Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Which Android phone is the best budget buy?

The Google Pixel 4a and OnePlus Nord go head-to-head, but which is the best budget Android phone?

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord
(Image credit: Google, OnePlus)

If you're looking for the best cheap phone, Google's Pixel 4a and OnePlus' Nord are two top picks. They've since been replaced, of course, with the Pixel 5a and Nord 2 also top options to consider. 

Manufacturers like Google and OnePlus upping the ante in the reasonably-priced mobile market is great news – it means we're seeing more and more excellent mobiles at reasonable prices. 

In this comparison we’re going to run the rule over everything that makes these 2020-released phones tick, from the outer shell to their inner workings and not forgetting the all-important question – what they’ll cost in the current market (clue: they're cheaper now than at launch).

Thrifty Android fans will be delighted to know that both these phones have made our list of the best phones in the past, despite their low price. If you’d like to take a deeper dive on the models themselves you can look up our Google Pixel 4a review and our OnePlus Nord review.

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Design & Display

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Pixel 4a back

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s start by talking about exteriors. Which one of these phones looks the best?

The Google Pixel 4a has a one-colour-fits-all matte black polycarbonate plastic casing. The edge-to-edge screen is in keeping with the flagship Pixel 5, while the square camera housing on the back is what you'd expect from the Pixel brand – though it may protrude a little more than higher-priced models.                    

The OnePlus Nord provides more colour options than the monochrome Pixel 4a, with the choice of Marble, Onyx and Ash casings. That casing is protected on both front and rear by Gorilla Glass, which can feel a little more satisfying in the hand than the Pixel – though the plastic frame around the Gorilla Glass is a definite step down in both design and durability from the more expensive OnePlus 8 Pro.

On the display front, the Nord sits a little larger at 6.4-inches than the Pixel 4a’s 5.8-inches. Whether that makes one a better choice than the other is entirely down to you, though its size definitely disqualifies the Nord from our best small phones list.

Both phones feature genuinely excellent OLED displays for their price range. The Pixel 4a has a resolution of 1080x2340, while the OnePlus Nord's is 1080x2400, so the Pixel has a slight edge on sharpness. However, the OnePlus Nord offers the option of a higher 90Hz refresh rate. We'll call it a draw.

Both Google and OnePlus have taken a pragmatic approach to the design of their lower-priced mobiles. The Pixel 4a and the Nord are made to evoke their flagship counterparts without particularly measuring up. They don’t look cheap, but they won’t be mistaken for their more expensive stablemates either.

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Camera & Battery

Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: OnePlus Nord rear

(Image credit: OnePlus)

On the camera front, it’s hard to find two phones with more different approaches than the Google Pixel 4a and the OnePlus Nord.

The OnePlus Nord is stacked with lenses. On the rear alone you’ll find 48MP wide (f/1.75 aperture), 8MP ultrawide, 5MP depth (f/2.4) and 2MP macro (f/2.4) lenses, which is enough to blow most competitors out of the water when it comes to versatility. Its front setup of 32MP (f/2.45) and 8MP ultrawide (f/2.45) lenses is similarly impressive. Unfortunately, the software isn't quite at the same level as the hardware – the OnePlus takes good photos, but when it comes to detail and colours, it's not at the same level as the best alternatives.

The Pixel 4a has a single sensor 12MP (f/1.7 aperture) rear camera paired with a front-facing 8MP (f/2.0) lens. Underpinning that is Google’s box of tried and tested image-processing tricks. It sounds like a simple package, but the software on offer here (including the much-lauded Night Sight for taking useable shots from basically zero light) is the much the same as you’ll find in Google’s flagship mobiles, and it this price range it really shows when compared to other Android mobiles. The quality is just excellent.

With its sheer number of lenses and sensors available, the OnePlus Nord does offer a lot of flexibility. It can shoot video in 4K at 60fps (compared to the Pixel’s 30fps), and it is a great camera setup for its price range. But the power of the Pixel 4a’s underlying technology means it’s the Google phone that’s likely to take a better picture of these two. Pretty much anywhere.

When it comes to batteries there’s not much to split them. The OnePlus Nord’s larger battery (4115 mAh vs the Pixel 4a’s 3140 mAh) should last a little longer, as you’d expect, but neither will get you through much more than a day at an average rate of usage.

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Specs & Features

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Pixel 4a in hand

(Image credit: Future)

If we’re talking processors, then the OnePlus Nord shades it with its 765G Snapdragon, but it's not a big difference. It’s only a small step up from the Google Pixel 4a’s 730G Snapdragon processor – should mean a bump in performance, but not one that should be the decider here.

Where the OnePlus Nord does have a clear advantage is in its options for RAM and storage setups. Two tiers are available: 8GB RAM with 128GB storage and 12GB RAM with 256GB storage, though it will obviously affect the price you pay. Both compare favourably to the Google Pixel 4a’s set menu of 6GB RAM with 128GB storage. Neither phone has a microSD slot, what you buy is what you have.

Neither of these budget Android mobiles supports wireless charging, though they do both have impressive fast charging capabilities. It’s also worth noting that while the OnePlus Nord is 5G capable, the standard Google Pixel 4a is not – though there is a higher-priced Google Pixel 4a 5G available.  

Google Pixel 4a vs OnePlus Nord: Price & Verdict

Google Piel 4a vs OnePlus Nord" OnePlus Nord front

(Image credit: Future)

Normally, price might be the decision maker for you, but once again these two phones are really close to call. The Google Pixel 4a retails at only marginally cheaper than the 128GB OnePlus Nord – so close as to make no odds, unless you find one of them on sale, which is entirely possible given their age and the current market. 

The Nord offers a bigger screen, more cameras, bigger battery and more power than the Google device, but there are things about the Pixel 4A that OnePlus can’t beat, despite its impressive specs.

We’ve got a real ‘horses for courses’ situation here. If you’re after a smaller phone, with the best camera quality in a budget Android phone, then the Google Pixel 4a is probably the better option. If you'd rather spend on a bigger screen or more raw power that might make that phone a little more future proof, the OnePlus Nord could be the phone for you.

Or perhaps you want something even more up to date. In which case take a look at the widget embedded below, where we'll also compared the Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 5a, and OnePlus Nord 2, just to show you what kind of offers are currently out there from generation to generation releases (if they don't show then it'll be because they're off the sales roster now). 

Geraint Evans