June 3, 2023

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Google Pixel 4a 5G review: Mid-range phone with the best camera

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  • The Google Pixel 4a 5G could either be an upgrade version on the Pixel 4a, or a more budget-friendly version of the Pixel 5.
  • Whatever it is, it’s a solid $500 mid-range phone that gets almost everything right, except for a lack of water resistance and wireless charging.
  • 5G is nice to have, but not a necessity at this stage when carriers are still figuring out how to improve 5G coverage and performance. 
  • The one thing that makes the Pixel 4a 5G worthy of an active recommendation is the supreme camera quality with its standard and ultrawide lenses. 
  • If you’re looking for a good mid-ranger, there’s no need to look any further. You’ve found it. 

The Google Pixel 4a 5G could either be an upgrade version on the Pixel 4a, or a more budget-friendly version of the Pixel 5, with supreme camera quality in its standard and ultrawide lenses.

Google’s Pixel 4a 5G is in an odd position. One one hand, it’s an upgrade and larger version of the Pixel 4a that came out earlier this year. On the other hand, it’s a more budget-friendly version of the Pixel 5.

Either way, the Pixel 4a 5G is a $500 phone that comes with solid mid-range performance, specs, and features. And it comes with 5G support, which is a nice bonus, but not essential while carriers figure out how to spread better 5G coverage. In many ways, the Pixel 4a 5G is just another mid-ranger that doesn’t come with certain base features, like wireless charging or an IP-rated resistance to water. 

With that said, it has one standout feature that pulls it out of the depths as an average mid-ranger — an astoundingly good camera that defeats phones with twice the price tag. With that single star shot, the Pixel 4a 5G makes a strong case for itself for its $500 price tag, especially for those looking to spend below modern flagship prices.

  • Display: 6.2-inch 1080p (2,340 x 1,080 pixels) 60Hz OLED
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Memory and storage: 6GB RAM & 128GB storage
  • Rear camera: 12-megapixel standard wide, 16-megapixel ultra-wide, OIS
  • Selfie camera: 8-megapixel
  • Battery: 3,885Ah
  • Water resistance: None
  • 5G: Yes, fast mmWave 5G only available on Verizon

Design and display

Google’s Pixel 4a 5G is about as nondescript and bog-standard as you’re going to get when it comes to smartphones. It’s a simple, totally utilitarian slab made of plastic, and it’s only available in black. The only element of design you’ll find on this thing is a tasteful pale lavender-colored power button that contrasts against the black slab. Don’t let the plastic build deter you — it’s less fragile and weighs less than glass.

With that said, the screen glass is Gorilla Glass 3, which is an older type of screen glass that isn’t as durable as newer versions of Gorilla Glass. You’d do well to get a screen protector if you don’t plan on using a case. 

pixel 4a 5g front 2

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

One negative note about the Pixel 4a 5G’s design is the lack of IP-rated water resistance. It’s not the biggest deal-breaker, but I do hesitate to bring it anywhere near water to test its limits. For example, instead of placing the Pixel 4a 5G on a shelf in my shower to listen to podcasts, I’ll leave it outside and use a Bluetooth speaker instead, for peace of mind. 

As far as screens go, you’re getting a nice OLED, which is pretty much standard on big-name smartphones now and nothing too fancy for the $500 price point. Colors, contrast, and brightness are what you’d expect from OLED: deep and luminous, and there’s nothing to complain about, but Samsung’s phones still do better here. 

In usual Pixel fashion, the screen is flat and not curved, which is a good thing. Curved screens serve purely for aesthetics, which would be fine if they didn’t distort and reduce the viewable and usable area of a screen. Bezels around the display are thin and uniform, which is nice to finally see, as previous Pixel phones often had large bezels, with some bezels acting as so-called “chins” and “foreheads”.

At 6.2-inches, the Pixel 4a 5G just inches its way into the large category, but only just. It’s more decisive than the Pixel 5’s 6-inch display, which isn’t large enough for those who like big screens, and not small enough for those who like smaller phones. 

The Pixel 4a 5G’s screen has a 60Hz refresh rate, which is a standard refresh rate. At $500, a smoother screen with a higher refresh rate like 90 or 120 Hz isn’t totally expected. It’ll be familiar and totally fine if you’ve never used a phone with a higher refresh rate. But, if you have, the Pixel 4a 5G’s 60Hz screen will feel like a downgrade. You’ll typically find higher refresh rates on more premium phones. 

pixel 4a 5g back power button

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

One note about the design — the volume rocker button can get stuck on the volume down position if you press it hard for a little longer than a simple press. This occurred to me when I wanted to take a screenshot by pressing the power and volume down button, for example. But, it doesn’t happen when I pressed the button normally to turn down the volume. It may also be an isolated or rare case with my review unit.

