With the Pixel 4a 5G, Google offers a mid-range smartphone that takes many of the strengths of the new flagship of the range, the Pixel 5, for a lower price. No magic wand, to achieve this result, some concessions had to be made. Are they likely to cool the barge? And if the Pixel 4a 5G was the real pleasant surprise of the end of the year …
Test performed by By Alix Denoyers
Unveiled a few days ago at the same time as the Pixel 5, flagship of the 2020 range, the Pixel 4a 5G shares with it certain characteristics and not the least. It works with the same Snapdragon 765G processor, a solid mid-range chip that ensures compatibility with the future very high speed mobile network. Above all, it integrates the same camera device composed of two main lenses, a wide-angle, but also an ultra-wide-angle, a novelty for 2020.
The Pixel 4a 5G is therefore not a simple 4a to which Google has added 5G. Priced at 150 euros more expensive than its predecessor and 130 euros less expensive than a Pixel 5, it occupies an important place within the family, thanks to its large screen of 6.2 inches. It is the largest Pixel in the 2020 lineup to date, replacing the XL model that is missing from the catalog this year. It should catch the eye of many fans of large-format phones.
With its engaging specs and presumably up-to-date performance, shared with the Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G seems poised to carve out a niche for itself in the mid-range sector. But sometimes it takes more to convince. Does this Pixel deserve a closer look? To answer this question, we have reviewed all the components and design elements that make up the strengths and weaknesses of this new smartphone.
Pixel 4a 5G Datasheet
|Pixel 4a 5G|
|Definition||1080 x 2340 pixels
ratio 19.5: 9
|Fingerprint sensor||Yes (on the back)|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G (7nm)|
|Internal memory||128 GB|
|RAM||6 GB LPDDR4x RAM|
|Camera||Main: 12.2 MP, f / 1.7, 1.4µm
16 Megapixel Ultra Wide Angle (f / 2.2)
|Selfie sensor||8 MP, f / 2.0, 1.12µm|
|Reverse wireless charging||No|
Price and (in) availability
Marketed since October 15 on the Google site, but not yet at specialist resellers like Darty, the Pixel 4a 5G is already out of stock just days after its launch – a momentary outage of course, but we hope that the ‘American has not forecast stocks that are too fair, as has often been the case with previous ranges.
This new mid-range smartphone offers 128 GB of storage space, without possible expansion by memory card, and 6 GB of LPDDR4x RAM for a price of 499 euros. On the software side, let’s remember that like all members of his family, he benefits from Google’s latest mobile OS, Android 11, with 3 years of guaranteed updates.
Like its illustrious “little” brother the Pixel 5, the device is offered in only one color, black, unlike in the United States, for example, where it also exists in a very pretty “subtly sage” green. For a little fantasy, the French public will have to fall back on a fabric shell sold for 45 euros.
A design that is too smooth … in every sense of the word
Despite its 6.2-inch screen, the Pixel 4a is not a giant, however. There are no longer any smartphones that are approaching or have passed the 6.4-inch mark, such as the Oneplus Nord (6.44 inches) at the same price or the Mi 10 Lite (6.57 inches), a little cheaper.
Within a year, Google has made significant design efforts by reducing screen bezels. It is much less spectacular than on the Pixel 5, more particularly at the level of the one located at the bottom of the device, a little wider than the others, since it is not far from reaching 4 mm of thickness. The reduction compared to last year is nevertheless very tangible. The case of the 4a 5G is thus less wide by 2 millimeters and less high by a good 6 millimeters than that of the Pixel 3a XL of 2019 while the diagonal of the latter did not exceed 6 inches. The handling is shown, for its part, rather pleasant, thanks to the weight of the mobile (168 grams) and its finesse (8.2 mm). This is within 1 gram of what the 3a XL offered when it included a slightly smaller battery (3700 mAh versus 3885 mAh) and a single photo module.
To keep its device light (but also affordable), Google has favored the use of polycarbonate for the case, a good quality plastic that does not take fingerprints at all. Ultra smooth, it is soft, pleasant to the touch… and also very slippery. Watch out for scrapping! The fabric cases are not cheap and a little messy, but they will have the merit of protecting the device and giving it a touch of originality. The “simply black” plastic of the 4a 5G indeed lives up to its name: there is nothing too foolish, we will grant you that. We are far from the Chinese elegance adopted by an Honor 20 – very similar in size to this Pixel, but with a much more refined design in terms of the choice of materials, but also of colors. Tastes and colors cannot be discussed, however, we agree, there will be consumers who prefer the very wise style of this 4a 5G.
