Hands-on: Google's Pixel 4a could be just what you need right now

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Hands-on: Google's Pixel 4a could be just what you need right now

COMMENT  |  If you’re used to owning high-end smartphones but are starting to feel guilty about shelling out over a grand-and-a-half every couple of years for the latest device, Google’s Pixel 4a might be the mid-range phone worth your time. 

The Pixel 4a is a good device, but also a potentially important one for consumers and resellers alike to know about right now. Let’s briefly explore why before I talk more about the phone.

While top-of-the-line devices from the likes of Samsung, Apple, and Google pack all the latest and greatest tech into slick, large-display devices, the prices keep going up. Apple’s new iPhone 11 pro starts at $1749, while Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 Ultra costs $1999. 

Combine those eye-watering prices with the fact that Australia could be facing a recession thanks to COVID-19 and that unemployment rates are hitting two-decade highs, and it isn’t all too surprising that smartphone sales tanked in the second quarter of 2020, down 24 percent in Australia and 20 percent globally, according to new figures from Gartner. 

Among the top five smartphone vendors, Samsung’s quarterly sales declined 27 percent year-on-year. Apple’s sales were essentially flat, declining 0.4 percent compared to the Q2 2019. Devices from Huawei were down 6 percent.

Premium devices with a pricetag above US$600 have copped a considerable hit, according to Canalys analyst Shengtao Jin.

“We do see a declining trend in the premium segment in the APAC region. Samsung’s S20 series shipped 22 percent fewer than its predecessor S10 series in the region, partly due to the absence of more affordable model such as the s10e in this year’s launch,” Jin told CRN.

“In more developed markets such as Australia, S20 sales have declined more than 50 percent.  

“Overall smartphones with [average selling prices] above US$600 have declined from 55 percent market share to 40 percent. This also coincides with the launch quarter of the iPhone SE2 which stimulated the mid-range markets.” 

A cursory glance at the market suggests that it's not a bad time to be stimulating the mid-range market, which is just what Google is going for with the Pixel 4a.

I’ve been using the device for the past two weeks and can happily get behind it as a capable replacement for the two-year-old premium device I had been using. 

Now that mobile processors, display resolution and capacity are highly serviceable across both mid and premium-range phones, perhaps the only thing I’m likely to miss by opting for a more budget model is the camera, but I'll get to that soon. 

The compact size is the first refreshing change, in dimensions its 144mm tall 69.4mm across and 8.2mm thick. It’s easy to use with one hand and makes my former premium phone look huge by comparison. 

I’m not really into watching feature-length movies on the go but the 147.6mm display is more than enough for day-to-day mobile video content. The display runs edge-to-edge, with a transmissive hole in the top left corner for the selfie camera, and looks clean. 

The edge-to-edge display means the Pixel 4a is designed to be gesture-driven for basic navigation, such as up-swipes for the home screen or a half-swipe-and-hold for a task view. There is the option to disable gesture in lieu of a traditional back, home and task view navigation bar, though I found the gestures to be easy to come to grips with.   

The device runs a Snapdragon 730G processor at 2.2GHz with a 1.8GHz 64-bit Octa-Core, and has an Adreno 618 GPU. I’m always running Outlook for Mobile, Google Docs, several websites, Instagram, Slack and Telegram alongside each other and haven’t copped any performance issues. 

To complement the app usage and management is an adaptive battery functionality that determines which apps are infrequently used and limits their background battery usage. The battery itself is a 3140mAh unit, your mileage with it will vary depending on your frequency of use and what Battery Saver setting you choose. 

A cool feature I did notice was that when accessing the quick settings panel by swiping down from the top of the screen, you are provided with a time estimate on when your battery is likely to run out. 

As said above, my only hesitation in switching was giving up a leading-premium camera. The Pixel4a’s rear 12.2MP dual-pixel camera has a f/1.7 aperture and 77° field of view. It can shoot 4K video at 30FPS and 1080p video at up to 120FPS.

This is an impressive camera, I’ll let some of the photos speak for themselves but I was surprised by the quality. For specific photography I have a Nikon DSLR, for everything else I need, this is probably all I need. 

 

 

Google is also boasting its astrophotography night sight feature in the Pixel 4a, which has been previously seen in the high-end Pixel 4. The feature suggests the camera can richly capture the night sky, complete with visible stars. 

This isn’t by any means a 'cheap' device. At about $599, one still expects performance and quality. That’s certainly here, to the extent that unless a new top-of-the-line device can innovate dramatically beyond speeds and feeds, this entry in the current smartphone lineup has seriously made me reconsider ever spending over $1000 on a phone again.

I’m an adult who uses my phone for business applications, catching up with friends and some on-the-go photos. This is to say, a $600 phone like this has everything I need. 

If you or your customers are inclined to spend more conservatively on a smartphone, and your needs could be summarised as ‘productive performance’, this is an excellent option. Given the state of the market, it seems many others are similarly reconsidering the need to go all-out.

SPECS:
Display: Full-screen 147.6 mm (5.8") display with transmissive hole
Dimensions and weight: 144 height x 69.4 width x 8.2 depth (mm)
Battery: 3140 mAh
Memory and storage: 6GB LPDDR4x RAM • 128 GB storage
Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 730G4
Rear camera: 12.2 MP dual-pixel • 1.4 μm pixel width • Auto-focus with dual pixel phase detection
Front camera:
8 MP • 1.12 μm pixel size • ƒ/2.0 aperture • Fixed focus
Video:
Rear camera: 1080p @ 30 fps, 60 fps, 120 fps • 720p @ 30 fps, 60 fps, 240 fps
Sensors: Proximity/ambient light sensor, Accelerometer/gyrometer
Charging: USB-C® 18 W adaptor with USB-PD 2.0 • 18 W fast charging
Buttons and ports: USB Type-C® 3.1 Gen 1, 3.5 mm audio jack, power button, volume controls
SIMs: Single nano SIM • eSIM
Media & Audio: Stereo speakers, two microphones, noise suppression
Wireless and Location:
Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO • Bluetooth® 5.0 + LE, A2DP (HD codecs: AptX, AptX HD, LDAC, AAC)
Network:
Up to 3xCA DL, 2x2 MIMO • CAT 12 capable of 600 Mbps download, CAT 5 capable of 75 Mbps up
Available colours: Black

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