Google Pixel 4a Review: Relentless and Reliable
The fact that most of the market didn’t come up and note the fact that Google didn’t bring the Pixel 4 and 4 XL to India last year, except for the Enthu cutlets for us, speaks volumes about the focus of Google’s hardware segment in the Indian market, and vice versa. But with being one of the largest mobile markets in India, Google can’t give up so easily, can it? So, Pixel 4a.
The Pixel 4a is a course modification for Google, and at the same time, a bold test for the Android ecosystem. Google has put all of its software capabilities into the Pixel 4a to extract every last bit of performance from a moderately powerful, but old mid-range chipset and enable an experience close to or equivalent to their flagship counterpart. Is Google successful? We’re here to find out –
The Pixel 4a is not a flagship smartphone. In the traditional sense, at least. Used extensively on mid-range smartphones inside the Snapdragon 730G and with 6GB of RAM, the Pixel 4a performs like an average mid-range smartphone on the benchmark. It’s not far behind the Snapdragon 765 on the OnePlus Nord, and has slightly outperformed the Redmi Note 9 Pro, Realme 7 Pro and POCO X3 in both CPU and GPU benchmarks. A CPU throttle test for 30 minutes reduced the CPU’s capacity by 68% and the phone became quite warm during my benchmark run.
Still, using the Pixel 4a as a daily driver for more than a week doesn’t seem to matter. Because I never once felt that the Pixel 4a had become lazy and unresponsive. If this is a demonstration of Android’s ability to run properly on mid-range hardware, I would call it a success. Google manages to keep the software minimal and simple and bakes many favorite features like no playing (recognition of enclosed songs), universal text captions, smart replies and a spam filter. The app drawer is amazingly intuitive, and at the moment the apps I wanted to use dropped exactly at the top of the list of apps. Like swiping to turn on Paytm to pay over the counter, and voila! Waiting to tap on Paytm.
Having said that, there are many things you can do to improve your software. Although the UI is consistently responsive, heavy apps like Lightroom, Snapseed, and Google’s own image processing take a little longer than remembering the old Pixel 3. Games also take some time to load. Then again, things like opening a new Chrome tab, or switching over to YouTube happen at a fluid pace. Even launching the app via voice command happens without a long wait. It’s basically the Pixel experience that Google wants you to feel, and over time, it’s a phone that will know what you want and bring it in time, saving you time searching for it.
I tried gaming on the Pixel 4a and it wasn’t a good experience to be honest. I played a team deathmatch in Call of Duty: Mobile on a mobile network, and the performance was smooth enough in high graphics with a maximum frame rate enabled with 93% stability with 60 fps. The display didn’t wash out much, but the size was initially too small for me, with less thumb space and noticeable space. There’s no gaming mode, and despite all the intelligence inside, the Pixel 4a hasn’t stopped pouring my WhatsApp messages during the session.
Then again, people won’t buy pixels to play games competitively. The Pixel Line has made a name for itself with its magical camera. All of Google’s data has been collected from Google Photos, Search, and more, which is probably the most intelligent post-processing algorithm in a smartphone camera. The iPhone comes close, but the iPhone also gets a foot above the superior camera hardware. The Pixel 4a continues to use the same Sony IMX363 12MP camera as the original Pixel released 4 years ago, and the results are similar to what you’ll find in this price range on other smartphones launched this year. The HDR + strategy has now been replicated across every other smartphone, but it seems no one is doing it better than Google.
I took different shots every hour of the day to see how the camera holds up. And for the most part, the camera won’t always disappoint you. Depending on the time of day, only the things you can shoot and how you can shoot will change. For example, the shutter is fast and instantaneous during the day, but for a good night shot, you need a stable frame so that nothing can move in it. The resulting images come out with a lot of detail and sharpness and impressive dynamic range and if you open the photo as soon as you shoot it you will realize that all this has been done by the software after taking the shot.
