Chuck Carroll

A Brief Review of the (small-ish) Pixel4a

Published: 2023-09-07
Updated: 2023-09-12

I recently wrote about my foray into trying to repair my Pixel 2 XL, which resulted in destroying the display which then led to me picking up a used OnePlus Nord N200 off of eBay. The N200 is mostly adequate, but the screen is way too big and the camera take awful grainy photos. I recently took a month-long trip to SE Asia and prior to leaving I decided to pick up a used Google Pixel 4a (released in August 2020) so that I could take slightly better photos during my travels. My trip was only a month long, so I figured I could just return the phone if it didn't perform to my expectations.

Quarter for scale

One of my requirements for any smartphone is an unlockable bootloader (and naturally LineageOS support), and the ability to get root. Flashing LineageOS is the easiest way to strip away all of the Google apps and services that I never use. That being said, the LineageOS camera app leaves a lot to be desire. Although the images are better quality than the N200, the ones I took with the Pixel 4a was only marginally better. I later figured out that this is primarily due to the LineageOS camera app lacking proprietary post processing. I also noticed that while using it in hotter environments like in Viet Nam, the image would get blurry in the bottom left corner of the image, later attributing this to a focusing problem. I later learned that installing microG Core helped resolve some of the focusing issues.

One of the features I immediately fell in love with was the smaller screensize of the Pixel 4a. At 5.8" it feels far less bulky and clumsy than the 6.5" screen on the N200 and even the Pixel 2 XL. I also appreciate the 4a's AMOLED display more than the N200's LCD screen. I do, however, wish the screen was a bit smaller still.

A headphone jack is another requirement. Both the N200 and Pixel 4a have headphone jacks, but it's exceptionally rare these days to find any phone with a headphone jack. Admittedly, I do use Bluetooth headphones about 30-40% of the time, but in my experience, Bluetooth can be frustrating despite the technology being 20 years old. Yes it's nice not having to deal with wires, but having to charge one more thing, the ocassional signal drop, and worse sound quality, I still much prefer wired headphones. Call me old fashioned.

A drawback to the Pixel 4a is the lack of an SD card. When I got the OnePlus Nord N200, I was really stoked to be able to have a removable memory card again. Installing a 256gb micro SD card meant that I can back up literally everything that's important to me such as my music collection, personal photos, documents, audiobooks, and ebooks with space leftover. Although the 128gb flash storage on the 4a is sufficient, I do have to watch how much content I fill it up with, I don't consider it a "backup" of anything other than my Documents folder.

The Pixel 4a does not have support for 5G bands which, to me, is no problem at all. When I was using the N200 as my daily device, I switched off the 5G bands to get improve the battery life. Since my phone is very much dumbed down "smart" phone, I seldom use data on my phone even when I'm on WiFi.

Towards the end of my trip I decided to keep the Pixel 4a and use it as my daily phone. It's certainly not the perfect phone - I wish the camera was on par with the Pixel 2 XL and that it had a micro SD card slot, but it checks almost all of my boxes. The perfect smartphone would be no smartphone at all, but my dream phone would be a 5.8" e-ink display with a decent camera, headphone jack, micro SD card slot, and unlockable bootloader with root access. One can dream.

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