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Google Pixel 4a. (Google)
Google Pixel 4a. (Google)

Google Pixel 4a review: That ‘good phone’ feeling

  • Google has pegged India as the market for its cheap phones too, and you can see that by the 29,999 launch price it chose for this phone this time, almost 10,000 under its predecessor’s launch

At its core, there’s really only one reason to buy a Google Pixel phone - the camera. But it’s easy to argue that a fifty something thousand rupee phone should have no compromise when you’re discussing flagship-class Pixels. Cut that price down to thirty odd thousand and you have a much better argument.

That’s exactly what’s happening with the Pixel 4a. If you’re reading specs, the sole 12.2 megapixel sensor on the back doesn’t really impress. But Google, is and has always been, a software company. Which is why the Pixel 4a, like other Pixels before it, relies on top notch camera software to bring...well...top notch images. And I stress images, because Google still needs to up the ante on video recording.

The Pixel 4a produces more true to life colours than a OnePlus 8 and better low light photos than the iPhone SE (2020). Google still needs to work on the portrait mode to iron out the details, but it’ll more than work for a quick photo for social media or dating apps.

Side-by-side comparisons will make it hard to differentiate photos taken by the Pixel 4a from most flagships. Having said that, it’s a noticeably slow camera compared to its major competitors, OnePlus, iPhone SE et al. And that’s likely because it doesn’t have the image processor Google uses on the Pixel 4 and the fact that the Snapdragon 730G, though fast, is not really comparable to the flagship mobile chipsets today.

This is probably the last time Google can get away with putting a single sensor on its mid-range phone, but it does work. And based on what we see in the best phones today, there’s nothing that will be too far ahead of this in the foreseeable future either, if at all.

Also, it seems Google used those cost-savings to fit an OLED display on this device, giving it those popping colours everyone likes. But it only supports 60Hz refresh rate and the market seems to be getting used to 90 and 120Hz panels really fast.

Higher refresh rates are always better for the consumer, but practically speaking, those numbers will make a difference to you only if you have used displays with higher refresh rates before.

So while the camera is the Pixel 4a’s USP, speed really isn’t. It has that “good phone feeling" so to speak, meaning things are all smooth out of the box and though apps won’t be snappy per se, they’ll be smooth for the most part. Animations don’t lag, neither do most regular apps used for food delivery etc. Google even ensured this lasts for a while, with 6GB RAM inside.

That said, Android phones slow down faster than iPhones and the Pixel 4a is starting off behind both of its main competitors. The reason OnePlus buyers stick to those devices is because they tend to retain the overall smooth experience that they have out of the box. Buying a mid-range phone shouldn’t mean you buy a new one every year, and the iPhone SE will last much longer in this regard.

There’s one kind of buyer who may buy the Pixel 4a no questions asked though. It’s a small market, but people who want compact phones do exist. The Pixel 4a and iPhone SE are the only two options for those buyers, at least until the iPhone 12 Mini appears. And even then, if you can afford it. For those who want small but fast phones, the iPhone SE (2020) is the phone to buy, while those who care more about the camera should choose the Pixel. The Pixel also has a more vibrant display than the iPhone and that large screen feeling of nearly bezel-less phones.

There’s one last thing left to consider when buying the Pixel 4a, and it’s Google’s position on the supply side. The pandemic delayed production for all smartphone makers, yet Apple could launch all its products in record time and Samsung even got a new foldable phone out there.

Google’s Pixel phones, on the other hand, appeared just in time to meet the festive demand. It’s a small matter and one that won’t affect the buying decision for many. But it gets compounded if you consider the fact that Google has had hardware issues with multiple Pixel models in the past. So, what happens if you break the screen? Will a replacement screen be readily available?

There’s no denying that the Pixel 4a is a worthy buy, but it’s not really a no brainer. Google has pegged India as the market for its “cheap" phones too, and you can see that by the 29,999 launch price it chose for this phone this time (almost 10,000 under its predecessor’s launch). It makes a much stronger argument this time, and stands a much better chance at winning that argument.

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