The Google Pixel range is hardly the new kid on the block anymore, the so-called Google Phone is known for having one of the best point-and-shoot cameras on the market, and with the advertising power behind it, more and more people are finding out just how good the Pixel range can be.
I have used every Pixel so far, and owned a fair few too, however after only having a brief hands on time with the flagship Pixel 5, when Vodafone reached out and offered me their other new device this year, the 4a 5G, I was more than happy to take them up on this offer to put through its paces.
The device was sent to me via Vodafone PR on a 2 week loan when the device was then returned back to them, and no one from Google or Vodafone had access to this review before it went live, and as always, all thoughts are of my own and not influenced by anyone else.
This review was completed during a time of lockdown for COVID-19 and as such the coverage is slightly more limited than normal as I will not be using for work during the day, and my areas to go and take photos and videos will also be limited.
Google have never been too adventurous when it comes to smartphone designs, it is more about getting the most out of what they have instead of going too crazy with different designs that could put people off.
The saying ‘If it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ is so true when it comes to recent Pixel phones.
At just 168g in weight, the Pixel 4a 5G is hardly a heavy phone, this is because of the plastic material used instead of any type of metal, it helps keep the cost down as well as the weight.
The screen has a large 6.24 inch OLED display with a 1080p resolution that means you get great colours and deep blacks as well as punchy colours without having a big impact on battery performance.
With OLED and the addition of Dark Mode in settings, you are getting a display that makes content look great, especially with HDR really helping to improve things.
Being OLED you also get always on so can see the time and notifications without needing to keep unlocking the phone when on a desk.
A high refresh rate is something a lot of people are looking more and more at recently especially with newer phones having 120hz, with the Pixel 5 you get a 90hz display, but on the 4a 5G you get the normal 60hz.
Having 60hz is not a reason to overlook getting this phone though, given the fact that the most recent iPhone 12 series all feature the same 60hz and are about twice the price of this phone, you see it is not a huge game changer, and if it was then you always have the Pixel 5 if you want more.
Looking at the phone up top you have a small speaker housed in the very small bezel, so small you can hardly even see it is there which is a good thing as it really shows off the display.
Voice call quality is very clear and loud thanks to supporting HD Voice calling technology which does a great job at blocking out unwanted noise such as on a busy road or in a shopping center for example.
In the top left corner you have the front facing 8 megapixel camera for selfies and video, this will be covered in a lot more detail later in the review along with some sample videos and photos it can take.
The bezels on the whole are very minimal which is good news, it really makes the screen stand out without making the phone feel large or heavy, and I really appreciate this in daily use.
Over on the left side you have the SIM card tray near the bottom, this is where you can use your Nano SIM of choice if you decide not to use eSim, you will also notice no MicroSD card, this is because like all Pixels, storage is internal only, mainly because Google expects you will want to use its own suite of online backup options such as Google Drive or Google Photos for example.
Over on the right hand side you get a volume up and down button for controlling in call and system volume, with a power button just above.
Google normally likes to make this power button a little different by adding a bit of colour when possible, and in this case on the 4a 5G you have a white power button on a black phone so it really stands out.
Speaking on the sides, something long gone is the feature where you squeeze the phone to bring up the assistant, this has been removed even from the Pixel 5 and is because there are better ways to get hold of the assistant on the move, and squeezing the phone is not ideal although some people did like having this.
Looking up top, you have one of the dual microphones that helps with recording video and audio, plus helps with the noise cancellation on voice calls.
Next to this is a nice welcome addition, a 3.5mm headphone port so you can plug in your own set of earphones if you want, with this becoming less and less common on phones, it was nice to see Google sticking with it as an option to keep people happy.
Down the bottom you have a dual set of speakers which are very loud but can lack quality when it comes to playing back any video or music content, it works well when you are on conference calls but music lovers will want to use a headset instead to get the best audio possible.
In between the two speakers you have a USB-C port for data transfer as well as charging, and if you use the charger in the box you get that 18W charging power to recharge at a reasonable time but not super fast like some competition.
