The new iPhone SE just made the Pixel 4a irrelevant

iPhone SE vs Pixel 4a
(Image credit: Future)

Google's Pixel 4a just got blindsided. Yeah, we knew the new iPhone SE 2020 was coming, but now that it's here, suddenly Google's upcoming entry-level smartphone seems a lot less exciting. 

The Pixel 4a is supposed to be a follow-up to the Pixel 3a, which has been the best cheap phone you can buy for nearly a year. It offers a great camera for the money, a clean Android 10 experience and a pretty good OLED display. The newer Pixel 4a is supposed to up the ante in terms of screen size, performance and presumably camera quality for the same $399 as the new iPhone SE.

But all of that may very well fall flat now that the iPhone SE has been unveiled. Here's why. 

Why the iPhone SE beats the Pixel 4a

The new iPhone SE has pretty much everything you could want in a budget phone. It starts with a blazing A13 Bionic processor, the same chip found in the iPhone 11. And this processor should run circles around the mid-range Snapdragon 730 CPU rumored to be featured in the Pixel 4a. 

But the A13 Bionic is not just about speed. It gives the iPhone SE computational photography powers that should rival the Pixel 4a's. This includes Smart HDR, which leverages machine learning to more intelligently light subjects in the frame. Plus, both the rear and front cameras on the iPhone SE feature Portrait Mode, allowing you to snap photos of people with a bokeh effect.

The new iPhone SE houses a Touch ID button up front, which makes it a breeze to unlock your phone, use Apple Pay, enter passwords, approve App Store purchases and more. Based on leaked images, the Pixel 4a will feature a fingerprint reader on the back of the handset, which is less convenient. 

When it comes to design, the iPhone SE features a 4.7-inch display, compared to a rumored 5.8-inch screen on the Pixel 4a. Both phones should be fairly easy to use with one hand, but there are a lot of people who simply prefer small phones, and those folks should really like the compact iPhone SE.

Apple's new iPhone SE supports Qi wireless charging, which means it will work with any one of the best wireless chargers out there. According to 9to5Google, the Pixel 4a won't support wireless charging at all.

The iPhone SE has some less obvious benefits, including the quality of software in the Apple App Store compared to the less-curated Google Play Store. Apple Arcade is another big plus, which gives you access to hundreds of top games for $4.99 a month.

What about availability? While the Pixel 3a is sold through three out of the big four carriers, it's not available through AT&T, and there's no indication that this is changing. The iPhone SE is coming to all the major providers.

Pixel 4a has some advantages

Based on the Pixel 4a rumors, Google's upcoming budget phone does have some advantages. The biggest one for me is Google's Night Sight mode; the iPhone SE's camera does not offer the Night Mode you'll find in the iPhone 11. So that means you'll likely need to rely on the iPhone SE's flash when it's dark.

The Pixel 4a should also have a bigger 5.8-inch display that offers full HD resolution (2340 x 1080 pixels), compared to just 1334 x 750 pixels for the iPhone SE. Plus, I would expect an OLED panel for the Pixel 4a, which generally offers wider viewing angles, deeper blacks and more vibrant colors than the LCD on the iPhone SE. I just hope this time around the Pixel 4a's panel is brighter, so it's easier to see outside.

One other area where the Pixel 4a could pull ahead is battery life. The Pixel 3a lasted an excellent 11 hours and 59 minutes in our web surfing battery test, landing it on our list of the best phone battery life. The iPhone 8 lasted just 9:54, but we're hoping the new iPhone SE is more efficient.

While the Pixel 4a likely won't offer wireless charging, it should offer fast 18W charging via USB-C, just as the Pixel 3a does. With the iPhone SE, you'll have to pay extra for an 18W charger. Other Pixel 4a advantages should include Google Assistant (which beats Siri) and a headphone jack.

Why Apple will ultimately win

On paper, the Google Pixel 4a certainly scores some points over the new iPhone SE based on the leaks, especially when it comes to the display and camera. But the iPhone SE has so much going for it that it will likely make the Pixel 4a an afterthought for most shoppers. Apple's phone delivers a faster processor, very good cameras, wireless charging and a premium design for the same price as Google's phone. 

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.