Google Pixel phone comparison: Pixel 4, 4 XL vs. 4a, 4a 5G and Pixel 5
Google has unveiled its latest Pixel phones for 2020 – the 5G model of the Pixel 4a, and the Pixel 5. So how do they stack up against the previous generation? New Atlas compares the specs and features of the Google Pixel 4, 4 XL, 4a, 4a 5G and Pixel 5.
Rather than sticking to annual releases for phones, Google seems to be spreading things out more than other companies – and that can make it hard to keep track of which Pixel is which. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are 2019’s flagships, a decent pair of phones that will likely continue to be sold for a while yet. The Pixel 4a is an entry-level device that strips out some features in favor of a more attractive price. The Pixel 4a 5G is a kind of “XL” version of the 4a, although hardware-wise it’s not far behind this year’s flagship, the Pixel 5.
According to reports, the confusing naming conventions are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pixel 4a was originally supposed to launch back in May as a mid-year refresh, paving the way for two Pixel 5 models in late 2020. But after the 4a was delayed until August, Google seems to have been reluctant to make that phone sound redundant so soon after release. So, what was originally the Pixel 5 became the 4a 5G, and the 5 moniker was passed to what was going to be the “Pixel 5s” for whatever reason.
In short, the 4a 5G is essentially a Pixel 5, the Pixel 5 is the premium model this time and don’t expect a Pixel 5 XL.
The Pixel 5 and 4a are very close to the same size, as the smallest devices on offer here. The Pixel 4 is a little taller but slightly narrower, then the 4a 5G is bigger in all three dimensions. And finally, the Pixel 4 XL remains the biggest of the bunch.
Weight-wise, these five phones follow the same order as above, although there’s a much wider gap between the featherweight Pixel 4a and the 5. Between the whole group, the difference is 50 grams, which is equal to 10 nickels.
Just Black is standard across all five models, and there’s a white variant available on the Pixel 4, 4 XL and 4a 5G. In some regions the 4 and 4 XL come in an orange option, while Pixel 5 buyers have the choice of a pale olive green that Google calls Sorta Sage.
The two 4a models have polycarbonate bodies, with glass fronts. The Pixel 4, 4 XL and 5 are made with aluminum and glass for a more premium look and feel.
The base model Pixel 4 sports the smallest display of the bunch, at a diminutive 5.7 in, followed closely by the 4a on 5.8 in. The Pixel 5 is next in line at 6 in, then the 4a 5G at a respectable 6.2 in and finally the Pixel 4 XL on 6.3 in.
Big thick bezels have fallen out of fashion as phone manufacturers try to squeeze as much screen onto the front of their devices as possible. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL have the lowest ratio, with around 80 percent of its front taken up by the display. That’s because the camera is housed in a black bar running across the top.
The Pixels 4a, 4a 5G and 5 all fare progressively little better, thanks to a simple “hole punch” cut out to house the camera lens.
Not only is the Pixel 4 XL’s display the biggest, it also boasts the highest resolution – a huge 3040 x 1440 with a density of 537 pixels per inch (ppi). There’s quite a gap before the next highest resolution – a three-way tie between the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G and 5, on 2340 x 1080. These three models have different densities though, due to the fact that they’re fitting the same amount of pixels into different-sized screens. And the Pixel 4 brings up the rear, but it's only a little behind in sheer numbers.
All five of these phones are made with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, which is the direction the industry has been moving for a while. When compared to LCD, OLED screens generally have brighter colors and deeper blacks.
All five of these phones are running Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are built on 2019’s flagship processors, the Snapdragon 855, but interestingly this year Google has gone for slightly lower-end options. Powering the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 is the Snapdragon 765G, which could be called “upper middle tier," but don't worry – it’ll still easily handle most of the everyday tasks you can throw at it.
The entry-level Pixel 4a, meanwhile, is running on a Snapdragon 730. This mid-tier processor is no match for the flagships, but again, it’ll more than get the job done while letting the Goog shave a chunk off the price.
The Pixel 4 series devices are all running on 6 GB of RAM, while the Pixel 5 ups things to 8 GB.
All five of these phones have the same selfie cam, sporting eight megapixels (MP) and an aperture of f/2.0.
The difference is that the Pixel 4 and 4 XL also have infrared sensors that can measure depth and motion, which powers the facial recognition unlock system and the tech that recognizes gestures made in front of the device. These features seem to have been stripped out of the newer models for whatever reason.
