Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE: Which is the best cheap phone?

Google Pixel 4A vs iPhone SE: in the cheap phone battle, which is best?

Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE
(Image credit: Google, Apple)

In the battle of the best cheap phones, the Google Pixel 4a and iPhone SE are two of the best. 

It seems that phone-makers are increasingly looking to stake a claim for the middle ground on price, including these heavy hitters from Google and Apple. The two phones are remarkably similar in a lot of ways, so how do you choose between them?

That’s what we’re here to answer; taking in everything from overall design through their cameras, battery performance, specs, features and – of course – price. Oh, and it's worth nothing that there's also the Pixel 5a and 2022 iPhone SE that have launched since, if you want something even newer.

Both the Pixel 4a and iPhone SE pack the sort of punch that lands you among the best smartphones despite their low price, but if you need a more in-depth intelligence briefing on the one you're leaning towards after our run-down, you can check out our individual Google Pixel 4A review and our Apple iPhone SE review.

Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE: Design & Display

iPhone SE front and back

(Image credit: Apple)

There is no doubt that both the Google Pixel 4a and the Apple iPhone SE are designed to be budget alternatives to their front-line counterparts, but that is more apparent with one model than the other

While the iPhone SE isn’t quite as refined as its flagship siblings, its water-resistant glass-and-aluminium casing and multiple colour options do still provide the feel of a premium build. The Pixel 4a is a little more obvious with its cutbacks. For a start, it's not rated at any waterproofing standard – which feels like an oversight – and its Henry Ford-like monotone approach to colour options and heavily protruding rear camera give away its price range.

It doesn't look cheap and it’s not an ugly phone by any stretch, but you can tell it’s not a flagship model. It does make up for that with its screen though: the sharp 1080x2340 OLED display does look a lot nicer than iPhone SE’s 750x1334 LCD, thanks to the deep contrast and punchy colours of OLED as well as the higher resolution. The Pixel 4A also sits a little larger at 5.8 inches vs 4.7 for the iPhone SE, though they are both among the best small phones.

Some will prefer that the iPhone SE has the smallest possible screen, some will want the bigger canvas of the Pixel for movies and photos – that's a matter of preference.

Google Pixel 4A vs iPhone SE: Camera & Battery

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: Future)

At the risk of losing our battle metaphor for something more boxing related, Round 2 is about the big hitters: camera and battery performance.

When it comes to their main (rear) cameras, there isn’t much to separate them in terms of raw numbers. Google Pixel 4A’s rear camera offers 12.2MP with an f/1.7 aperture, while Apple’s iPhone SE delivers a 12MP, f/1.8 aperture combo. The Pixel’s huge strengths are in low light and night modes, while the iPhone shades it on video capture.

On the front, the Pixel 4A sports 8MP with an f/ 2.0 aperture, and the iPhone SE stacks up with 7MP with an f/2.2 aperture. The SE’s front camera just about does better with selfies, but there’s really not a lot between them.

The only thing that can split them is your personal preference. To work that out, our reviews of the Pixel 4A and the iPhone SE have plenty of sample photos to look through.

When it comes to batteries, direct comparisons are once again difficult. Both will get you through a full workday, but you’ll still be plugging them in at bedtime. The Pixel 4A comes with fast-charging plug in the box (the iPhone SE can fast charge, but the plug it comes with is slower), while the SE can charge wirelessly (not included on the Pixel).

Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE: Specs & Features

iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

When you look at pure power, the iPhone SE is clearly the heavier hitter thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s A13 processor. The Pixel 4a comes with the Snapdragon 730G, a step down from what you'll find in flagship phones, though still a perfectly capable processor.

You’ll feel the difference when gaming, editing video, or indeed when waiting for an image to finish processing, but only really if you're doing more intensive versions of these things. It also makes the iPhone SE a little more future-proof – its more powerful processor will probably be able to handle new software updates for longer.

Neither of these phones are 5G ready, though there is higher-priced Pixel 4a 5G model available now, so you do have the option if you go with Google.

The other notable thing to mention here is storage space. Neither of these phones allows for expandable storage. A base iPhone SE comes with 64GB, with 128GB and 256GB options at higher prices. The Google Pixel 4A sticks at 128GB only, although for significantly less money.

Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE: Price & Verdict

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: Google)

Price may be the kicker for you. The Google Pixel 4a and iPhone SE might be operating in the same price-range but the Pixel clocks in at less, which could seal the deal if you're not aligned to either Apple or Android just yet.

Blow for blow, there’s little to separate these phones beyond personal preference, so, with a markedly cheaper handset it’s easy to say that the Pixel 4a should emerge victorious from this head-to-head, but that’s not the end of the story.

With its hugely impressive A13 processor, waterproofing and wireless charging it’s fair to say that Apple’s iPhone SE looks far more future-proof. We'll call this a draw when it comes to the quality of the handsets, but we hope that guide has helped you decide which of the differences between the two steer you towards one or the other.

Of course time is a changing beast, too, so below we highlight the Google Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, 5a, iPhone SE 2020 and SE 2022 to give you a full spectrum of what's on offer between the older and newer devices in these ranges. There's sure to be something to take your fancy in among that selection.

Geraint Evans