Wednesday 30 September 2020

Original Google Pixel In 2020. How Does It Fair?

It was time to replace an ageing Moto G (original model) for my son. He doesn’t use it as a phone but more of a small tablet for YouTube and gaming on the go mainly and the Moto was showing its age and had been dropped a few too many times – leaving it in a poor state.

I ended up picking up a very reasonably priced Pixel – original model from 2016. But how does Google's first gen Pixel hold up in 2020?

Firstly, I like the design of the Pixel. The front looks very similar to an iPhone but lacks the physical home button. The back is split into two sections with the fingerprint sensor on the back. I bought a Grade C and was expecting something in much more poor condition, however this just has a few surface scratches and scuffs.

It features a quad core Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB RAM and 32GB internal storage (a 128GB model was also an option). It has a 5.0” AMOLED screen, USB C charging, a 12MP camera and 8mpx selfie camera. Spec wise, that is still a decent set up.

It shipped originally with Android 7.1 and was updated all the way up to Android 10. This is a rarity in the Android world. Being a Pixel it runs vanilla Android - something I do like. I am not keen on reskinned Android versions (such as those on Samsung or Sony phones) and it doesn't come with any preinstalled bloat that takes up space.

Performance wise, this phone nips along. It is currently on Android 8.0 (with a notification to update to Android 10). The quad core processor might not be top of the range, but the 4GB RAM helps a lot to keep things flowing smoothly and the 32GB storage is plenty for the average person to install a lot of apps and games.

The lack of expandable storage would bug me on a 32GB phone - I do like to keep about 40GB of music on an SD card in my phone - but this could be resolved buy purchasing the 128GB model.

I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting such a fast experience. Both the OS and apps swing along nicely and gaming was great too – although I didn’t play any heavy games, but light gaming was a breeze.

It is certainly a massive step up from the Moto G with only 1GB RAM. However it really did surpass my expectations on performance. 

The cameras on the Pixel are superb. It really shows this was a top end handset. Pictures are super crisp, close up photos focus very closely and the background blur feature is great. Even the front selfie camera stood up well especially in low light.

It is a bit smaller that what I am used to (a Moto Z Play which has a 5.5" screen) but I quite liked the slightly smaller footprint. It meant my thumb didn't have to stretch so much across the device.

Audio was good for a phone, it was loud and fairly bassy - but the inclusion of a headphone socket was essential - otherwise I have to listen to my son watching people talk over Fortnite videos on YouTube.

The only downside to this Pixel – and it seems a common issue especially with early Pixels and with older phones in general, is the battery doesn’t hold up well. The 2770 mAh battery would have given decent life when it was new, but after a few years it isn’t doing so well.

I find it better value to buy an older premium phone than a new budget handset, but it is the battery that is hit and miss on older handsets.

If you can get a Pixel with a decent battery, then you can not go wrong with this handset. Not everyone needs the power a new phone offers and grabbing an older high end phone can be a great option to cut the cost down without sacrificing performance and you end up with better quality hardware.

I am loving this Pixel – and am quite jealous of its premium feel, good looks and amazing performance. It has made me rethink whether my next phone will be a Motorola handset (which we are very fond of in our house) or possibly switch to one in the Pixel range.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at

Tuesday 8 September 2020

From Google Pixel 3a to Google Pixel 4a

 Well, having had my Pixel 3a since late November I was all set for not upgrading for a long time, but I thought wrong, thanks to a free gift from the very kind folks at Google, I now have a beautiful new Pixel 4a in "just Black". It arrived in a nice welcome pack with a weird tasting mocktail, some spicy biscuits and some nice sugar coated sweets... The standard phone box is inside, which contains the usual USB C cable, adaptor and charger. 

After swapping my SIM over, I did try to do a settings transfer by USB cable but couldn't get it to work, so I opted for the over-WiFi method which worked perfectly. The 4a is even smaller than my 3a, and the front is nearly all screen, with a punch hole selfie camera. I've not had that on any of my previous phones. Here's both side by side (photos taken with my Pixel XL, which feels chunky in comparison to both!).  The 4a is only available in black and there's no XL version, although there will be a 5G version to be released at some point.

