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Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Which budget Android phone will win?

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z
(Image credit: 91Mobiles/OnLeaks)

Cheap phones are about to get really, really good. That’s because the OnePlus Z and Google Pixel 4a — two affordable yet powerful Android phones  — will soon release, offering premium looks and features for a budget price.

Or, at least, “soon,” was what we were led to believe. The OnePlus Z could certainly still see release in July, but every time we hear news about the Pixel 4a, it’s seemingly tied to a delay. The latest rumor is that the device has been delayed until October, which would square it up with the flagship Pixel 5’s reveal, already expected to happen that month.

Ultimately, we’re not sure when you’ll be able to buy either of these attractively-priced smartphones. Strangely, though, we do know enough about them based on leaks to help you decide which you should probably look forward to buying once they finally break cover. Hopefully, this OnePlus Z vs Google Pixel 4a face-off can shed some light on that question.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Release date and price

Again, forecasting when either of these devices will be available is easier said than done. Our best guesses have been dashed repeatedly — especially in the case of the Pixel 4a, which is rumored to be missing summer 2020 entirely in favor of a fall launch.

Google’s handset is reportedly complete and ready to ship — we’ve seen a number of rumors and leaked shots of finished devices suggesting as much — and yet it’s still missing in action. That’s especially disappointing, considering Apple’s excellent iPhone SE could use some healthy competition, and Android fans could use an alternative to Apple’s cheapest handset. The Pixel 4a has even been rumored to cost as little as $349, which would make for a $50 savings over the iPhone SE.

The OnePlus Z, theoretically, should be available much sooner than the Pixel 4a — perhaps as soon as July. It could also be a fair amount more expensive than the Pixel, at anywhere from $499 to $599, based on leaks to date. It’s worth pointing out that the OnePlus 8 starts at $699, so it’s hard to imagine OnePlus making a compelling case for the OnePlus Z if it’s too similar in price to the OnePlus 8.

When the Pixel 4a does release, look for it to be sold through a variety of carriers — as it stands, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint all offer the Pixel 3a, and of course the latter two carriers are in the midst of merging. The OnePlus Z’s carrier prospects are harder to ascertain, though Verizon and T-Mobile’s partnerships with the Chinese phone maker hint at possibilities for the entry-level device.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Design

OnePlus Z render

OnePlus Z render (Image credit: 91Mobiles and @OnLeaks)

Both the OnePlus Z and Pixel 4a look to incorporate aspects of the aesthetics OnePlus and Google have respectively developed for their premium phones, albeit in a more affordable package.

For the OnePlus Z, that could translate to a metal-and-glass design with the same kind of gradient finish OnePlus lavishes over for its high-end products, except with a boxier footprint and a fully-flat display that doesn’t pour over the sides of the phone.

The Pixel 4a will echo the design of the existing Pixel 4 in many ways, while simultaneously making a few noticeable changes. Outside of an all-polycarbonate design for the least-expensive Pixel, everything we’ve seen of the phone suggests Google will trim the top bezel and extend the display all the way up to the upper edge, while stashing a front-facing camera into the panel’s upper-left corner, hole punch style.

Pixel 4a render

Pixel 4a render (Image credit: 91Mobiles/OnLeaks)

A capacitive Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor will likely handle authentication duties at the back, while the rear camera housing will take the form of a square, in keeping brand identity with the Pixel 4, except it’ll house just one lens rather than two. The Pixel 4a may lose the brand’s Active Edge functionality, however, which allows you to squeeze the device’s sides for instant access to the Google Assistant.

There’s one final distinction between these two devices that will likely earn Google some points back in the Pixel 4a’s favor. While the 4a has been rumored to carry a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, the OnePlus Z hasn’t. Of course, OnePlus will gladly recommend its OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 headphones for those inconvenienced by this design decision, but for some users, there’s simply nothing better than tried-and-true wired buds and that trusty old connector.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Display

Rumors suggest that the OnePlus Z’s display will measure 6.4 inches from corner to corner, and the panel itself will be OLED, with a 90Hz refresh rate just like the OnePlus 8 has.

It’s possible OnePlus turns to an LCD panel for its cheapest new handset, however OnePlus has not released a phone with an LCD screen since the OnePlus 2 in 2015, so we’d consider that an unlikely cost-saving measure.

The Pixel 4a’s screen is expected to be sized at 5.8 inches, and utilize OLED technology just like its predecessor’s. Unfortunately, it will likely miss out on the Pixel 4a’s 90 Hz refresh rate, putting it at a disadvantage compared to OnePlus’ handset at least where animations and smoothness are concerned.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Cameras

Based on what we’ve heard in the run up to launch, the cameras inside the OnePlus Z and Pixel 4a couldn’t be more different.

The Pixel 4a’s rear shooter is expected to continue the tech that’s underpinned shooters in the last several generations of Pixel handsets. Buyers will get a 12.2-megapixel, ƒ/1.8 single-lens camera lavished with Google’s latest computational photography tricks, whatever those may be.

We expect Night Sight and Super Res Zoom to make appearances once again, perhaps joined by Live HDR+, which allows users to witness HDR processing results through the viewfinder in real time. That particular feature missed the Pixel 3a, because Google's current cheap phone isn’t powerful enough to pull it off.

