Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a: Which affordable phone is for you?

Google Pixel 4a 5g vs Pixel 4a
(Image credit: Google/Tom's Guide)

The Google Pixel 4a 5G shares part of its name with the Pixel 4a, as well as that phone's look and Google's desire to deliver its high-end photography features to more budget-minded smartphone shoppers. But after Google took the wraps off the 5G version of the Pixel 4a, that seems to be all these phones have in common.

In fact, you could make the argument that the Pixel 4a 5G is more like the Google Pixel 5 in that those phones sport the same processor and dual-camera setup. A lot of the same features found on the Pixel 5 are also available on the Pixel 4a 5G.

This Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a face-off looks at the differences between the two 4a models and who each phone might appeal to. While we'll have more to say once the Pixel 4a 5G begins shipping and we get a chance to test the phone as we've tested the regular Pixel 4a, we already have a good idea of how these similarly-named phones compare.

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

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 4a 5GPixel 4a
Starting price$499$349
Screen size6.2-inch OLED5.81-inch OLED
CPUSnapdragon 765GSnapdragon 730G
Rear cameras12.2MP (f/1.7) main; 16MP (f/2.2) ultra wide12.2MP (f/1.7)
Front camera8MP (f/2.0)8MP (f/2.0)
Battery size3,885 mAh3,140 mAh
Size6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches
Weight5.9 ounces (sub-6GHz); 6.03 ounces (mmWave)5.04 ounces

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a: Price and availability

The Pixel 4 has one clear advantage over the Pixel 4a 5G — it's here right now. And it's likely to remain that way for some time.

You can currently buy the Pixel 4a for $349, with the phone available from Google's store. If you want to get your phone through a wireless carrier, you'll find the Pixel 4a at Verizon, US Cellular, Visible and Google Fi, among other carriers.

If you want the Pixel 4a 5G, the only thing you can do right now is put your name on a waitlist for the phone. Google says it ship in Japan on Oct. 15, but the Pixel 4a 5G isn't coming to other markets until mid-November. Our best guess is that it lands in the U.S. around November 19, as that's when Verizon says it will sell the phone; pre-orders start at Verizon on Oct. 29.

When it does become available, the Pixel 4a 5G will start at $499, according to Google. At Verizon, the phone will cost $599, as the Verizon-specific version has been designed specifically to work with that carrier's mmWave-based 5G network.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a: Design and display

The Google Pixel 4a 5G bears a striking resemblance to the Pixel 4a, though it's noticeably taller and wider at 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches. That's to accommodate the 4a 5G's larger 6.2-inch display, which offers more screen real estate than the the 5.81 inch panel on the Pixel 4a.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a 5G (Image credit: Google)

Otherwise, the two phones are essentially the same, made out of plastic materials and available in black. (Google's site suggests there will eventually be a Clearly White Pixel 4a 5G, but that model has seemingly been delayed.) You'll get a headphone jack with either phone, which is welcome news indeed, and the selfie camera lives in a punch-hole cutout in the upper left corner of the display.

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

As a growing number of phones in all price ranges add multiple rear cameras, the Pixel 4a has stuck to its guns. It features just a single 12.2MP lens — the same sensor, in fact, that Google's been using on its phone for years. 

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 4a 5G follows a different path, one blazed by Google's own flagships. In addition to the 12.2MP main camera, you'll also find a 16MP ultra wide angle lens. That's the same camera setup introduced on this year's Pixel 5 flagship, as a matter of fact.

The ultra wide angle lens means you'll be able to have a wider frame containing more background details in photos shot by the Pixel 4a 5G than what the Pixel 4a is capable of providing.

The Pixel 4a 5G benefits from the same camera features that the Pixel 5 is getting. That includes the ability to take portrait shot using Night Sight so that you can still take pictures with artistic blurs when the lights are low. The Pixel 4a 5G's features the same Cinematic Pan stabilization mode added to the video capabilities of the Pixel 5. And both phones will be better able to illuminate portrait shots felled by backlighting with a new Portrait Light feature. That last feature, at least, is coming to the Pixel 4a via a software update.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a 5G (Image credit: Google)

Up front, all three Pixels have an 8MP selfie cam, so self-portraits should look the same on the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G.

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

One of the biggest Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a differences is right there in the name. The Google Pixel 4a 5G can connect to 5G networks; the Pixel 4a cannot.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a 5G (Image credit: Google)

It's not just ticking a box for 5G support either with the Pixel 4a 5G. Google says it's optimizing photo and video quality for 5G streaming on its phones, and a smart download feature means that apps, music and other files will start pre-downloading over 5G when there's no Wi-Fi connectivity.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The 5G capabilities of the Google Pixel 4a 5G are made possible by the Snapdragon 765G system-on-chip that powers the phone and includes a 5G modem. The regular Pixel 4a runs on a Snapdragon 730G, so we'd also expect a small performance boost for the larger phone. For what it's worth, Snapdragon 765G-powered phones like the LG Velvet and OnePlus Nord that we've tested have outperformed the Pixel 4a 5G on tests like Geekbench. It's reasonable to expect the Pixel 4a 5G to do likewise.

Otherwise, the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G have the same 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage. Neither have room for a microSD card to expand that storage further, so you're basically stuck with what you get out of the box.

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

The Pixel 4a's low-powered processor and 3,140 mAh battery didn't lead to impressive results on our battery test, in which we have phones surf the web continuously over a cellular connection until they run out of juice. The Pixel 4a turned in a time of 8 hours, 55 minutes, which is more than an hour worse than the average smartphone.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We're hoping the bigger battery on the Pixel 4a 5G leads to greater longevity. Google's new phone features a 3,885 mAh power pack. That, plus the power efficiency of the Snapdragon 765G, should lead to better results on our test. And an Extreme Battery Saver mode on the Pixel 4a 5G can limit apps to just their basic functions in a power-saving move that can help you phone last up to 48 hours.

Charging should be similar on the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G, as both phones support 18W charging. That's only wired charging, though, as Google limits wireless charging to its flagship phones like the Pixel 5.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a: Software and special features

The Pixel 4a 5G debuts with Android 11 installed, though that's not much of an edge, since the Pixel 4a can upgrade to the new operating system. Google promises three years of OS and security updates, so Pixel 4a owners can expect their phones to stay up-to-date for some time.

Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a

Google's Pixel phones (Image credit: Google)

It's on special features where the Pixel 4a 5G stands out. A Hold for Me feature debuting on Google's new phone tasks the Google Assistant with putting up with on-hold music, alerting you when a real person finally arrives on the line. Past Google software innovations tend to find their way to older models through software updates, so it's possible Hold for Me could one day come to the Pixel 4a, but it's only on the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G for now. Similarly, those new phones also update the excellent Recorder app by letting you edit audio recordings just by highlighting and deleting text in the automatic transcript the app can create.

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

We still have to get our hands on the Pixel 4a 5G to truly see how it measures up to Google's least expensive phone. But on the surface, any Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a face-off seems skewed heavily toward the new 5G phone from Google. Even if you're not sold on 5G yet — and that's understandable as carriers continue to build out their networks — the Pixel 4a 5G offers a lot more from a second camera lens to a better battery and more features right out of the box. If you live in an area with 5G coverage, getting Google's phone lets you take advantage of those faster speeds without breaking the bank.

But that eye on the bottom line also works in the Pixel 4a's favor. At $349, it's one of the best bargains in the smartphone world, as few devices offer a high-quality camera for that price.

Test results for the Pixel 4a 5G will be the final word on the matter, but at least people who don't want to spend more than $500 on their next phone have a lot of good choices coming out of Google these days.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.