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Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4: What's different?

Google Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 4a
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

After a longer than anticipated wait, the Google Pixel 4a is here, delivering the photographic capabilities of a Google flagship phone in a much cheaper device. And based on our Google Pixel 4a review, this new phone appears worth the wait, especially when you compare its specs to the current Pixel 4.

While the Pixel 4 ranks among the best Android phones largely because of its camera, it still commands a flagship price. The Pixel 4a manages to deliver many of those same features, but in a $349 phone that's one of the more compelling smartphone options currently available.

Comparing the Pixel 4a vs. the Pixel 4 helps us see which trade-offs you have to make to enjoy a less expensive phone. The upshot? If you can live with a phone that doesn't rank anywhere close to the top-performing Android devices, the Pixel 4a delivers some pretty comparable features to its flagship predecessor.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 specs

Pixel 4aPixel 4
Starting price$349$799
Screen size (Resolution)5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080)5.7-inch OLED (2280 x 1080; 90Hz)
ProcessorSnapdragon 730GSnapdragon 855
RAM6GB6GB
Storage128GB64GB, 128GB
Rear cameras12.2MP (ƒ/1.7)12.2-MP primary wide (ƒ/1.7); 16-MP telephoto with 2x optical zoom (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera 8MP (ƒ/2.0)8 MP (ƒ/2.0)
Battery size3,140 mAh2,800 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)8:558:03
Size5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches5.79 x 2.71 x 0.32 inches
Weight5.04 ounces5.71 ounces
ColorsJust BlackJust Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 price and availability

The Pixel 4 debuted at $799 for a 64GB model when it arrived last fall. And while that's still the price you'll pay at Google's online store, some retailers and carriers offer the phone at a discount now that it's been 10 months since the Pixel 4's debut.

Even at its most generous discount, though, the Pixel 4 can't match the Pixel 4a on price. Google's latest phone costs $349, which is $50 less than what the Pixel 3a sold for when it arrived in 2019. That makes Google's budget phone an even greater value, especially when compared to its flagship devices.

In addition to Google Fi, you can buy the Pixel 4a through Verizon and US Cellular. The Pixel 4 is a little easier to track down, as its' available from those options as well as T-Mobile, Visible, Republic Wireless and Best Bay.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 design

The Pixel 4a and Pixel 4 look a lot alike, though when you pick up both phones, you'll quickly figure out which phone is the budget-pleasing device, and which is the flagship offering. The Pixel 4a uses plastic for its chassis, compared to metal and glass for the Pixel 4. That means the budget phone weighs lighter — 5.04 ounces to the Pixel 4's 5.71-ounce weight.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Future)

But even though the Pixel 4a hosts a slightly bigger display — 5.81 inches to the 5.7-inch screen on the Pixel 4 — it's not as tall as the Pixel 4. Credit the Pixel 4a's minimized bezels, made possible by the fact that the front camera is housed in a punch-hole cutout in the display. The Pixel 4a also drops the Pixel 4's Motion Sense technology, which eliminates the sensors used to power that gesture control technology. Those sensors account for the noticeable bezel that sits at the top of the Pixel 4's display.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 4 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You won't have a choice in Pixel 4a sizes — there's just the single 5.81-inch model. The Pixel 4 comes in either the 5.7-inch version or a 6.3-inch Pixel 4 XL model. 

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 display

One of the Pixel 4's biggest flaws was a dim display that other flagship phones easily outshone. The Pixel 4a may be a less expensive handset, but it avoids that problem, at least when you flip on the phone's adaptive brightness feature. With that setting enabled, we measured brightness at 653 nits for the Pixel 4a. Turn adaptive brightness off, and the reading fell to 433 nits, more in line with the Pixel 4's 429-nit performance.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OLED panel on the Pixel 4a isn't as colorful as what you get from the Pixel 4, as it captures 105.8% of the sRGB color spectrum. The Pixel 4 recreates 130.1% of that spectrum. Colors on the Pixel 4a are slightly more accurate, with the less expensive Pixel scoring a Delta-E rating of 0.29 to the Pixel 4's 0.34. (Numbers closer to zero are more accurate.)

