We welcome the Pixel range into South Africa with the lovable 4a 5G. It’s one of the most humble devices to grace our desks, and we will recommend the 4a to anyone who doesn’t want to buy into flashy smartphone marketing techniques. Here you get pure Android, ample power to do your daily dues, a camera more-than-capable to capture life’s best moments and just enough tech that shouldn't confuse you. All for (around) R10,000.|We welcome the Pixel range into South Africa with the lovable 4a 5G. It’s one of the most humble devices to grace our desks, and we will recommend the 4a to anyone who doesn’t want to buy into flashy smartphone marketing techniques. Here you get pure Android, ample power to do your daily dues, a camera more-than-capable to capture life’s best moments and just enough tech that shouldn't confuse you. All for (around) R10,000.|We welcome the Pixel range into South Africa with the lovable 4a 5G. It’s one of the most humble devices to grace our desks, and we will recommend the 4a to anyone who doesn’t want to buy into flashy smartphone marketing techniques. Here you get pure Android, ample power to do your daily dues, a camera more-than-capable to capture life’s best moments and just enough tech that shouldn't confuse you. All for (around) R10,000.
Sometimes, techies perched on the plains in Southern Africa sit and dream of a day we can get our hands on Google’s proprietary hardware. We’re happy to announce that day is upon us. It may be through third-party retailers, but we don’t ask questions. Capish?
According to our sibling publication over in the UK, Google’s best kit is generally its cheapest kit. The Google Pixel 4 launched in 2019 and still retails for around R15,000 (it really depends where you look, though). While the following Pixel 5 is also priced in the mid-teens of thousands, the Pixel 4a is humbly priced at around R10,000. That makes it a decent midranger according to our calculations.
It also has 5G, so there’s that.
This is the second instance of a more affordable Pixel, which means Google’s gone and perfected the outcome even further. The Pixel 4a combines the best parts from the premium Pixel 4 with fewer gimmicks and a lekker price tag. Of course, you can’t expect flagship-level specs here, but the Pixel 4a is a brilliant addition to anyone keen on a brilliant camera and a vanilla Android experience.
Remember it’s a tool
In recent years, it’s become apparent when looking at smartphone marketing campaigns that smartphones are being positioned as fashion accessories. Here at Stuff, we like to remember that these little slaps are just tiny computers developed to do our digital bidding for us. And if you live life with the same philosophy, the Pixel 4a may just be worth checking out.
At first glance, it’ll be hard to know which Android-faced device this is, as its subtle looks and boring form-factor does anything but make a statement. Pixels have historically focused on brains over looks, and the same is true here.
Here you’ve got a compact polycarbonate body that doesn’t feel cheap. There’s a satisfying heft, considering its size, even if it isn’t especially skinny. Along the back, you’ll find the fingerprint sensor — an odd choice when most of us have ditched our 2016 handsets featuring the same. But it’s snappy, easy to target with your indicator and feels smooth to the touch. So we’ll let that one slide.
The square camera housing mimics the Pixel 4, although it only holds a single sensor here instead of two. And it protrudes just a bit too far for our taste, so opt for a case if you’re OCD about camscratchies.
Bring the boom
We said it’s small, but there was a time when a 6.2in panel was the norm. The device sits comfortably in our hand and we’re here for it. You also get smallish bezels and a punch-hole selfiecam in the upper left corner. It’s become fairly easy to overlook these, so don’t panic about it.
We also welcome the OLED 1080p panel that doesn’t bleed around the edges (great for a device in this price range), and features decent colour reproduction all-round. It does struggle in especially bright scenarios, however, which is a thumbs-down for anyone trying to send a WhatsApp under the South African sun.
Then there are the onboard speakers (one reader suggested we specifically start mentioning this again — this one’s for you). The stereo setup combines a down-firing main speaker with the phone earpiece — which means you get a good balance and impressive clarity. Vocals sound clear, and there’s even a bit of bass. Once you push the volume, there’s noticeable resonance through the handset. Serious listening still calls for headphones, but the audio gods smiled upon us with a 3.5 audio jack this time around. You’re welcome.
