Google makes three Pixel phones at present. There’s the top-end Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 4a.
If you want one but are unsure which to buy, the decision is less simple than it looks. Sure, the Pixel 5 is the flagship, but the other two are far from the same phone with and without 5G.
Here’s the takeaway. The Pixel 4a is arguably the stand-out, offering the best camera you can get at £350.
However, the Pixel 4a 5G may be worth the upgrade for many of you. It has a second rear camera, more power, better battery life, a bigger screen and, of course, 5G.
The Pixel 5 is the right choice if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to a Galaxy S21 or iPhone 12. But all it has over the Pixel 4a 5G are an aluminium shell and faster screen display rate. Worth it? Maybe, maybe not.
- Key differences at a glance
- Specs and features
- Battery life
- 5G capability and connectivity
- Verdict and where to buy
- The Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G have ultra-wide cameras, while the Pixel 4a does not
- Want the largest screen? Get the Pixel 4a 5G
- The Pixel 5 is the only one with a metal shell
- All three have a fab, evenly matched primary camera
- The Pixel 4a is the least effective for gaming, thanks to its smaller screen and less powerful processor
- Neither are ultra-long-lasting phones, but they’ll do fine for most
Google Pixel 5 vs 4a 5G vs 4a in detail
The Pixel 4a and 4a 5G sound like they have the most in common of these three phones. But the Pixel 4a 5G’s insides are actually more like the Pixel 5’s.
They both use a Snapdragon 765G processor. This isn’t as nippy as, say, the brains of the iPhone 12, but it makes the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G feel slick day-to-day and handles games like Fortnite well.
The Pixel 4a isn’t quite as powerful. It still feels good in use can play all the same games but may benefit a little more from toning the graphics down slightly — in the games that let you do that, anyway.
Most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference. 5G is the main reason not to stick with the cheaper Pixel 4a. This faster kind of mobile internet is gradually spreading across the country, and even if it’s not in your town yet, it’s a good feature to have if you like to keep phones for several years.
We actually like the cheaper Pixel 4a and Pixel 5G more than the Pixel 5 in one sense because they have the headphone jack the more expensive phone lacks. Not everyone has upgraded to Bluetooth headphones yet, after all.
All three have 128GB storage, enough to keep us happy. And that a good job because none of these phones let you stick in a memory card.
Google likes to keep things simple. We have three phones, three prices.
The entry-level Pixel 4a costs £349. There’s a fairly big leap to the Pixel 4a 5G at £499. We wish it were a little smaller, enough to make the upgrade a no-brainer. But the series of upgrades arguably justify the higher cost.
Google’s flagship Pixel 5 costs £599. That is significantly lower than the Samsung Galaxy S21 or iPhone 12, which is all part of the appeal of a Pixel this year.
Google’s phone design mantra seems to be all about paring things down to the essentials. It’s not show-off stuff, and the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G and Pixel 5 batteries aren’t nearly as large as some of the mid-range phones from Samsung or Xiaomi.
The specs made us worry these phones would pass out at 7pm, but, happily, they don’t. These phones should last a full day for most people; however, they probably won’t leave you with anything like 50% charge, which some larger phones with giant batteries can do.
In our experience, the Pixel 4a lasts slightly less long than either the Pixel 4a 5G or Pixel 5.
The Pixels don’t have ultra-fast charging either, but it matters less because of their smaller batteries. Only the Pixel 5 has wireless charging, which makes sense given it is the flashy one of the bunch.
Camera quality is the best reason to buy a Pixel phone, particularly the cheaper Pixel 4a. It really sets the standard at £350.
All three use the same core hardware, a 12-megapixel sensor with optical stabilisation. That compensates for movement, leading to better video and less chance of a blurry photo in lower light.
You get the same Google benefits across all three: photos with excellent image processing that keeps colours natural, brings out detail in the shadowy parts of the picture and lends real punch to your pictures.
The impact of this is most effective in the cheaper phone because at £500/600 we are getting closer to the similarly great iPhone 12 mini and Samsung Galaxy S21. But the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 also have a second rear camera, an ultra-wide. This lets you get more of a scene in the image without moving.
