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Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Which cheap Android phone should you buy?

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord
(Image credit: Future)

Cheap phones are getting really, really good. That’s because the OnePlus Nord and Google Pixel 4a — two affordable yet powerful Android phones  — have finally launched, offering premium designs and features for a budget price.

On paper, both handsets are compelling. The Pixel 4a is the cheaper of the two, starting at $349, though for that price it still has a bright OLED display, a phenomenal camera benefiting from Google's best imaging software, and 128GB of storage built-in. The OnePlus Nord has more going for it, with a 90Hz refresh rate, a plethora of lenses for various perspectives and a much larger battery that lasts longer on a charge — though it's roughly $150 more expensive, and isn't officially available in North America.

The problem of availability may doom the OnePlus Nord for some prospective buyers, but if you're fortunate enough to live somewhere where both phones are available, it's logical to shop them against one another. In this Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord face-off, we'll determine which is the better deal.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Release date and price

The Pixel 4a costs $349 and is available unlocked, or through Verizon, Google Fi and U.S. Cellular. There's only one configuration of the phone with 128GB of storage, and it exclusively comes in Just Black. It should ship close to end of August, with the date listed on Amazon as August 20.

The OnePlus Nord begins shipping August 4, though only in Europe, India, Hong Kong and Malaysia. For now, it'll miss North America. It also costs £379 (€399), which translates to roughly $490, making it roughly $140 more expensive than the Pixel when converted to dollars. The Nord is available in two colors: Gray Onyx and Blue Marble.

Should the OnePlus Nord ever ship in earnest in the U.S., its carrier prospects are hard to anticipate. That said, Verizon and T-Mobile’s current partnerships with the Chinese phone maker hint at possibilities for the entry-level device.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Design

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

For the OnePlus Nord, that translates to a glossy plastic design evocative of OnePlus' more premium offerings, albeit with a boxier footprint and a fully-flat display that doesn’t pour over the sides of the phone.

The Pixel 4a echoes the design of the existing Pixel 4 in many ways, while simultaneously making a few noticeable changes. Outside of a matte all-polycarbonate design, Google has also trimmed the top bezel and extended 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.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

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

A capacitive Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor handles authentication duties at the back, while the rear camera housing takes the form of a square, in keeping brand identity with the Pixel 4 — except it houses just one lens rather than two. The Pixel 4a also loses the Active Edge functionality present in the Pixel 3a, which allowed you to squeeze the device’s sides for instant access to the Google Assistant.

There’s one final distinction between these two devices that earns Google some points back in the Pixel 4a’s favor. While the OnePlus Nord lacks a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, the Pixel 4a mercifully has one. Of course, OnePlus will gladly recommend its OnePlus Buds truly-wireless earbuds for those inconvenienced by this design decision, but for some users, there’s simply nothing better than tried-and-true wired headphones and that trusty old connector.

It has to be said that the OnePlus Nord is significantly larger than the Pixel 4a in virtually every dimension, and it also weighs an ounce and a half more. That makes the Pixel 4a the better choice for those who prefer small phones, and especially those who prioritize one-handed operation.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

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

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Display

The OnePlus Nord’s display measures 6.4 inches from corner to corner, and the panel itself is OLED, with a 90Hz refresh rate just like the OnePlus 8 has. It's a full-HD panel in terms of resolution.

The Pixel 4a’s screen is sized at 5.81 inches, and utilizes OLED technology just like its predecessor’s. Unfortunately, it misses out on the Nord's 90Hz refresh rate, putting it at a disadvantage compared to OnePlus’ handset at least where animations and smoothness are concerned.

Both panels are excellent for what they cost, though the Nord's is undoubtedly more advanced, as it touts a faster refresh rate and is rated for a higher peak brightness than the Pixel's. Whereas the Pixel 4a can get up to 681 nits with Adaptive Brightness on, OnePlus says its phone can actually reach 1,000 nits when the display is set to its HDR mode. Unfortunately, that's not a claim we've been able to test, though it does speak to the work that's gone into the Nord's OLED panel.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Cameras

The cameras inside the OnePlus Nord and Pixel 4a simply couldn’t be more different.

The Pixel 4a’s rear shooter continues the tech that’s underpinned shooters in the last several generations of Pixel handsets. Buyers will get a 12.2-megapixel, ƒ/1.7 single-lens camera lavished with Google’s latest computational photography tricks.

Those include Night Sight and Super Res Zoom as well as Live HDR+, which allows users to witness HDR processing results through the viewfinder in real time. That particular feature missed the Pixel 3a, because last year's cheap Google phone wasn't powerful enough to pull it off.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

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

The OnePlus Nord, on the other hand, sports four lenses on the back, headlined by a 48-MP main shooter alongside an 8-MP ultrawide one, a 5-MP sensor to assist with portraits and a 2-MP macro lens. On the front, there will be two selfie lenses: a 32-MP primary shooter and an 8-MP one for ultrawide-angle group shots.