Snapping up jewels
We’ve seen international tech journos rave about Google’s brilliant camera sensors in the Pixel range, but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to really test ‘em. Of course, the 4a lacks the telephoto sensor the 4 gained. But we get a 16MP ultra-wide sensor.
It’s not easy testing a dual-sensor cam after numerous bouts with multi-sensor cameras. But this feels… simple. In a good way too. Here you get a single 12.2MP sensor, along with the ultra-wide cam mentioned above. It’s all backed up with some of the best image processing in the business. Still today, it takes pictures that’ll easily compete with those taken on any Samsung, Apple or Huawei device.
Its dynamic range is incredible. We’ll cite Google’s brilliant image processing prowess here. Details are excellent, facial features have real clarity, and noise reduction doesn’t introduce unwanted sharpness. The best part? There’s basically no need to fiddle in image processing after the fact. It’s all done in real-time once the image is captured.
Portrait mode copes well without relying on a depth sensor for edge detection, and the 8MP front-facing camera takes a great selfie, although it’s a little more vulnerable to noise in low-light which is expected considering the size of it, really.
Then there’s some black-magic-filled digital zoom sorcery going on, as the Pixel’s capability to uphold quality when zooming digitally is almost unbelievable. It rivals the best in the biz that are all equipped with telephoto lenses dedicated to zooming. Even more unbelievable is the 4a’s night mode capabilities, which has always been admired by international techies in its own right.
Night Sight produces images that are easily on par with the class leaders (Apple’s night mode and Huawei’s night shooting). Astrophotography mode also returns from the Pixel 4, and the four-minute exposure still warrants a tripod, but in the right conditions, results can be incredible for a phone.
While photography flex is high on the 4a, it’s not lining up to shoot a Hollywood film anytime soon. It makes do with 4K at 30fps, or 1080p at 60.
A serving of vanilla
None of us like bloatware, but if you’re ready to commit to a device that’ll never allow bloatware on its platform, check any Pixel on the market. The same is true for the 4a.
Right now you’ll be greeted by the wonderful Android 10 right out of the box, but the Pixel 4a has received its Android 11 update and you should be able to install it once the new device is connected to a network. Android 11 brings with it some visual updates, but its mostly the same smooth Android experience you’d expect.
You still get the oh-so-soft on the eyes system-wide dark mode, streamlined sharing menu and a Focus mode that mutes distracting apps while you’re trying to get work done, the 4a now pulls up Google Pay with a long press of the power button.
Also making an appearance is something called Google Recorder, which can perform spookily accurate live transcriptions. Those transcripts can then be searched via Google Assistant. It’s not all-that-surprising if you consider Google’s been collecting voice data for years.
Of course, you’ll be the first to get software updates directly from Google, which is more anyone else currently in SA can really say right now.
Pixel perfect, really
Just because the 4a uses a Snapdragon 765G 5G, doesn’t mean it’s not the best small midranger around. Clock speeds aren’t quite as zippy as the flagship sibling, but it makes up with its desire to please its user.
Its 6GB of RAM certainly helps to push responsiveness and gaming capability to admirable levels. You won’t notice any stuttering or lag while swiping through home screens, and apps open without any visible delay. Impressively, some even started quicker here than on a Samsung Galaxy S20. Remind me again why you’d want a power-hungry flagship CPU?
The most demanding games in the Play Store run smoothly enough, with Call of Duty Mobile defaulting to ‘high’ details and keeping frame rates fairly consistent. The 60Hz panel and Full HD+ resolution don’t tax the hardware too much.
Because it’s pushing its own applications, Google would rather you pay for a Drive subscription than try to increase storage. So you’re capped at 128GB if you’re not keen on subscriptions, unfortunately.
When it comes to battery life, you should get up to a day of mixed-use, from social scrolling to selfies and streaming, but you’ll want to plug in by bedtime.
Google Pixel 4a 5G Verdict
We welcome the Pixel range into South Africa with the lovable 4a 5G. It’s one of the most humble devices to grace our desks, and we will recommend the 4a to anyone who doesn’t want to buy into flashy smartphone marketing techniques.
Here you get pure Android, ample power to do your daily dues, a camera more-than-capable to capture life’s best moments and just enough tech that shouldn’t confuse you. All for (anything from) R10,000.
- The review device was supplied by flipphones.co.za