Over on the back you have the camera system in the top left corner which is where you get the dual lens as well as the LED flash for helping with photos or using as a flashlight in the dark.
Below is the return of a fingerprint reader much to the joy of many people, especially with a pandemic going on needing everyone to wear a mask, which means you can unlock the phone quickly and easily, as well as use it for Google Pay for contact less payments, something I did a lot during my time with the phone.
The back is black plastic which means it can scratch or get marks so would suggest putting in a case if you order one of these phones, it will also add to the extra grip you would appreciate having.
Having plastic for the back helps keep the cost down as well as overall weight so was a good compromise by Google.
Software on the Pixel range is what Google wants you to use without any of the additional services or applications added by the manufacturers for their own custom skins.
Because of this, Pixel owners are some of the first to get the latest updates as they become available, and can also opt in to the Android Beta program to test out future versions.
The Pixel 4a 5G comes with the latest version out of the box, Android 11 and this is a nice improvement over the older Android 10, polishing up on features instead of adding a wide range of new ones.
Digital Wellbeing is a big area Google is looking into showing off on Android, and the built-in app shows you everything from the amount of notifications you have, to how many times you pick up your phone to check if you missed anything.
Results can be pretty scary when you see just how much you use your phone in a single day, and some people might use this to help improve their phone use by cutting down when possible, something we could all do with doing sometimes or another.
If you own a Pixel you know you will always get the latest versions and security updates as they become available, but Google has gone a step further with a series of Feature Drops that roll out over time, adding new services or features without needing to switch to a new phone, this is great as it brings new life to a phone later on down the time of owning it.
Whilst you might not get a lot of pre-installed content such as what you get on say a Samsung phone and the initial startup looks quite bare, there is so much available in the Play Store to download it means you are only getting the apps you want to use, and not filling storage up on bloatware you will never open.
When it comes to performance of a smartphone, it is too easy to look at the processor not being the flagship from Qualcomm and automatically think this means an inferior or slower phone without using it.
With the Pixel 4a 5G (and Pixel 5) Google have gone with the Snapdragon 765G which whilst not the top of the line, has some great things going for it, most people will find it hard to even notice any difference unless you really play a lot of heavy gaming.
You get 6GB of RAM which is plenty enough for multitasking and does an ok job at playing games such as Call of Duty or Pokemon Go.
6GB may on paper look slow against some which have 8GB or even 12GB, but in reality this will be overkill for most tasks and also puts the price up, 6GB is a nice middle ground to get the job done.
The performance is ok for a lot of things, you will notice some stutter and lag when playing some large games though and when taking a photo and viewing it often takes a few seconds to process the image meaning a slight delay in taking multiple photos one after another.
Storage comes in at 128GB internal with no MicroSD expansion possible, mainly because as mentioned, this should be plenty for most people and for anyone who wants more, Google has some great services to offload content onto the cloud such as Google Photos and Google Drive
When it comes to battery you get 3800mAh capacity with the built in battery, and of course non replaceable unless you send it to Google, there are not many phones now with user replaceable batteries so that is nothing new, unfortunately you do miss out on wireless charging which some may find a let down, but with wired charging being much faster, this is the best way to boost the battery when needed.
Battery performance was really really good lasting a full day with plenty of battery left over for the evening, the Adaptive Battery mode in settings takes over managing the apps and performance and is what helps bring these great results.
Charging speeds are quick thanks to the 18W charger in the box, not as crazy fast as these 65W you see in some of the competition, but faster than the 5W charger that came in the box of the recent iPhone SE.
With networking you of course get WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC which every phone will have these days, on the mobile network side you get 2G/3G/4G/5G, this with the Pixel 5 are the first Pixel phones that can connect to the new 5G networks for super fast downloading.
There is an option for eSim as well as a single Nano SIM, and at the moment you can only use one at a time, however there has been information that in a future update you will be able to use both SIM cards at the same time for true Dual-SIM support.
With the current lockdown situation because of COVID-19, I was unable to travel to my nearest 5G location to test out speeds, however I do get very quick 4G+ and was able to get over 100Mbps easily in certain locations thanks to 4 Carrier Aggregation if your network supports it.