In the end, you undoubtedly enjoy more versatility from the OnePlus Nord's plethora of optics, but the quality of the photos you get from any one of its cameras will be poorer than results from the Pixel 4a's single shooter. OnePlus hasn't really firmed up the post-processing and software of the Nord's imaging stack, while the Pixel 4a's camera system is literally the very same one present in the flagship Pixel 4 — our best camera phone of last year, thanks almost entirely to its phenomenal computational photography capabilities. 

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Specs

ModelGoogle Pixel 4aOnePlus Nord
Price$349£379, £469
Screen5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080)6.4-inch OLED (2400x1080; 90Hz)
CPUSnapdragon 730GSnapdragon 765G
RAM6GB8GB, 12GB
Storage / Expandable64GB, 128GB / No128GB, 256GB / No
Battery3,140 mAh4,115 mAh
Battery life8:5511:18
Rear Camera12.2MP (ƒ/1.7)48MP wide (ƒ/1.75), 8MP ultrawide, 5MP depth (ƒ/2.4), 2MP macro (ƒ/2.4)
Front Camera8MP (ƒ/2.0)32MP (ƒ/2.45) and 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.45)
Dimensions5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches6.23 x 2.88 x 0.32 inches
Weight5.04 ounces6.49 ounces

Google Pixel 4a

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

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Performance

While both the OnePlus Nord and Pixel 4a incorporate Snapdragon 7-series power, the OnePlus Nord packs a slight spec advantage. That’s because OnePlus’ device includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G chipset, which also allows it to connect to 5G networks.

The Pixel 4a, conversely, uses the Snapdragon 730G 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 gets a bump in RAM to 6GB, up from the 4GB allotted in the Pixel 3a. The OnePlus Nord offers 8GB and 12GB RAM options tied to 128GB and 256GB storage configurations, to keep parity with other, more premium OnePlus hardware.

In terms of benchmarks, the Nord unsurprisingly wins out. In the system-wide Geekbench 5 test, OnePlus' device achieves a multi-core score of 1,948 to the Pixel 4a's 1,647.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Battery and charging

The 3,140-mAh battery inside the Pixel 4a respectably sized, though quite small compared to what many flagships are toting these days. With that power pack, the new Pixel lasted an average of 8 hours and 55 minutes in Tom's Guide's custom battery test, which is somewhat underwhelming, though forgivable given how cheap this device is.

The OnePlus Nord's battery is much larger, at 4,115 mAh, and thus lasted longer too, at 11 hours and 18 minutes in the same test. OnePlus' handset can also recharge a bit more quickly with the company's proprietary 30-watt Warp Charge technology compared to the Pixel 4a's 18-watt USB Power Delivery system. That adapter allows the Nord to go from empty to 68% in just 30 minutes, whereas the Pixel 4a only reaches 50% in that same span of time.

It's worth pointing out here that neither device supports wireless charging, so you'll have to settle for wires; at least they both top up quickly.

Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Nord: Verdict

The OnePlus Nord and Pixel 4a are a pair of compelling midrange handsets with premium designs and features, and you'd be wise to choose either one as your next phone. However, they’re quite different.

Power users who want the most speed for their buck — from gaming performance to downloads and even display refresh rates — should probably gravitate toward the OnePlus Nord. Additionally, anyone who wants the absolute most mileage out of a charge will be happier with OnePlus' offering.

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 considerably cheaper, and may enjoy a longer period of software update support than OnePlus may grant to the Nord.

And finally, it must be said that not all interested buyers will even have the ability to pick up a OnePlus Nord. That will surely make the decision easy for some. But if you have the luxury of choosing between the two, our recommendation is to go with the one that fits your priorities better.

  • blackbird1001
    Wait for price cut. And my "old" phone be 2 Years old. -
    Have promised my roommate. That my phones always have to last at least 2 years before I switch, or it gets too expensive. - So much better, they do not get either - anymore (the Phone)

    Just waiting a few months and see what happens with price. But think camera is to decide my choice.
    A Oneplus 8 Pro will then be the best choice, but I DO NOT WANT TO GIVE SO MUCH MONEY FOR A PHONE that only lasts 2-4 years

    So OnePlus Nord or Googe 4a for me.

    ---

    it was my last HUAWEI phone in the beginning good or OK-
    But software became more and more creepy, more demands to call home.
    No root options. And bad versions of Google software that just got more and more complicated, full of bugs and short comings. - and all want to call home.

    Why just not as oneplus, make a pure Andriod, with FOSS. I was a buyer. But shit about it. Huawei dies outside China.
    Due to bad software and decisions. Not because of hardware, which is very ok for the price.

    I ONLY change my HUAWEI phone because the software has become too bad, (NOT too old) But the bad decisions, that have been made by "updates" have ruined my experience, and I do not bother further
    Either lost or gray hair, or a new phone.

    ---

    considered a Noka. But too expensive, compared to hardware. And since it has now been discovered that it contains spyware from China, the only reason to buy it away.

    ---

    Maybe root and, LineageO - Saifish - ...... sometime in the future.
    Reply