Google is formally releasing three Pixel phones today. Next is the $349 Pixel 4A, which is eligible for preorder now and will ship on August 20th. Next is the Pixel 5 which will have 5 G and will ship this fall at some point. Finally, there’s the Pixel 4A 5 G which will cost $499 and will also ship this fall at some point. In other words, Google is now up and revealing that at the same time it has two more apps to sell when it finally launches another product. It’s messy but necessary because Pixel 4A is coming out considerably later than expected this month. Google says pandemic-related problems prevented the 4A from reaching previous virtual store shelves.
Since we’ve got it in hand and checked it, we already know everything about the $349 Pixel 4A there is to say. Google mostly keeps the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5 G under wraps, but as of today ‘s launch we can learn some information already.
PIXEL 5 AND PIXEL 4A 5G
Firstly, the announcement today also contains the image you see above. When you’re trying to decipher which of the pictures in Google’s teaser image is which, our guess is that the matte black one on the right is the larger Pixel 4A 5 G while the slightly sparkly one on the left is the regular-sized Pixel 5.
Google also says the Pixel 5 is “coming this fall,” and will help 5G. Google also states which countries can receive both phones: the USA , Canada, the UK, Ireland, France , Germany , Japan, Taiwan and Australia. “In the coming months,” says Google’s VP of Product Management, Brian Rakowski, the company will “share more about these devices and [its] 5 G approach.”
Google also has a tradition of “just tweeting it out” rather than spending the summer behaving like there’s no phone coming in. Google responded to early speculation last year by tweeting its own Pixel 4 picture in June.
The plan this year is a little different — and it seems to have been influenced by the expectations of carriers to pursue 5 G phones. Rakowski says in his blog post there will be a 5 G version of the Pixel 4A that will cost $499. A $150 leap only for 5 G seems very high, but reports say that the Pixel 4A 5 G also has a larger screen than the 5.8-inch OLED standard 4A model. There are also suggestions that it might have a second camera lens.
The Pixel 4A launched this month is not a 5 G handset, and all signs point to US carriers failing to place meaningful support behind it. This will operate on any carrier but will be sold mainly online. US carriers seem to have no appetite for any 5G-free handset, and none have ever had much enthusiasm for moving the Pixel first.
I guess 5 G essentially explains why Google launches all three phones at once. It is good for prospective 4A buyers to know that there are more pixels coming, but the fact is that all three will be reaching separate buyers. Given that the 4A won’t get a lot of support from the carrier, pre-announcing the Pixel 5 is a face-saving measure.
Google’s Pixel line has been a source of controversy and dismay within the Android community over the past year. When it comes to producing a phone with top-tier specs and results, the business is commonly seen as falling behind competitors. A report from The Information indicates that Rick Osterloh, the person in charge of Google’s hardware division, was dissatisfied with the battery life of the Pixel 4.
The strong point of the Pixel — its excellent camera — will also need to be further developed without the person who has been widely credited with coming up with its algorithms. Now Marc Levoy works for Adobe.
The flagship Pixel phones have traditionally been announced and launched in October. Google couldn’t get the 4A out in a timely manner, however, and even Apple is signaling it won’t ship the iPhone 12 on time this year. So while Google says it’ll release the Pixel 5 “this fall,” it’s worth remembering that technically, this year’s fall ends on December 21st.
It’s interesting from an industry-watching perspective, that the most significant aspect is the price: $349. That’s $50 less than both the iPhone SE base-level and the Pixel 3A of last year. Pixel 4A may be late, but it’s priced to sell.
It has to be, too, because competition has become extremely strong in the sub-$500 price range for phones. The camera and its clean Android version are the main ways that Google aims to distinguish the Pixel 4A from the likes of OnePlus Nord, Samsung Galaxy S71, and iPhone SE.
While there have been several reports to the contrary, the Pixel 4A comes only in one screen size (though it is speculated that the forthcoming 4A 5 G will be bigger). This also comes in only one colour, called “only black” appropriately.
I thoroughly reviewed the Pixel 4A and my takeaway is that Google didn’t mess up any of the basics on that phone. The 4A still manages the fundamentals of what you want from an Android phone, but it’s obvious that costs were reduced in certain cases.
Google is maintaining the same camera module used in Pixel 3, 3A, and Pixel 4: Sony’s IMX363 12-megapixel. Although the sensor itself clearly shows its age, the results are still as good or better at all costs than what you can get on any other smartphone. The Pixel 4A matches the Pixel 4 in quality for pictures — but it is a beat slower when it comes to saving pictures. As normal with Pixel phones, its capabilities are at best mixed for images.
Google has gone away with its first hole-punch display, a 1080p OLED screen that’s pretty good for this price range. The 5.8-inch panel these days places the Pixel 4A at the lower end of Android phone sizes, but it’s pretty easy to carry and secure within its plastic frame. Google has kept Pixel 4A stereo speakers, which is a unusual thing at this price point. The headphone jack, which is a rare at any price point, has also been retained.
But the RAM and storage are perhaps the most important specs for the Pixel 4A, both of which are in fact good news. The Pixel 4A ships 6 GB of RAM which is adequate to run Android 10 and up without forcing background apps to leave early. It also has 128 GB of data, twice what iPhone SE provides at the entry-level. That means the Pixel 4A with comparable storage is $100 less than an iPhone SE.
Of course, on the processor is the one position where neither Google nor any other Android manufacturer can compare to the iPhone SE — especially at the low end. Where the iPhone SE has the best in-house processor from Apple, the Pixel 4A gets to grips with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G. It’s good enough for what it is, but it’s more difficult to tell if it will stay for many years.
Pixel 4A has a more conventional fingerprint sensor at the back of the handset, instead of face unlock or an in-screen fingerprint sensor.
Last but not least, the Pixel 4A has a battery of 3,140mAh which is significantly greater than the battery of the smaller Pixel 4. In my research, having the phone to last all day was not an problem.
Google sells the Pixel 4A in as many channels as possible: on its own website, at Best Buy, Amazon and connected to the Google Fi cell service. It should work with any US carrier but only with Verizon and the United States. This will be ported by cellular. Even then, don’t expect the carriers to make a big push: all their efforts are aimed at 5 G phones, and the Pixel 4A is just 4G. That’s probably another reason Google has revealed its new Pixel phones in advance.
The competitive $349 price point combined with the consistency baseline standard and Google’s three-year pledge of app updates adds up to one of the best deals on smartphones right now. However, it doesn’t include much in Google’s cloud services: only a three-month trial of YouTube Premium, Google Play Pass, and Google One storage.
Our full analysis of the Pixel 4A can be found here. More detail on the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5 G is coming this fall with complete announcement from Google — and possibly every week between now and then as the inevitable leaks and rumors begin.