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Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: The biggest upgrades to expect

Google Pixel 4a leak
(Image credit: 91Mobiles/OnLeaks)

The expectations are high for the Google Pixel 4a. Last year's Pixel 3a proved to be a breakout hit for Google, which had previously struggled to make a splash with its smartphones. It's not hard to understand why the Pixel 3a resonated, though — it delivered one of the best camera phones while also costing less than $400. 

It's unclear when the Pixel 4a might appear. Most observers expect the phone to finally surface in July (though there’s one rumor suggesting another lengthy Pixel 4a delay), as more retail outlets re-open and Google has the chance to get the new phone in front of more would-be buyers.

So what changes will the Pixel 4a make from last year's budget phone? Based on what we've heard so far, here's a look at the Pixel 4a vs. the Pixel 3a and what differences you can expect.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Price

The Pixel 3a found the sweet spot for what people are willing to pay for a very capable midrange phone, debuting at $399. For the Pixel 4a, Google might go even lower.

According to Stephen Hall of 9to5Google, the Pixel 4a will cost $349. (Google has also sent around a price survey to some people gauging interest in a $349 phone.) Hall also claims the Pixel 4a will offer 128GB of storage, double the amount found in the Pixel 3a.

There's a perfectly good reason for Google to cut the price on its next Pixel, and it takes the form of the iPhone SE 2020. Apple revived its own budget phone, giving it the same $399 price as the Pixel 3a. With the iPhone SE commanding a lot of attention, it's possible Google believes it needs to undercut Apple if the Pixel 4a is going to make a Pixel 3a-sized splash.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Models

You had your choice of two Pixel 3a models last year. You could either get the standard 5.6-inch version or opt for a bigger screen with the 6-inch Pixel 3a XL. That's the same approach Google uses with it pricier Pixel flagships, which come in both a standard and XL size.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a

Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google is reportedly taking a different tack with the Pixel 4a, where you'll just get one size. That apparently reflects the fact that while the Pixel 3a may have been popular, not as many people opted for the larger Pixel 3a XL.

That's not to say a Pixel 4a XL wasn't in development at some point. Renders of the larger budget phone have popped up, fueling some speculation that there might be a larger version of Google's next budget phone. But unlike the Pixel 4a, which has seen a steady flow of rumors building up to its anticipated launch, we haven't heard that much about the Pixel 4a XL, which means the larger model will probably be a no-show this time around.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Design and display

So if we're only getting one Pixel 4a model, what will it look like? Most people expect the Pixel 4a to have a 5.8-inch display, which is slightly larger than the screen on last year's phone. However, that display will be housed in a more compact Pixel — rumors point to the Pixel 4a measuring 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.32 inches. That compares to 6 x 2.8 x 0.3 for the Pixel 3a.

Google will include a larger screen in a smaller phone by doing away with the bezels found on the top and bottom of the Pixel 3a. Instead, the Pixel 4a will reportedly use a punch-hole cutout for its front camera, freeing up more space for screen real estate.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a

A Pixel 4a concept design shows off the thinner bezels on this year's phone. (Image credit: Pigtou and xleaks)

Expect the same materials in this year's phone. The Pixel 4a will reportedly feature a plastic case and an OLED screen, just like what you got with the Pixel 3a. The headphone jack looks like it's sticking around, too, at least based on leaked photos claiming to show off the Pixel 4a.

Google may go in a different direction with colors on this year's phone, after releasing the Pixel 3a in Just Black, Clearly White and Purple-ish. The black option is reportedly sticking around with the Pixel 4a, which is set to also add a Barely Blue version.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Cameras

Budget phones are adding camera lenses at a faster pace, but don't expect the Pixel 4a to join the crowd. Rumors point to the new phone featuring a single 12-megapixel rear lens, just like the one on the Pixel 3a. On the front of the phone, the camera housing may be changing, the Pixel 4a is also expected to retain the 8MP selfie cam found on last year's model.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a

The Pixel 3a had just one camera, and the Pixel 4a is likely to follow suit. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Keeping the same camera hardware in place may sound like an odd decision for a product line that's built its reputation as a camera phone. But the magic with Pixels and photos has always been about the software and Google’s computational photography smarts.

It's possible that the Pixel 4a could adopt some of the Pixel 4's camera improvements that didn't make their way to the Pixel 3a via software update, though features like dual exposure would require hardware tweaks that may be outside of what Google has planned for its budget phone lineup. At any rate, we'd expect some upgrade in terms of camera capabilities with the Pixel 4a.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Performance and battery

Google saves money on its budget Pixel phones by opting for less powerful processors than what it uses with the flagship devices. In the case of the Pixel 3a, that translated to a Snapdragon 670 system-on-chip. That provides decent performance, though nothing like the pace-setting power that the A13 Bionic chip in the new iPhone SE.

It looks like Google may give the Pixel 4a a little more processing oomph by opting for a chipset in Qualcomm's 7 Series family. Specifically, most rumors suggest that the Pixel 4a will turn to the Snapdragon 730 in an effort to improve performance and power efficiency. Some phone leakers have raised the possibility of Google using the Snapdragon 765, which features a built-in 5G modem, but we think that's unlikely at this point.

In addition to the extra storage on the Pixel 4a, it's thought that Google might pack in more RAM -- 6GB's worth as opposed to the 4GB found on the Pixel 3a. 

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a

Pixel 4a render (Image credit: ESR)

A more powerful processor and slightly bigger screen might compel Google to increase the battery size on the Pixel 4a, though battery life certainly wasn't a problem for the Pixel 3a's 3,00 mAh battery. It lasted just a tick under 12 hours in our battery test, which landed it on our list for the best phone battery life

The Pixel 3a didn't feature wireless charging, and it's not expected to appear in the Pixel 4a either. However, one case maker has leaked images of the Pixel 4a on a wireless charger, so it’s an outside possibility. Apple's iPhone SE does charge wirelessly, so the Pixel 4a could be at a competitive disadvantage right out of the gate.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 3a: Outlook

Any definitive word on how the Pixel 4a improves upon the Pixel 3a will have to wait until we actually lay our hands on the new model — and that would require Google to actually announce the phone. Based on the rumors, though, the biggest changes appear to impact design and performance, with more modest improvements in photo processing and battery life potentially in the cards as well.

For many users, though, the biggest change could be the Pixel 4a's price. If Google can deliver a phone that's as good as the Pixel 3a but that $50 costs less, that may be all the company has to do to stay at the top of the market for best cheap phones.