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're betting the same happens again in 2020.
The standard Pixel 4 models launched last autumn, so it makes sense to stagger out the release of the cheaper editions by a half-year or so. We don't know for sure whether there will be two models again for the Pixel 4a, but whatever the case, I/O 2020 is the right target.
I/O 2020 hasn't been dated yet as of this writing, but late spring/early summer is likely.
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.
We hope to see the Pixel 4a phones land near the same price points, especially if they see only slight spec bumps over last year's phones. We're just guessing for now, but it would be a mistake to try and ask for much more than that.
We're hoping for £399 again (or close), but we'll see.
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.
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, but there's no word yet on the Pixel 4a XL. If we had to guess, the cheaper Pixel 4 models probably won't have the 90Hz refresh rate of the core Pixel 4 models, but we'd be happy to be surprised on that front.
Expect similar sizes, but with a punch hole – and probably 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.
91mobiles suggests maybe the Snapdragon 730 or Snapdragon 765. Whatever it is, 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.
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.
We're looking forward to seeing the real deal: a cheaper, streamlined Pixel 4 with a brilliant camera sounds about perfect to us.