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Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Is the new affordable Pixel worth it?

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a face-off pits both affordable Pixels against each other. The Pixel 5a has landed after many rumors and much speculation. For $449, you get the best camera experience for less than $500, Google’s excellent software along with the biggest battery ever in a Pixel, and much more. In fact, there’s little resemblance between the Pixel 5a and its predecessor, the Pixel 4a.

Not only is there a $100 price difference between them, but the 5a is much larger, has IP67 water resistance, and sports a processor upgrade. In fact, the 5a is basically a Pixel 4a 5G with a bigger battery, and that’s just fine with us.

In this Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a face-off, we’ll break down just how these phones stack up to each other, so you can see how much of a difference a year makes for Google’s lower-cost phones.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Specs

Google Pixel 5aGoogle Pixel 4a
Screen size6.43-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)5.81-inch OLED (2340 x 1080)
Refresh rate60Hz60Hz
CPUSnapdragon 765GSnapdragon 730G
Micro SDNoNo
Rear cameras12.2MP (f/1.7), 16MP (f/2.2) ultrawide12.2MP (f/1.7)
Front camera8MP (f/2.0)8MP (f/2.0)
Water resistanceIP67IP52
Battery size4,610 mAh3,140 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)9:458:55
Size6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches
Weight6.5 ounces5.04 ounces

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Price

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 5a costs $100 more than the Pixel 4a at $449. For that extra $100, you get the same 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, plus an ultrawide camera, 5G support, and a bigger battery. It's quite a list of upgrades.

Some may not appreciate the $100 price hike, but I think it's worth it for a phone that's not only as good as the Pixel 4a, but better in many respects. However, even though it's a year old, we cannot deny the incredible value that is the Pixel 4a. 

Unfortunately, there can only be one winner here. Even though the 4a is cheaper, the 5a offers so much more for $449. $349 is extremely appealing, but the Pixel 5a is more future-proof than the 4a.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Design

On the outside, the Pixel 5a and Pixel 4a look remarkably similar. They both feature a spartan, all plastic design — including a rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor, a square camera module, and a small Google “G” logo. On the front, both phones have slim bezels with the front-facing camera in a hole-punch cutout in the top left corner.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

These are not interesting-looking phones. In fact, I daresay that they’re quite boring. Google has played it pretty safe with the Pixel design language thus far, instead putting all of its focus on software. There’s just a bit of flair with the power buttons, but that’s it.

The only physical difference between the Pixel 5a and the 4a is the size of each phone. The 5a is quite larger with a 6.43-inch display versus the 4a’s 5.81-inch one. Next to each other, the 5a feels noticeably larger. I prefer smaller phones because it’s easier to use them one-handed, but the 5a’s bigger footprint allows for its large battery.

Google Pixel 5a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Since the Pixel 5a has a secondary ultrawide camera (there’s just one lens on the Pixel 4a), the camera module on the back is larger than the 4a’s. Both phones also have the rare 3.5mm headphone jack, something that I love to see on phones. I also think the Pixel 5a’s speakers sound richer and fuller than the 4a’s.

Where the Pixel 5a has a leg up over its predecessor is that it sports an IP67 water resistance rating. The Pixel 4a has no such designation, meaning that it’ll survive splashes at the most. The Pixel 5a can be dunked in water and still live to tell the tale. It is for this reason that the 5a wins out over its older sibling.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Display

Both the Pixel 5a and Pixel 4a have OLED displays, which offer significant advantages over LCDs. Truer blacks and more vibrant colors are two of those, and they really help set OLED panels apart. 

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Movies and games look great on either phone, though the larger display on the Pixel 5a feels more immersive. I could easily see each phone’s screen out in direct sunlight, which is great considering their low cost. Both devices are locked at 60Hz refresh rates, though, unlike cheaper phones from OnePlus and Samsung which offer 90Hz refresh rates.

The Pixel 4a has a 5.81-inch OLED panel with a FHD+ resolution. It’s a bright display with great color accuracy (Delta-E of 0.29), reproducing 105.8% of the sRGB spectrum. In our testing, the Pixel 4a hit an impressive 681-nit max brightness.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 5a, meanwhile, has a 6.43-inch FHD+ OLED — the biggest ever on an all-screen Pixel. It sports lower color accuracy than the 4a ( it has a Delta-E reading of 0.32), but its colors are more saturated. We saw the phone manage 119.3% of the sRGB gamut. Surprisingly, the 5a has a lower brightness at a max of 501 nits.

