Google’s phones have traditionally had long operational lives, at least software-wise. While Apple is still the king of long-term support, with the original iPhone SE and iPhone 6S now on their fourth year of iOS updates, Pixels receive major OS releases and security updates for longer periods than most Android phones. However, if you’re still holding onto an old Pixel (or even Nexus) phone, the Pixel 4a might be the best upgrade.
No tech product is perfect, but over the past few years, Google has had a tendency to release phones with one or two critical flaws that ruin an otherwise-perfect experience. The Pixel 2 XL suffered from varying display quality (thanks, LG), the Pixel 3 and 3 XL were ridiculed at the time for absurdly-large screen notches and rising prices, the smaller Pixel 4 had below-average battery life, and so on.
The Pixel 4a doesn’t have the deal-breaking flaws that have affected most Pixel phones.
While it’s too early to tell how the Pixel 4a will hold up in the long term, at least out of the gate, there are none of the deal-breaking flaws that have affected most other Pixel phones. Performance is excellent, the camera is flagship-level, there’s more than enough RAM and storage for your apps, the design looks modern enough for a $350 phone, and so on.
The only missing feature that feels strange at $350 is the lack of any additional rear cameras, like a telephoto or ultra-wide lens. There are plenty of phones in this price range with two (or more) rear cameras, though most of the time, the secondary lenses are too low-resolution to create excellent photos. For example, the $400 Samsung Galaxy A51 has 12MP wide-angle and 5MP telephoto cameras, but both lenses are a significant downgrade from the main camera (which is already a downgrade from the Pixel 4a). Realistically, most budget phones only have multiple cameras because two or three cameras look better on a specs sheet than only one.
The ultra-wide (left) and macro (right) cameras on the Samsung Galaxy A51. Notice the washed-out colors on the ultra-wide, and lack of fine detail/low focal length on the macro.
The Pixel 4a’s other feature omissions are understandable, given the price point. There’s no IP68 water resistance and no wireless charging, but those aspects are still rare in budget phones (at least in the United States). The $400 iPhone SE does have Qi charging, but only offers IP67 splash/dust resistance, not full IP68 protection.
So, if you have an older Pixel phone, what makes the Pixel 4a a worthwhile upgrade? If you’re on a Pixel 3 or 3 XL, you get more RAM (6GB vs 4GB), possibly more storage (Pixel 3 started at 64GB, 4a only has 128GB), a headphone jack, and no massive screen notch. If you have the small Pixel 3, you might see slightly better battery life, thanks to the marginally-larger battery and more power-efficient Snapdragon chip. However, you will lose IP68 water protection and the ultra-wide front camera.
The Pixel 2 (left) and Pixel 2 XL (right). Look at those bezels!
The Pixel 4a is an even more tantalizing upgrade for anyone still using a Pixel 2. On top of all the advantages listed above, performance should be noticeably better, and the Pixel 4a looks much more modern than the smaller Pixel 2. The Pixel 4a’s battery is also larger than the battery on the smaller Pixel 2 (2,700mAh vs 3,140mAh), though not quite as big as the Pixel 2 XL’s (3,520mAh).
Pixel 1 owners won’t lose any features moving to the Pixel 4a.
Finally, if you’re still holding onto an original Pixel, or you’re somehow lucky enough to still have a functioning Nexus phone, the Pixel 4a is an improvement in every regard. That’s probably not a surprise, considering the first-gen Pixels are now four years old, but it’s still worth stating. Owners of first-generation Pixels won’t lose any features moving to Google’s mid-range product line.
If you do upgrade to the Pixel 4a from an older Google phone, there’s a chance you’ll be able to get some small discount by trading in your existing device. While selling your device will always get you the most money, Google phones lose so much of their value over time that you won’t be losing that much cash by trading it in. For example, the Google Store’s trade-in program is currently offering up to $180 for a Pixel 3 XL in good condition with no screen cracks — see this article for more details.
Ultimately, if you’re still hanging on to an older Pixel phone, the Pixel 4a is likely the best upgrade path possible. If you’re still on the fence about buying one, you should definitely read our review.