Google Pixel 4a gets a supercharged upgrade, but at a cost

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Google has upgraded its affordable Pixel 4a smartphone less than two months after it was first announced. Don’t worry though, Google hasn’t hoodwinked any Pixel 4a owners with this refresh – it confirmed the existence of the Pixel 4a 5G when it unveiled the Pixel 4a back in early August.

So, what is the difference between the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 4a 5G? Well, as the name suggests, Google has added support for next-generation 5G mobile speeds with the updated model. For those who don’t know, 5G is the next-generation of mobile internet and a substantial upgrade over 4G and 3G.

First of all, these speeds are much, much faster. In our time testing 5G, we’ve been able to clock-up speeds of between 300-500Mbps. Given that the average home broadband speed in the UK is 64Mbps, you’ll be able to download Spotify podcasts and TV episodes ready for your next journey on the train platform almost eight times faster than when connected to your home Wi-Fi the night before work.

But it’s not all about speed. 5G networks are also much better at managing huge numbers of devices connecting to the same mast. While this isn’t something that you’ll be able to take advantage of anytime soon, when stadium crowds and vast seas of festival-goers can mingle together – 5G handsets won’t suffer from the same patchy connections and sluggish internet as their 4G counterparts.

As UK mobile networks rapidly expand their 5G networks across cities and towns, anyone looking to hold onto their next smartphone purchase for three or four years should make sure it’s futureproofed with 5G support. Unfortunately, that can come with an extra cost.

The components required to support 5G aren’t cheap – and phone manufacturers will often pass those costs onto customers themselves. As such, while you can pick-up a standard 4G-only Google Pixel 4a for £349, you’ll have to cough-up £499 for the 5G variant of the same phone. To ease the pain, Google has added a number of other improvements, like the bigger battery, bigger screen, and new ultra-wide camera. Not to mention, Google Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 sport the same selfie camera …something the Pixel 4a doesn’t share.

Elsewhere, the Pixel 4a is pretty much the same phenomenal handset you’re already familiar with. Google has increased the battery size in the Pixel 4a 5G – packing a 3,885mAh cell compared to the 3,140mAh. How much of that extra battery will be sapped by the demands of 5G remains to be seen, but Pixel 4a already had some pretty competitive battery life, so this is very promising. Elsewhere, Google announced a new ultra low-power mode designed to keep your handset ticking along – albeit with a pretty limited number of features – for up to 48-hours. Available at launch on the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, it will be coming to older Pixel phones via a software updater soon.

Pixel 4a 5G also has a slightly larger screen than the Pixel 4a before it – moving from 5.8-inches to 6.2-inches. For comparison, that’s bigger than the screen on the flagship Pixel 5.

Unlike the flagship Pixel 4 from which it gets its name, Pixel 4a 5G forgoes a telephotos from the main camera set-up in favour of an ultra-wide lens alongside the main camera. That should allow for some pretty phenomenal effects when taking pictures of scenery, large grousp of (socially distanced) friends, and skyscrapers.

The gesture-controls and facial recognition found on the Pixel 4 are also missing in action on the Pixel 4a 5G too. That’s likely a cost-cutting measure, but for our money, the Pixel 4a looks better with the small selfie camera cut-out in the 5.8-inch OLED display. When it comes to unlocking the Pixel 4a and logging into banking apps, that’s all handled with a circular rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, similar to the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL before it.

Like the Pixel 3a, Google has used a matte-finish plastic case for the Pixel 4a. The signature pop of colour on the power button also makes a return. Unfortunately, Google has opted for a one-size-fits-all approach this time around as there’s no Pixel 4a 5G XL, so those hoping for even more battery and a bigger screen for bingeing boxsets on-the-move and playing games will have to look elsewhere. That said, given the improvements listed above – maybe the Pixel 4a 5G is already the XL variant compared to the standard Pixel 4a.

As you’d expect, Google will also back-up your photos to the cloud at no additional cost – although these will be stored in “high quality”, which uses a compression algorithm to crunch down your images to save space. Originally, Google allowed all Pixel owners to store their photos and videos in their original quality, however, this offer was shuttered around the time of the Pixel 3a launch last year and hasn’t made a comeback with the Pixel 4a.

Pixel 4a includes a headphone port, so any 3.5mm headphones will work with this smartphone – so adapter or fiddling around in Bluetooth menus needed before you jump back into your favourite album. Pixel 4a owners will be able to enjoy entertainment, games and apps and extra storage with three-month free trials of YouTube Premium, Google Play Pass and Google One bundled with the smartphone.

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