The Google Pixel 4a will likely be the second budget handset from the company, and it has some big shoes to fill. That's because of the Pixel 3a, which is one of the most popular phones Google has ever sold.
After three generations of Pixel phones, Google made the decision to take its excellent Pixel 3 and change its materials and downgrade its specs to create the Pixel 3a, a more affordable but still capable Android smartphone. That was back in May 2019, and with the year anniversary of the Pixel 3a soon approaching, it’s time to start thinking about its potential successor.
The Pixel 4 brought lots of new, albeit inconsistent, technology to Google’s phones and the smartphone market in general, thanks to its 90Hz display, Motion Sense radar controls, Face Unlock and new Google apps and Assistant features. We're not sure that all of these are going to make it over to the 4a however, since the Pixel 4 is priced at nearly twice as much as the 3a.
If Google can get the right amount of premium functionality in a phone at the same $400 price point, then it may have another great success on its hands. And that’s particularly important given that Apple’s rumored to be working on the iPhone 9 (or iPhone SE 2), its own budget smartphone.
Read on to learn everything we know about the Pixel 4a, including its potential release date, price, specs and more.
Pixel 4a rumors (updated Feb. 7)
- The Pixel 4a will use a Snapdragon 730 CPU, which means more power but no 5G capabilities.
Pixel 4a release date
Last year the Pixel 3a was revealed at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference, on May 7. This year’s I/O takes place starts on May 12 and ends May 14, with the keynote presumably taking place on the first day. We’re therefore fairly confident that we’ll see the next budget Google phone on May 12, 2020.
Pixel 4a price and models
The Pixel 3a costs $399, and the Pixel 3a XL $479. We would hope the 4a and 4a XL would continue roughly in these price brackets. With the impending release of the iPhone SE 2, this price range is about to be a hotly contested piece of real estate in the smartphone market.
Based on the code names spotted by XDA Developers, we’re once again expecting two kinds of Pixel 4a: Sunfish and Bramble. These names were also found once more in an update for the Google Camera app, alongside the name Redfin, which XDA believes is a development-only model. Presumably these names correspond to a standard Pixel 4a and a larger Pixel 4 XL.
However, there’s a counter rumor that claims there will only be one edition of the Pixel 4a, where Google would skip the XL version for the first time in Pixel history. Thi comes from YouTuber Dave Lee, who gives the major difference in sales between the 3a and 3a XL as the primary reason.
Lee also says he knows the three colors that the 4a will be available in: black (with a green power button), white (with coral button) and an arctic blue (with pink button). This covers the standard Google approach of black, white and "colorful" options.
Pixel 4a design
Like the 3a, the 4a is expected to have a full plastic body, which is not a premium material, but can still feel pleasant to hold.
Leaked renders show the power and volume switches remain together on the phone’s right edge. Google’s design habit of including a brightly colored power button, which began on the Pixel 3a, is also visible in these assets.
On the top edge, there’s still the headphone jack from the 3a too. That's pleasant surprise in the smartphone ecosystem, and one that users on tighter budgets who don’t already own wireless buds will appreciate. On the bottom, the usual USB-C port can be found, now the standard for all smartphones unless you’re Apple.
On the back is the rear fingerprint sensor as well as the signature Google logo. This sensor was dropped in the transition from Pixel 3 to Pixel 4 because Google wanted people to use the Face Unlock facial recognition system. But since there’s no longer a big bezel at the top of the display, and no doubt Google’s Soli radar tech is expensive to install on a phone, there are a couple of good reasons to go back to the old method.
The Pixel 4 has a square-shaped camera bump containing its two sensors and flash module. The 4a is said to only have one sensor, but Google seems to have kept the square intact, but merely shrunk it down, based on the OnLeaks/91mobiles renders.
If you want the specific measurements, Dave Lee provided some numbers: 144.2 x 69.5 x 8.2mm (5.7 x 2.7 x 0.32 inches). Comparing this to the current Pixel 3a, the phone is noticeably shorter, presumably thanks to the rumored swapping out of the bezel for a camera punch-hole, while the other dimensions are near identical.
Pixel 4a display
Renders based on leaks provided by 91mobiles and OnLeaks show us another subtly changed Pixel handset. Having finally ditched the signature heavy bezel, the Pixel 4a will apparently have a punch-hole selfie camera in the top left corner, set in a display that’s somewhere in the 5.7 to 5.8-inch range depending on who you listen to.
