The Pixel 4a is clearly not a phone designed for India. Yeah, India’s obsession for RAM, chipset, battery, and big numbers is something the Pixel 4a was not designed to satisfy. And, when you consider the fact that you have to pay Rs 31,999 for a phone that can barely match a much-cheaper Poco X2 priced at Rs 16,999, you have to find your logical part of the brain as to even check out its page on Flipkart. Also Read - Google Photos' updated video editing tools live for Android users globally
Surprised? After all, the headline suggests I would be singing all-praises for the Pixel 4a right from the beginning, right? Well, despite being a reviewer, a part of me is still an Indian consumer and it wants all the goodies the Chinese competition has spoilt us for. Next to a OnePlus Nord, Redmi K20 Pro or a Vivo V20 Pro on the shelves, it is truly a struggle to ponder over the Pixel 4a as a worthy alternative. Also Read - Blocking Google trackers on Chrome: How to prevent online tracking in two simple ways?
That said, the other half loves phones and everything that’s smart about them. If you are like me, you may have known that Pixel phones have always been the smarter choice. Google’s iteration of a good Android experience is superior to anything other Android OEMs can throw at us any given day, no matter how fancy the packaging maybe. The Pixel 4a is a phone I fell in love and if I had Rs 30,000 lying around, I would pocket the Pixel 4a immediately. Also Read - Google workers ask Alphabet CEO to stop protecting harassers
If you are still unable to decide between some other phone and the Pixel 4a, or just want to assure yourself why your Pixel 4a is a better choice over everything else at this price, read on.
Last year, I scoffed when Google said it is using a plastic unibody design for the Pixel 3a duo. The same happened for the Pixel 4a this year. Plastic phone at Rs 30,000? That’s outrageous. OnePlus, Vivo and Xiaomi offer a luxurious combination of glass and metal at this price, and for far less. Plastic! Are you serious?
Having the luxury of being pampered with new phones for free, I have used a lot of expensive phones that used plastic as their choice of construction. Plastic makes for lightweight phones and on the back of a phone, it does not shatter every time you drop it from waist-height. Yes, I still hate the glossy finish that Motorola uses on its midrange phones but Google’s choice of finish with its Pixel 4a’s plastic body is splendid.
The Pixel 4a has a soft-touch finish going across its entire surface and it feels natural to touch — natural in the sense that it grips nicely and doesn’t bother the palms. At the same time, you feel the lightness and the smooth curves all around- all ensuring that it sits snug when you pick it up. The capacitive fingerprint sensor is within grasp as well, and so are all the buttons. The dual-tone finish from the earlier Pixel devices has gone but the square camera hump sort of makes up for its absence. With the cutesy Google logo, it appears to be a handsome phone to my eyes.
Unlike the Pixel devices from yesteryears, the front is handsome too this time. No bulbous notch and no unforgiving bezels. The Pixel 4a is in line with most 2020 smartphones with its slim bezels all-around and a small cutout in the display to house the front camera. With its mint-green power key, it also imparts the sense of the Panda Pixel 2 from 2018. Design is a subjective matter but the Pixel 4a has one with a universal appeal.
I should, however, point out that my review unit was pre-used and I noticed a lot of scuffs as well as scratches all over it. Especially the black version, which loves to highlight every smudge and dirt particle that ever settles on this phone. Hence, you will need to keep this baby in a case just to keep that plastic spotless. I wished Google did a white or mint green version of the Pixel 4a, similar to the Pixel 5. Or, how about a Panda color scheme from the Pixel 2, Google?
The Pixel 4a has a 5.8-inch display that stretches from edge-to-edge, expect for the slim bezels that surround it. Compared to the goliath 6.5 and 6.7-inch displays we have seen this year as standard, this is tiny. However, it’s bigger than the puny 4.7-inch display on the iPhone SE. Unless you like large displays, the Pixel 4a has a display just the right size. Even for someone like me with smaller hands, I was able to reach all the corners of the display easily.
The OLED panel looks bright and renders vibrant colors but not on par with what you see from Samsung phones. That said, watching videos on this display is a fine experience. Legibility is fine outdoors and the viewing angles are fairly wide. There’s no fancy 90Hz or higher refresh rate but the smoother animations of the Pixel Experience UI make up for it. There’s an Always On Display that’s boosted by the “Now Listening” feature. If you love listening to music, this is a lovable feature you can’t miss.
Spec nerds may not approve of the Snapdragon 730G chipset reporting for duty here and nor will the conscious Indian consumer. Google says it feels the 730G is more than enough for it to deliver a good Android experience. Do you know that Google is absolutely right?
Ever since I started writing on smartphones and tech, I have always maintained that well-tuned software is necessary to make the most out of the given hardware. Google makes Android and it knows tricks to offer a premium experience on an old midrange chipset. The Pixel Experience, as known by enthusiasts, is an UI unlike anything else. It is pre-loaded with some Google stuff you don’t need and you can’t remove them too. However, these elements don’t interfere with the core Android experience.
The UI is laid out uniformly, with consistent graphical elements, colorful icons and fonts. Along with the smooth animations, it delivers a visual appeal that not many phones can offer easily. A solid haptic feedback system makes the phone feel alive with tiny vibrations for all activities you undertake on this phone. On top of that, Google sprinkles it with some of its smart features such as Flip to Shhh, swipe down notifications from anywhere, little customization options, and more. Coming from iOS, this feels like nirvana for a phone lover like me.
