In a smartphone-driven world, it's hard to understand why more consumers aren't taking serious looks at the Google Pixel line of phones. I've been sticking with the brand since 2017, when I finally made the leap from whatever BlackBerry I was still using to the Pixel 2. Being a heavy user of the Google line of web-based products (Docs, Sheets, Drive, etc.) for work and my personal life, the idea of having the whole Google in my hand was enticing and user-friendly. I rode that phone until the wheels fell off...or rather when I fell in love with the Pixel 3. That was roughly a year later, and the phone stood the test of almost two years. Yes, I had upgraded to a Pixel 4 XL when it dropped in 2019, but if I'm being honest, I'm not the biggest fan of that phone in the long-term. I realize that while it's a great phone to have on-hand when you're traveling and want to watch Netflix or YouTube on the go while digging into work in real-time, it's a large phone to have on your person. I missed the Pixel 3, and longed for a phone that gave me that Pixel 3 vibe, but with the bells and whistle that such an upgraded user experience like the Pixel 4/4 XL provided.
Enter the Pixel 4a, which is available now and is Google's latest mid-level smartphone. For an extremely reasonable price ($349, which is $450 less than the Pixel 4, which dropped in 2019), you get a phone that, day-to-day, performs just as strongly as the Pixel 3 without the latest tech. It's for people who need to pick up the device, get their multi-task on, and move on. AKA me, and that's what I've been doing for the last week and change. Here's what I thought.
At this point, the set-up of a Pixel phone is seamless. I've actually been carrying a few phones right now, and it's interesting to see how seamless (and wireless) the information transfer from one Pixel to another is compared to, say, a Samsung Galaxy and a Pixel. Who uses cords anymore? Either way, I was up and running in 10-15 minutes, completely, just having to re-enter passwords for a few apps on the new device.
Right away, I could tell that I would fall in love with the Pixel 4a's Adaptive Battery. For those who are unaware, Adaptive Battery, right out of the box, starts to learn and remember which apps you use the most, and will devote precious battery resources to those apps compared to the others that may need to run in the background. Being home and having been working throughout the quarantine (Praise Black Jesus!), I immediately started putting the Pixel 4a through its paces. I'd be scrolling through Instagram while listening to Talking Sopranos and answering emails and Slack messages. By dinnertime (when I would try to put the phone down for an hour or so), I'd notice how much better the battery was lasting. Pro tip: Having this "Eclipse" live wallpaper helped track battery usage. The background changes color as the battery power starts to dwindle. Just a cool touch to an already ill phone.
I actually took a rare trip outside one day and, because I haven't been going outside a lot since March, I forgot to bring my charger for the Pixel 4. I didn't think about it until that night, when the phone was still at ~35% around 11PM after not having been charged since I woke up. And the Pixel 4a's powerful battery did the same thing the next day.
Google's set up a number of dope little ways to help ease your day similar to Eclipse. One of the latest is their Recorder app, which as released with the Pixel 4. This was a big deal for me as an interviewer, especially with the online storage options you get with Google Drive. Your conversation is being transcribed live, which is a huge deal for people who can't afford to pay for transcription. Their live transcription capabilities are also available in a new option called Live Caption fo Calls, which works across phone and video messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Google Duo. Google's "Now Playing" is also available for the Pixel 4a. This handy option will allow your Pixel to pick up on music playing around you, giving you artist and song title information right on your screen as songs as recognized. It's like Shazam, but always-on.
For those looking hard at the specs on the Pixel 4a, you'll notice that the camera is definitely not as intense as the Pixel 4's camera. They both have a 12.2 MP dual-pixel rear camera, but the Pixel 4a does not have the 16 MP telephoto camera lens. Both phones also share an 8 MP wide-angle front camera, but again, the Pixel 4a lost the additional lenses that powered the Pixel 4's front camera. All of that said, Google's camera game is top-notch; some prefer it to the iPhone's camera (which is far from being a slouch). (It's me; I am some.) The Pixel's Night Sight option helps light up scenes that are in a lowlight, capturing things you'd never seen before. For those who want to enhance the beauty of a particular frame, the Live HDR+ options are really intense. The Portrait Mode and Portrait Blur effects help bring subjects to prominence in shots, and having Google Lens baked into the phone's camera allows me to figure out where I can cop a pair of kicks that randomly show up in a shot.
Honestly, the Pixel 4a's Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor than the Snapdragon 855 in the Pixel 4, but it's running the latest versions of Android 10, and is strong enough to deliver all of the performance you need. Everything the Pixel 4 and the 4XL can do, the Pixel 4a can do...kind of. And even then, I work better without these bells and whistles.
For one, the Pixel 4a having a tuned-down front camera meant that facial recognition was a no-go. That said, the Pixel 3's fingerprint tech was preferable to me, so I welcomed its return. Also, it's a noticeably smaller phone, but I will keep it a buck: going from the Pixel 4XL's whopping 6.3" display to the Pixel 4a's 5.8" display sounds like a small bump, but the 4a fits so much easier in the pockets than what feels like a behemoth in the Pixel 4a. It also doesn't have wireless charging, which is a bit disappointing—wireless charging was everything with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 family of phones, but the Pixel 4a still uses Fast Charging (with Pixel cords), so even if you can't charge while it's on a stand, that quick power boost is still bomb. If that's an issue for some buyers, that's understood, but in the grand scheme of things, the performance factor with the Pixel 4a is more than worth it.
Smartphone ownership is a very personal experience. The device becomes one with the user. Apple's iPhone has defined the smartphone usage of millions, but the Android is always around. It's a simple experience to replicate and reskin a number of ways, but the Android in its purest form is housed in the Pixel 4a. If you're just wanting to get shit done, Google's Pixel 4a is just the phone, especially for the price point. Hell, you might get hooked and want to check for Google's next flagship phone, the Pixel 5, which is said to be hitting later this year.
For more information on the Google Pixel 4a, head over to Google's blog.