Google’s Lower-Cost Pixel Gets a 5G Upgrade. Here’s Our Take

The Pixel 4A 5G does have a leg up over its smaller sibling. That ultrawide camera gives you the ability to take in more of a scene for extra variety in your photos. It also works great at night if you use Night Sight too. And, for the first time, Night Sight works in Portrait mode. Want to snap great bokeh-filled shots at night? Now you can do that! These portrait night shots rival those from the new iPhone 12 Pro.

The 4A 5G also can take better videos, with several new modes to spruce up your footage. I really like Cinematic Pan, which removes audio but slows down your footage and makes panning look super smooth. It’s a great effect. I talk about these new video modes in greater detail in my Pixel 5 review if you want to learn more (again, the Pixel 5 has the same camera system as the 4A 5G). These improvements will likely make their way to the smaller Pixel 4A via a software update down the road.

You’ll also find many of the same camera features from the Pixel 4 on both 4As, like Astrophotography mode and Live HDR+. You can put either phone on a tripod, point them at the sky, and get surprisingly great photos of the stars above. Photo quality will naturally depend on the amount of light pollution in your area, but I managed to capture some stars in the New York City night sky. (I didn’t see any UFOs, though.) Live HDR+, on the other hand, shows what your photo will look like in real time before you snap it, so you don’t have to wait for the image processing to finish. Dual-exposure controls are here too, allowing you to dial in the precise level of exposure and shadows to your liking.

Room to Grow

Google’s Android experience adds another rung to the excellence of these phones—the ever-accessible Google Assistant is still the best voice assistant, and there are so many small smart features like Now Playing, which automatically tells me what song is playing in my surroundings on the lock screen. The 4A 5G also has Hold for Me, which has Assistant take over when you’ve been put on hold so you don’t need to listen to terrible hold music, and it lets you know when the person on the other end starts talking. (This will eventually come to the Pixel 4A too.)

Still, there are some areas where these phones could improve. First, they’re missing any kind of IP-rated water resistance, so you should be wary near pools. There’s also no MicroSD slot so you’ll have to pay more for Google cloud storage if you run out of space. That said, 128 gigabytes is what you’ll find on most phones in this price bracket.

The stereo speakers are sufficient if you’re in a quiet room, but introduce some ambient noise and you’ll quickly be reaching for your headphones. Watching a video in the noisy outdoors of New York, I had to crank the volume up to the max, and dialog still got lost. Similarly, the screen is just bright enough to see in sunny conditions, but I sometimes had to squint. Video performance is also not as good as what you’ll find on competitors like the Samsung Galaxy A71.

My last gripe is small: There’s no wireless charging. Considering it’s available in the iPhone SE ($400) it would’ve been nice to see it here. (I say this selfishly, with wireless chargers littered around my apartment.) If wireless charging and water resistance are must-haves, you probably want to upgrade to the Pixel 5.

All the Phone You Need

The best part about all Pixel phones is that you get security updates and Android version upgrades straight from Google (the company that makes Android) for three years. That length of support can’t compete with Apple, which supports its iPhones for five years or more, but it’s much longer than most other Android phones (especially cheap ones).

At a time when millions of people are out of a job, these two phones are a third the price of many high-end models, yet will do everything you need—and do it well. The Pixel 4A is what most people should get, but if you really want a big screen, the 4A 5G will do more than satisfy.


Author: showrunner