Thursday, 30 May 2024

Google Pixel 4a Preview


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While I know that the Pixel 4a will never meet my needs, I can’t ignore what I feel is the single best value in the smartphone market today. And so I’m replacing my Pixel 3a XL with a Pixel 4a.

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A couple of points upfront.

First, I really like the Pixel 3a XL, despite its humble innards, and you can read my thoughts as they evolved over time in Google Pixel 3a XL Review: The New Sweet Spot, Where the Google Pixel 3a Falls Short and Revisiting the Google Pixel 3a XL. But the short version is that this phone was a tremendous value in its own right, and its wonderful polycarbonate body, best-in-class camera system, and clean Android image really won me over.

Second, I was somewhat taken aback by some of the responses to my recent post, The Problem with the Pixel 4a (Premium). I wrote that with an eye towards my own needs and decision-making process, not as a general review for others. For those non-Premium readers who didn’t see that post, the basic gist is that the Pixel 4a is an improvement in many ways over the Pixel 3a series, and is decidedly superior to Apple’s over-hyped iPhone SE. But for me personally, it lacks a few personal requirements. This isn’t a phone I’d use myself.

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For critics of this stance, the argument seems to boil down to a single semi-rhetorical question: What exactly did I expect from a $350 smartphone?

Well, that’s easy. I expect it to meet or beat its similarly-priced competitors in the ways that matter most to me. And the Pixel 4a falls short in two key areas: It only has a single-lens camera system at a time when even sub-$400 phones (save the overrated iPhone SE, of course) have multiple lenses. And there isn’t an XL version with an appropriately-sized display. The Pixel 4a only comes in a single non-XL model with a small 5.8-inch display.

I’d expect to pay more for the latter feature, of course: The Pixel 3a XL cost $80 more than the non-XL variant if I remember correctly, and that would be as acceptable today as it was over a year ago. But Google doesn’t offer that upgrade now. Indeed, Google doesn’t offer any upgrades; the Pixel 4a is what it is, and there are no user-configurable changes that can be made, at purchase time or at any time thereafter.

I get that. The Pixel lineup has been a failure for Google, and it is cutting costs in all-new ways with the Pixel 4a and, soon, the Pixel 5. But not offering what I’d call a normally sized display makes no sense to me. If Google is only going to offer one Pixel 4a model it should be the XL version, not the smaller one.

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