Even before it's launched, the Pixel 4a is already at a disadvantage versus the iPhone SE 2020. Google simply won't be able to match Apple's mighty A13 Bionic processor, but the Pixel 4a will have a not-so-secret weapon of its own in the battle over who has the best cheap phone.
As good as the iPhone SE's camera is, the Pixel 4a should have a big edge when the lights go down. For whatever reason, Apple decided to reserve its camera night mode for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. And that leaves a big opening for the Pixel 4a.
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Google brought its Night Sight mode down to the mid-range Pixel 3a last year, and the feature should make a return for the Pixel 4a. Yes, the iPhone SE has a flash, but it can't illuminate an entire scene from a distance like Google's phones can. Check out the below outdoor photo of the iPhone SE vs Pixel 3a and you'll see a pretty stark difference.
As you can see, the Pixel 3a's shot does a much better job of rendering the lawn in the foreground, the tree, the car parked by the curb and the house across the street. With the iPhone SE, it's much harder to make out any of those things in its photo.
In this photo of a candle indoors with very little ambient light, the iPhone SE does a decent job of capturing the candle itself but you can't see the table or the black-and-white runner on the table. The Pixel 3a captures the whole scene, although it does blow out the wick itself.
This last example is admittedly extreme, as I took this photo in near complete darkness. But it goes to show just how impressive Google's computational photography skills are. The wood-and-glass plant holder in the center, as well as the white ones on the left and right side, are all visible. You can also make out the spherical glass balls.
With the iPhone SE's photo, it's almost completely black, though you can see some of the edges of objects as you drag the slider back and forth.
The Pixel 4a will presumably over an even better rear camera and perhaps some improvements to Night Sight this time around. And we've already seen some alleged Pixel 4a camera samples that are very impressive in varying light conditions.
Of course, those who are comfortable and familiar with iPhone and iOS will likely stick to Apple's ecosystem. But if you're willing to give Android a shot or have tried it before, the Pixel 4a's camera — and its unique Night Sight mode — will likely be the best reason to get it over the iPhone SE.
And if you're willing to sacrifice some performance, the Pixel 3a with Night Sight mode built in has dropped all the way down to $239.