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.

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