While one display is not necessarily better than the other, the Pixel 4a has better color accuracy and much higher brightness. And the FHD+ resolution on the smaller display means a tighter, albeit slightly, pixel density (443 ppi versus the 5a’s 415 ppi)

Winner: Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Cameras

Both the Pixel 5a and Pixel 4a are incredible camera phones, especially for the money. They each have a 12.2MP main camera and an 8MP front camera, but the 5a adds a 16MP ultrawide shooter. As you’ll see below, it’s hard to tell a true difference between either phone’s images.

We’ll start off with an outdoor shot of these flowers on a tree. Like I said before, it’s difficult to discern any disparity between the two pictures. The Pixel 5a’s image looks just a tiny bit richer and fuller, but that could honestly be my eyes playing tricks on me. I have to call this one a draw.

For this next outdoor shot, both phones did a great job capturing this tree. The soft pinks of the flowers are subtle, the grass is a rich green, and even the fences and bricks of the houses look smooth and natural. Pixel phones opt for more natural color profiles, and the 5a and 4a are no different. Again, I can’t call a winner here — both images are just too good.

Heading inside, both phones captured Merida’s likeness well, but the Pixel 5a has a slightly brighter image. It doesn’t lose any details, though, and still has the right amount of color pop for the statuette and candle beside it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Pixel 4a’s shot, but the 5a ekes out a victory with this one.

For portraits, Google does a great job with these artistic images, even on the Pixel 5a and 4a. Once again, both images look similar, but the Pixel 5a’s shot is warmer than the 4a’s. The latter looks a bit too cool and surreal, though both phones have an awesome bokeh effect. I have to give the nod to the 5a on this one for producing a more natural-looking photo.

Google’s Night Sight is probably the best in the business, right on par with Apple’s Night Mode. No other phone manufacturer comes close to either of these in my experience, and the Pixel 5a and 4a continue the tradition. The fact that both phones are capable of producing the shots above at their respective prices is incredible. The 4a’s shot is brighter than the 5a’s, but it also loses detail and starts to look grainy. The 5a kept a nice balance, showing the smoker in strong detail without overdoing it.

Finally, the selfies from both phones look identical. They each capture my likeness well without any aggressive face smoothing or oversaturation. I look a bit red in the 5a’s image, but it was also quite warm and humid out when I took this photo. I wouldn’t call either selfie better than the other.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Despite the similarities between each phone, the Pixel 5a wins out partially because it adds the extra ultrawide camera. This added flexibility to zoom out is invaluable, especially for sweeping landscape shots. It’s also perfect for photographing big groups, which is a must for some families, friend groups, and co-workers. While I personally don’t use ultrawide cameras too often, there’s a reason that practically every phone nowadays has one — people love having that zoom out capability. This is, therefore, a major plus for the Pixel 5a.

But the Pixel 4a is still an impressive camera phone, especially for $349.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Performance

The Pixel 5a uses a Snapdragon 765G, coupled with 6GB of RAM — this is the same chip that Google used in last year’s Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. That means you’re settling for an older chip that was just OK to start with. 

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That said, the Snapdragon 765G represents an upgrade (in theory) over the Snapdragon 730G that the Pixel 4a uses. Google’s budget phone from last year also has 6GB of RAM. 

You’d think that there would be quite a leap in benchmark results, but we ran into compatibility issues during our testing of the Pixel 5a. For instance, we had to sideload Geekbench 5 and even then, the results were startlingly low.

The Pixel 4a managed an average multicore score of 1,647 whereas the 5a barely got to 1,345. This doesn’t make any sense. Then again, the Pixel 4a did manage to beat out the Pixel 4a 5G last year in our benchmarks. It’s hard to say what’s going on here, but we won’t crown a winner based on these Geekbench results alone.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 5a did beat out the 4a in the Adobe Premiere Rush test, where we task a phone to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. The 5a clocked in at just under two minutes with a final time 1:59 — the 4a did the same test in 2:27. 

In practice, both phones feel similar to use side-by-side. Games are where the Pixel 5a inches ahead, with smoother performance in titles like Genshin Impact and Asphalt 9. It can’t match the best gaming phones you can buy right now, but you’ll be able to play most games in the Play Store just fine. The Pixel 4a has a bit more trouble with some games, though if you can lower the graphical fidelity, I’d recommend doing so.