If you are into your network you may know there are currently two different versions of 5G depending on where you are, Sub-6 and mmWave.
The Pixel 4a 5G supports Sub-6 which is what we have in the UK and across Europe, but it does mean you won’t get these 2Gbps crazy speeds like on Verizon in America, but it does mean coverage travels further so you will get stronger 5G coverage even when you turn your back on the mast.
The camera is one of the most iconic selling points for any Pixel phone, but in the past and these new ones too, but how good are they in day-to-day testing when so much of the competition has started to catch up?
When it comes to the selfie camera you get 8 megapixels for still photos and 1080p max resolution for video recording,
Google has often used some magic to make Pixel photos some of the best on any phone, but normally it is the selfie camera that lacks the love the back camera has been given.
With the Pixel 4a 5G you get both Portrait mode if you want to take those snazzy selfie portraits to post on social media, but also the Night Sight mode if you are in less than perfect condition and want to snap that face to send to your friends.
Whilst it is nice to have these, you still need a decent amount of lighting because edge detection does suffer when lights go down, and even the amazing Night Sight mode whilst it tries its best to compensate for the poor lighting, there is a lot of smudging going on in my samples I noticed, but at least Google are looking at both the selfie camera as well as the rear improvements.
Over on the back is where most of the Pixel camera magic happens with a new lens from the older Pixel 4/XL range.
The main camera has the same 12.2 megapixel sensor which gets some of the best point and shoot photos possible, this means even the most amateur photographer can get some amazing shots if the conditions are right.
The second camera is the new one, and this is what everyone was asking for, finally an ultra wide shooter instead of a telephoto, this time a 16 megapixel lens for capturing a lot of detail in those wide angle situations.
Whilst you do lose the telephoto lens from older Pixel phones, there is some clever software going on in the background that lets you still zoom in without losing a lot of quality and this is a good compromise to get that wide angle camera included.
Most of the camera work is done on the software side, just point and shoot and let the phone do most of the work for you.
There are some extra modes you can play around with such as Portrait and Panorama, however the Night Sight mode gets a lot of the attention when the conditions are just right and you can capture some stunning night photos full of colour and detail that will impress even the most professional camera user out there.
As good as the still photos are on a Pixel phone, it is often the video recording that has let them down in the past, so Google has tried to improve this to get it on par with other flagships out there, especially with a lot of people posting on YouTube now.
Video recording goes up to 4K and there are a few different modes you can pick with including a new Cinematic one for smooth panning and slowing down the recording, this is on top of improving the OIS and EIS for stabilisation when you are on the move.
Whilst results are not perfect, it is a big improvement over what older models have been able to do.
The interface is very simple and what you find on most other smartphones out there with a sliding bar of modes to pick between with lots hidden under the More section.
Over on the left side you have a few other settings such as changing the timer, size of frame and flash settings.
I have always had a soft spot for Google Pixel phones, maybe it was because having the best camera possible is high up on my wanted list for a new phone, maybe it’s the simple stock like experience which gets the fastest updates to newer versions, or maybe it’s the simple but powerful design and performance on previous years that kept me coming back year after year.
Google is giving customers a really tough decision this year with THREE, yes THREE models to take your pick on (Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 5), all with great performance and a camera system that will beat many of the competition well into 2021.
At an RRP of £499, the Pixel 4a 5G might lack some of the key selling points from the Pixel 5 such as wireless charging, Gorilla Glass 5, a more sturdy material and less RAM, but what it does get you is the exact same camera performance, a larger screen, and a £100 saving if you decide to buy SIM free.
If you want more premium material and reverse wireless charging then look at the Pixel 5, however if you like the larger screen and want an amazing point and shoot camera, then the Pixel 4a 5G comes highly recommended.
With a decent battery, large OLED screen, great camera performance and always up to date software, look no further, the Pixel 4a 5G is great value for money and a phone I can recommend taking a look at.
Anyone wanting to pick up a Pixel 4a 5G on Vodafone can check out the deals here
A big thank you to Vodafone UK for sending the device over for review.