To conclude on the exterior aspect, note that the 4a 5G, like all the Pixels of 2020 before it, hides its 8-megapixel front camera in a discreet notch, at the top left of the screen … which has the effect of showcase the large OLED display. A definite advantage for the playback of photo and video content, especially since the display quality is there.
Screen: it only lacks 90 Hz
With its 6.2-inch diagonal, as we said previously, the 4a 5G is the largest Pixel of 2020. More surprisingly, it is also one of the few smartphones to position itself on this intermediate format, with a slab neither too large nor too small, likely to appeal to all audiences. Only Samsung opted for a screen of this size this year and it was on its Galaxy S20, 9 months ago. For others, it’s the race for XXL screens or the return to more compact formats like the iPhone 12 mini, not to mention the Pixel 5, of course!
As on the latter, the display quality is indisputable. Equally bright, the OLED screen, with its deep blacks and colors fairly faithful to reality, has little to envy the best, as confirmed by measurements made with our X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus probe. With a definition of 1080 x 2340 pixels, the density drops a bit, necessarily, from 432 ppi for the Pixel 5 to 413 ppi here, but this slight “degradation” remains completely invisible to the naked eye.
On the other hand, the screen of 4a 5G, positioning (even more) mid-range requires, swaps the 90 Hz refresh of Google’s flagship against 60 Hz. We lose (a little) in the passage in fluidity of scrolling of the pages Web, it’s a shame, without it being very dramatic. The device is sufficiently well optimized – thank you Google – to react quickly, even at 60 Hz.
Snapdragon 765G: the 5G-capable processor we didn’t expect
Against all expectations, this 5G version of the Pixel 4a not only has a larger screen, it is also equipped with the processor present on the Pixel 5, the Snapdragon 765G which thus replaces the Snapdragon 730G of the Pixel 4a. We therefore stay on the mid-range – much more logical here than on the Pixel 5 – with quite satisfactory performance in terms of power and above all very good energy management.
Chosen by many manufacturers for their mobiles, the 765G powers the Oppo Reno4 Pro 5G, for example, or even the OnePlus North. Not much more powerful than the 730G, but enough to answer almost all the uses, this chip brings especially to the 4a 5G… of the 5G. Was it really necessary? Probably not in France, which is more on a mid-range device, while the very high speed mobile network is long overdue. We would have done without the additional cost, a little more acceptable on a very expensive high-end smartphone that we want to keep for at least 3 years. But the Pixel 4a 5G is not only targeting France and operators are in demand for 5G devices so that an expanded offer is available when the mobile network is launched.
Finally, the 4a 5G embeds “only” 6 GB of RAM, without it seeming to penalize more than that on a daily basis. We did not notice any slowdowns and, in terms of the photo, we find the same advantages and especially the same weaknesses as on the Pixel 5. In particular in terms of the processing time of photos in low light, necessarily a little longer in the absence of a high-end, overpowered processor like a Snapdragon 865, for example.
Autonomy: Google’s progress is confirmed
Even a processor that does not consume much energy does not guarantee good battery life, even if we must admit that the 765G is efficient in this regard. To make it through the day, the device must also be well optimized – and here, with the new version of Android, eleventh to name, Google has mastered its copy. Moreover, as soon as the device is started, the activation of the dark theme – quite pleasant to use by the way – is proposed to save battery time. Finally, the smartphone should be equipped with a high capacity battery if possible, which is no problem on this large Pixel where there is no lack of space. While the 4a had a 3140 mAh battery, that of the 4a 5G therefore drops to 3885 mAh. And that’s not too much to power this large 6.2-inch screen, which is bound to consume more power than the 5.8-inch screen of the 4a.
Without too much surprise, we see that the 4a 5G provides good autonomy, in line with the Pixel 5. In case of sustained use, with streamed video, games, audio listening and GPS navigation , in addition to the usual daily tasks (calls, social networks, messaging, etc.), the 4a 5G still has it under its feet at the end of the evening and forgetting to charge it the next morning before leaving home will not be a problem. Charging every 36 hours should be enough, or even every 48 hours, as long as you limit your multimedia consumption a bit.
Of course, it will always be possible to find better in terms of endurance than this Pixel 4a 5G – but not necessarily with a device capable of offering such a good performance / price ratio, especially in photos, as we will see later. The other advantage of this 5G Pixel 4a is that it is compatible with 18W fast charging, just like the Pixel 5, so it can be fully recharged in under an hour and a half. Faced with competitors like Oppo, which is a real master in the field – we are talking about ultra-fast charging, this time may still seem long. Even OnePlus, which belongs to the same group as Oppo, does much better with its Nord equipped with the same processor (less than an hour).
We still appreciate knowing that we will be able to recover nearly 25% of autonomy in just about fifteen minutes. Handy when you’re in a hurry!