The Pixel 4a doesn't have the fast refresh rate you'll see on the Pixel 4 and its 90Hz display. We'd chalk that up to a compromise you have to make for a cheaper phone, but it's worth noting that the OnePlus Nord manages to feature a fast refresh rate while keeping its price below $500.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 camera

The Pixel 4a has a single 12.2-megapixel camera to the two lenses on the Pixel 4. But even though Google's flagship has both a 12MP main camera and a 16MP telephoto lens, you're really not giving up that much with Google's budget phone, except for the ability to zoom in optically.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Credit's Google's computational photography for the Pixel 4a's ability to hold its own against other midrange camera phones. Software smarts included with the Pixel 4a let you modify contrast and brightness on the fly, see the effects of HDR processing before you take your shot and zoom in on a subject without introducing too much fuzziness to your shot. That Super Res Zoom capability, available on previous Pixel phones, takes some of the sting out of the lack of a telephoto lens on the Pixel 4a.

Up front, little has changed. The Pixel 4a sports an 8MP front camera, the same as the 8MP selfie cam on the Pixel 3a. The Pixel 4 also uses an 8MP camera for its front shooter.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We haven't had a chance to pit the Pixel 4a against the Pixel 4 in a face-off, but Google's phone certainly held its own in head-to-head comparisons with the iPhone SE's lone shooter. While the Pixel 4's camera array provides more variety, particularly when you need to zoom in, the camera on the Pixel 4a is pretty compelling in its own right, challenging mid-range cameras with more lenses solely on the strength of Google's camera smarts.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 performance

Perhaps the most noticeable trade-off between the Pixel 4a vs. the Pixel 4 will be with the processor that powers both phones. While the Pixel 4 uses the Snapdragon 855, which was the best system-on-chip available for Android phones at the time of that device's release, the Pixel 4a keeps a lid on costs with the Snapdragon 730G. That's a perfectly serviceable mobile processing platform, but it's not going to match the Snapdragon 855 in terms of performance, even if Qualcomm has since come out with more powerful flagship chips.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Consider the Geekbench 5 results for both phones. In that test of general performance, the Pixel 4a turns in a multicore score of 1,647 — well behind the 2,329 result of the Pixel 4. While the Pixel 4a can certainly hold its own in everyday tasks most people use their phone for, it's not going to have the extra oomph that the Pixel 4 enjoys with its beefier processor even though the Google phones have an equal amount of RAM at 6GB.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4

Pixel 4 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Oddly, the performance gap is not likely to grow too much should Google release a Pixel 5 flagship in a few months. Reportedly, Google will use a Snapdragon 765G chipset in that upcoming device, and while that while offer more processing oomph than the the Snapdragon 730 in the Pixel 4a — while also including 5G connectivity — it's not going to outperform Google's budget phone as much as the Pixel 4 does.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 battery life and charging

Google's phones used to deliver the best phone battery life we've tested, but not lately. And the Pixel 3a continues this unfortunate trend.

The Pixel 4a and its modest 3,140-mAh battery doesn't come close to that, with the phone running out of power in an average of 8 hours and 55 minutes in our testing. That's roughly an hour behind the average for smartphones. On the bright side, it beats out the Pixel 4, which died a few minutes after 8 hours when we tested that phone and its tiny 2,800 mAh battery. So you won't have to live with less battery life if you choose a Pixel 4a over Google's most recent flagship — but you won't exactly get a long-lasting smartphone either.

Google Pixel 4a vs. Google Pixel 4

Pixel 4 (Image credit: Future)

You also won't get wireless charging, a feature that the Pixel 4 has but that the Pixel 4a doesn't support. (Again, you have to cut costs on your midrange phones somewhere.) When using the included 18-watt charger for the Pixel 4a, though, we got the drained phone back to a 50% charge. That's marginally more than 47% we got when testing the Pixel 4.

Pixel 4a vs. Pixel 4 outlook

Anytime you opt for a less expensive phone, you have to make some trade-offs. In the case of the Pixel 4a vs. the Pixel 4, that means settling for a less powerful processor, a single rear camera and no wireless charging. You'll also give up the faster refresh rate on the Pixel 4's screen.

Skipping 90Hz refresh rate is a hard thing to swallow — especially with the OnePlus Nord offering that feature to bargain-hungry Android fans — but the other sacrifices are ones many smartphone owners would happily make if it means paying hundreds of less for a phone that still takes top-notch pictures.

The Pixel 4a is one of the best cheap phones you can buy. And its features make it a formidable alternative to the Pixel 4.