We'll always prefer a top-end flagship to a mid-ranger when money's no concern, but in the real world, value is always a consideration – which is why the Pixel 3a was so great.
Google's pricier Pixel phones have often felt a smidge overpriced or under-specced, sometimes making them a tough sell compared to other top contenders. But the Pixel 3a was a smart shift in that approach: a modestly-specced, modestly priced phone with a brilliant flagship camera.
That's why we're so excited about the prospect of a Google Pixel 4a this year, which we hope will actually improve on some elements of the standard Pixel 4 while delivering a more palatable price. Here's what the rumour mill is churning out so far.
When will the Google Pixel 4a be out?
Google launched the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL in early May at its annual I/O developers conference, so we expected the same for 2020.
However, I/O 2020 has been cancelled as a physical event in the wake of coronavirus (COVID-19) fears, so it's unclear whether Google will opt to still launch the phone in the same timeframe or not. With live events being curtailed all across the industry, we'd bet that Google will just need to go ahead with a launch in late spring or early summer rather than miss this release window. After all, the Pixel 5 will likely launch this autumn as per usual.
Even without a physical I/O 2020 event, we still expect to see the Pixel 4a pretty soon.
How much will the Google Pixel 4a cost?
Google hit the sweet spot with the Pixel 3a pricing, selling the base model for £399 and the XL edition for £469. That's quite nice for a capable mid-ranger with the best camera in its class.
And it looks like Google will hit the same sweet spot again with the Pixel 4a. Leaked billboard concepts discovered by notorious leaker Evan Blass advertise a US$399 price point, which is the same as the Pixel 3a in the States. Given that, there shouldn't be much variance on the UK price point this time around as well.
Sounds like Google with stick with (or near) that same great price with the Pixel 4a.
What will the Google Pixel 4a look like?
OnLeaks often leads the charge with concept renders based on what he's heard through the grapevine, and he's at it again with the Pixel 4a, in partnership with 91mobiles.
His Pixel 4a concept renders show a surprising element from the front: a punch-hole camera cutout like that of the Samsung Galaxy S10. The standard Pixel 4 models have big foreheads of bezel to accommodate the facial-scanning sensors and radar features, but it appears that the Pixel 4a will take a different kind of approach. Overall, there's seemingly less bezel than the 3a, too.
Elsewhere, the look is pretty familiar: it has a fingerprint sensor on the back and a 3.5mm headphone port, and we're expecting plastic for the frame and backing like the Pixel 3a. The renders show a square camera module like the Pixel 4, but it seems perhaps a bit smaller.
What you see above is a video that shows a purported leaked prototype that looks very legit, and follows Google's poor record of keeping such things under wraps. Plus, the Evan Blass billboard leaks look exactly like both the video and concept renders, so... this is the Pixel 4a.
9to5Google points to Just Black and Barely Blue models of the phone. If the "Barely" is really rather light, then it may well be the version seen in the leaked billboard design below.
That's the Pixel 4a... and truth be told, this might actually look better than the Pixel 4!
What about the Google Pixel 4a's screen?
We saw 5.6in and 6in screens on the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, respectively. Will that change much for the 4a editions?
The 91mobiles report suggests a very small size increase to 5.7in or 5.8in on the Pixel 4a, and the leaked TecnoLike hands-on video above suggests a 5.81in display. No word yet on the Pixel 4a XL, however. And the video also suggests that the Pixel 4a has a standard 60Hz refresh rate, rather than the smoother 90Hz rate introduced with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL last year.
9to5Google has since confirmed the 5.81in detail with its own reporting, and says that there will not be a larger Pixel 4a XL this time around. That single size splits the difference between last year's Pixel 3a sizes.
Expect similar sizes, but with a punch hole – and no 90Hz included.
How much power will the Google Pixel 4a pack?
We're expecting another upper mid-range chip. The Pixel 3a had the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670, which did a fine job of delivering a solidly speedy Android experience but didn't have the heavy firepower for high-end games. Fair enough.
The TecnoLike video suggests a slight spec bump with the Snapdragon 730 onboard, which 9to5Google has confirmed. Ultimately, we expect similar end results: solid everyday speed, but hardly showstopping performance when it comes to 3D gaming and other demanding processing needs.
Sounds right to us!
What kind of cameras will the Google Pixel 4a have?
Although the Pixel 4a concept renders share the design language of the standard Pixel 4 models with a square back camera module, we only see a single camera in there.
If true, then we'll likely just get the main 12.2-megapixel sensor, with the secondary telephoto sensor left behind. That's fine: the Pixel 3a did plenty well with the single sensor, relying on Google's A+ algorithms to deliver oft-brilliant results. And then you'll get a single selfie camera on the front, as evidenced by the punch-hole cutout in the screen.
Even with one back camera, you can expect greatness again.
Is there anything else I should know about the Google Pixel 4a?
With the lack of a large top bezel on the Pixel 4a concept renders, we suspect that Google's radar-driven "Motion Sense" feature is missing. That's… fine with us, really. It was a modestly useful feature on the Pixel 4, but a big battery drain.
On that front, we're certainly hoping for better battery life than the Pixel 4. The Pixel 3a phones both had solid uptime, and without all of the extra tricks of the Pixel 4 (like radar and a 90Hz display), the Pixel 4a could repeat that feat. 9to5Google suggests a 3,080mAh pack inside, which is only 80mAh larger than the Pixel 3a.
The other lingering question is 5G support. Google could make a big splash by selling an affordable, mid-range phone with 5G – but it seems unlikely that they'd roll that out with the half-year budget revision rather than the Pixel 5. Call it the Pixel 5G.
Oh, and according to 9to5Google, there will still be a 3.5mm headphone port. Phew.
We're looking forward to seeing the real deal: a cheaper, streamlined Pixel 4 with a brilliant camera sounds about perfect to us.