If you were tasked to create an affordably delicious ice cream sundae but only given a three ingredient limit, what would you load it with?
It’s not as odd a question as you would think in an article about smartphones. The camera, battery and the operating system would be the three things that tech companies are looking at in today’s ultra-competitive market – especially in the mid-range smartphone realm.
When it comes to Google’s offerings, it’s no secret that although the pricier 5.7-inch Pixel 4 (S$1119) and 6.3-inch Pixel 4XL (S$1319) were popular, these didn't quite have the same fanfare as the Pixel 3 handsets.
Which is why we now have the “budget” Pixel 4a, which is now officially available in Singapore after several pandemic-related delays.
Priced at S$499, it could be Google's chance to win back consumers, especially those who have been reducing their budgets because of the pandemic.
So how does the Pixel 4a fare after a quick test? Here’s what we found out:
For one of the most competitive prices (S$499) on the smartphone market, you get a phone that is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G Mobile Platform, offers storage space of 128GB, 6GB of RAM, new re-designed hole punch front-camera that is embedded within the display and a 5.8-inch bezel-less OLED display screen. It is also protected with on-device security by the Titan M security module.
A DECENT CAMERA
You also get a pretty okay camera without needing to a pay an exorbitant price. The Pixel 4a camera has all the usual bells and whistles like Live HDR+, dual exposure controls, social share, portrait mode, pet mode (perfect for fur parents), super res zoom, and fused video stabilisation.
The Night Sight with astrophotography mode, which boasts the ability to take the Milky Way (yes, that Milky Way) given a clear night sky, did not quite live up to lofty expectations. But the overall high quality of the night time shots was still nonetheless impressive, given the single lens camera.
To achieve this, Pixel 4a uses a long exposure and some software magic. Just make sure you prop the phone into a stable position with a tripod (or use a book or rock) before pressing the shutter.
And yes it must be highlighted that it doesn’t have the Pixel 4’s telephoto lens, which allows you to achieve that extremely high quality optical zoom. But it’s a understandable trade-off given the price point.
AN ALL-DAY ADAPTIVE BATTERY
Sounds like Google has been listening to the complaints made by critics of previous Pixels about the battery life.
When we took the phone on a test run, Pixel 4a’s adaptive battery did last 24 hours as promised. How it achieves that is by using machine learning to determine which apps we infrequently used and limits their background battery usage.
It also can now predict if the user will run out of battery before the next charge, and reduces background activity further to help keep your phone powered longer. It also looks at my charging history and, based on that, along with the current usage rate of the phone, will alert me if I don’t think I can make my charging window so I can take some action – like panic.
Basically, it manages the battery life based on how I use the phone. And that is an intuitive as a phone can get.
LIVE CAPTION – FOR PHONE CALLS
This feature, which was revealed last year, gives the user ability to automatically caption any media (videos, podcasts, audio messages, self-record) on your device in English.
Initially built for users who were deaf or had hearing difficulties, it’s a feature that has been expanded to be useful for a whole host of other situations.
Forget your headphones in a situation where it’s not appropriate to listen out loud? Need to take notes during long meetings, seminars and conduct interviews? This comes in handy.
The bonus is that Pixel 4a comes with a new update that will allow the user to provide live caption support for calls – which means it will automatically caption your phone calls, video calls, and calls made through apps, such as Google Duo or Facebook Messenger.
And for safety and security reasons, when you activate Live Caption for a call, the person on the other side will hear a message letting them know you've turned it on. It’s not intended for calls with more than one other person and so it’s reassuring to know that all captions are processed local, is never stored in the cloud and never leaves the device.
RESPONSIVE GOOGLE ASSISTANT
This is a function that was introduced with Pixel 4 and also available on Pixel 4a. Upon testing the “Frictionless access” mode, it is pretty responsive when I’m asking questions, texting or calling, looking up directions or even setting reminders – all by just using my voice. It can also share within apps so upon seeing a funny video or taking a great photo, I can say “send this to Mum” and it’s easily done.
THE FINGERPRINT SENSOR’S BACK
To keep the price point compelling and low, Pixel 4a does not have face authentication or facial recognition mode at all. Instead you’ve got the the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner that was found in the Pixel 3 but was absent in the Pixel 4.
In a way, it makes sense in these mask-wearing times. For those who find smart phone facial recognition unlocking a sometimes frustrating experience, this is a welcome comeback function.
DON’T FORGET THE FREEBIES
One of the advantages of getting a Pixel is all those Google services that come with it. The Pixel 4a includes a free YouTube Premium trial, Google One membership and Google Play Pass for three months. The Google One membership gives you an expanded storage of 100GB of storage, among other benefits. There is also unlimited photo and video storage in high quality with Google Photos, which may prove incredible useful and handy for people who take photos of anything and everything.
The Google Pixel 4a will be available for pre-order online in the Just Black variant at S$499 through the Google Store, and retail partners Courts and Challenger starting Tuesday (Aug 4). Amazon Singapore will also be doing online sales from Sep 10, while in-store purchases at Courts and Challenger will be available from mid-October.