G connectivity places a higher demand on battery life, too.

Basically, Google has made it so buyers need to check a very specific set of boxes before they decide to buy a 4a 5G. While anyone who opts to buy one probably won’t regret it, the Pixel 4a 5G isn’t as clear-cut of a purchase as the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE or Apple’s iPhone 12.

Pixel 4a 5g Design: Bigger, sometimes better

Based on its design, the Pixel 4a 5G is basically the Pixel 4a XL that we didn’t get in August. It closely resembles the 4a, right down to the plastic back and colored power button, just with a bigger 6.2-inch screen. It’s a touch heavier than the 4a (151 grams versus 143 grams), but it still feels incredibly light compared to other all-glass phones. 

pixel 4a 5g google Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 4a 5G has a larger 6.2-inch display compared to the Pixel 5.

Let’s talk about that screen first. While it is bigger than the 4a’s, it has the same Full HD+ resolution as the 4a (versus the Quad HD resolution on previous Pixel XLs). As a result you’re getting a slightly lower pixel density—413ppi, compared to 443ppi for the 4a and 432ppi for the Pixel 5. It’s subtle, but a downgrade nonetheless.

The image quality is typical for a Pixel, with relatively muted colors and brightness, even after my usual switch to “Boosted” mode. It’s good, but compared to the iPhone 12 or OnePlus 8T, it’s a bit dull and underwhelming. I wish Google would change its display calibration to amp up the colors and the vibrance, but after five generations, that seems unlikely.

For cameras, the front of the 4a 5G has the same hole-punch selfie cam and bit of chin as the 4a. The square camera array on the back differs—the 4a has just one lens, while the 4a 5G adds an extra ultrawide lens. fits two lenses. We’ll talk about camera image quality later on. 

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