Moreover, it’s a Google phone, which means it is up to date with the latest version of Android. I got my hands on this phone early-December and it was already on the December security patch. Plus, Android 11 is a delight with all the Google experiences baked on top.
That said, it is not an all-dreamy situation. The Snapdragon 730G shows its limitation occasionally with minor stutters while loading Chrome, or switching between a couple of email apps. With the lack of a dedicated chip for image processing, the 730G takes a few seconds to process an image before it is ready for viewing. It is not worrisome but you shouldn’t expect a flawless experience similar to the iPhones. I still wish Google had somehow managed to use the older Snapdragon 855 at least to future proof it.
As with all Snapdragon 730G-powered phones, the gaming performance was fine for most indie titles. Resource-intensive games such as Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends do suffer from occasional frame drops and you have to keep the graphics tuned down slightly to get consistently smooth frame rates.
Using it with a Jio connection, I did not face major issues with call quality and network reception. Even in challenging areas where other phones usually drop calls occasionally, the Pixel 4a was able to latch on to the network and provide a reliable data as well as call connection. The earpiece volume itself was fairly loud.
Sadly, the 3140mAh battery is barely able to hold on for a day under moderate usage. By moderate usage, I am referring to a use case that included me frequently texting on WhatsApp, taking a lot of office calls, dealing with emails, browsing social media, frequent use of the camera (important criteria of a Pixel device), and then some more. Do note that I kep the Always On Display and Now Playing functions switched on all the time. Let’s say if I start the day with 100 percent battery, the phone dips to 28 percent by the time I retire for the day.
Google chose an 18W charging system to fill up the battery, which again takes up close 1.5 hours to fully recharge from under 10 percent. However, I wish Google figured out a way to stuff a big 4500mAh battery and an equivalent charging system of 30W.
Over the years, the Pixel range has won us tech aficionados and critics alike with its camera performance. If still photography is your forte, you have to have a Pixel phone – that’s the law. In fact, the original camera hardware was more than enough to allow Google use its software magic to weave class-leading phone cameras year-after-year.
That said, tech moves on fast and Pixel 4a does not command a lead over its rivals anymore in terms of camera performance. This year’s best camera phone is the iPhone 12 series and even in still photography, it is the Pixel that’s mostly on par and lagging in areas it used to dominate. Daylight photos are still among the best in class despite using that old 12.2-megapixel Sony sensor. I was blown over once again by the color science and the detailing I got to see from the photos. It is only the iPhone 12 and Pixel 4a that were able to record the terrible job the construction crew was doing while renovating the buildings nearby. Phones like the OnePlus Nord and iPhone SE gave up on these.
As with older Pixel devices, the camera tends to saturate the colors slightly if it thinks the photo is dull. Hence, it is still the iPhone 12 that retains the pale blue color of the sky as opposed to the “blue” blue sky on the Pixel 4a. Even in low light and night, the Pixel 4a was delivering photos on par with what you get from the iPhone 12. The exposure management isn’t the best anymore and I noticed some grains in the shadow areas. Night Sight still excites when there’s virtually no light visible to the human eye. That said, it feels often as if the hardware is restraining what this camera can capture. Time for new camera sensors, Google?
The 8-megapixel front camera makes copious use of the smart Google algorithms and despite struggling for sharpness at times, it didn’t disappoint with exposure, lighting and the colors. Some of my selfies in the evening with the sun setting in the backdrop and some tubelight in the foreground were handled exceptionally. The sharpness is off but I would love to flaunt the selfies from the Pixel 4a. The portrait mode works fine for the most times but it still struggles with hair strands.
The camera app itself offers some clever tricks to boost the photos such as exposure slider and brightness adjustment sliders in real-time. I miss the AR stickers I saw last in the Pixel 3 XL two years ago though — those were fun to play with.
Video performance is still average on the Pixel 4a. The camera does struggle with colors and sharpness while shooting busy landscapes while the night time shooting is just alright. The iPhone SE still edges out in video shooting capabilities. There are some nifty features I enjoyed such as 2x zoom, time lapse, and slow-motion videos. The Snapdragon 730G limits video recording to 4K at 30 fps max — not a deal breaker but if you are into videography or vlogging, this is something to keep in mind.
Google doesn’t bluff when it says the Pixel 4a is “packed with all the things you want most in a phone.” It looks like a highly compromised package on paper but it does everything I would expect a fairly expensive smartphone to do in 2020. The Android experience is simply “muah” — there’s no other Android phone I would want over the Pixel 4a if I am after the ultimate Android experience. I am at a loss of words to describe how much I love the Pixel 4a for this.
Still photography is still where the Pixel 4a shines brightly. For a Rs 31,999 phone, it trades blows with an iPhone that costs more than double. Next to a OnePlus Nord or a Vivo V20 Pro, the Pixel’s camera is a class apart, despite having just one camera. The compact and lightweight dimensions are welcome for us folks with smaller hands. The best part is that despite having a compact body, you get a modern 2020-esque bezel-less experience from the impressive OLED display. I still wished for a bigger battery on the Pixel 4a but I guess Google wants us to wait another year for a Pixel with a bigger battery.
Should you buy the Pixel 4a? I guess you have to be the kind who loves the core smartphone experience over something with bragging rights for the most RAM and most megapixels. It is everything the iPhone SE is, minus the impractically small display and a tiny battery. It is a more polished iteration of the OnePlus Nord with a reliable software experience and superior cameras. It is a phone made for fans of the Android universe.