(Pocket-lint) - Two phones have been dominating discussions over the past few months - the OnePlus Nord and the Google Pixel 4a.

Both of these phones launch into a highly competitive mid-range. While they have many differences, they both want to bring you flagship features at affordable prices.

So how do they actually compare? We've lived with both, reviewed both and here will dive into the details.

Price and availability

  • Nord: £379/£469, available from 4 August
  • Pixel 4a: £349, available from 1 October

The OnePlus Nord was announced on 21 July 2020 with a price of £379 for the 8/128GB version and £469 for the 12/256GB version. Availability will be from 4 August, with some pre-order events already taking place.

The Google Pixel 4a was announced on 3 August, with a price of £349, so it's a little cheaper and there's only one version - 6/128GB. Pre-orders don't open until 10 September, but availability isn't until 1 October - so there's quite a delay before you can actually get this phone.

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Design

  • Nord: 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2mm, 184g
  • Pixel 4a: 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm, 143g

The OnePlus Nord has  a quality design, finished with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. It's available in two colours - Blue Marble and Gray Onyx. The cameras offset to the left in a vertical line and there's punch hole front cameras.

The Pixel 4a has a polycarbonate unibody, with a raised camera square in the top left corner of the rear, reflecting the design of the Pixel 4. It's only available in Just Black, and has a single punch hole front camera.

The Pixel 4a offers a 3.5mm headphone socket and has great stereo speakers, while the OnePlus Nord only has a mono speaker. There's a rear fingerprint scanner on the Pixel 4a, while the Nord gets an in-display scanner for unlocking.

The OnePlus Nord definitely looks like the more premium handset although both feel premium enough. Naturally, the Nord is the bigger and heavier handset, because it has a larger display.

Display

  • Nord: 6.44in AMOLED, 2400 x 1080 pixels (408ppi), 90Hz
  • Pixel 4a: 5.81in AMOLED, 2340 x 1080 pixels (452ppi), 60Hz

The OnePlus Nord comes with a 6.44-inch AMOLED display - and it has a 90Hz refresh rate. It's a 1080p display, with a 20:9 aspect ratio and a pixel density of 401ppi. It's a great display, but the dual front cameras means there's a bigger gap in the top left-hand corner.

The Pixel also has an OLED display, it's also 1080p although it has a higher pixel density because it's slightly smaller at 5.81-inch. In truth, both displays are very good, but the Nord offers a 90Hz refresh rate, while the Pixel 4a is 60Hz. For some that might be an important factor, but having used both phones, there's very little real difference in the visual performance.

Size is the big difference here - the Nord gives you more space to play, so it's better for gaming and for media consumption, while the Pixel 4a is pretty compact by modern standards.

Hardware and specs 

  • Nord: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, 8/12GB RAM, 128/256GB storage, 4115mAh battery
  • Pixel 4a: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage, 3140mAh battery

The OnePlus Nord rusn on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G and that means it's going to be 5G enabled. It will come with 8GB RAM as standard paired with 128GB storage, with a step-up to 12/256GB.

The battery is reasonable at 4115mAh and it will also offer Warp Charge 30 for fast charging - which is really handy for fast top-ups.

The Pixel 4a sits on the Snapdragon 730G platform. This is the same series as the Nord, but slightly older hardware. Firstly, it's 4G only, so you don't get that next-gen conncectivity.

Secondly, it's an 8nm SoC whereas the 765G is 7nm, although both are octo-core. The 765G uses newer processors and has a slightly newer GPU, so is going to be a touch more powerful with slightly more graphics processing power. Having used both phones, there's not a huge difference in the experience performance-wise, once you take out 5G connectivity. The Nord is slightly faster, but it's so slight, you'll probably not notice any difference in day-to-day use.

The Nord has a 4115mAh battery with that fast charging, while the Pixel 4a sits at 3120mAh with slightly slower charging. Although the Pixel 4a is pushing a slightly smaller display, the battery performance of the Nord seems to be better overall. 

Cameras 

  • Nord: 48MP f/1.75 main, 8MP f/2.25 ultra-wide, 2MP f/2.4 macro, 5MP depth; dual selfie cameras, 32MP wide, 8MP ultra-wide
  • Pixel 4a: 12.2MP f/1.7 main; 8MP selfie

There's an obvious difference between these two devices on the hardware front, but before we go racing off declaring the OnePlus Nord the better camera load-out, let's look at the details.

The Nord gets a 48-megapixel main camera sensor. Bare in mind, that this uses pixel combining to get back to 12-megapixel images, so it's not the immediate winner one might consider it to be. You can crop in closer, but generally speaking, that's no better than digital zoom on the Pixel.

Both these cameras perform well, but we think the Pixel 4a produces the more natural images. It's certianly better at preserving natural colours when applying the HDR treatment and it's better in low light performance too. The advantage that the Nord has is the ultra-wide camera, which the Pixel 4a lacks, meaning you have easy creative opportunities with the Nord.

When it comes to the front camera, the Pixel is substantially better in low light than the Nord, but produces lighter selfies in normal conditions, whereas the Pixel can be a little contrasty. That's a case of personal taste. The ultra-wide selfie camera on the Nord gives you a view that the Pixel can't match, but the results are low quality.

The Nord's macro camera isn't worth bothering with: both the Nord and the Pixel produce better results from digital zoom if you want to get close to the the subject.

Overall, the Nord packs in more cameras, but the real difference is the ultra-wide - otherwise, the Pixel offers a simpler solution that often gives better quality results.

Software 

  • Nord: Android 10 with Oxygen OS
  • Pixel 4a: Android 10 with Pixel extras

When it comes to software, both of these devices are in a really strong place. Both run Android 10 and neither messes around with it too much.

The Pixel - as a Google phone - will be the cleaner of the two, getting access to some of Google's Pixel features that don't always appear on other devices. It will also be at the front of the upgrade queue, so you can expect it to have Android 11 as soon as it launches. 

OnePlus' Oxygen OS is popular, however, as it's a fairly clean take on Android - as well as having a good reputation for keeping things clean and fast. OnePlus is also fast with updates, but obviously, not as fast as Google. OnePlus is good with optimisation and that can keep its phones feeling fast, while also offering more customisation options.

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Summing up 

These phones are similar in many ways, with the Nord offering great value for money considering you get a larger display, more powerful hardware and 5G in a design that's a little more premium. It's hard not to pick the OnePlus Nord, because it offers a great experience and that screen size will be popular. 

The Pixel 4a offers a great camera experience, however, and while it doesn't offer as many cameras, often the performance is better. It's slightly less powerful and there's no 5G - but it's not hugely different in the over experience when it comes to running the latest apps and games. 

Ultimately, however, we feel this comes down to size. The Pixel 4a is only going to appeal to those wanting a more compact handset. With no Pixel 4a XL, you need to be happy with that smaller display first and foremost. Otherwise, despite OnePlus looking like it offers better value on the spec sheet, choosing between these phones is actually more difficult than you might imagine.

Writing by Chris Hall.