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Opinion | Will the Pixel 4a be a lukewarm upgrade over its under-specced predecessor?

Will the Pixel 4a be a lukewarm upgrade over its under-specced predecessor? (Image source: Dave Lee)
Will the Pixel 4a be a lukewarm upgrade over its under-specced predecessor? (Image source: Dave Lee)
With leaked retail boxes and final hardware specifications appearing online almost simultaneously, it is easy to get swept up in news about the Pixel 4a. Is it just a modest upgrade from the Pixel 3a, though? Current information would suggest so, in our opinion.

It has been a few weeks since we have heard anything about the Pixel 4a, Google's mid-range successor to the Pixel 3a. Last month, there were reports of the device having a 60 Hz display, UFS 2.1 flash storage and a Snapdragon 730 SoC, along with hands-on images of the device.

Now, photos of several Pixel 4a retail boxes have appeared online, as have finalised hardware specifications. Seen in black, the boxes depict the same design that we have from previous leaks. The accented power button returns, too. While those images have been republished on websites like Slashleaks, the hardware details come from 9to5Google.

Citing its sources, the website states that Google planned to launch the Pixel 4a at its I/O 2020 conference in May. With I/O 2020 cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear when Google will release the Pixel 4a. The specifications that 9to5Google has confirmed paint the Pixel 4a as an iterative update though, in our opinion.  

Firstly, the plastic build from the Pixel 3a returns, as does the rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner. Face unlock and the Pixel Neural Core will not be making an appearance though, 9to5Google confirms. Instead, Google will include a single front-facing camera that will sit beneath a cut-out in the device's 5.81-inch OLED display.

As previous rumours have suggested, the Pixel 4a will feature a Snapdragon 730, along with 6 GB of RAM and up to 128 GB of UFS 2.1 flash storage. All these are upgrades over those that Google included in the Pixel 3a, with the switch to UFS 2.1 from eMMC 5.1 probably being the largest of the three. Considered separately, these three upgrades may seem like minor ones. Take the SoC, for instance. As we have seen from the Mi 9T and Galaxy A71, the Snapdragon 730 is not always an upgrade from the Snapdragon 670. Equally, the difference between 4 GB and 6 GB of RAM is negligible. Undoubtedly, UFS 2.1 loads apps and data more quickly than eMMC 5.1 can. Cumulatively, these upgrades could result in a much snappier device, though. Nonetheless, there is no escaping that improvements will be modest; the Snapdragon 730 is no Snapdragon 765G, after all.

With that said, 9to5Google claims that the Pixel 4a will be rocking essentially the same camera hardware as the Pixel 3a. Likewise, the entry-level Pixel will still have a small battery, albeit 80 mAh larger than the one in the Pixel 3a.

So, it seems that the Pixel 4a will offer a modest performance improvement over the Pixel 3a, along with a generally more modern design. While we found the Pixel 3a to be surprisingly good during our time with it, Google overpriced it outside of the US. Overall, Google's instance on small batteries, old processors and a single rear-facing camera all speak of the Pixel 4a being a lukewarm upgrade from the Pixel 3a, in our opinion.

Google Pixel 4a
Display 5.81-inch
FHD+ (2,340 x 1080)
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 730
Adreno 618
Storage up to 128 GB (64 GB a possibility)
Cameras 12.2 MP rear-facing, OIS/EIS
8 MP front-facing, 84° FoV
Videography 4K at 30 FPS
1080p at 30 FPS, 60 FPS, 120 FPS
720p at 240 FPS
1080p at 30 FPS (front-facing camera)
Battery & charging 3,080 mAh
18 W USB Type-C charging
Colour Just Black
Barely Blue
Misc Titan M security chip
(Image source: Slashleaks & @techdroider)


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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2020 04 > Will the Pixel 4a be a lukewarm upgrade over its under-specced predecessor?
Alex Alderson, 2020-04- 9 (Update: 2020-04- 9)