Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a: Biggest upgrades to expect

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Steve Hemmerstoffer, Voice)

A Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 4a comparison might seem premature, but the Pixel 5a is definitely on the way, even if if didn't debut during last month's Google I/O conference. After all, Google has already told us that the Pixel 5a 5G is coming this year to the U.S. (and Japan).

While there’s not a lot of details, a few Pixel 5a rumors have surfaced that give us some idea of what to expect from the Pixel 5a and how it improves upon its predecessor, the Pixel 4a. That phone really impressed us, as you can see in our Google Pixel 4a review. In fact, the Pixel 4a has ruled our best cheap phones list for months, thanks to a low $349 price and a camera that outperforms more expensive handsets with multiple lenses.

From the Pixel 5a's potential addition of 5G and better cameras to a faster refresh display, our Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a preview looks at the rumored features of Google's upcoming phone and how they could improve upon the previous model.

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

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 5a (rumored)Pixel 4a
Screen size6.2 inches5.81 inches
CPUSnapdragon 765GSnapdragon 730G
Rear camerasMain lens + ultrawide12.2MP camera
Size6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches

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

The Pixel 4a raised a lot of eyebrows with its price tag — in a good way. At $349, Google's phone delivered some very impressive specs at an affordable price. Google undercut Apple's iPhone SE by $50, and while the OnePlus Nord N10 5G subsequently arrived for an even lower price, OnePlus' budget phone had to scale back on some features like the processor and camera quality.

Rumored Pixel 5a prices have yet to leak out, and probably won't until we get closer to the phone's launch. But from our perspective, Google will be hard-pressed to hold the line at $349 for its new phone. 

The new Google phone's expected to get a number of new features that would theoretically drive up the cost, including 5G connectivity. That could mean a price that's closer to the $499 the phone maker charged for the Pixel 4a 5G, though we hope the final cost is closer to the $400 mark.

Some were expecting the Pixel 5a to appear at Google I/O in May. (Guilty as charged.) Now, we'll assume it's coming at some point this summer. For it's part, Google said to expect the new version to arrive around the same time that the Pixel 4a did — that would be August.

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

Don't expect Google to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the look and feel of the Pixel 5a. In fact, based on leaked Pixel 5a images, Google's new phone should look a lot like the Pixel 4a, right down to the plastic back Google uses on its budget devices. All the features found on the Pixel 4a — a rear fingerprint sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack and stereo speakers — look like they're returning to the Pixel 5a.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 5a renders (Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

You might even argue that the Pixel 5a is a spitting image of the Pixel 4a 5G, given that leaked renders of the upcoming Google phone show a camera array with two lenses.The rumored 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3-inch dimensions of the Pixel 5a are in line with the Pixel 4a 5G's size, too.

Rumors point to the Pixel 5a getting a 6.2-inch OLED screen. That would be larger than the Pixel 4a's 5.81-inch display but exactly the same size as the Pixel 4a 5G's panel. What's still up in the air is whether the Pixel 5a’s display will have a fast refresh rate. Google tends to reserve that feature for its flagship phones — the Pixel 5 has a 90Hz refresh rate while last year's 4a models feature a more conventional 60Hz rate. (Want to see a Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5 comparison? We've got you covered there, too.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a

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

While it seems likely that Google would want to keep the display refresh rate as a distinguishing feature for its flagship phone, more budget devices are offering fast refreshing displays — see Samsung's $499 Galaxy A52 5G and its 120Hz display as an example. If Google wants to make the Pixel 5a stand out from the Pixel 4a, improving the refresh rate is one area where that could happen.