The main camera setup is very similar across the board, with all five having a 12.2 MP camera with an aperture of f/1.7. On the Pixel 4a that camera is flying solo, but the other four models pair it with a 16 MP camera as well.
On the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5, That 16 MP camera has been given an ultra-wide lens, letting users squeeze more into frame.
The cameras on all five Pixels have more or less the same capabilities.
They can all snap photos with high dynamic range (HDR), with the help of dual exposure controls. They can take it all in with panoramic shots, or zoom right in digitally with a feature called Super Res Zoom. Google’s Night Sight lets in more light for brighter and clearer photos in the dark. Portrait Mode can make photos look a bit more artful by blurring the background to different degrees – an effect called bokeh.
Top Shot mode helps users capture the best image of a subject in motion by recording a “motion photo” and pulling the best still frames out of it. Augmented reality (AR) can project virtual characters and objects over the real world as viewed through the camera.
Again, the video modes on all five phones are similar, with both Optical and Electronic Image Stabilization (OIS/EIS) built in to help smooth out shots.
They can all shoot in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (fps), while the Pixel 4a 5G and 5 can boost that to 60 fps. In Full HD, all five can shoot at 30 or 60 fps.
The five Pixels can also shoot in slow motion at two speeds – 120 fps with Full HD (1080p) resolution, or at 240 fps with a HD (720p) resolution.
As mentioned earlier, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL have infrared sensors that allow the phones to be unlocked with a quick scan of a user’s face. For the 4a, 4a 5G and 5, Google has gone back to the old fingerprint unlock system, with the sensor located on the back.
The Pixel 4, 4 XL and 5 all have a water resistance rating of IP68, which means they can shake off splashes of water and survive being submerged in up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) of water for up to 30 minutes. Don’t take that as a challenge, of course, but it’s at least nice to know that a spilled drink or a quick accidental dunk in the pool or bath won’t immediately spell the end of your phone.
The Pixel 4a and 4a 5G, however, have not been rated at all, so be extra careful with them.
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL come with the options for either 64 or 128 GB of storage space built-in. The 4a, 4a 5G and 5 don’t bother with the lower tier.
Whichever storage option you choose, you better make sure it’s enough – none of these phones offers the option to expand that with MicroSD cards.
The Pixel 4 has the smallest-capacity battery, on just 2,800 mAh, while the 4a fares slightly better on 3,140 mAh. Next in line is the 4 XL on a respectable 3,700 mAh, followed closely by the 4a 5G at 3,885 mAh and finally the Pixel 5 on a hefty 4,080 mAh.
Numbers aren’t everything though, and in practical terms you should expect to get at least a full day’s use out of all of these devices.
All five Pixels can be fast charged out of the box.
The Pixel 4, 4 XL and 5 support wireless charging as well – although you’ll need to buy a wireless charger separately. The Pixel 5 also has a nifty new trick called Reverse Charging, which lets you wirelessly charge other devices like phones and smartwatches by placing them on top of the Pixel.
The Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 can both tap into 5G cellular networks, which are much faster than the widespread 4G. Coverage isn’t yet available everywhere, and your phone provider will most likely end up charging you more for access, but for those interested in upgrading this could be an extra tick in the box for these two phones.
All five Pixels charge via USB-C. The 4a and 4a 5G also see the return of the once-common 3.5 mm audio jack, in case you haven’t yet made the switch to Bluetooth headphones.
In most regions, Google no longer bundles in headphones – except if you live in France or Australia.
The Pixel 4, 4 XL and 4a all come with Android 10 pre-installed, but can now be upgraded to 11 anytime. The Pixel 4a 5G and 5 come with Android 11 pre-installed.
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL were the first out of the gates, releasing in October 2019. The Pixel 4a followed in August 2020, after the aforementioned delay from May. The Pixel 5 will drop by the end of October 2020, and finally the 4a 5G is due out in November.
The Pixel 4a is marketed as the entry-level phone, with its generous price tag of just US$349. The Pixel 4a 5G is a pretty good deal too, with a few upgrades for an extra $150.
After that the premium prices begin to come into play. The Pixel 5 goes for $699, meaning it undercuts last year’s models – they start at $799 for the 64 GB Pixel 4, then $899 for the 128 GB Pixel 4 or 64 GB Pixel 4 XL. And finally, the 128 GB Pixel 4 XL carries the highest price, at just under a grand.
With all that said, which Pixel stands out most for you? Or if you want to see what other companies are up to, check out our other phone comparisons.