All three take excellent night-time pics. But none of them has a zoom camera. Google does improve results using clever image merging tech, but it’s not a real replacement for a good optical zoom.
The Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 have a slight advantage for video too. They can shoot at ultra-sharp 4K resolution at a smooth 60fps frame rate. 30fps is the max in the Pixel 4a, presumably because its processor rules out this faster capture rate.
All three share the same 8-megapixel selfie camera, which has a neat portrait blur feature but doesn’t capture as much detail as some of the top phones, including last generation Pixels.
Google mixes things up a bit with the Pixels’ displays.
The Pixel 4a has the smallest screen, at 5.81 inches. No surprise there.
However, the mid-price Pixel 4a 5G actually has the largest screen, at 6.2 inches.
The Pixel 5 sits between the two at 6.0 inches. It’s enough of a difference to make the Pixel 4a 5G the best choice for gamers and Netflix-on-the-go fans.
Still, the Pixel 5 does have the most advanced display tech. Its screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz, meaning the image can be changed 90 times a second. It makes scrolling through web pages, your Twitter feed and the app drawer look significantly smoother. The Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G both have 60Hz screens.
All three use an OLED panel too, which has light-up pixels for perfect contrast. These OLEDs offer great colour too, and they are similarly bright. A Galaxy S21 is brighter in direct sunlight, but all three get by just fine on sunny days.
As we’ve already mentioned, the Pixel 4a is the odd one out in that it does not have 5G mobile internet. It’s getting harder to recommend expensive 4G phones, but the Pixel 4a doesn’t cost all that much, so it gets by just fine with 4G in our book… for now. The Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 have 5G.
None of the Pixels accepts a memory card, and only the two more affordable phones have a socket for wired headphones. Google seems to think that Pixel 5 buyers will already be on board with Bluetooth pairs.
Google Pixel phones are made to look ultra-simple. They don’t go in for garish finishes or techy in-screen fingerprint scanners.
The back and sides are one piece in all three phones, zapping the seams you see in other Android phones. However, only the Pixel 5 has what you might call a “high end” design.
Its back and sides are aluminium. The other phones use plastic. This means the Pixel 5 is the only one of the three with the hard, cool-to-the-touch feel some of you may be after.
That said, the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G feel pretty good for plastic phones. Google has paid attention to the finish to avoid the cheap feel plastic can often have, and all three phones are similarly dense. The drop down to plastic won’t matter if you use a case, either.
Sadly, the Pixel 5 is the only phone you can get in anything other than black. “Just Black”, Google calls it. The Pixel 5 is also available in “Sorta Sage”, a pleasant pale green.
The Pixel 4a is arguably the most important phone here. It sets the standard for camera quality at its reasonable price of £349, and we’ve recommended it to plenty of people since it launched in late 2020.
However, if you want 5G, you need to bump up to the £499 Pixel 4a 5G. It may be the best choice for the average phone fan. It offers the same gaming and camera performance as the Pixel 5, plus a bigger screen.
The Pixel 5 gains an aluminium casing, wireless charging and a higher screen refresh. Worth it for £100 more? Perhaps, but we tend to recommend to those who might otherwise buy a Samsung Galaxy and want to spend less, rather than Google Pixel fans. We’re pretty happy living with the slight techy compromises of the Pixel 4a 5G.
Where to buy the Pixel 4a
- Available from mobiles.co.uk | from £23 a month
- Available from Three | from £29 a month and £29 upfront
- Available from Carphone Warehouse | from £17 a month and £29.99 upfront
- Available from O2 | from £9 a month (for the first six months) and £30 upfront
- Available from Vodafone | from £23 a month and £9 upfront
Where to buy the Pixel 4a 5G
- Available from mobiles.co.uk | from £28 a month and £149.99 upfront
- Available from Carphone Warehouse | from £26 a month
- Available from Vodafone | from £38 a month and £29 upfront
Where to buy the Pixel 5
- Available from mobiles.co.uk | from £23 a month and £50 upfront
- Available from Three | from £47 a month and £29 upfront
- Available from Carphone Warehouse | from £24.99 a month and £49.99 upfront
- Available from O2 | from £15.81 a month (for the first six months) and £30 upfront
- Available from Vodafone | from £42 a month and £49 upfront