My Impressions of The Pixel 4a

I’ve received my new Pixel 4a a Friday before last and after a week I can say this with confidence: this is the best smartphone Google ever made. I also hope it will be the last phone I buy from Google.

If you want to read more about the Pixel4a, There are plenty reviews on the web, both written and videos (here’s a recent in-depth one arstechnica, and a quick visual one from the Verge). Instead, here I’m going to focus on why I find this phone so good.

Hardware: The Phone

Let’s start from the obvious: the price. At $350, Google is back where I think it has always been best: supplying top tech at a price that doesn’t twists people arms. At hard times like this, with folks losing their jobs, this is a welcome change from the $800 plust flagships.

The Pixel 4a is not a statement of class like the iPhone, and it’s far from delivering the latest and greatest. That’s fine, because you don’t need the latest and greatest, you just need a damn smartphone. The iPhone 8 Plus, which I have for work, still sells for about $500 today1.

The iPhone 8 Plus has always been too big and too heavy for me, yet somehow the screen on it is smaller than the one on the Pixel 4a. This makes a big difference for me. The Pixel doesn’t fall out of my hand when I pick it up like the iPhone 8 plus does. I can reach the corners of the screen without doing crazy hands acrobatics. It doesn’t stick out of my pocket for everyone on the street to see. It fits nicely into my pouch when I go for a run. These may look like insignificant details, but the overall experience is liberating.

As a bonus, the pixel comes with an earphone jack. I can carry my flac files with me on the phone and listen to my higher-end earphones at the office now, especially since the phone has twice the space than my old Pixel2. The Bluetooth headphones are good for meetings and streaming music, but if I want to get lost in some good stuff, I need an audio cable2. It’s also nice to plug in my good set and charge my phone at the same time when I’m at my computer.

{{< rawhtml >}} <figcaption>iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel 4a side by side</figcaption> {{< / rawhtml >}}

…And That’s it. Yes, I know the Pixel 4a is all about the camera, the better battery life, lack of better water resistance, Android sucks/rules, whatever. Doesn’t matter to me. One more thing. While I don’t particularly care about looks, the Pixel looks good. The edge-to-edge screen without bezels, the crisp image, the fabric cases to match, it puts the iPhone in perspective.

The software (Android)

Android 10 is part of what makes the pixel 4a so great. I used to marvel at Google’s utilitarian vanilla Android and scoffed at anything that wasn’t pure android experience. Now, after a couple of years in IT working with Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and of course Linux, I’m moving forward. Or perhaps (depends on your view) backward.

It’s called GrapheneOS. A mobile OS that is meant to strip the Pixel out of what makes it Google. One of a kind mobile OS, built on top of Android, meant for privacy and security geeks who want a smartphone that doesn’t call back to the mothership. I want to wipe this phone clean and see if I can live without Google on me all the time.

But I’m cheating. I still have my iPhone. I’ve decided that all the apps that need to “spy” on me can be on my work phone. Bank app? I don’t mind if my job, which pays my salary, sees my bank statements. Google Maps? If I travel, I can’t leave work completely behind anyway. Phone calls? I barely call people anymore and most of my contacts are on iPhone, so I don’t mind using Facetime. Everything truly personal however will live on the Pixel: my org notes in Orgzly, my contacts on Signal3, my media, passwords, etc.

Right now, this is mostly a challenge I want to take. I still have my old Pixel 2, and I’m planning to use it first as a “demo” version to see how this works out - or fails. By the time I’m done I believe GrapheneOS will already have a working Pixel 4a version.

Why? Well, why not? This blog is called the art of not asking why, after all.


  1. This price came up for a refurbished iPhone 8+ on Apple’s website. ↩︎

  2. Interestingly, I find that I don’t need my amplifier when I connect directly to the jack. With the USB-C dangle, which looks horrible and prevents me from charging the phone at the same time (so it slowly runs out of juice), I need to use an AMP as well. So imaging this: heavy audio cable from the headset, into the adapter, into the AMP, into the phone. I want to say there’s a slight difference in sound quality without the amp, but I don’t have a professional-grade headset to detect that sort of thing. ↩︎

  3. This will be tricky since Signal is not exactly open source, but I’m aware there’s a way to install the APK anyway. Actually, Signal puts out their APK directly on the website. ↩︎