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Pixel 4a: Release date, leaks and what we’d like to see from Google’s next affordable phone

A boatload of flagship smartphones were released in 2019, but one of our favourite handsets of the year was actually a mid-ranger. The Google Pixel 3a was more memorable than most flagships, mainly because it offers the Pixel 3’s exceptional camera at a far more affordable price point. 

A multitude of Pixel 4a leaks have emerged over recent months, giving us a clearer picture of the handset. Read on for a breakdown of what we’re expecting (and a flavour of what we’d like to see) from the phone.

The Pixel 4a at a glance

  • May launch expected
  • Likely to cost between £400 and £500
  • Unclear if there will be a 5G model

Pixel 4a release date

We had been expecting Google to launch the Pixel 4a range in May 2020. That’s because most smartphone makers work to a 12-month refresh cycle, and the Pixel 3a and 3a XL came out in, you guessed it, May 2019.

However, the Pixel 3a launched at Google I/O 2019, the search giant’s annual conference for developers. This year’s version of the event, Google I/O 2020, has been cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

The Google I/O 2020 opening keynote had been set to take place on May 12, at the Shoreline Amphitheater at the company’s Mountain View HQ. Those plans have now been scrapped.

Initially, Google had said it planned to move this year’s show online, due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus, but in March it decided against holding the event at all. The change of heart came as the crisis deepened, and Google says it has no plans to reschedule at all in 2020.

But that’s not the only coronavirus-related news regarding the Pixel 4a. Google has reportedly also decided to shift Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 production from factories in China to factories in Vietnam, because of the virus.

All of which means there’s now a huge question mark hanging over the handset’s launch.

On March 31 though, Google dropped the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones from its online store. The Pixel 3 range, which launched in October 2018, is no longer available to purchase from the official Google Store, with the company currently only offering the Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a among its homegrown hardware.

The timing appears to be very particular, with the decision mirroring the 18-month timeframe Google kept the Pixel 2 phones on sale for.

Related: Android 11 features

pixel 4a

Image Credit: @evleaks/Twitter

Pixel 4a price

As mentioned above, we loved the Pixel 3a, and it was a runaway success for Google too. It launched with an RRP of £399, with the Pixel 3a XL costing £469 − roughly half as much as the Pixel 3 (£739) and Pixel 3 XL (£869), which didn’t sell particularly well.

In its Q2 2019 earnings call on July 25, just three months after the launch of the Pixel 3a range, Google revealed that the 3a and 3a XL had already more than doubled sales of its handsets year-on-year. Doubled. In just three months.

And it looks like a lot will be riding on the Pixel 4a too. The Google Pixel 4 and Google Pixel 4 XL, to put it bluntly, were hugely disappointing, and comments made during Alphabet’s Q4 2019 earnings call suggested that the Pixel 4 range might be even less popular than the Pixel 3 range.

All of which could mean that when the Pixel 4a arrives, it might be under pressure to rescue the Pixel brand all over again.

The Pixel 3a is still one of the best mid-range phones on the market right now, and the reliable tipster Evan Blass appears to have got his hands on materials that confirm the Pixel 4a will start at $399. He tweeted the mockup image above that claims the 4a will cost the same amount as the 3a

While that isn’t a real billboard, we’re hoping that price reveal is legitimate.

Pixel 4a specs and features

Incredibly, the phone was apparently already available for purchase in a Cuban store as early as March. That apparently allowed Spanish language blog TechnoLike Plus to post a hands-on video review that claims to reveal all of the Pixel 4a’s key specs and features.

The top-line information is that a Snapdragon 730 processor will be doing the heavy lifting, combined with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that unfortunately cannot be boosted by an external microSD card. The site gets the info by running a benchmarking test, which also reveals a 3080mAh battery.

Courtesy of the video, we’ve also got all of the information we need about the display. The site says it’s a 5.81-inch 1080 x 2340 panel, with a 60Hz refresh rate, and a 443ppi pixel density.

The video also shows a USB-C port, a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner and the retention of the headphone jack on top of the device, just like the Pixel 3a.

pixel 4a leak

Image: Slashleaks

In January, XDA Developers uncovered a trio of codenames in Android Open Source Project: Sunfish, Redfin and Bramble. These are thought to refer to different models in the Pixel 4a series, and they were listed alongside with the SoC platforms they’re based on.

Sunfish, it appears, will run the mid-range Snapdragon 730, while Redfin and Bramble will reportedly use the the Snapdragon 765, Qualcomm’s first mid-range processor with an integrated 5G modem.

This has caused some confusion, with some taking that as a hint that there could be 4G and 5G versions of the Pixel 4a, and others believing that Redfin and Bramble actually refer to the Pixel 5. If this was the case, the Pixel 5 would have a comparable level of performance to the Pixel 4a.

pixel 4a leak

Image: Slashleaks

In March, two purported real-life pictures of a Pixel 4a handset were published on Slashleaks.

They tally up very neatly with all of the rumours above, and a series of renders created by a digital artist known as Concept Creator, for Dutch tech site LetsGoDigital. Those, however, are essentially rumours in picture form.

There’s a video too, which shows what the handset could look like in different colours, including black, white, orange, purple and blue. We’ve embedded it right at the bottom of this page.

Visible in some reports is a single rear camera, albeit one housed in a raised square section like its siblings (more on this in the following section).

The single camera on the front, meanwhile, is now a hole-punch style snapper tucked away in the top left-hand corner of the screen, disposing of the forehead bezel that was present on the 4.

According to XDA Developers, the Pixel 4a could use UFS 2.1 flash storage, which should allow for better power efficiency, faster file transfers, and speedier app loading and installation speeds, in comparison to the Pixel 3a.

Related: Best camera phones

Google pixel 4a

Image Credit: @OnLeaks/91Mobiles

Pixel 4a camera

As mentioned above, the best thing about the Pixel 3a is that it uses pretty much the same camera setup as the flagship Pixel 3. However, this won’t be the case this time around.

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are the first ever Pixel phones to feature more than one rear camera sensor, and it’s probably not feasible for Google to equip the mid-range 4a with such a high-end − and likely pricey − camera setup too.

Multiple leaks have shown that the Pixel 4a will have a single rear camera, rather than adopting the multi-sensor setup seen on the Pixel 4.

But don’t be too disheartened. That more modest camera configuration could still be capable of smoking most of the competition. After all, much of what makes Google’s cameras so impressive is on the processing, rather than the actual hardware.

That TechnoLike Plus video embedded further up the page shows a large plastic camera bump that only contains a single 12-megapixel lens and flash combo. But the site has high praise for it.

XDA Developers discovered code in the Google Camera 7.3 update that mentions “pixel_20_mid_range” and suggests the Pixel 4a will give users the option to shoot video at 24fps − which is the traditional standard for films and TV shows.

pixel 4a render

Things we’d like to see from the Pixel 4a

Obviously it isn’t realistic to ask for the world in a mid-range smartphone, but there are a few potential areas of improvement we’d like Google to address with the Pixel 4a.

First and foremost, we’d like to see more choice − or at least the addition of a microSD card slot. The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL both come with 64GB of internal storage, with no option to expand that. It would be great if this changed with the 4a.

We’d also love to see the arrival of wireless charging and some form of waterproofing, for added convenience.

Beyond these things, however, it would be great to see Google stick to pretty much the same formula. More Pixel 4a leaks are bound to emerge over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll keep updating this page with the biggest news.

Here’s the video that we promised earlier:

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