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Latest news in US: The Pixel 4A raises the bar for how good a budget phone's camera can be.

Google on Monday revealed the Pixel 4A, which will sit alongside the Pixel 4A 5G and the Pixel 5. Though the latter two will be available at a later date, you can already preorder the Pixel 4A for $349, £349 and AU$599. Unlike in previous years, the phone only comes in one color (black) and one size (as in, there's no Pixel 4A XL). And for its price, the Pixel 4A has one of the best cameras you can get on a phone.

Amid the abundance of $400 phones that are out now, which include the iPhone SE (2020) and the Galaxy A51, the Pixel 4A's two standout features are hard to dismiss. The fact that it has the same excellent main camera as the Pixel 4 (unfortunately, it doesn't have the Pixel 4's second telephoto lens) makes it the ideal phone for someone who wants to take great photos without much effort. Especially if that person doesn't care about having a sleek design or a huge screen, both of which the Pixel 4A doesn't have.
The Pixel 4A is about $50 cheaper than its closest competitors and has 128GB of storage, instead of 64GB like years past, so it really is a solid value. And these days, any amount of money that can be saved is crucial.
So does the Pixel 4A have the best camera on any phone? Which is to say does the Pixel 4 still have the best camera? Not necessarily, not like previous years. When the Pixel 2 came out in 2017, the delta between Google's camera and other Android phones at the time felt pretty wide. And when the Pixel 3 introduced Night Sight, it was witchcraft-levels of impressive. But rivals such as Apple, Samsung and OnePlus have shrunk the gap when it comes to important camera features like low-light photos and zoom. 
The better question to ask then, is: Is this the phone with the best camera you can get for $350? Considering that the Pixel 4A also receives prompt software updates from Google, has a long-lasting battery life (so far) and has a headphone jack -- all on top of its stellar camera -- I'd venture to say the answer is yes.


Pixel 4A
Pixel 4
Rear cameras
The Pixel 4A doesn't have a second rear telephoto camera
2 rear cameras make for better portrait shots
Headphone jack
It has a 3.5mm headphone jack
The Pixel 4 doesn't have a headphone jack
Larger, 5.81-inch screen and hole-punch front-facing camera
Smaller, 5.7-inch screen and prominent camera bump
Display refresh rate
60Hz display
90Hz display
No wireless charging
Does charge wirelessly
Water resistance
Not water resistant
Rated IP68 for water resistance
Soli motion-sensing
Doesn't have Soli motion-sensing, which enables touchless gestures
Pixel 4 does feature Soli motion-sensing and touchless gestures
3,140-mAh battery
2,800-mAh battery
Less powerful Snapdragon 730G chipset
More powerful Snapdragon 855
Storage options
It has one 128GB storage option
Two options: 64GB and 128GB

The Pixel 4A has the best camera for the money

The Pixel 4A's main selling point is that it has the Pixel 4's stellar main camera in a less expensive package. While at times the Pixel 4A's handling of HDR effects and contrast can look unrealistic at times, the cinematic quality of its photos makes it one of the more intuitive cameras to use. And though it doesn't have multiple rear cameras like, say, the Galaxy A51 or the original Pixel 4, it takes very little effort to get the Pixel 4A to spit out a good photo. This is what makes it fun and hassle-free to use.
Like previous Pixel phones, the Pixel 4A can take pictures in very low light thanks to its Night Sight feature. It also has a mode specifically for astrophotography.

The Pixel 4A takes portrait pictures with only one camera. Though these photos came out fine, there were a few others where the bokeh effect was patchy or inaccurate.
In this portrait photo, you can see that on the right side of the cat's face the blur drops off abruptly.

Shooting video was also great. The Pixel 4A uses a combination of optical image stabilization and software to stabilize footage. When I recorded my surroundings while walking on the sidewalk and while riding a bicycle on a paved trail, the videos were stable and smooth. 

It looks like a 'budget' phone 

While the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3 look nearly identical, the Pixel 4A is clearly a budget version of the Pixel 4. While I like the thin bezels, the hole-punch camera and the baby blue accent on the power button -- all of which keep the phone looking modern -- the Pixel 4A looks and feels cheap. Its plain polycarbonate body lacks the glossiness of the Galaxy A51, the elegance of the iPhone SE and the fun Pop Art aesthetic of its Pixel 4 brother. And unlike the Pixel 4, it doesn't have that higher refresh-rate display. This isn't a deal-breaker as most phones have the same 60Hz screen, but it would have been a nice carryover that would have elevated the Pixel 4A's appeal.
As someone with a small grip, I find the phone's small size makes it comfortable to navigate -- and it fits in my back pocket. I prefer a more one-handed experience, which is one of the reasons why I don't usually opt for the "XL" versions of Pixels. So I'm glad that when Google picked one size for the Pixel 4A, it went with the smaller option.
Because the phone doesn't have the Pixel 4's Google Soli sensor chip for facial scanning, I used the fingerprint sensor on the back to unlock the screen, which works quickly and consistently. 