However, this is a camera that you will easily get bored if you are a bit camera enthusiast. You have no control over ISO, white balance or shutter speed and you will soon notice a signature color tone in all photos – slightly warmer with more natural colors and less saturation. The camera UI gives you two sliders to play around to control highlights and shadows and it can be used to capture some artistic silhouettes, as well as reduce brightness in low-light shots without messing with details.
When it comes to low light, you get regular night sightings and the camera automatically triggers the astrophotography mode when pointing to the night sky while riding a tripod. Capturing the Milky Way will require a clear sky without any light pollution around you, but from what we’ve seen from the Gcam app used on other mid-range smartphones, the results are surprisingly good.
Portraits are another strong point of the pixel camera, and four years later, Google continues to calculate the depth of field using algorithms. While this allows for crisp details on the face, Bokeh himself feels like a Gaussian blur filter applied in Photoshop. Competitors such as the OnePlus Nord can now combine the quality of this portrait with the Crimean bokeh, and if Google does not invent quickly, it may soon find itself in favor.
Battery life is a major concern going for a compact smartphone in 2020. Larger phones make room for larger batteries and the 3140mAh battery is local to that limitation. Don’t expect it to be a marathon runner like the Samsung Galaxy M51 Heavy use (gaming, camera use and watching an episode) will drain the battery in the evening, while moderate use with deep sleep will extend it to late evening. Quick charging would have been somewhat compensated for the shorter battery life, but even here, the Pixel 4a only seems outdated with 18W fast charging support and takes more than 2 hours to fully charge the battery, which could probably be a deal-breaker.
Design and display
More than performance and experience, the small footprint that can draw you to the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a is a compact mid-ranger before the big screen mania came on the market. And thanks to the compressed bezels, the screen isn’t terribly small. It’s still a decent 5.8-inch, and this small size allows it to pack FHD + resolution pixels more tightly. More on that later. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, previously missing the Pixel 4 and dual stereo speakers that could have been a little louder, but the expected sound separation is good enough if you’re sitting in a quiet room. It also has a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which somehow refuses to recognize a sweaty finger, but otherwise it’s quite fast. The body itself is a matte finish made of plastic that can’t attract fingerprints, but if you answer a text in the middle of eating that paratha, oil stains will be hard to remove!
What took me a few more days than I needed for a review on the Pixel 4a was that I could do everything on the phone with just one hand, and that was such an irresistible change from the tall and heavy OnePlus 8 Pro. But it wasn’t that I didn’t miss the 8 Pro at all. Smooth while scrolling, scrolling and navigating from one menu to another, watching movies and gaming requires a large display especially for the best experience on mobile phones. Or I’m just spoiled for choice.
The Pixel 4a shaves a lot of luggage to get that attractive price tag of Rs 29,999 and I’m not just talking about performance. It is not water or dust resistant. And the punch hole selfie camera looks quite large on a small display.
The 5.8-inch, as I said before, packs the pixels more densely and the visuals are more crisp and sharp than a larger FHD + display, and this feature becomes even clearer when you go out under the sun. And if you can live with small footprints, watching movies is not so bad. HDR is supported on both Netflix and YouTube, and the battery drain is low enough to allow one or two episodes while running.
The last row
The Google Pixel 4a is probably the most polarizing smartphone I’ve tested this year. The Pixel 3a, like last year, is a curvable, flagship camera but with mid-range hardware. Only, as the price tag now goes down further, it becomes easier to recommend the Pixel 4a. This makes Android’s liquidity display more accessible to the public. I would say don’t worry about the 7-Series processor and take the experience that it is capable of. It is no longer unique, but there are subtleties that only Google can offer ৷
One thing that may keep you away from purchasing is that the next Pixel 4a service may not be as good in India as the OnePlus Nord or Galaxy M51. We’ve read some frustrating reports in the forums and it’s fair for us to inform our readers about it. Hope this has been fixed, but hit through the forum for a recent experience to get a better idea. 4. If this is not a problem, then recommending Pixel 4a is almost no concern.