The Google Pixel 4a could be doomed — here's why

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

First the low-cost Google Pixel 4a was supposed to launch May 22 after the Google I/O 2020 event. But then that event got cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then Google was going to have an Android 11 event on June 3, where the Pixel 4a could have made an appearance, but civil unrest led to that being cancelled, too.

Recently, we learned that the Google Pixel 4a may be unveiled July 13, but the phone wouldn’t hit stores until August 6. And then in mid June we heard that the Pixel 4a launch was delayed yet again, this time being pushed all the way back to October. What the heck is going on?

The Google Pixel 4a has the potential to be one of the best cheap phones of the year. But as its release date gets pushed back further and further, Google is making it easier for competitors to swoop in and steal its thunder.

The latest rumor, courtesy of Jon Prosser, says that the Pixel 4a will still be announced on July 13, but that the black model will launch October 22 and the blue model has been “removed,” which could mean that it’s cancelled.

A challenging retail environment

It’s understandable why Google continues to push back the Pixel 4a release date. Many retail stores are still not open, and a recent surge in COVID-19 cases has caused Apple to close stores it had reopened. Meanwhile, Microsoft has decided to shutter its retail stores altogether. 

So right now doesn't seem like the ideal time to launch a phone. The Google Pixel 3a is currently sold at Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, so I’m sure Google would like to see those stores reopen before launching the Pixel 4a. Then again, with the way the coronavirus is continuing to spread, there’s no guarantee that we will see malls or retail shops in the US opening their doors to the masses by the fall.

Pixel 4a is a great phone (but not for later)

Pixel 4a render

(Image credit: 91Mobiles/OnLeaks)

In terms of the phone itself, the Pixel 4a looks to be a solid Android phone. The handset is said to feature a 5.8-inch OLED display, a Snapdragon 730 processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (though there could be a 64GB variant).

The Pixel 4a should also pack a 12.2MP rear camera and a 8-MP front camera. And early leaked Pixel 4a camera samples show that this camera should be able to produce flagship-level results for a much cheaper price.

There's more good news. In May we learned that the Pixel 4a may cost just $349, which would be $50 less than its predecessor.

Intensifying cheap phone competition

The problem for Google is that the competition is not sitting still. The iPhone SE 2020 is already on the market, which offers a blazing A13 Bionic chip along with a great camera, and OnePlus is working on a low-cost OnePlus Nord that should offer great specs for a low price, including a 6.4-inch OLED display and a Snapdragon 765G processor. That means the OnePlus phone will offer 5G connectivity, something the Pixel 4a is expected to lack.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s affordable Galaxy A series phones are starting to look good, too. Right now you can pick up a Galaxy A51 for $399 or as low as $274 on sale with a 6.5-inch screen, decent Exynos 9611 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, plus a quad-lens camera. And this fall Samsung is rumored to be releasing a Samsung Galaxy S20 Lite (aka Fan Edition), though we haven’t seen a rumored price.

If you care about battery life, the Moto G Power is yet another great value, delivering an epic 16-plus hours of endurance on our web surfing test. Anything that gets more than 11 hours lands on our best phone battery life list.

Google Pixel 4a outlook

It won’t be nearly as affordable as the Pixel 4a, but one rumor has the iPhone 12 starting at just $549 when Apple announces its lineup in September. That would be for a 4G-only version of the device, but it could steal the spotlight from Google because this would certainly be cheap for Apple.

The bottom line is this. The economy and especially the retail environment could be on shaky ground well into October. So if the Pixel 4a is ready to ship, as has been reported, there’s no reason for Google to sit on its hands much beyond the July 13 announce date. It should find ways to promote the handset online in collaboration with its carrier partners and online retailers like Amazon.

The clock is ticking on 2020, and Google cannot afford to delay the Pixel 4a much longer.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • jack_straw
    Everyone is so bearish on the Pixel 4a, poo-pooing it because it won't have the latest mid-range processor, but Google seems to be moving away from having the latest CPU in Pixels. Fine with me - as long as they keep providing a smooth, lag-free experience with best in class cameras, I can't complain. My Pixel 2 is still buttery smooth, so I feel confident that Google won't let the 4a fall behind in performance as it ages.