Despite the general oddity with Geekbench 5, the Pixel 5a does outperform the Pixel 4a, if only slightly. Neither is a beast of a phone, but they both get the job done very well.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Battery life and charging

Google has recently struggled with Pixel battery life, with the flagship Pixel 5 considered only passable by our standards. The Pixel 4a disappointed us with its battery life test results, so I was hoping that the Pixel 5a would buck that trend.

It looks like Google finally got the memo, slapping in a big battery for the 5a. In fact, it’s the biggest battery ever in a Pixel: 4,680 mAh. That’s quite a bit larger than the Pixel 4a’s 3,140 mAh. That 1,540 mAh difference translates to real-life results, with the Pixel 5a anecdotally going longer than any recent Pixel.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Personal experience aside, the Pixel 5a did outperform the Pixel 4a in the Tom’s Guide battery test. With this benchmark, we set phones to 150 nits of brightness and have them endlessly reload web pages on a cellular connection until they die. The Pixel 4a lasted for 8 hours and 55 minutes, which falls short of the 10-hour mark we usually like to see (especially given that the Pixel 4a doesn’t have a 5G modem).

The Pixel 5a lasted for 9 hours and 45 minutes, which is around average for a smartphone. Considering the larger display and the addition of 5G, it’s good to see the 5a outlast the 4a. That said, I would’ve liked to see a higher result.

Both A-series Pixels charge at 18W, meaning that the Pixel 4a’s smaller battery should recharge faster than the 5a. In our lab, the 4a hit 25% in 15 minutes, while the 5a managed 23% in the same timeframe. Both phones are remarkably closer together despite the huge difference in battery capacity.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: 5G

This is a pretty simple section. The Pixel 5a has 5G support while the Pixel 4a does not. Google’s latest Pixel will work on mmWave and sub-6Ghz networks, meaning you can take the phone to any US carrier and it’ll work.

You’re limited to LTE with the Pixel 4a, which might be disappointing for people who want a more future-proof device.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Software

I’ll keep this one short, too. The software experience on both the Pixel 5a and 4a is identical. Both run Android 11 out of the box (with the option to install the Android 12 beta pain-free) and will get Android 12 on day one. They each will get monthly security patches near the beginning of each month, with the occasional Pixel Feature Drop, where Google introduces new features.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However, the Pixel 5a gets the win here simply because it’s newer. We’re probably a ways off from Google’s Tensor chips finding their way into the A-series Pixels, so we’re stuck with three years of Android updates and a minimum of three years of security patches for both the Pixel 5a and 4a.

Simply put, the Pixel 5a will be supported for longer because it’s brand new. That gives it only a slight victory, however. Otherwise, you’ll have the same software experience on either phone, which is a pretty basic affair right now. Android 12 will radically change things up with a new UI and design, and more customization options, though.

Winner: Pixel 5a

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Overall winner

Pixel 5aPixel 4a
Price (10 points)98
Design (10 points)87
Display (15 points)1213
Cameras (20 points)2019
Performance (15 points)109
5G (5 points)50
Battery life (15 points)1210
Software (10 points)109
Overall (100 points)8675

It should come as no surprise, but the Pixel 5a is the overall winner in this face-off. It’s got more powerful hardware (despite the oddities we found in testing), a bigger battery, 5G, and that second ultrawide camera. It’s all around a great phone, especially for $449.

pixel 5a vs pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That doesn’t discount how great the Pixel 4a is. This is still a fantastic $349 phone from Google with the best camera experience under $400 and super clean software that gets updated quickly and regularly. It’s also more compact, though that means it has a small battery.

Just because the Pixel 5a is better doesn’t mean that you should run out to buy one if you’re rocking a 4a. I think both devices are fantastic, especially for the money. Even so, getting the second camera and bigger battery do make the 5a a worthy upgrade if you’re pining for something new.

Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over five years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.

  • selden
    admin said:
    Our Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a face-off shows the differences between the two affordable Pixels. It’s more than just $100 that separates them.

    Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Is the new affordable Pixel worth it? : Read more
    I bought a Pixel 4a last spring, so I am definitely not in the market. However, the 5a is too large for my taste. I love the fact that even with a protective case, the 4a fits in even my smallest pockets. Battery life? Meh, I just checked, and it estimates 3 days and 22 hours on a 97% charge. Mine has never dropped below a 50% charge, but I don't watch movies or play games on it.