Two weeks later with what Google is touting as everything you need, for less
It was an emotional moment for me a few weeks ago.
My Pixel 4a arrived in the mail. I powered it on, swapped out my SIM card, and began setting up my first Android phone in about five years. I then *gulp* turned off iMessage for my phone number and became a green bubble once again *audible gasp*.
And I couldn’t be happier that I made the switch.
It’s never been easier (or confusing) to upgrade your phone but for most people, the decision to buy a new device isn’t driven by crazy tech specs or ‘the next big thing,’ but simplicity. That’s why most iPhone users tend to stay iPhone users; it always looks & feels the same, and it just works — and has since day 1. It’s a great ecosystem but it can get pricey.
I used to be obsessed with all the bells & whistles that new Android phones always advertised but as I got older, I realized that you can’t put a price on convenience — or at least Apple has for many years, so I switched to iOS mainly because that’s what all my friends had. But just a few years ago, Google ran an ad campaign titled “Be together, not the same,” that always stuck with me. And now, as an adult navigating his 20s, his creative life, and a literal pandemic in the Big Apple, I realized that there’s a difference between cost and value, especially when it comes to the latest & greatest tech.
I’m not here to compare Apples to Androids, or even all three of the new Pixel phones side-by-side. I just want to share my experience and show you that, as I’ve said before, you’ve got (affordable) options.
First of all, you get a 5.8″ 1080p OLED display — not bleeding edge 4k, but it’s still absolutely crisp and bright and punchy, and is HDR certified. You get a best-in-class camera system, with Google’s signature Night Sight, Astrophotography, and Portrait modes, all of which produce beautiful shots the first time, every time. You get a 3140 mah battery which, thanks to Google’s adaptive software and my stunning lack of notifications on a daily basis, easily lasts the full day if not into the next morning. You also get an 18w fast charger in the box which juices the battery up to 100% in just about an hour and a half. Oh, and don’t forget about guaranteed software and security updates for 3 years (look out for my full Android 11 review soon) and a super-fast, conveniently placed fingerprint scanner on the back — which pairs perfectly with wearing a mask.
Daily performance has been stellar without so much as a hiccup or stutter, the size of the phone is a welcome departure from the ongoing phablet craze of many manufacturers, the buttons are super clicky and responsive, and, if you’re the type of person who actually cares about phone calls for some reason, the audio quality is excellent, too. (Thanks, Grandma, for testing this out for me.) And while I was initially worried that my lack of iMessage would be a slight issue, most of the people I speak to regularly use other messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, so I haven’t missed so much as a single text. (Alas, see ‘my stunning lack of notifications’ comment above.)
The Pixel 4a is a phone that gets the job done without ever getting in the way. I can wake up and know it’s going to power me throughout the work(from home)day, snap great photos as soon as I take it out of my pocket during the day & night, and be my daily driver for at least the next 18-24 months. It comes in one color, Just Black; one storage size, 128GB; and cone price, $349. The minimalist in me appreciates this very, very much. I also was able to score the phone at $299 thanks to a new activation deal Best Buy had with Verizon, and because I sold my iPhone 8 to Decluttr for about $200 (with an extra 10% coupon code,) my final all-in price was just about $125 after tax. You physically cannot find a better phone for that amount of money, especially anything with an Apple logo on it (even used.)
Think about that: For just a few hundred bucks, you’re getting a brand new phone directly from Google that will last well into 2022/23 (as long as the world doesn’t completely end this year.) And if you’re trading in a device to any buyback site or Google, directly, the Pixel 4a could be significantly less or even completely free.
It may not have iMessage or AirDrop. It may not have a multi-camera setup, a 90hz display, the largest battery, or 5G. It doesn’t have a million marketable, albeit gimmicky features like you see on many flagships these days; there’s no LiDAR, there’s no ‘100x super zoom,’ and there’s no Ceramic Shield (glass is glass.) I do miss that official IPX water resistance rating, I wish some of my most-used apps like Instagram and Lightroom were better optimized for the platform, and I get it — Android isn’t for everybody. But where the Pixel 4a may fall short on flash or frills, it exceeds at practicality and reliability. It can definitely surprise you at times, but it’s going to be everything you need and not much more than that. And honestly, that’s what most users actually need & want, especially right now. It’s an entirely intentional device and experience.
There are a lot of things to consider when buying a new phone or any sort of tech; after all, a few hundred dollars is still a few hundred dollars; it’s an investment in the device, itself, and the type of user you see yourself as on a daily basis. But realistically speaking, are you interested in shelling out $600, $700, $1000, or $1500 another year just to be able to send some texts, scroll endlessly through social media, watch Schitt’s Creek, and occasionally — even if reluctantly — make a few actual phone calls? That’s a question you’ve got to answer (pun intended.)