This has been a rich year for wallet friendly phones with impressive performance and specs. Apple and Google have launched smaller versions of their marquee phones – the iPhone SE and the Pixel 4A are affordable alternatives to the iPhone 11 or Pixel 4.

Both phones cost $ 400 or less. The iPhone starts at $ 399, while the Pixel 4A starts at $ 349. Your individual 12-megapixel cameras also take brilliant photos and with you iOS 14 and Android 11 is coming into the pipeline, their software promising to stay fresh and up to date.

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To find out which phone is better for you, I'll compare them in terms of camera, design, software, performance, and battery. In short, the iPhone SE is the faster, more polished phone. However, the cheaper price of the Pixel 4A, the longer-lasting battery and the nimble camera make it a cheaper purchase.

Angela Lang / CNET

While it's the cheapest iPhone you can get new, the iPhone SE offers a lot of what the premium iPhones have too. These include the powerful and fast A13 Bionic processor, a water-resistant design, wireless charging and Wi-Fi 6. The excellent camera also records excellent videos. At $ 400, it's a bit more expensive than the Pixel 4A, but it's still relatively affordable as far as phones and iPhones in particular go.

Read our review of the Apple iPhone SE (2020).

Angela Lang / CNET

This makes more compromises than the iPhone SE and it has fewer features than its bigger brother, the Pixel 4. For example, it has no wireless charging or water resistance and it has the less powerful Snapdragon 730G processor. But its sustained battery life outlasts the iPhone SE, and its exceptional camera is the same as the main camera on the Pixel 4. When you consider the storage and compare the Pixel 4A to the 128GB model of the iPhone SE, the price difference jumps from 50 US dollars to 100 dollars.

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

Camera: The iPhone SE's superior video compared to the Pixel 4A's awesome night vision device

For a complete look at how these two phones are performing in terms of both camera and video, visit CNET editor Lexy Savvides' iPhone SE and Pixel 4A comparison and watch the video below.

In short, the camera you like best depends on the type of photos you take frequently and the situations you find yourself in. If you love to capture moments with your friends on the go anytime of the day, the Pixel 4A and its great night mode might be a better choice. If you have tons of videos and selfies to record, go for the iPhone SE.

I'll give Savvides the last word: "The Pixel 4A is much better for shooting in low light and therefore stronger overall for still images. It also offers more options than the iPhone SE in its standard camera app. The iPhone SE has the advantage for videos and selfies. "

Design: The elegant construction of the iPhone SE outperforms the sharper display of the Pixel 4A

When creating budget versions of their flagship counterparts, it would make sense if Apple and Google ditched some design details to keep costs down. However, the quality of the iPhone SE design is similar to the current iPhones. While the iPhone SE has thicker bezels than new iPhones to house the front-facing camera and physical home button, it still retains the glossy glass bezel and waterproof case. It also comes in three colors: black, white, and red.

The Pixel 4A, on the other hand, doesn't look that elegant. It is only available in one color (black) and next to the baby blue on / off switch the matt body made of polycarbonate looks monotonous. The overall construction feels cheaper, isn't waterproof, and the single camera on the back is much larger than the iPhone's rear camera.

However, one thing I like about the Pixel 4A's design is the OLED screen. Although both phones have fine displays that you can use to watch videos and play games, the Pixel 4A's display is a little sharper. It has a resolution of 1080p (compared to the 750p resolution of the iPhone SE) and a higher pixel density. The thinner bezels and the pinhole camera on the front also look more modern compared to the "throwback" look of the iPhone SE from 2017.

Software and user interface: iOS vs. Android

When comparing Apple and Google phones with iOS or Android, only you can decide which operating system is best for you and which ecosystem you are already familiar with. Both phones have built-in digital search assistants (Siri and Google Assistant), digital payment systems (Apple Pay and Google Pay), and minor extras like dark mode and digital wellbeing tools to reduce screen time. More recently, Android phones have added their own version of Apple's AirDrop. This means that both phones can transfer files to other phones (which are on their respective operating system platforms) within a short distance.

The Pixel 4A has some software features that the iPhone doesn't. One of them is native transcription functions. Not only can the Pixel 4A transcribe audio and video in real time, but it can also transcribe phone calls, including through third-party apps like Facebook Messenger. The phone also has a call screen that shows robocalls and telemarketers, as well as crash detection that automatically calls pre-programmed emergency contacts when the phone detects a car accident. The upcoming Android 11 update, now in public beta, has built-in screen recording, chat bubbles for the Messages app, and quick controls.

