The Pixel 4a captures brilliant photos in both daylight and in the dark. It also churns out well-exposed shots in complex lighting.

Pixel 4a smartphone review
Atom Tech Shorts Saturday, November 28, 2020 - 13:10

The moment you lay your eyes on the Google Pixel 4a smartphone you’ll fall in love. Not because it is the flashiest smartphone out there but because it brings about a lot of nostalgia. For months we haven’t had a good compact smartphone (yes, this trumps the iPhone SE 2020 any day) until now. The Pixel 4a is a one-handed smartphone that is a treat to use and easily fits inside any pocket without any bulge.

It’s an affordable and compact smartphone being released in 2020. It’s like Google went against the smartphone rulebook. After the predecessors got their pricing horribly wrong in India, Pixel 4a’s price is spot on. At just Rs 31,999 (with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage), the Pixel 4a is a worthy competitor. That said, the Pixel 4a is for a very specific kind of consumer. It isn’t a smartphone that can wholly be recommend to everyone.

Minimalistic design

The Pixel 4a is one of the simplest designs on any smartphone in 2020. It’s got a 5.81-inch Full HD+ (2340x1080 resolution) OLED display with a tiny punch hole at the top left corner. It comes with a unibody polycarbonate shell with the soft-touch matte finish that is devoid of fingerprints. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back just like its predecessors. 

The Pixel 4a weighs just 143g and is extremely easy to handle. The smartphone comes with a good grip. 

Surprise, surprise! There is a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. Again, going against the playbook. There’s a USB Type-C port on the bottom along with the speaker. On the right side are the power and volume buttons.

All in all, the Pixel 4a is refreshing to look at. It lacks the flashiness of say a Vivo V20, but it has its own charm.

Performance, battery life and software

The Pixel 4a comes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 730G processor under-the-hood. Thanks to the clean and speedy Android 11 OS, the smartphone runs fine for a usage that doesn’t involve any gaming or a million Google Chrome tabs. The stereo speakers are loud and clear enough for one to enjoy videos on YouTube.

The smartphone comes with a 3,140mAh battery. This is good enough to last a full day’s usage if you aren’t clicking dozens of photos or streaming one episode after another. Otherwise, you’ll need to carry a power bank at all times.

The 18W charger will charge the phone from 0-100% in about 75 minutes.

On paper, and in real world usage, competition is far ahead of the Pixel 4a. The OnePlus Nord has a snappier processor, the Vivo V20 has more cameras, the Samsung Galaxy M51 has a beefier battery. You get the picture.

But the Pixel line of smartphones has never been about having the perfect spec sheet. It’s about showcasing what Android 11 can do. The Pixels do have one ace up their sleeve though that puts them ahead of the competition in many ways.

Who is this phone for?

Is it for those that just want a compact smartphone? Yes. Is it for those that want a basic smartphone that will do the job for calling, texting and a little bit of social media? Yes. Is it for those that want an uncompromised Android experience? Yes! Is it for those that want a no-frills camera that works without having to tweak a million settings first? Yes.

It is the latter two that have been really attracted to the Pixel smartphones in the past. That doesn’t change with the Pixel 4a. In fact, it only furthers their cause.

The Pixel 4a’s camera setup is nothing fancy. It comes with the same 12.2 megapixel single-lens camera with f/1.7 aperture that was offered on the Pixel 4. It is OIS & EIS enabled and has a standard 77-degree field-of-view (there’s no ultrawide camera). Unlike the competition, there’s also no telephoto, no macro lens and no depth-sensor.

What you get instead is Google’s computation photography algorithms. In simple terms, this means that you can point your Pixel 4a at your subject, close your eyes, hit the shutter button, and still come out with a fantastic photo. It’s an effortless photography experience.

The Pixel 4a captures brilliant photos in daylight. When the night falls, just hit the Night Sight (and don’t forget about the Astrophotography mode) mode and forget that you’re even in the dark. In low-light photography, the Pixel 4a beats the likes of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy Note series of smartphones.

The dynamic range is good, and the photos come out sharp in the daytime. Even in complex lighting scenes, the Pixel churns out well-exposed shots. 

Despite lacking a dedicated depth sensor, the Pixel 4a produces some excellent portraits. This is thanks to the software-induced bokeh. The photos are aesthetically pleasing, and the edge detection is on point.

The portrait mode also works with the front camera. In fact, images from the front camera are also very pleasing to the eyes.

The Google Pixel 4a beats a lot of the other smartphones, including the high-end flagships, in photography.

Where the Pixel 4a lacks vis-a-vis the competition is in video recording. It’s good but not the best. The videos shot in 4K 30fps come out with good details and punchy colours but hold no candle to the Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone or the iPhone 12.

Who shouldn’t buy this smartphone?

Simply put, for those that do a lot more than just calling, texting and clicking photographs, the Google Pixel 4a isn’t for them. It’s a smartphone that gets the basics right with an extraordinary (in this price range) camera setup.

For the gamers, multitaskers, videographers, streamers, binge-watchers and others, look elsewhere.

Verdict: Is it worth Rs 31,999?

The Pixel 4a leans on its clean Android experience and the superior camera system that it offers. At Rs 31,999, Google is finally trying to bring a lot more customers into the world of Pixel and this time it can actually achieve that.

It’s compact, uncluttered (thanks to a bloatware-free Android 11 software, a state-of-the-art camera system and looks good.

If any or all of the above attracts you then this is the smartphone to get. If you fall into any of the other categories, or want a more decked up smartphone, then look elsewhere. Gamers have the Asus ROG Phone 3, smartphone geeks have the OnePlus Nord, Apple fanboys have the iPhone SE 2020 and so on.

While it’s a travesty that India isn’t getting the Pixel 4a 5G (with an ultra-wide camera) and the Pixel 5 smartphones, with Pixel 4a, Google knows its target audience and is trying to expand upon that.

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