Finally a device for less than 500 euros, champion of the photo
Smartphones equipped with a triple or even quadruple camera module are on the increase today, but this is not necessarily a guarantee of quality. Moreover, Google, whose reputation is well established in photo rendering, has always chosen minimalist equipment (a single lens on the first Pixels) to favor the power of its algorithms. However, this is not a photo lens that can be seen on the 4a 5G, but two lenses. The classic wide-angle which opens at f / 1.7 and benefits from optical stabilization is in fact accompanied by an ultra-wide-angle opening at f / 2.2. The two lenses are respectively associated with 12.2 and 16 megapixel sensors. This ultra wide-angle lens, useful for immortalizing vacation landscapes or for group photos, was eagerly awaited by photo enthusiasts. However, its presence is only half surprising on the 4a 5G since it is neither more nor less than the dual camera module discovered on the Pixel 5.
As the two smartphones share the same processor, unsurprisingly, shots taken with one or the other provide equally good results. The 2 GB less RAM on the 4a 5G does not seem to have any impact on the photo. On the other hand, we find on the Pixel 4a 5G the same problem as on its illustrious little brother as we specified above: the processing time extended in certain extreme situations.
In highlights or in low light, the main lens of the Pixel 4a 5G dazzles with its renderings, all the more so that the user can strafe without asking too many questions or having to make special adjustments. Autofocus is very fast, while software processing, certainly one of the most efficient around (but for how long?), Takes care of the rest!
By day, the images are crisp and detailed and the colors flattering enough without being too saturated. At night, the photos remain rather crisp with inevitably some blurring effects when a moving subject crosses the scene.
Even in very low light, the result is rather stunning in terms of color reproduction and sharpness, even without going through a long exposure time. Without being perfect, the night vision mode is formidably effective
With the Pixel 4a 5G, we draw and shoot without asking too many questions. The result almost always meets the user’s expectations, at both wide-angle and ultra-wide angles. With the latter, however, the level of detail is less good, and this is true all the more so as the light is lacking. We appreciate, on the other hand, the distortions that are not very visible and yet are often frequent in the images taken at ultra wide-angle in the competition. Google’s software processing power is once again at work.
With the disappearance of the telephoto lens on the Pixel 4, the zoom is only digital. If we are satisfied with the 2x magnification, the image is not too degraded
The portrait mode obtained by the force of the Google algorithm is a real success whether it is about living subjects or still lifes. On the baby, however, the clipping is not perfect on the arms, which are not on the same plane.
As on the Pixel 5, we appreciate on the 4a 5G, the very effective stabilization of the video. On the front, there is the same photo module with an 8 megapixel sensor, which also benefits from a portrait mode. Nice to improve your selfies.
140 euros cheaper: what to draw a line
As we have seen previously, the Pixel 4a 5G is not the XL version of the 4a, but rather a Pixel 5 “arranged” to reduce the consumer bill. But beyond the plastic design of the device, less pleasant to look at and to handle than the aluminum case of the Pixel 5, what elements has Google chosen to give up to reduce the consumer’s bill and were they ultimately so essential?
We start with the most regrettable dead end, the 4a 5G smartphone does not benefit from the IP68 rating. It is therefore not resistant to dust or water. You will have to remember this when you try to call a VTC service in the pouring rain! We would have swapped the 5G compatibility, which is quite unnecessary for the moment, for the waterproof guarantee.
Less annoying, the Pixel 4a 5G must also do without wireless charging. It will therefore be necessary to continue with the technique of the good old cable to be connected to the USB Type-C port of the mobile. It’s less stylish, but you won’t need to buy the “Stand” wireless charging station, which sells for 79 euros on the Google site. Without the battery sharing function, you will also not be able to charge another compatible device by placing it on your mobile.
The Pixel 4a 5G benefits from classic stereo speakers, located on either side of the USB Type-C port, which deliver relatively powerful and decent sound. We do without the speaker housed under the screen of the Pixel 5, which was not very convincing in terms of audio quality anyway. On the other hand, if the Pixel 4a 5G loses a few elements, it gains a feature that is important: a jack, located on the top of the device. Notice to lovers of wired headphones!
Finally, it should be noted that facial recognition is no more available on this Pixel 4a 5G than on the flagship of the range. On this chapter, Google has chosen to save money on the entire range. To secure your smartphone, you will therefore have to go exclusively through an “old school” fingerprint sensor, located on the back of the device. If it turns out fast, you sometimes have a little trouble separating it from the back (it sticks out little), which is not necessarily practical to activate it. Despite the mandatory wearing of the mask, we really regret the disappearance of the Face Unlock function, which was nevertheless very practical …