Pixel 4A software: Incremental but welcome improvements

Because the Pixel 4A is a budget phone and Google is launching its main Pixel 5 in the fall, it's not surprising that the 4A doesn't have Android 11 out of the box. Nor is it brimming with radical changes to Android 10. Instead, Google added small improvements to Android features that were already useful to begin with.
Real-time transcription for audio recordings, which also debuted on the Pixel 4 and is for English only, can now be prompted by voice via Google Assistant. The phrase to begin recording that Google suggests is, "Hey Google, start recording my meeting." It's a very specific phrase and oddly, it's the only one that'll work. I tried others: "Begin audio recording," "Record audio," and "Start audio recording," but those only opened the Recorder app. I was able to stop recording by telling Assistant to stop and fortunately I didn't have to add, "my meeting" to the command. I also found it useful that I can now save the text of these transcriptions directly into a Google Doc. As a reporter, this streamlines my own workflowThat includes expanding the phone's live-captioning abilities, which was introduced on the Pixel 4. You can now live transcribe phone and video calls, including ones made on non-native apps such as Facebook Messenger. When I tried it on Messenger, there was a lag between the speech and the captioning, and not every word was transcribed 100% accurately. But other than that it worked pretty well, and I can imagine it coming in handy when I have to take a call in a noisy, loud environment. If you ever used Google's Screen Call when it transcribes an incoming call, it works similar to that.

Other Pixel 4A software tidbits

  • Like all Google phones, the Pixel 4A will be one of the first phones in line to receive OS and software updates when they're ready to roll out from Google.
  • Google Assistant on the phone can be activated by voice, by tapping the Assistant icon on the screen or by swiping your finger upwards from either corners. The Pixel 4A doesn't have Active Edge, which was on past Pixel phones and called up the Assistant by squeezing the phone's sides.
  • The Pixel 4A does have Call Screen, which natively screens robocalls and is one of my favorite Android features. (So much time saved not listening to random Chinese-language spam recordings that I can't even understand!)
  • Google's Personal Safety app is preloaded on the Pixel 4A and is available for Android phones to download as well. In addition to crash detection and setting up emergency contacts, you can schedule a safety check. It's a newish feature (my Pixel 3 received this update a few weeks ago) and it gave me some peace of mind when I was walking alone from my car to my apartment one day. I set a 15-minute timer on the app and if I failed to check in with the app within 15 minutes, it would have notified my emergency contacts. Fortunately, nothing happened and I arrived home safely. 
  • Google has stopped offering new Pixel users unlimited Photo storage at original resolution. If you want that you'll have to sign up and pay for Google's cloud service, One. Pixel 4A owners still get unlimited storage at "high quality," however, which isn't as big as original, but should satisfy most needs.

The Pixel 4A runs Android 10 out of the box.
Angela Lang/CNET

Pixel 4A's performance and battery

The Pixel 4A features a Snapdragon 730G chipset and 6GB of RAM. On benchmark tests the Pixel 4A consistently outperformed the Galaxy A51. But, as expected, it fell behind the Pixel 4 flagship, which has a superior Snapdragon 855 processor. The iPhone SE, with its proprietary A13 Bionic processor from Apple, beat all the phones comfortably.
Anecdotally, the phone works quickly with most tasks. Unlocking the screen with my fingerprint, launching Assistant and opening apps went off without a hitch. But the Pixel 4A isn't the smoothest phone I handled. After I downloaded Call of Duty and PUBG, I had to restart the phone because both apps stalled while loading. And every once in a while, say, an app would unexpectedly quit or I had to relaunch the camera because the on-screen shutter button wouldn't register. Overall though, the phone works reliably, and after restarting I was able to play both of the aforementioned games without any further issues.
For comparison, the iPhone SE lasted about 15 hours, 45 minutes and the Galaxy A51 clocked in 16 hours, 10 minutes. The Pixel 4, which had a disappointing battery life for its caliber, powered off after 10 hours. We're going to conduct more battery tests on the Pixel 4A with streaming video. When the results are in, I'll update this review and its final rating.


Google Pixel 4A
Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Samsung Galaxy A51 (4G)
Google Pixel 4
Display size, resolution
5.81-inch OLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels
4.7-inch LCD; 1,334x750 pixels
6.5-inch FHD AMOLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels
5.7-inch OLED; 1,080x2,280 pixels
Pixel density
Dimensions (Inches)
5.7x2.7x0.3 inches
5.45x2.65x0.29 inches
6.24x2.90x0.31 inches
2.7x5.7x0.3 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters)
144x69.4x8.2 mm
138.4x67.3x7.3 mm
158.5x73.6x7.9 mm
68.8x147.1x8.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams)
5.04 oz; 143g
5.22 oz; 148g
6.07 oz; 172g
5.7 oz; 162g
Mobile software
Android 10
iOS 13
Android 10
Android 10
12.2-megapixel (standard)
12-megapixel (wide-angle)
48-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth sensing)
12.2-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera
Video capture
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
Apple A13 Bionic
2.3GHz octa-core processor
2.84GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
64GB, 128GB
Not disclosed
Expandable storage
Up to 512GB
3,140 mAh
Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8
4,000 mAh
2,800 mAh
Fingerprint sensor
Home button
Headphone jack
Special features
Dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)
Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Soli motion sensing and touchless gestures; 90Hz display; water resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD)
$399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
$799 (64GB), $899 (128GB)
Price (GBP)
£419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
£669 (64GB), £769 (128GB)
Price (AUD)
AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)
AU$1,049 (64GB), AU$1,199 (128GB)

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