Google Pixel 4 vs Pixel 4a: What's the rumoured difference?

(Pocket-lint) – Google is thought to be adding a new Pixel model to its range with the Pixel 4a. Long expected, the Pixel 4a is likely to be a more affordable Pixel option, aiming to get you access to those Google phone features at a lower price.

The Pixel 4 was announced in October 2019, so what’s the difference between the old flagship and this rumoured new model? Bear in mind that the Pixel 4a specs are based on leaks and yet to be confirmed.

Price and availability

  • Pixel 4: £669
  • Pixel 4a: $399 price leaked

The Google Pixel 4 launched in October 2019 and is widely available from £669 for the smaller version of this phone; the larger Pixel 4 XL costs from £829.

Early poster leaks suggested a price of $399 for the Pixel 4a, although this is yet to be confirmed – so too is the actual launch. Rumours have said that this phone might be launching on 3 August, following long delays since the original predicted 12 May launch.

Ultimately, we still don’t know when or if you’re going to be able to get this phone. 

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Design

  • Pixel 4: 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm, glass back, IP68 rating
  • Pixel 4a: 144.2 x 69.5 x 8.2mm, polycarbonate body

The Google Pixel 4 launched introducing a slightly revised design, moving that camera into the black square in the corner – before it was fashionable to make a design feature out of your camera. 

It’s a quality build with a great frosted glass finish as well as offering IP68 waterproofing as you’d expect from a flagship phone. The Pixel 4 is the smaller model, but basically is the same as the Pixel 4 XL – which we’ll leave out of this comparison, because we don’t think there’s a Pixel 4a XL being launched. 

According to leaks, the Pixel 4a will be pretty much the same physical size as the Pixel 4, but slightly shorter. That’s likely due to the use of a punch hole camera in the display, rather than the wider forehead of the Pixel 4 which housed Google’s Soli tech for facial recognition and unlocking.

But the Pixel 4a is also likely to sport a polycarbonate build, similar to the Pixel 3a we saw in 2019. But the real win for the Pixel 4a is pushing back those bezels, something that Google hasn’t really done on Pixel phones in the past – if leaked images are to be believed. 

It’s also said that the Pixel 4a is going to hang on to the 3.5mm headphone socket, but overall, we suspect that the Pixel 4 is going to look and feel slightly more premium.

Display 

  • Pixel 4: 5.7in, 2280 x 1080 pixels, 90Hz, OLED
  • Pixel 4a: 5.81in, 2340 x 1080 pixels, 60Hz, OLED

There aren’t a huge number of smaller-screened phones launching these days and the Pixel 4 was one of the exceptions. With a 5.7-inch screen, it’s smaller than average, with phones like the “small” Samsung Galaxy S20 coming in at 6.1-inches, so bigger overall. 

The Pixel 4 has a resolution of 2280 x 1080 pixels, resulting in 442PPI and it’s an OLED display. That means plenty of detail with tightly packed pixels designed to perform. We were really impressed with this display when we reviewed it. 

It was also one of the first displays to step up the refresh rate to 90Hz, although as we said at the time of the review, you’re unlikely to really notice any difference. Refresh rates are now all the fashion, some people swearing by them, some people dismissing them as another gimmick. 

The Pixel 4a is thought to stick to 60Hz, but is rumoured to have an OLED display. The leaks have said that the resolution is 2340 x 1080 pixels – which if true again means a nice high PPI so we’d expect this to be a great display. 

The interesting detail here is that it’s a slightly taller display because it’s pushed back those bezels, while the punch hole for the front camera is totally on trend. In terms of technical prowess, we don’t think there’s a huge difference between these devices in the display department. 

Hardware 

  • Pixel 4: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM, 2800mAh battery
  • Pixel 4a: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730, 6GB RAM, 3080mAh battery

The Pixel 4 is positioned as a flagship phone, and as such it is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. That’s now last year’s hardware, but it’s still close to the top of Qualcomm’s offering. 

It’s supported by 6GB RAM and although many phones now offer more RAM – 8 or 12GB in some cases – we’ve never found 6GB of RAM to hold a phone back, not when paired with good hardware and with good software optimisation. 

The Pixel 4’s 2800mAh battery is a little small and we found it to be fairly inconsistent in stamina, fairly variable. Certainly, it’s not a huge capacity, but then this is a smaller phone, so there isn’t the physical size for more. 

The Pixel 4a has long been rumoured to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730, although we’ve also seen Snapdragon 765 mentioned, although we think that’s unlikely – will Google really launch its first 5G phone as a delayed affordable phone rather than its flagship Pixel 5? We don’t believe so. 

Again, it’s rumoured that there will be 6GB RAM and a battery capacity of 3080mAh. These specs naturally haven’t been confirmed so might not be accurate, but this is probably the big area of difference between these phones. While the Snapdragon 730 is great mid-range hardware, it won’t have the power of the Snapdragon 855.

Cameras

  • Pixel 4:
    • Main: 12.2MP, f/1.7
    • Zoom: 16MP, f/2.4 2x
    • Selfie: 8MP, f/2.0
  • Pixel 4a:
    • Main: 12MP
    • Selfie: 8MP

The Pixel 4 used Google’s 12.2-megapixel camera to great effect, powering up this snapper with AI smarts. It’s a great camera, with strong low light performance thanks to Night Sight, it offers astrophotography mode and great portrait shots.

On the Pixel 4 Google introduced optical zoom, with a 2x lens, not the biggest zoom around, but still a useful addition. The front camera is 8-megapixels and offers good low light and portrait modes again.

Rumours on the Pixel 4a camera have been rather scarce, but leaked images have shown a single rear camera and single front camera, which we fully expect to be the exact same cameras as the Pixel 4 – because that’s the pattern that Google established with the Pixel 3a in 2019. 

In that sense, we expect the Pixel 4a to be just as potent as the Pixel 4, because so much comes down to Google’s commitment to computational photography. For many people, the Pixel 3a was the best performing smartphone in the affordable segment as a result. 

We’d expect the same from the Pixel 4a.

Summing up

The Pixel 4 and the Pixel 4a appear to be extremely close in many areas, if leaks are accurate. The Pixel 4a could have a similar display and camera performance, only really missing out on the zoom offering. The experience of the Pixel 3a suggests to us that Google isn’t going to downgrade the camera, so we’d expect the Pixel 4a to offer flagship rivalling photography at a fraction of the price.

The real difference, therefore, is likely to lie on the core power and that’s about it. Sure, there’s likely to be the loss of Soli – using a fingerprint scanner instead – but that’s no bad thing, it’s a simple solution instead. 

Of course this is all speculation – what we still don’t know is if Google is actually going to launch the Pixel 4a. It has leaked so many times, but every time we approach a rumoured launch date, it squirms away again. Time will tell.

Writing by Chris Hall.


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