The $349 Google Pixel 4a is the perfect foil to the extravagant Samsung Galaxy Note 20

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The $349 Google Pixel 4a is the perfect foil to the extravagant Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Google’s new Pixel 4a doesn’t have the latest processor, cutting-edge space-zoom cameras, or a 120Hz display. It doesn’t even have wireless charging. But with a $349 price tag, 5.8-inch display, and the best design Google has ever shipped, it just might be able to take on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 behemoth arriving later this week.

At first glance, the Pixel 4a doesn’t look much like its namesake, the Pixel 4, but it’s not hard to see the influence in its rounded silhouette and raised square camera array. There’s a sleekness here that we haven’t seen in a Google phone before, though. Google offers just one size of the Pixel 4a and just one color as well, but it’ll likely nail most people’s sweet spot: 5.8 inches and black, with a mint-green power button. That’s right in between the 5.6-inch Pixel 3a and the 6.0-inch Pixel 3a XL, but the Pixel 4a is actually a good deal smaller than even the smaller the 3a thanks to its shrunken bezels:

  • Pixel 3a: 151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2mm
  • Pixel 4a: 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm

That not only puts the Pixel 4a in the running for one of the smallest phones around, it’s also far and away the nicest phone Google has ever made. That’s not saying all that much, but the Pixel 4a is a nice-looking phone, with a uniform top and side bezels, a hole-punch camera, and a shocking sense of balance. Yes, the chin is still thicker than the rest of the phone’s bezels, but no thicker than a OnePlus or LG phone, and far thinner than any other Pixel that came before. In short: The Pixel 4a is the first Google phone that looks like it was designed by someone who cares.

google pixel 4a 6 Chris Martin/IDG

The hole-punch camera can get in the way, but it’s mostly a major improvement over the Pixel 3a’s giant bezels.

The sleeker design gives the phone tremendous pocketability. It’s just 5.5mm taller than the $400 iPhone SE despite having a full inch more of screen, and at 143 grams, it’s one of the lightest phones as well, even lighter than the iPhone SE. Of course, the Pixel 4a’s low weight is largely due to its plastic back, which means you still won’t get wireless charging. That’s not likely to be a deal-breaker for anyone considering the 4a, but it is a glaring omission when stacked up to the iPhone SE.

The rest of the Pixel 4a’s specs are about what you’d expect from a $349 Android phone:

  • Processor: Snapdragon 730G
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Battery: 3,140mAh
  • Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0

Around the back of the Pixel 4a you’ll find a camera array that looks a lot like the one on the Pixel 4 with one main difference. There’s only one camera inside it, though it is identical to the main sensor on Google’s flagship Pixel 4 phone: 12.2MP wide, f/1.7, OIS.

galaxy s20 ultra light Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel 4a won’t be able to compete with Samsung’s latest camera hardware, but it’ll still take great pictures.

And it comes with all the trimmings: Dual Exposure, Night Sight, Astrophotography, Portrait Mode, and HDR+. Even with just one camera, you’re not giving up all that much of what makes the Pixel such a great camera phone, and the Pixel 4a will more than hold its own against flagships costing three times as much—even a phone as stacked as the upcoming Galaxy Note 20. 

And the best is yet to come. Google has announced that a 5G version of the Pixel 4a will be arriving in the fall for $499, presumably with a faster Snapdragon 765G processor. Assuming it supports both mmwave and sub-6Ghz on every carrier, it would be one of the most affordable 5G phones in the U.S. and would set a very low bar for adoption. Contrast that with the premium crop of 5G phones and you could have a landscaping-chaing release.

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