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

Cameras are often the focus of the Pixel lineup, as Google has established itself as one the preeminent makers of the best camera phones. The Pixel 4a, in particular, won raves for doing more with less — despite only having a single lens, it took some of the best pictures of any smartphone. That's a credit to Google's powerful software, as many of the photo features found in the flagship Pixels wind up in the company's budget phones.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a

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

The Pixel 5a could take a different tack than its predecessor and that single 12.2MP lens. Rumors suggest the Pixel 5a will be more like the Pixel 4a 5G, with an ultrawide angle shooter joining the main camera. Already, leaked images reportedly shot by a Pixel 5a reveal the presence of that ultrawide lens — the picture's metadata suggest that a camera with an f/2.2 aperture took the shot. So you can expect that the Pixel 5a will have a little bit more flexibility than the Pixel 4a when it comes to capturing images.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a

Pixel 5a render (Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

As for the software features that are at the heart of the picture-taking experience on the Pixel, we'd anticipate that Google's new phone would adopt many of the features Google introduced last fall with the Pixel 5. These include more electronic stabilization modes when shooting video, improved HDR+ and portrait photos when using the low-light Night Sight feature.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Google Pixel 4a: Specs and performance

You don't get one of Google's budget Pixels because you want a performance beast. In its past two models, Google has opted for a capable if less powerful chipset than what it uses in its flagship phones as a way to keep costs down. In the case of the Pixel 4a, that meant a Snapdragon 730G system-on-chip, which performed decently, even if rivals like the iPhone SE packed more processing oomph.

The Pixel 5a figures to feature a better chipset than the Pixel 4a. And it's one that will be familiar to anyone who used the Pixel 5.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4

The Snapdragon 765G could be the chipset powering the Pixel 5a. (Image credit: Qualcomm)

A rumor suggests that Google is turning to the same Snapdragon 765G found in both the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a 5G. If true, that definitely means performance gains over the regular Pixel 4a, though the Pixel 5a would potentially lag behind other midrange devices. There's also the perception that turning to last year's processor for a newer phone doesn't suggest a big leap forward.

But there are other implications to Google turning to a Snapdragon 765G for the Pixel 5a. That would mean the new phone is capable of connecting to 5G networks, something that wasn't possible with the Pixel 4a. If you wanted 5G connectivity, you had to pay an extra $100 for the Pixel 4a 5G. We're seeing a lot of midrange phones emerge this year that are pushing down the cost of 5G devices, and the Pixel 5a could continue that trend with the right kind of chipset.

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

After the Pixel 3a offered great battery life two years ago, the Pixel 4a took a step back, finishing below the average time for smartphones on our battery test. Part of the blame could be laid on a small battery — at a time when other phones routinely feature 4,000 mAh power packs, the Pixel 4a made do with a 3,140 mAh battery.

We'd expect the Pixel 5a to go with a bigger battery, particularly if it features power-hungry 5G connectivity.The Pixel 4a 5G, for example, used a 3,885 mAh power pack, and that would be a more appropriate size for the Pixel 5a, especially if it's turning to the same chipset.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a

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

Google has skipped offering wireless charging in the Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a models. We imagine that will continue with the Pixel 5a, as the phone maker has to keep costs down somewhere, and wireless charging is a feature it can reserve for premium devices.

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

We don't yet have all the details about the Pixel 5a — that will happen throughout this summer, as we get closer to that rumored August launch date. But based on early leaks, the Pixel 5a figures to be a big improvement over the Pixel 4a. Certainly, the changes seem more substantial than the ones Google made in the Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a upgrade, where the biggest difference was price.

Any Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a comparison will focus on the extra camera lens headed to the new phone, and rightly so. Cameras have long been at the heart of the Pixel experience. But there are other rumored improvements as well, such as a better processor, 5G connectivity and (hopefully) a faster refreshing screen.

We're excited to get an official look at the Pixel 5a to see just how it separates itself from the Google phones that came before it.

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.

  • DinkSinger
    While I had intended to replace my Pixel 3 with a Pixel 5a next month, I am very doubtful that there is going to be a Pixel 5a. When there were reports that it was being cancelled because of the chip shortages, Google replied not that there would be a Pixel 5a but that a Pixel 5a 5G would be released at about the same time the Pixel 4a 5G was last year, but only in the U.S. and Japan. The Pixel 4a and the Pixel 4a 5G were very different phones. Since Google begged the question does anyone have any reason to expect there will be a Pixel 5a?