Google Pixel 8a vs Apple iPhone SE 4: Which phone could win?

Composite image between Pixel 8a and iPhone 14
(Image credit: OnLeaks/Smartprix/Tom’s Guide)

Today’s best cheap phones prove that they can still be accompanied by premium features often reserved for the best phones out there. That’s why there’s a lot of interest in a Google Pixel 8a vs. Apple iPhone SE 4 comparison because they could define the entire mid-range category by balancing out their affordable prices and features.

Given the success and appeal of their respective predecessors, these two are sure to accumulate as much interest as we get closer to the halfway point of the year. Even though there hasn’t been definitive details about their potential releases, upcoming events such as Google I/O 2024 in May and WWDC 2024 in June could be prime candidates for their unveilings.

These two phones are arguably the most compelling to watch out for in the mid-range space, so we’re eager to share what we know about them and potentially give you an idea of what’s better holding out for longer.

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Rumored specs

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Google Pixel 8aiPhone SE 4
Possible price$499$449
Screen size6.1-inch OLED6.17-inch OLED
Refresh rate120Hz60Hz
OSAndroid 14iOS 17
ProcessorTensor G3A16 Bionic
Rear cameras 64MP main, 13MP ultrawide48MP main

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Release date and price

Google Pixel 7a and iPhone SE in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

There’s a good likelihood that we’ll see the Pixel 8a first, given how Google has historically revealed its A-series Pixel phone during its annual developers conference. Furthermore, the series has consistently been given annual refreshes — making an announcement and release sooner than later. With the Pixel 6a being taken off the Google Store, it’s paving the way for an imminent release.

Apple’s fourth generation iPhone SE is a totally different story largely because it doesn’t get the same yearly release as other phones. In fact, the current third generation iPhone SE was released in 2022. Even though the latest rumors hint at the iPhone SE 4 being released much later in 2025, leaked images of a dummy unit purportedly to be the iPhone SE 4 have come out recently. Given that Apple has put the brakes on its foldable iPhone and might come much later in 2026, there could be pressure for the company to release the iPhone SE 4 much sooner.

Pricing is certainly something to think about here given how both series are known for their affordable costs. Yet, there are few details about what they could cost. The Pixel 7a launched at $499, so we suspect Google to hold firm at that price given the Pixel 7a was $50 more than the Pixel 6a.

The iPhone SE (2022) is still selling at the same $449 cost. But considering how upgrades are few and far between, a price hike could be in store for the cheapest iPhone.

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Design and Display

Leaked alleged image of the Google Pixel 8a from the back

(Image credit: Abhishek Yadav/X)

Through the leaks of both phones, it looks like the iPhone SE 4 would be getting the more dramatic design change. Most notably, it’s shaping out to look like an iPhone 14, which means it’s shedding Touch ID in favor of a larger screen with less of a ‘chin’ and adopting Face ID. There’s a leaked image of a dummy unit that shows this particular design change, so it’s getting a much deserved facelift.

Leaked renders of the Google Pixel 8a show that it’s mostly following the same design language we all know and love about the series — like the horizontal bar across the back of the phone that contains its cameras. It’s more or less a lot like the current Pixel 7a design with its contoured design.

CAD render iPhone SE 4

(Image credit: 91mobiles)

One of the more appealing features of the Pixel 7a is that it features a 90Hz display refresh rate, which could be bumped up to an even better 120Hz with the Pixel 8a’s 6.1-inch OLED display. Throw in a peak brightness of 1,400 nits, the same reach as the standard Pixel 8, the Pixel 8a could have the edge in this area.

That’s because Apple has kept a 60Hz refresh rate with its SE-series iPhones. We’re crossing our fingers that Apple improves this with the iPhone SE 4, mainly because 60Hz is more than dated at this point. Although, one exciting change is the rumor about the giant upgrade to a 6.1-inch OLED display, which would dwarf the 4.7-inch one in the current model. Part of the reason why it’s getting significantly larger is because of Apple ditching Touch ID and giving it Face ID instead.

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Cameras

Google Pixel 7a vs. iPHone SE

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Similar to how past Pixel A-series phones had an edge over the iPhone SE series, we could be in for the same results in a Pixel 8a versus iPhone SE comparison. Based on the leaked CAD renders we’ve seen so far for the iPhone SE 4, it appears that Apple’s sticking with a single rear camera configuration. But there’s no cause for alarm just yet because it could adopt a larger 48MP camera sensor, which could deliver optical quality zoom through pixel binning techniques.

We’ve raved about the incredible cameras on the Pixel 7a, making it the only model under $500 to make our best camera phones list. The Pixel 8a should make for a compelling argument as a replacement because of the advantage of having dual cameras — a 64MP main camera paired with a 13MP ultrawide. That’s no different from the current Pixel 7a, but it should benefit from more advanced image processing.

There’s also the matter of photo editing with the help of generative AI. There’s no clear indication that either phone will have these features, but we suspect that there would be a stronger likelihood for the Pixel 8a — mainly because of how Google has already introduced Google AI assisted features with the Pixel 8. Apple is reportedly offering generative AI features with iOS 18, so we wouldn't be surprised to seem them land on the iPhone SE 4. 

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Performance

Google Pixel 7a vs. iPHone SE

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

While it’s expected to offer a similar design to the iPhone 14, the iPhone SE 4 is tipped to be powered by the same A16 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15. This is the sort of muscle that could even the playing field against the Pixel 8a, which is reportedly running the Tensor G3 based on leaked benchmarks.

In our Pixel 8 review, we found that the A16 Bionic chip in the iPhone 15 still delivered better performance in various synthetic benchmark tests over the Tensor G3 powered Pixel 8. Knowing this, it bodes well for the iPhone SE 4, especially when it comes to gaming because the A16 Bionic churns out slightly better frame rates in our testing over the Tensor G3.

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Software

Google Pixel 7a vs. iPHone SE

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google may be giving us all our first glimpse at Android 15 during its developers conference this May, but we suspect that the Pixel 8a will launch first with Android 14 — with an upgrade later in the fall when Android 15 is expected to fully roll out. What’s more intriguing is what features we may see with the Pixel 8a that relates to artificial intelligence. We’ve seen how the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro benefited greatly for AI features like Call Screen, Magic Editor, and Audio Magic Eraser, so it’s anyone’s guess whether Google plans to roll them out to the cheaper Pixel 8a.

Similarly, if the iPhone SE 4 ends up launching this year, it’ll probably be running iOS 17 out of the box — with an update to iOS 18 once it’s released this fall alongside the iPhone 16. iOS 17 certainly has its unique perks, even allowing the current iPhone SE (2022) to tap into StandBy Mode. Apple’s WWDC 2024 conference should give us more of a peak at iOS 18, which is reportedly adding more home screen customization, RCS messaging support and a revamped Siri.

Pixel 8a vs iPhone SE 4: Outlook

There’s no denying that the Pixel 8a and iPhone SE 4 are two of the most exciting phones in the mid-range space. Based on what we know so far, Apple stands to lose out the most if the iPhone SE 4 ends up not being released this year — more so when it’s almost a lock for the Pixel 8a to release very soon.

But at the same time, there’s added pressure for Google because of how its current flagship phones underperformed against chief rivals in areas like the display, battery life and processing performance. We’re not even halfway through the year and we’ve already seen outstanding phones under $500, like the Nothing Phone 2a and the OnePlus 12R, so the Pixel 8a needs to over deliver if it wants to remain as a viable value phone.

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.