The iPhone SE has some unique software and UX features. One of them is a physical home button, meaning you don't have to use swiping gestures to navigate the phone. Apple's upcoming iOS 14, which will be compatible with the iPhone SE, promises a library of apps for organizing apps on the home screen and a handful of features Android users are already familiar with, including a built-in translation app, widgets and image in-picture.

Performance: The iPhone is faster, but the Pixel 4A has a longer-lasting battery

In general, the Pixel 4A and its Snapdragon 730G chipset are fast and reliable. However, there have been a few times that I came across small hooks. For example, after downloading Call of Duty and PUBG, I had to restart the phone as both apps were blocked from loading. And every now and then when I checked the phone, an app would quit unexpectedly or I had to restart the camera because the shutter wouldn't register on the screen.

I never noticed hiccups like this during my time with the iPhone SE. In addition, the iPhone SE's A13 Bionic clearly outperformed the Pixel 4A in all of our standard benchmark tests, including 3DMark and Geekbench 5.0.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 single core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

However, in battery tests for continuous video playback in airplane mode, the Pixel 4A won this round. Even with Google's Adaptive Battery feature turned off, the Pixel 4A outlasted the iPhone SE, averaging 18 hours and 45 minutes. This is an excellent time. The iPhone SE, for its part, clocked in around 15 hours and 45 minutes. That's still a respectable time, but still three hours shorter than the Pixel 4A. We're doing some more streaming video battery tests for both phones and I'll update this piece as those numbers come in.

Other telephone functions to consider:

Both phones have dual SIM. In addition to your regular nano SIM card, both phones use E-SIM technology, which supports multiple phone numbers. This is useful if you are frequently on the go or want to store two numbers (e.g. your personal and work) on the same device.

The iPhone SE has Wi-Fi 6. While Wi-Fi 6 wasn't certified until September 2019 and routers with next-generation network continue to be expensive, the fact that the iPhone SE has Wi-Fi 6 means it is ready for the future. Devices with Wi-Fi 6 speak the same Wi-Fi language to communicate with each other. Compared to Wi-Fi 5, it's faster and more battery efficient.

Sevspixel

The iPhone SE (left) and the Pixel 4A.

Angela Lang / CNET

None of the phones have expandable memory. The Pixel 4A has one storage option: 128 GB with 6 GB of RAM. This is twice as much storage space as last year when the Pixel 4 started out at just 64GB. The iPhone SE, on the other hand, has three: 64 GB, 128 GB and 256 GB. When we strictly compare the 128GB models of both phones, the iPhone SE's price difference is even bigger: the 128GB model of the iPhone SE costs $ 449 (£ 469, AU $ 829) compared to $ 349 (£ 349). AU $ 599) Pixel 4A.

If you need more storage, Apple's iCloud gives you 5GB for free and 2TB for $ 10 per month. Google, on the other hand, allows Pixel users to upload unlimited photos and videos in "high" quality, which have a lower resolution and fewer details than "original" quality. If you want the latter, you'll need to sign up for Google's One service. Google One is free for the first 15GB, but it also costs $ 2 a month for 2TB.

iPhone SE specs versus Pixel 4A

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Google Pixel 4A

Display size, resolution

4.7 inch LCD; 1,334 x 750 pixels

5.81 inch OLED; 2,340 x 1,080 pixels

Pixel density

326ppi

443ppi

Dimensions (inch)

5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in

5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 in

Dimensions (millimeters)

138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm

144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm

Weight (ounces, grams)

5.22 oz; 148 g

5.04 oz; 143 g

Mobile software

iOS 13

Android 10

camera

12 megapixels

12.2 megapixels

Front camera

7 megapixels

8 megapixels

Video recording

4K

4K

processor

Apple A13 Bionic

Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G

camp

64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB

128 GB

R.A.M.

Not revealed

6 GB

Expandable storage

No

No

battery

Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will have the same battery life as the iPhone 8

3,140 mAh

Fingerprint sensor

Home button

Back

Interconnects

lightning

USB-C

Headphone jack

No

Yes

Special features

Waterproof (IP67); Dual SIM functions (nano SIM and E-SIM); Wireless charging

Dual SIM functions (nano SIM and E-SIM)

Out of Contract Price (USD)

$ 399 (64GB), $ 449 (128GB), $ 549 (256GB)

$ 349

Price (GBP)

£ 419 (64GB), £ 469 (128GB), £ 569 (256GB)

£ 349

Price (AUD)

AU $ 749 (64 GB), AU $ 829 (128 GB), AU $ 999 (256 GB)

AU $ 599

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The "mini" flagship experience


Google Pixel 4A

The money saver


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