Google is getting really, really good at price cutting while still bringing quality with its smartphones. The evidence? The recently introduced Pixel 4A smartphone. Google took the best stuff from its $800 high-end Pixel 4 — an excellent camera and a large screen — and squeezed it into the $350 device. That’s $50 less than last year’s Pixel 3A, Google’s first budget phone.
The Pixel 4A is cheaper than high-end devices because it lacks frills such as wireless charging and a face scanner. Like the $399 iPhone SE, which Apple released in April, the Pixel 4A is a sign that you no longer need to pay through the nose for a great smartphone.
“It’s been a long time coming for this market, which has always been focused on the high end because of the dominance of Samsung and the iPhone,” said Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst for Creative Strategies, a consulting firm.
I tested the Pixel 4A for two weeks. Here’s what I found.
Google surveyed its customers to find out what they wanted in a smartphone. A large screen, long battery life, lots of storage and great camera quality were among the concerns. For the most part, that’s what you get with the Pixel 4A.
- The screen measures 5.81 diagonal inches and relies on OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology, a newer type of display that can be made thinner, lighter and brighter with better colour accuracy and contrast than its predecessor, LCD, or liquid crystal display. For a device in this price range, this is a very roomy, attractive display, with nice colours and deep shadow detail.
- The 4A has a reasonably long battery life. On a typical workday juggling emails, calls and texts, I had more than 30 per cent battery life left in the evening. But on weekends, playing games and watching videos with the 4A drained the battery in a few hours.
- The 4A comes in only one model with a generous amount of storage: 128 gigabytes, which is enough for most casual users to store thousands of photos and lots of apps and games. This was a wise decision by Google.
- Pixel phones are famous for their camera system, which has software features powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. This one includes the Portrait mode or “bokeh effect”, which puts the main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. It also offers Night Sight, which makes photos taken in low light look as if they had been shot in normal conditions, without a flash.
The 4A lacks some features that were in the Pixel 4 such as wireless charging and a face scanner for unlocking the phone. That’s not a deal breaker for a device this cheap. But Google left out one big feature that does matter: water resistance. That would save a phone that was accidentally dunked in a toilet or left out in a storm.
A comparison of the 4A with iPhone SE —
Camera: Pixel 4A is the winner. Although both cameras produced clear, satisfying photos in bright light, the Pixel’s camera was slightly better than the iPhone’s camera. That was partly because of the Pixel’s ability to take photos in low light, which is useful in some situations, like a family photo inside a dimly-lit restaurant.
Screen: Pixel 4A is the winner. Its screen is larger than the iPhone’s, which measures 4.7 diagonal inches and uses older, dimmer-looking LCD screen technology.
Power: Pixel 4A is the winner. On average, after a day of heavy use, the Pixel 4A had plenty of battery left by the evening. The iPhone SE’s battery was usually almost empty by supper time.
Durability: iPhone SE is the winner. The Apple phone is water and dust resistant. That’s a major benefit for those who want their phone to last many years.
Performance: iPhone SE is the winner. Gaming and web browsing are noticeably smoother on the budget iPhone. It uses the same mobile computing processor as the one found in Apple’s high-end phones.
Storage: Pixel 4A is the winner. The iPhone SE starts at $399 with 64 gigabytes, a modest amount of storage that can be quickly gobbled up if you take lots of photos. To get an iPhone SE that matches the 128 gigabytes in the Pixel 4A, you would have to shell out $449.
The Bottom Line: Both the budget Pixel and Apple phones are excellent values. Some may prefer the Pixel 4A for its richer set of features, while others may choose the iPhone for its greater longevity.
New York Times News Service