Performance and battery life

Performance is right on the money for the $500 Pixel 4a 5G. It runs on the Snapdragon 765G, which is the same processor that drives the Pixel 5. That’s not an accolade for the Pixel 4a 5G — rather, it’s to say that the Snapdragon 765G is about the right chip I’d expect in a mid-ranger like the Pixel 4a 5G. It’s also a jab at the Pixel 5, which is underpowered for a $700 phone as a result of the Snapdragon 765G.

The Snapdragon 765G makes for decent performance when opening and running apps, and it performs exactly how I’d expect in a $500 phone.

The Pixel 4a 5G clocked in about 590 on single core performance and about a 1,626 for multi-core performance using the Geekbench 5 tool. The Pixel 5, on the other hand, scored 575/1,575. In real-life usage, this discrepancy won’t be noticeable at all. Still, it’s odd that a phone with the same chip and less RAM than the Pixel 5 scores slightly higher.

Battery life is very long, and it’ll easily last the majority of users a full day on a single charge. It comes with a fairly standard 18W charger that charges at a decent pace. However, you won’t find wireless charging support here, which is a shame if that matters to you. 

Photography is where Google’s Pixel phones truly outshine the rest, and the Pixel 4a 5G stuns for a $500 phone. In essence, you’re actually getting the same cameras and camera software as the Pixel 5, which not only means it is flagship quality, but also means it takes better photos than any phone, including those that are over $1,000.

The 12-megapixel standard wide lens camera in the Pixel 5, takes beautiful, rich, detailed, well-lit, realistic photos, like the one below:

pixel 4a 5g photo barn

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

It makes the Galaxy S20 FE (and most other Android phone cameras, for that matter) look comparatively bad, quite frankly. The wood and stone on the barn is excessively bright and loses detail and character below, and the grass is overly saturated to the point that it looks like a golf course. To be sure, Samsung phone cameras are fine to most people, it’s just that the Pixel takes better photos. Here’s the same photo take with the Galaxy S20 FE:

galaxy s20 fe barn photo

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

The Pixel 4a 5G also has a 16-megapixel ultrawide camera lens. To show how wide it goes, here’s a photo taken with the standard wide lens, first:

pixel 4a 5g red tree reg wide

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

And here’s the same photo taken with the ultrawide lens. There’s little lens distortion, and the quality is as good as the primary lens:

pixel 4a 5g ultrawide red tree

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Selfies are good, too:

pixel 4a 5g selfie with cat

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business In

The standard Pixel 4a 5G can connect to “Sub-6” 5G networks on any US carrier that has one. Sub-6 5G networks includes low-band and mid-band 5G networks. Low-band 5G networks are more or less widespread throughout the country, but it hasn’t impressed more than today’s 4G LTE. 

For the super fast 5G you’ve probably heard about, known as “mmWave” or high-band, that’s a Verizon exclusive, which also applies for networks that run on Verizon’s network, including Charter and Xfinity. That’s a shame for customers on other carriers. At the same time, mmWave networks are sparse and rare, and it’s very unlikely to be a network you actually connect to on a regular basis, if at all. It’s also a $100 extra for the Verizon model that supports mmWave 5G, and it’s simply not worth the extra $100 yet due to Verizon’s sparse mmWave coverage at the moment. 

One of the biggest benefits of getting an iPhone is that iPhone users know exactly where to go to get help and repairs — their local Apple stores.

Support for Android devices have been improving slowly over the years. For Pixel phones, Google and phone repair chain uBreakIFix have teamed up to provide repairs, some for same-day fixes. If there’s something wrong with your Pixel 4a 5G, you can bring it to a nearby uBreakIFix location.  

Pixel 4a 5g back

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

For $500, the Pixel 4a 5G makes a very solid proposition. It has 5G connectivity, a colorful, big screen, performance that is fast enough for the price, it has a Google dual-lens camera system that beats most other phones, and it has solid battery life. Being a Google phone, you also get the latest Android updates when they’re released.

It’s not a phone that you should buy instead of a high-end premium phone, like the Galaxy S20 FE or OnePlus 8T, if that’s what you’re really after. Rather, the Pixel 4a 5G is decidedly a mid-range phone with a mid-range price that happens to come with a massive high-end perk — an incredible camera system.

You should buy the Pixel 4a 5G if you’re looking to spend under $700 and you’re not too concerned about design, water resistance, or wireless charging. There are few, if any, other $500 mid-rangers that will compete.