Forget the Pixel 4 — I can't wait for the Pixel 4a

Google’s take on a “lite” Pixel 4 could be very interesting.

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We’re just one short day away from Google’s annual hardware event, and it’s expected to be a big one. Along with the Pixelbook Go, Nest Mini 2, and Pixel Buds 2, we’re also anticipating Google to formally unveil the Pixel 4 and 4 XL.

It’s always exciting when a company officially takes the wraps off of its latest gadget, but in the case of the Pixel 4 series, we already know just about everything there is to know about the two phones. We know what they look like, what kind of specs they’ll be touting, what the camera package is capable of, and more. Sure, there are bound to be a few small details that haven’t leaked quite yet, but for the most part, we know what we’re getting into.

That may take the fun out of these events for some people, but the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more excited I’ve been getting. Not necessarily for the Pixel 4 (though it does look great), but for the inevitable Pixel 4a.

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When the Pixel 3a was released in May, it sort of blew a lot of us away. While it was undoubtedly a budget version of the more premium Pixel 3, it didn’t feel like as much of a downgrade as it should have. The AMOLED display still looked great, performance was more than adequate, the software experience was exactly the same, and the rear camera was pretty much identical to its much more expensive sibling.

What were the downsides? A plastic body, no wireless charging, and an absence of proper waterproofing. That was pretty much it.

We haven’t heard anything about a Pixel 4a quite yet, but assuming Google uses the same formula that it did for the 3a, we could be in store for something really, really special.

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To understand what could be present on the Pixel 4a, let’s recap the Pixel 4’s highlights:

  • 90Hz display
  • Powerful face unlock
  • Motion Sense hand gestures
  • Dual rear cameras
  • New processor
  • More RAM

Google will obviously need to cut some corners in order to get the Pixel 4a at a reasonable price, but seeing as how the Pixel 3a shared so much DNA with the regular Pixel 3, I have to imagine the Pixel 4a does the same thing with the 4.

Going into speculation mode, the Pixel 4a is bound to retain the Pixel 4’s 16MP telephoto camera along with the primary 12MP one. A lot of mid-range Android phones are now equipped with multiple rear cameras, so it’d seem a bit silly for the 4a to debut in 2020 with a single camera once again.

If the Pixel 4a adopts the Pixel 4’s telephoto camera and 90Hz display, it’s going to be awfully hard to ignore.

Upgrades to the processor and RAM also seem to be likely for the Pixel 4a. Which processor will be used remains a mystery, but I’d fully expect to see 6GB of RAM in next year’s budget Pixel as well.

In regards to the 90Hz display, face unlock, and Motion Sense gestures, this is where things get interesting.

Face unlock and Motion Sense are both powered by Google’s Soli radar system, and the Pixel 4 is the very first phone to use the technology. We don’t know how much it costs for Google to implement such sophisticated sensors into the Pixel 4, but it would more than likely add a large cost to the 4a if it was present there, too. As cool as it would be to have Soli’s capabilities on the Pixel 4a, I’d be very surprised if Google offers them on its lower-tier phone. Plus, Google needs to keep something exclusive to its flagship to ensure it’s able to stand out from the mid-range offering.

Moving over to the possibility of the 90Hz display, this is the feature that has the potential to really make the Pixel 4a stand out. 90Hz screens are still a rarity on smartphones, with only a handful of companies making use of the technology. The increased refresh rate makes everything on your phone appear to move faster and be more fluid since everything on the display is moving at a considerably faster pace, and this would be a huge win for the Pixel 4a.

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It’s difficult to gauge how much value the “average consumer” places on 90Hz panels, but at least in my eyes, a 90Hz panel on the Pixel 4a would be a game-changer and hopefully be a big move to get other companies to follow suit. Furthermore, if Google wants the 4a to have as much in common with the 4 as possible, this seems to be a core aspect that should stick around.

From the Pixel 3a, Nokia 7.2, and Samsung’s Galaxy A series coming over to the U.S., 2019’s been an exciting year for the mid-range market. Now more than ever before, you can spend around $400 on a new Android phone and get something that looks and performs like something that costs considerably more than it actually does. The Pixel 4a has the potential to take things a step further, especially if things like the telephoto camera, more RAM, and a 90Hz display end up being present — none of which seem unlikely.

It’s always an exciting time to see Google’s latest flagship offering for a given year, but the Pixel 3a changed that. Now, I’m getting giddy over the company’s next mid-ranger. In a world where many flagships are crossing the $1000 threshold, that’s pretty exciting.

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Pixel 3a From $399 at Amazon
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