The Pixel 4 has a 90Hz AMOLED display, in either a 5.7-inch or 6.3-inch version. The Pixel 3a had an AMOLED panel too (albeit a not very bright one), so we should expect another one on the Pixel 4a.
Whether Google will bring over the 90Hz technology is debatable. It would be a great selling point for a mid-price phone, but the price of implementation, plus the fact it didn’t work that smoothly on the Pixel 4 may mean Google plays it safe and leaves the display at the standard 60Hz.
Pixel 4a cameras
Google’s last two phones, the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 4, had one and two cameras respectively. It looks like the 4a will take after the 3a, using only a single main sensor, presumably the 12.2MP one it used on its previous phones. That is a small pity since the Pixel 4’s 16MP telephoto lens is pretty good.
Fortunately the Pixel series has always held Google’s amazing photo processing software as a secret weapon, meaning that often a single lens can do the job as well as multiple ones working together.
On the front, and as far as we know nestled in a brand-new punch-hole cutout, the selfie camera is likely to once again be Google’s 8MP sensor. Although whether it will be the normal version from the 3a, or the slightly wider FOV version from the Pixel 4, has yet to be determined.
The Google Camera app, which also contains references to code names likely to be the Pixel 4a models, was also shown by XDA Developers to contain code for a 24fps video mode. This, joining the 30fps and 60fps video modes that are staples for smartphone video, will be welcome news for videographers who want extra versatility in their frame rates for various mechanical and artistic reasons.
Pixel 4a CPU
We might see two different Pixel 4as with two different CPUs. XDA Developers found during their investigation into Google’s code names that one version uses the Snapdragon 730, while another uses the Snapdragon 765, a 5G-ready processor that poses exciting possibilities for this new handset.
Pixel 4a 5G
As mentioned above, the Snapdragon 765 CPU that’s rumored to be used in one of the Pixel 4a models has 5G built in. This means that Google’s cheapest phone could help the adoption of the new networking standard, since most 5G phones are far more expensive or are made by less well-known brands.
Obviously Apple’s move to 5G will be the final step that moves a lot of people over, but for Android users, Google has a chance to be their guide to a new high-speed and low-latency data world.
Unfortunately for the time being, although Google is rumored to be working on mid-range 5G devices, the most likely Pixel 4a model only works on 4G.
Pixel 4a RAM and storage
There’s no rumors in this department yet, so let’s see what we can figure out from previous Pixel phones.
The 3a ran with a single 4GB RAM and 64GB storage version, while the 4 bumps the ram up to 6GB and has a 128GB storage option too. It would be great if Google offered a little more space for photos and apps on its budget phones too, but it isn’t certain that Google will boost either spec from the 3a when making the 4a. Besides, Google has its Google One cloud storage service to sell, so it doesn’t have much motivation to increase storage.
Pixel 4a battery
More battery is always good, but it’s quite desperately needed in the Pixel series. The standard 3a came with a rather small 3,000 mAh battery, and the XL a below average 3,700 mAh battery.
Pixel handsets have used 18W fast charging since the original Pixel debuted, and it wouldn’t make sense for Google to take a step backwards here. Therefore, the Pixel 3a will almost certainly be compatible with 18W charging too.
The 3a did not feature wireless charging, and that feature also looks unlikely for the 4a. It's one of those "nice to have" features that wouldn't be a major problem to lack at this price point.
The Pixel 3a has been a popular phone, increasing Google’s handset sales by a large margin. Therefore the sequel has the perfect stage already set for it. However, the Pixel 4's stumbles reinforce the need for Google to think carefully about which new features it transfers over to the Pixel 4a.
It doesn't look like the Pixel 4a will offer Motion Sense or Face Unlock, which is just fine with us. The latest camera processing software and Google Assistant improvements should be top of the list of things the new phone needs.
A performance boost wouldn't go amiss, and hopefully the two new Snapdragon CPUs rumored will help with that. And while a significantly upgraded display would be nice, it would be better to keep anything too advanced, like the Pixel 4's 90Hz display, off the Pixel 4a if it's in danger of raising the price significantly.
The Pixel 4a doesn't need to be revolutionary, just a solid update on the Pixel 3a. If Google plays it safe, its next foray into the mid-range handset market will no doubt do very well once again.