Although externally smaller than the 3a, the Pixel 4a has a slightly larger screen (5.8" instead of 5.6") thanks to the punch hole camera, and nearly the same resolution. The cameras are almost the same (except a slightly wider aperture - f1.7 in the 4a instead of f1.8) but the 4a gains the dual exposure controls and Live HDR+ photography features from the Pixel 4. Internally, the 4a has a bit faster CPU and a slightly bigger battery (3,140mAh instead of 3000mAh) and again supports 18W fast charging. The 4a has 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB and twice the storage at 128GB, which is great for me since I do take a lot of photos and videos. It still has the fingerprint sensor in the same place on the back, which I prefer to face unlock, or having it on the front. My finger easily find the sensor when picking it up. 

One hardware change is the removal of the Active Edge, which I never used anyway and had disabled. But the best thing is the Pixel 4a still has a headphone jack, as although I often use Bluetooth headphones, I still like having a headphone jack as backup and so I can plug my phone directly into my amp. 

I found a cheap flip case on Amazon because I really don't like taking my phone out naked, particularly on my walks. It's the usual faux-leather affair, but I like that it doesn't have that annoying flap that my 3a case has, and it stays firmly shut with a decent magnet. Also it doesn't get in the way of the camera like the 3a case did.


Photo quality is pretty much the same as on my 3a, just as great. I've not played with the dual exposure controls yet but the Google AI blog explains how those and Live HDR+ work. With Live HDR+, you get to see a more accurate view of what the finished photo will look like in the preview image. Video quality seems to be exactly the same as the 3a as far as I have noticed.

Night Sight is impressive as ever.

When I first saw punch hole cameras on phones I thought they would be annoying but generally I don't notice it's there, as long as images and videos aren't fullscreened over it, which they generally don't unless in ultra wide resolution.


So far I have found no problems with the 4a, and thankfully it does not have the slight GPS issue I had with the 3a when i got it. One thing I'm still getting used to on the 4a is navigation on the Home screen is gestures-only so to switch apps you have to swipe up from the bottom, hold, then tap the app you want. To go Back anywhere, swipe left from the right edge of the screen. You can also quickly swipe between apps by swiping the white bar at the bottom left or right. I can't see anyway to disable it and I don't really want to change Launchers, eventually it'll be stored in muscle memory.

Battery Life

With its slightly larger battery  (3,140mAh instead of 3000mAh), the 4a has so far given me a few more hours of battery, likely offset slightly by the newer/faster CPU. The screenshot below was on a mixed usage day, went for a walk, took plenty of photos, used GPS/Google Maps, browsed the net in the evening a lot. Since I have had it, the 4a has often had 30 or more percent left of battery before going to sleep.

Android 11

Just four days after getting my new Pixel 4a, and as I was preparing to finish this review, Android 11 was released both to it and my 3a.


I straight away noticed a couple of new features. The first thing I noticed in the update are app suggestions are added if you have an empty spot on the bottom row of your Home screen, not really keen on that so i haven't left a space. 

Media controls have been tweaked...

There's a whole bunch of new features and tweaks - too many to go into them all here, including a new power menu, native screen recorder and improved permissions, so I've left a link at the bottom of this article.  


Overall, the Pixel 4a feels snappier than my old 3a, thanks to that extra RAM and faster CPU, and with twice as much storage I don't have to worry about filling it up too quickly. Just like the 3a, the Pixel 4a is a great mid-range phone, everything works near perfectly. It is buttery smooth, has a great camera, very good screen, and all day battery life. It's absolutely a worthy successor to the 3a, with a better screen to body ratio, bigger battery, larger screen, faster CPU and twice the storage on the base model. I intend to keep my 4a until it stops working, with my 3a as backup, unless Google decide to send me a newer device again...

- You can buy the flip case here on Amazon.

- Wired has a thorough overview of new features and tweaks in Android 11.

- Here's what I thought of the Pixel 3a when I upgraded from my Pixel XL.

You can find me on Twitter and Instagram