Review: Google Pixel 4a Smartphone

Remember back when a conversation was started by someone asking, “what sort of phone do you use?” Or alternatively, “What plan are you on and are you with Telstra or Optus?”.

Those basic times are long gone, as have the basic phones that were the subject matter of those convos. In the past (20 years ago we are talking), my major concern with a mobile phone – they weren’t smartphones as yet – was that I could call someone, and they could call me.


Today, that function is for many people, the LEAST important, with the “app” reigning supreme.

For mine, the ability to communicate verbally is still paramount, and whilst I do use some of the more generalised apps, what is also important to me these days are the specialised apps that are designed for specific purposes such as those used to control cameras and camcorders, mics, drones and other similar devices.

Daylight Usage

This means that a phone for me must have one very important feature. And that is to be able actually see and use the screen outdoors in bright sunlight (I have the same requirement for my cameras / camcorders too as regular readers will know).

For example, if I am using a smartphone to control my DJI Mavic Mini drone and I cannot see the screen, then there is simply no point. It’s as easy as that.

With this in mind I have tried many phones over the years – a Samsung Note 3 and Note 7, a Samsung A30, and Huawei P30 come immediately to mind and not one of them has been usable in super bright sunlight.

So it was with some trepidation that when  the Google Pixel 4a turned up for testing, that I charged it up overnight and then, in probably what I would call 90% bright sunlight, I ventured with it into the great wide open spaces.

No, it’s not perfect, but certainly far better than anything else I have tried to date, is the verdict. For the Mavic Mini it would be usable certainly, without having to guess half the time where a specific control is or what the camera is seeing.

So in that area, the Pixel 4a gets a tick.

I would like to have a little more screen real estate I admit, and I wish I could get the text size a little larger, but you can’t have it all ways.


Having many different cameras at my fingertips, using a smartphone as a camera is not a biggie for me, but having said that, the camera system of the Pixel 4a is very good. There is none of this multiple camera / lens nonsense, with a single camera front and back with a 12.2Mp f/1.7 sensor and an excellent piece of post processing software second to none I have ever tested before.

For fans of million x zoom lenses etc by the way, there isn’t one, just a digital zoom that we all know by now never to use yes? Actually it is not THAT bad, and is operated by gestures, but there is no way it can be compared to a real zoom lens in a real camera in my opinion. Call me a photo-snob of you wish. I can take it.

On gestures, these are also used to navigate and copy and paste.

There are a couple of specialist modes, namely Night Sight for low light and no flash  that also has a special “astrophotography” mode letting you shoot long exposures of the starry, starry night (as long as you use a tripod of course) and Live HDR with dual exposure control for rich image and colour quality shots and video. In the latter mode, sliders on screen are used to change brightness and shadows pre-shot.

Other functions include Social Share, Portrait, Portrait Blur and something a little different called Google Lens whereby the camera is used to scan to PDF, translate text, scan QR codes and so on.

Of course being a Google phone meaning they call all the shots on its construction and design and runs Android, all the apps should work and I couldn’t find fault with any of mine, which is more than I can say for many others that are supposedly 100% Android.

Setup was quite painless, and I easily copies all apps, data and settings from the current Huawei P30 I am using by connecting the two together with the supplied cable. 128GB of on board storage is more than enough for most users I would imagine – and it has to be as this cannot be expanded via plug in memory (microSD), nor can you run dual SIMS by the way.

Google Assistant is embedded into the Pixel 4a of course.

Additionally, there is a headphone jack (hallelujah), fingerprint sensor, Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and GPS as would be exp[ected.

I did get almost 24 hours out of the battery though – I have seen others say they did get the full 24, but camera apps and drone controllers tend to me power hungry so I put it down to those.

The Pixel 4a is also not waterproofed and doesn’t support QI wireless charging, but for AUD$599 (Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi), it’s a very goof buy for what you do get.

Oh and it’s only available in black as Henry Ford said once.


I for one cannot ever justify paying the sky-high prices for top-of-the-range smartphones. Amounts over $1500 are not unheard of these days, and even a $2K phone barely raises a murmur anymore.

Why spend that much if slapping down $599 gets you the same functionality at the end of the day?

Who cares if it doesn’t fold in two, come in a million shades of gold leaf or red rose (or whatever it is called) and is more desired as a fashion accessory than a functional tool?

If I am spending serious money (and I still call $599 serious money), I want something that will pay for itself. And no I am not interested in long term, “plans” offered by carriers – I like owning my phone and not giving them exorbitant fees.

The Google Pixel 4a ticks all the boxes in areas that matter to me. Yes, to use it outside you do need to crank the display brightness to the full 100% and also use the “dark” theme, but it works.

So, if you need to use a camera / camcorder / mic / drone apps outside, don’t want a phone getting up to a tablet’s physical size, not spend a fortune, have guaranteed Android compatibility and 3 years updates for free, get a Google Pixel 4a phone.

Still. Simple.




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  1. Related to your comments re: Mavic Mini, I am also interested in purchasing that drone (actually the Mini 2 as it is now available), and knowing that I also needed to upgrade my smartphone, I also plan for the Google Pixel 4a. However, I have read some comments in the DJI forums with complaints of users unable to use any phones (including newer Pixel phones) with DJI software — apparently since Android 11 is not yet supported. As well, the Pixel 4a is not yet on the approved/working list of phones for their drones. Can you confirm that your Pixel 4a *is* working with your Mavic Mini, and that you are also running Android 11? Thanks!

  2. I tried the 4a but did not like it as a phone so instead went to a Samsung A71. No phone is brilliant in the sunlight, so recommend a sunshade. I am making one using my Adventurer 3 3D printer (available from Jaycar if you are interested in doing the same).

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