Google Pixel 4a review: the camera is not only good but also amazing

"The Google Pixel 4a has an amazing camera tucked away in one of the most bleak phone designs of the year."

  • Excellent camera

  • Great software

  • Regular software updates

  • Long battery life

  • Boring, cheap design and materials

  • Disappointed screen

There's a good chance you already know that the Google Pixel 4a is cheap at $ 350, that the Android software is frequently updated and easy to use, and that the tiny phone is a solid everyday companion. You've probably heard that the camera is good too, but do you know exactly how good it is?

It's so good that it really is the only reason you should consider buying the Pixel 4a. Because here's something else you may not know about the Pixel 4a: Otherwise, it's a little boring. I will explain.

The best part

The Google Pixel 4a camera is incredible for its capabilities, and it messes with cameras on phones that cost two or three times the cost of the Pixel 4a. There is only a 12.2-megapixel camera on the back of the Pixel 4a. It's a no-nonsense sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS), and that's about it. There is no wide angle mode, no optical telephoto mode (although it is enlarged by digitally cropping the image) and no fancy features like 8K video recording. Instead, it is based on Google's computational photography expertise, and that is what sets it apart from its capabilities.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

This is not a new formula either, as the Google Pixel 4, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3 have excellent cameras for the same reason: software expertise instead of hardware muscle power. The lack of flashy extras and multiple lenses limits the versatility of the camera slightly, but you can't have it all for $ 349 – and what you get is enough for anyone without an unlimited smartphone budget.

The colors are wonderfully natural, the exposure is just right and the dynamic range is always judged perfectly. Every photo you take will appear the way you want in almost any setting, with no need for editing. Portrait mode offers better edge detection than multi-sensor cameras, and night vision mode is incredible and manages brightness and contrast perfectly for a natural color balance in dark scenes. Removing concerns about the end result increases your creativity and confidence.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Close-ups are shockingly good too. The Nodus Sector watch's images, taken with 2x zoom, show a lot of detail, and even with 7x digital zoom, the photo is not affected by noise or pixelation. The Pixel 4 has been my go-to for close-ups for a while – the close-ups in the G-Shock Frogman test were taken with the Pixel 4.

When I wrote my practical report on the Asus ZenFone 7 Pro, I was on the move and my camera equipment was already packed away in a box. I had to take a picture of the phone so I used the Pixel 4a. The results are excellent in my opinion and only needed a few tweaks before being used in the article. It's not that the photos were good, which is surprising – it's the confidence I had in the Pixel 4a's ability to just grab it and take the pictures. I didn't feel the need to find my main camera when I knew the Pixel 4a would do the job without requiring additional editing attention. I just wouldn't have the same confidence in many other phones at any cost.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It's not just the photos – the app and controls are great. Tap to focus and the camera will keep focus while you adjust the position. What is really great is that it shows you this is done on the screen with a moving focus marker. It's a minor matter, but it gives you peace of mind that the photo you are taking will look the way you want it. There's easy setting and locking of brightness and exposure, plus a handy horizon meter that emits a subtle haptic alarm when it's straight. It's all so polished, quick, easy, and incredibly capable.

Remember, I just described a camera with a lens on the back of a $ 349 smartphone. Whatever you've heard about the Pixel 4a's camera, it's all of that and a little more. It's the major and for a lot of people. the only reason you buy the phone.

The boring part

The Pixel 4a's camera makes me wiggle my knees, but the design and materials used make my eyes roll. It's as if the entire design budget has been used to bring the on / off switch to a slightly mint green color, as the rest is a snooze dom level. You can argue that it doesn't matter because the camera is so good, but it's not true – the hasty approach I took here doesn't keep me using the phone for very long. I'll admit that it looks better than the Pixel 3a from the front thanks to its much smaller bezels, but that's hardly praise.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Black plastic is the most basic material Google could have chosen, and it's as bleak as it sounds. The texture offers some hold, but it tends to get greasy and look ugly. The fingerprint sensor on the back is functional, but very 2016, while to me it looks like the camera sensor and flash have been put in the wrong holes in the drill square module. The buttons on the side just feel cheaper than the black plastic case.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When you pull the Pixel 4a out of your pocket or put it on the table, you won't feel any emotion at all. It is the unbranded plastic bag in the smartphone world. This is the reminder that it is actually a $ 349 phone.

The fine parts

Aside from the great camera and boring design, everything else about the Pixel 3a is the box that says “Fine”. It's acceptable how everything works, but it's never blind. The 5.8-inch OLED screen is a good size, and on paper the 2340 x 1080 pixels resolution is great for the price, but in reality it can be a little bland and it won't get bright enough. I can't remember the brightness being below maximum at any point and still not being easy to read in bright sunlight or cloudy conditions.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Much is written about Google's version of Android on the Pixel phones, and it's well organized and harmless to the eyes, but it's really the three years of guaranteed future software updates that make the operating system more appealing than blooming. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor with 6GB of RAM is fine, but that's all. The benchmark results show how acceptable the phone is for everyday use, regardless of whether it is used for gaming or browsing:

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 2276 (volcano)

Geekbench 5: 1648 multi core / 551 single core

The only area in which it is possible to rise to the "good" status is the battery. I get two days of this with moderate general usage, although it doesn't respond well to lengthy video calls or other high-energy actions. It takes almost 1 hour and 45 minutes to charge, but we can't expect much else when the phone is cheap. With the clever software from Google, apps that need power can be well managed so they don't cause too many problems.

Price, availability and alternatives

The Google Pixel 4a costs $ 349 or £ 349 and is available from Google's own online store and from Amazon, as well as a selection of vendors. These include Verizon and AT&T in the US and Vodafone in the UK.

Google Pixel 4a review camera module

Google Pixel 4a Review Selfie Camera

If you don't worry about amazing photos and just want a cheap smartphone, the Nokia 5.3 is just $ 200 with a bigger screen, Android One software with regular updates, and a slightly more interesting design. If you're looking for a phone that looks better and still has a good camera, the $ 399 Apple iPhone SE 2020 is a good buy.

Conclusion

Buy the Pixel 4a for the camera. It's really amazing how powerful it is for any price, and the photos it takes are breathtaking. Just be aware that the rest of the phone, other than the software, is perfectly normal.

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