Google’s brand-new Pixel 4 just launched — but here’s why you should consider buying the Pixel 3a instead

The Pixel 4. Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • When Google unveiled the $US800 Pixel 4 earlier this month, it highlighted the phone’s advanced camera and motion-sensing capabilities as main selling points.
  • But the less expensive Pixel 3a, which starts at $US400, offers a similar experience – like a quality camera that can take great photos in the dark – for hundreds of dollars less.
  • The Pixel 4 does include some impressive new features, like faster facial recognition and a better camera that can capture photos of stars in the night sky. But those additions may not justify spending twice as much on a new phone.
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After an avalanche of leaks, Google finally unveiled its new flagship smartphone, the Pixel 4, earlier this month. The phone officially started shipping on October 24 and starts at $US800.

Google’s Pixel 4 brings a handful of improvements, such as a motion-sensing system that can detect when you’re near the phone to unlock it faster, and a camera that lets you adjust the highlights and shadows in real time as you’re shooting.

But if you’re in the market for a new phone and don’t want to spend $US800 or more, it’s worth looking at the $US400 Pixel 3a, a cheaper version of the Pixel that Google launched this spring. The Pixel 3a may not have all the bells and whistles that come with a premium device like the Pixel 4, but for those seeking a reliable Android phone with a great camera and good battery life, it will certainly fit the bill.

The biggest difference between the Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a is the more advanced camera on the Pixel 4.

Pixel 4. Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Google’s latest phone has a second telephoto lens with a 16-megapixel sensor in addition to the standard 12.2-megapixel camera. That additional lens gives the Pixel 4 more sophisticated zooming capabilities compared to the Pixel 3a.

Google also introduced some new camera tricks to the 4 that aren’t available on the 3a, like the ability to tweak both the highlights and shadows in real time as you’re setting up your shot and a feature that learns the faces of people you photograph most often so it can prioritise them in photos.

The Pixel 4 can also show you what photos will look like after HDR+ effects have been applied to them even before you take the shot. Night Sight on the Pixel 4 has gotten an upgrade as well that enables it to capture photos of stars in the night sky – a feat that’s usually challenging when shooting on a smartphone.

But the Pixel 3a still has a great camera.

Pixel 3a. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Like the Pixel 4, Google’s cheaper smartphone also supports features like Night Sight for taking clear photos in the dark.

The Pixel 3a lacks the secondary 16-megapixel telephoto camera found on the Pixel 4, but it does have a 12.2-megapixel main camera that’s similar to that of the pricier Pixel 3 and Pixel 4. When I tested the Pixel 3a XL’s camera alongside that of the much pricier iPhone XS Max several months ago, I found it to be just about on par with Apple’s previous-generation flagship.

How valuable those features are will depend on what you’re looking for from a smartphone. But if you aren’t a photography enthusiast and don’t care much about the extra flexibility you get when shooting with the Pixel 4, you can still expect to get a great camera with the Pixel 3a.

The Pixel 4 has Google’s new Motion Sense technology.

Pixel 4. Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Motion Sense lets you perform tasks such as switching between songs or lowering the volume of your alarm without actually touching the phone.

Since this radar-powered tech can detect when you’re nearby, the Pixel 4 also unlocks slightly faster than its cheaper sibling.

The faster face unlock is useful, but in its current state, it’s also not as secure as alternatives like Apple’s Face ID. The Pixel 4 may unlock even if someone were to hold the phone up to your face while you were sleeping, for example, although Google says a fix for this is coming soon.

The ability to unlock your phone slightly faster is Motion Sense’s best and most practical use case, but it’s not a must-have feature that drastically changes the experience of using your phone. The Pixel 3a also has a fingerprint sensor on its back unlike the Pixel 4, providing another means of unlocking your device if you choose not to use facial recognition.

The larger version of the Pixel 3a — the Pixel 3a XL — has better battery life than the Pixel 4.

Pixel 3a. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

While the Pixel 4 generally lasted for one entire day during my regular daily usage, the Pixel 3a XL would last a whole day and well into the next.

That may be because the Pixel 3a XL has a larger 3,700 mAh battery compared to the Pixel 4’s 2,800 mAh battery, but it’s important to remember that there are many factors that can impact battery life.

Overall, the extra features of the Pixel 4 may not make it worth the $US800 price tag for most people.

Pixel 3a. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The Pixel 4 also comes with other minor upgrades that will likely make the phone feel a little bit faster, like 2 GB of extra memory compared to the 3a, and a screen that refreshes at a higher rate of 90Hz under certain circumstances. The Pixel 4 also runs on a faster new processor than the Pixel 3a.

With the Pixel 4, it’s clear that Google is looking for new ways to make our phones feel more useful in an era in which most new devices come with incremental updates. But until features like Motion Sense are able to add more meaningful improvements to the way we use our mobile devices, the Pixel 3a is probably a better deal for most people.