(Pocket-lint) - Google expanded the Pixel 4 family with the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a is a more affordable Pixel option, aiming to get you access to those Google phone features at a lower price.
The Pixel 4 was announced in October 2019, so what's the difference between the old flagship and the newer model? We drill through the details to reveal all.
Price and availability
- Pixel 4: £669
- Pixel 4a: £349
The Google Pixel 4 launched in October 2019 and is widely available from £669 for the smaller version of this phone; the larger Pixel 4 XL costs from £829 (prices true at launch).
The Pixel 4a was announced on 3 August 2020 with a price of £349, so about half the price of the Pixel 4.
- Pixel 4: 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm, glass back, IP68 rating
- Pixel 4a: 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm, polycarbonate body
The Google Pixel 4 launched introducing a slightly revised design, moving that camera into the black square in the corner - before it was fashionable to make a design feature out of your camera.
It's a quality build with a great frosted glass finish as well as offering IP68 waterproofing as you'd expect from a flagship phone. The Pixel 4 is the smaller model, but basically is the same as the Pixel 4 XL - which we'll leave out of this comparison, because there's no Pixel 4a XL being launched.
The Pixel 4a is pretty much the same physical size as the Pixel 4, but slightly shorter. That's due to the use of a punch hole camera in the display, rather than the wider forehead of the Pixel 4 which housed Google's Soli tech for facial recognition and unlocking.
The Pixel 4a also sports a polycarbonate build, similar to the Pixel 3a we saw in 2019. But the real win for the Pixel 4a is pushing back those bezels, something that Google hasn't really done on Pixel phones in the past. It just looks more modern from the front, at least.
The Pixel 4a also offers a 3.5mm headphone socket, but overall, the Pixel 4 looks and feels slightly more premium.
- Pixel 4: 5.7in, 2280 x 1080 pixels, 442ppi, 90Hz, OLED
- Pixel 4a: 5.81in, 2340 x 1080 pixels, 443ppi, 60Hz, OLED
There aren't a huge number of smaller-screened phones launching these days and the Pixel 4 was one of the exceptions. With a 5.7-inch screen, it's smaller than average, with phones like the "small" Samsung Galaxy S20 coming in at 6.1-inches, so bigger overall.
The Pixel 4 has a resolution of 2280 x 1080 pixels, resulting in 442ppi and it's an OLED display. That means plenty of detail with tightly packed pixels designed to perform. We were really impressed with this display when we reviewed it.
It was also one of the first displays to step up the refresh rate to 90Hz, although as we said at the time of the review, you're unlikely to really notice any difference. Refresh rates are now all the fashion, some people swearing by them, some people dismissing them as another gimmick.
The Pixel 4a sticks to 60Hz, but also has an OLED display. The resolution is 2340 x 1080 pixels, resullting in 443ppi, so it's basically the same experience as the Pixel 4. Certainly both are great displays and both have plenty of depth and pop to colours.
- Pixel 4: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM, 2800mAh battery
- Pixel 4a: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G, 6GB RAM, 3120mAh battery
The Pixel 4 is positioned as a flagship phone, and as such it is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. That's now outdated hardware, but it's still in Qualcomm's top tier.
It's supported by 6GB RAM and although many phones now offer more RAM - 8 or 12GB in some cases - we've never found 6GB of RAM to hold a phone back, not when paired with good hardware and good software optimisation.
The Pixel 4's 2800mAh battery is a little small and we found it to be fairly inconsistent in stamina, fairly variable. Certainly, it's not a huge capacity, but then this is a smaller phone, so there isn't the physical size for more.
The Pixel 4a is Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G with 6GB RAM and a battery capacity of 3120mAh. That means is has less power - it's mid-range rather than flagship - but there's still plenty of punch here. The Pixel 4a has no problems running the latest games and apps and it's a fluid experience through-out - so you're unlikely to notice a huge difference in performance to the flagship model.
It also has a larger battery and while this will take a big hit if you're playing hardcore games on it, in most cases it will get through the day pretty easily.
- Pixel 4:
- Main: 12.2MP, f/1.7
- Zoom: 16MP, f/2.4 2x
- Selfie: 8MP, f/2.0
- Pixel 4a:
- Main: 12.2MP, f/1.7
- Selfie: 8MP, f/2.0
The Pixel 4 uses Google's 12.2-megapixel camera to great effect, powering up this snapper with AI smarts. It's a great camera, with strong low light performance thanks to Night Sight, it offers astrophotography mode and great portrait shots.
On the Pixel 4 Google introduced optical zoom, with a 2x lens, not the biggest zoom around, but still a useful addition. The front camera is 8-megapixels and offers good low light and portrait modes again.
Effectively, the Pixel 4a comes with the same main and selfie camera, but misses out on the zoom. The performance is very close to the Pixel 4, it offers the same features and the same great results. If you're looking for Pixel camera power then you get it all from the Pixel 4a - it's a great experience that matches the flagship.
The Pixel 4 and the Pixel 4a are extremely close in many areas. The Pixel 4a has a similar display and camera experience, only really missing out on the zoom offering. You really won't know the difference when you're using these phones, apart from the plastic build of the Pixel 4a compared to the glass of the Pixel 4.
The real difference, therefore, lies in the core power and that's about it. Based on our experience, that's not a huge difference either. Sure, one is flagship grade, but in day-to-day use you can barely notice the difference.
That makes the PIxel 4a the phone to pick - otherwise it's hard to see what you're spending your money on.