Google Pixel 4a review: The most under-rated mid-tier phone

Recently found myself looking for a new smartphone although not for myself but for my partner. Her Samsung Galaxy S7 edge finally gave up on her. Got it back in 2016, survived a million drops with only a small crack to the front screen, it decided one day to over-heat and stop working completely. Probably consider herself lucky that it didn’t explode consider Samsung’s reputation around the time when S7 is released (RIP Note 7). Given my favourite spent time is browsing the web to find tech gadgets, I was tasked to find her a new phone with fairly simple criteria: less than £400, reasonable size as girls have no pockets, take good photos and fast enough for her smartphone usage which is Pinterest and Whatsapp. So I got to work and decided on the most unassuming smartphone on the market – Google’s pixel 4a. Here is why…

Mid-tier phone

The mid-tier phone market, phones that are £300-500 mark, is arguably the most competitive and therefore the most colourful. Each phone sacrifice different functionality to compete in this field, creating a more dynamic and interesting range. Unlike the flagship phone market where they just put everything in: the latest chip, more camera lens and bigger and brighter screen. 4 phones caught my eyes: Xiaomi Poco F3, iPhone SE, Samsung A52 5G and of course the Google Pixel 4a.

Spec

 Poco F3Pixel 4aiPhone SEA52 5G
Price£289£299£399£399
ProcessorSD 870SD 730GA13SD 750G
Battery (mAh)45203140No mention4500
DisplayRefresh rate6.67” AMOLED120Hz5.8” FHD+ OLED60Hz4.7” Retina HD60Hz6.5” AMOLED120Hz
Release dateMar ‘21Aug ‘20Apr ‘20Mar ‘21

Why Google Pixel 4a

From the get-go, Pixel 4a does not stand out at all on paper. Not the fastest chip, not the best display, pretty small battery and not the latest phone available either. Xiaomi Poco F3 wins in literally every category, from the price to the hardware. They offer the fastest processor SnapDragon 8 series, the largest battery and an amazing display. But what pushes me to Pixel is the stock Android, amazing camera and the perfect screen size in a sub £300 package.

Review – what’s good

1.    Plastic build means light and no worry for cracked glass

The phone has a matt finished plastic back. It makes the phone very light. It also means there is no need for a phone case as you don’t have to worry about dropping and cracking the glass. I wish I am brave enough to use my iPhone without a case, but the thought of dropping it and having to pay the premium, I will just have to accept the inferior hand feel.

2.    Full-screen OLED

There are a lot of android phones that have a full-screen display with a punch-hole front-facing camera. It just makes the phone nicer to look at. Especially she is coming from the Galaxy S7 edge which had a big forehead and a big chin. Even I am super happy with my iPhone X, I can’t help but still feel jealous of the quality of the OLED display.

3.    Snappy UI

Stock Android is the best Android. It doesn’t have any junk 3rd party app dragging it down. It is smooth and intuitive. They also come with 3 years guarantee of Android updates.

I have not recently used a Xiaomi device, but I had a tablet from Xiaomi previously. Their UI is just too clunky with tonnes of unwanted apps installed on them. On top of that, the fact that Xiaomi is a Chinese company and having witnessed what the Chinese government is capable of doing, I am just not that comfortable with that idea. Hardware in all those 4 phones are more than enough for my partner, it is therefore down to the software experience. Samsung’s One UI is pretty minimal as well but there is no need for the extra spec that comes with that extra £100. She doesn’t want an iPhone as the forehead and chin are off-putting for 2021.

4.    Good looking

I don’t know what it is, but I like the square bump at the back of Pixel 4a better than the straight line camera module from the other phones. I have an iPhone X with has 2 lenses in the top-down configuration, but nowadays phones that have 3 or 4 lenses that also go top-down configuration just looks terrible in my opinion. Pixel 4a has only one camera so it shouldn’t need the square bump but I kind of dig the look. Minimal logo with a stealthy “G” that goes nicely with the matt black finish but have a hint of colour with their contrasty minty green/blue button, all very minimalistic.

Not a huge fan

1.    The fingerprint sensor at the back

It is at a good place when you pick up the phone as your index finger are just there. But it also means you have to pick up your phone. You can’t do the lazy just glancing your phone on the table thing. Well, you can, just have to type in the bloody pin.

2.    Mat finish is slippery

My partner just doesn’t care about tech gear. Little attention is paid to where the phone is placed so the phone is on the floor more than in her pocket. With the matt plastic finish, it is even more likely for it to slide out of her pocket or drop from her hands. The back is plastic but the screen is still glass, so it is just a matter of time.

Verdict

Overall, I think Google’s Pixel 4a is highly under-rated. Because on paper they are not the most impressive one and in the sea of mid-tier phone, it is easy to forget. But for my partner it is the best phone – good price, good size, more than enough power and have an amazing camera that does wonderful things with just software.

Who I would recommend it to: if you want a smartphone that has a good balance of price and quality. Takes good photos without the gimmick fuss, good user experience, only need the phone for basic things like texting, phone calls and media consumption and a reasonable size phone that still fits in your jean pocket.

Who I would say look elsewhere: If you game intensely on your phone. You want the absolute best hardware for the money or you don’t like Android.