Google Pixel 4a 5G review: the perfectly balanced Pixel of 2020

The Pixel 4a 5G hits the sweet spot of performance and price

T3 Platinum Award
Google Pixel 4a 5G
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

Combining the camera and the speed of the Pixel 5 with the affordability and materials of the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 4a 5G might just be the best value Pixel to be released this year – though make sure you understand all of its pros and cons before spending your money.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Excellent camera

  • +

    Solid performance

  • +

    Attractive price

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    No telephoto zoom

  • -

    No wireless charging

  • -

    No water resistance

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The Pixel 4a 5G sums up the weird year it's been for the Google Pixel series – this is a phone half way between the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 5, and it feels like Google could've dropped at least one of the three for simplicity's sake. But is it the right phone for you?

It's cheaper than the Pixel 5, while offering a lot of the same specs – including the rear camera and the processor running everything, which is the Snapdragon 765G. On the other hand, the Pixel 4a might give you everything you need for even less money.

Here we'll outline the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Pixel 4a 5G in our full review, covering everything from battery life to camera quality. By the time you've finished reading, you should have a solid idea of how the Pixel 4a 5G stacks up against its rivals.

It's actually a great time to be buying a new smartphone, with so many excellent handsets now available at mid-range prices – from the OnePlus Nord to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. The Google Pixel 4a 5G is definitely able to hold its own though, as we'll explain below.

Google Pixel 4a 5G review: price and availability

The Google Pixel 4a 5G is currently in short supply, with the Google Store only giving you the opportunity to join a waiting list to receive it. When the phone is available more widely – and plenty of third-party outlets are offering it – you'll pay £499 for it in the UK and $499 in the US. For most people, Just Black is the only colour option – you don't get the cool-looking Sorta Sage variant that you do with the Pixel 5 – but there is a white edition that's exclusive to Verizon in the US.

Google Pixel 4a 5G review: design and screen

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The Pixel 4a 5G is the biggest Pixel Google has pushed out this year, with a 6.2-inch OLED display running at a resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels. The refresh rate is a standard 60Hz rather than the 90Hz available on the Pixel 5, but it's perfectly fine – to our eyes the display looks bright, crisp and clear, interrupted only by a single punch hole selfie camera notch.

Whether watching movies, scrolling through webpages or playing games, the display stands up to scrutiny. As with every other aspect of the phone, you've got to weigh up the quality against the price, and we think the handset comes out on top in most categories. The bezels around the sides of the phone are nice and thin, with the fingerprint sensor on the rear where it's very easy to access.

The chassis as a whole is entirely plastic and rather plain, but it doesn't feel cheap – like the Pixels before it, the Pixel 4a 5G is solidly put together without being in any way flashy. It's not going to turn heads and catch eyes in the same way as a OnePlus or Samsung phone might, but it's pleasant enough to look at, and feels like it's going to last (though there's no IP68 waterproofing here).

Connectivity is provided by USB-C, as you would expect, and there's also a 3.5 mm headphone jack here too – by no means a given on smartphones in 2020, so this is perhaps a phone worth weighing up if you want to carry on using your existing wired headphones. The Pixel 4a 5G is unspectacular but quietly competent in terms of its design and screen.

Google Pixel 4a 5G review: camera and battery

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The Google Pixel 4a 5G comes with the same 12.2MP wide and 16MP ultrawide rear camera array as the Pixel 5, and there's not much change from the Pixel 4 either – except the ultrawide lens replaces a telephoto one. That's good for fitting more into a scene, but not so good when you're trying to zoom in on something, though Google's pixel-stretching algorithms work pretty well when it comes to digital zoom.

As on previous Pixels, the camera quality is top notch – these phones really are among the best at capturing well balanced, crisp, detailed shots every time, and the Pixel 4a 5G continues the tradition. In a variety of lighting conditions and with a variety of subjects, the phone is going to take pictures that are vibrant and sharp.

Much has been written about Google's Night Sight technology, and the image processing can do wonders with dark scenes if you can hold the phone steady for a couple of seconds – so much so that it can capture the stars if the conditions are right. While low light photos do occasionally look unnatural, there aren't many better phone cameras at picking out details in the dark (even without Night Sight enabled, in fact).

After two hours of video streaming at maximum brightness, the battery level dropped 24 percent from maximum, which is a decent result. Day-to-day use was even better, with the phone's 3,885 mAh battery holding its charge well across the course of 24 hours – you might just be able to stretch to two days of use with the Pixel 4a 5G, if you're careful with how you use it, and enable Android's battery saving options.

Google Pixel 4a 5G review: other specs and features

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Google)

The Google Pixel 4a 5G has the same Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5, but the same 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage combination as the Pixel 4a. What that means in day-to-day use is a nippy, 5G-enabled phone that didn't exhibit any lag or stutter in our time with it. You might notice an extra few milliseconds of loading time on the most demanding apps and games compared with the best performing phones on the market, but we think the Snapdragon 765G is a reasonable choice here.

It's the same chipset that powers the OnePlus Nord, by the way. In our Geekbench 5 benchmark tests, the Pixel 4a 5G scored 572 for single-core, 1522 for multi-core and 1002 for OpenCL – about what you would expect for a phone with these components packed inside it. The very top-tier phones of 2020 are going to last longer before slowing down, but then again they cost a lot more... and we think this handset will be more than capable of taking everything you can throw at it.

The Pixel 4a 5G comes with Android 11 installed, and this being a Pixel phone, you're guaranteed to be first in line for Android updates over the coming years. The clean, uncluttered version of Android that Google uses is one of the best reasons to buy a Pixel – the Google Assistant integration is second to none, and you get some nice app exclusives too, like the Recorder app that can turn spoken audio into digital text in real time.

Google has installed a pair of stereo speakers inside the Pixel 4a 5G, and while these are no more than satisfactory, they can reach a reasonable level of volume without distortion. We'd quite happily listen to podcasts using the speakers, and they're fine for the dialog in movies and shows as well. They're not so great for pumping out your tunes from YouTube Music, but then you wouldn't really expect them to be.

Google Pixel 4a 5G review: price and verdict

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Google)

With the Google Pixel 4a 5G you get the same processor and the same excellent camera as the Pixel 5, plus a bigger screen – all for a significantly lower price. That's quite an appealing deal, whichever way you look at it. With 5G on board as well as Android 11 running the show, we can easily see how the Pixel 4a 5G would be the Pixel of choice for a lot of smartphone buyers this year.

There's not as much RAM here as there is inside the Pixel 5 though, and there's no wireless charging or full water resistance, and the screen sticks with a 60Hz refresh rate rather than 90Hz. You don't get the premium metal and glass finish of the Pixel 5 either. Are those trade-offs worth the difference in price? Well it's really up to you – it depends what you want from your next phone and how much you're willing to spend.

Taking the other 2020 Pixels out of the equation, the Google Pixel 4a 5G is a very appealing mid-range phone that holds its own against strong competition from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Motorola, Nokia, Xiaomi and others. If you're going to go for the Google phone, it'll be because of the quality of the camera, and the quality of the Android software (plus the speedy updates in future).

Google knows it's not setting any benchmark records with the Google Pixel 4a, and it's aware of the compromises that it's making with the phone – it'll just be hoping that the price means it's tempting enough for a lot of people to go for. Even with a strong list of competitors, there's a lot to like about the middle Pixel of 2020.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.