The Pixel 3a brought a stellar camera to midrange phones in 2019, and exceeding its capabilities will be a tall task for Google and OnePlus.

The Pixel 3a brought a stellar camera to midrange phones in 2019, and exceeding its capabilities will be a tall task for Google and OnePlus. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus Z, on the other hand, could sport between two and four lenses, headlined perhaps by a 64-MP main lens, as well as ultrawide and macro optics at 16-MP and 2-MP, respectively. That’s at least according to specs of a yet-unannounced budget-minded OnePlus device that leaked in a survey on an Indian shopping site. However, we’ve also heard rumblings more recently that the OnePlus Z will equal the quantity of lenses in the company’s range-topping OnePlus 8 Pro model, which notably includes a color filter lens.

For what it’s worth, early renders of the OnePlus Z — back when it was known colloquially as the OnePlus Lite — depicted a device with two cameras on the back. But no matter how many lenses OnePlus ultimately stuffs in its next device, the firm will need to tune up its post-processing and software if it has any hope of delivering a camera experience on par with Google and Apple’s flagships — something the Pixel 3a and iPhone SE achieve quite effortlessly already.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Specs (rumored)

ModelPixel 4a (rumored)OnePlus Z (rumored)
Starting PriceLikely under $400Likely under $600
Screen5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080)6.4-inch OLED
CPUSnapdragon 730Snapdragon 765 5G
Storage / Expandable64GB, 128GB / No128GB / No
Rear Camera12.2MP (ƒ/1.8)64MP main, 16MP ultrawide, 2MP macro
Front Camera8MP (ƒ/2.0)16MP

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Performance

While both the OnePlus Z and Pixel 4a appear as if they’ll incorporate Snapdragon 7-series power, the OnePlus Z should have a slight spec advantage. That’s because OnePlus’ device has been tipped to include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 chipset, which will also allow it to connect to 5G networks.

The Pixel 4a, conversely, is said to use the Snapdragon 730 chipset. That’s still formidable silicon for a midrange phone, though it’s not quite as capable as the Snapdragon 765, and it also lacks 5G connectivity.

The Pixel 4a should see a bump in RAM, up from the 4GB allotted in the Pixel 3a to 6GB in the new model. We don’t know precisely how much RAM the OnePlus Z will tout, but it could be as much as 12GB, to keep parity with other, more premium OnePlus hardware. In all honesty, though, if it would keep the price of the phone down, 8GB seems fine enough.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Battery and wireless charging

The Pixel 3a benefitted from solid battery life last year, lasting just a minute shy of the 12-hour mark in Tom’s Guide’s custom web-surfing test over LTE. That phone had a 3,000-mAh battery, and the Pixel 4a has been tipped to carry a 3,080-mAh unit, at least according to a report from 9to5Google back in April.

Pixel 4a wireless charging render

This mockup from case maker ESR shows a wirelessly-charging Pixel 4a, but we don't buy it. (Image credit: ESR)

One thing the Pixel 4a probably won’t have is wireless charging. That’s a feature on pricier Pixels, but one scrapped on last year's Pixel 3a, and oftentimes lacking from cheaper handsets in general. One render of a wirelessly-charging Pixel 4a leaked courtesy of case maker ESR a few weeks back, though all other rumors we’ve heard to date would appear to suggest this was an error. While case makers are often eager to advertise that their accessories don’t impede wireless charging, that particular detail might not be relevant in the case of the Pixel 4a.

With the OnePlus 8 Pro, OnePlus introduced 30-watt wireless charging — a first for its handsets. However, given that the less-expensive OnePlus 8 lacks wireless charging, we don’t see the feature making a  jump to the OnePlus Z. We’ve seen OnePlus’ upcoming midrange device linked to a 4,000-mAh battery, which seems sufficient — though we won’t know for sure until the device is launched.

In terms of charging speed, the Pixel 4a is expected to continue the 18-watt USB Power Delivery charging system introduced on the very first Pixel phone, and present in the Pixel 3a. The OnePlus Z, conversely, is tipped to utilize OnePlus’ proprietary Warp Charge 30T wired technology.

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Z: Outlook

The OnePlus Z and Pixel 4a look like a pair of compelling midrange handsets with premium designs and features. However, they’re quite different.

Although we can’t recommend one handset over the other for certain until we’ve actually had a chance to test them, our hunch is that power users who want the most speed for their buck — from gaming performance to downloads and even display refresh rates — will probably gravitate toward the OnePlus Z.

On the flip side, buyers that aren’t as chiefly concerned with performance, who perhaps prioritize photography above all else, will likely find more to like with the Pixel 4a. Google’s phone is also quite certain to be cheaper, with a more playful design and likely a longer period of software update support than you’d probably get from the OnePlus Z — all factors which work in the Pixel 4a’s favor.

It’d be nice to say that we’ll have confirmation on these educated guesses soon, but the reality of the matter is that we don’t know when we’ll be able to compare these two phones in earnest, side-by-side with real analysis and testing. That seems to depend in large part on whether Google can get the Pixel 4a out before the fall. The coming weeks will be crucial in determining when these highly-anticipated handsets will see the light of day.