Google’s next big challenge to Apple and Samsung is a new $350 Pixel phone that has the Pixel 4’s best camera features

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Google’s Pixel 4a Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
  • Google has announced a new $US350 smartphone called the Pixel 4a that costs hundreds of dollars less than its $US800 Pixel 4.
  • The Pixel 4a comes with a 12.2-megapixel camera that offers many of the same features as the Pixel 4.
  • It’s another sign that tech giants like Google are launching less expensive devices to encourage upgrades.
  • Apple and Samsung, for example, have focused more closely on budget smartphones in recent months as well.
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Google is launching a new $US350 phone called the Pixel 4a that comes with some of the Pixel 4’s standout features – like the ability to capture photos of the night sky – for hundreds of dollars less.

It’s another sign that tech giants like Google, Apple, and Samsung are launching cheaper devices to combat slowing smartphone sales and encourage upgrades. With a starting price of $US350, the Pixel 4a also slightly undercuts Apple’s $US400 iPhone SE, which the tech giant launched in April.

Like last year’s Pixel 3a, the Pixel 4a is low-cost alternative to Google’s current flagship Pixel phone. The new model, which launches on August 20, comes with a 12.2-megapixel camera capable of supporting features like portrait mode and night sight – the feature that makes it possible to take clearer photos in the dark.

The Pixel 4a’s camera can also capture photos of stars in the night sky since it has the same astrophotography feature as the Pixel 4, a capability that works by snapping 15 photos at different exposures with a 16-second shutter speed.

The biggest difference between the Pixel 4a’s camera and that of the $US800 Pixel 4 is the latter’s dual camera setup. In addition to a 12.2-megapixel sensor, the more expensive Pixel 4 also has a 16-megapixel rear camera.

Google is also launching two more Pixel phones later this year: a 5G version of the Pixel 4a that starts at $US500 as well as a completely new version of its Pixel phone called the Pixel 5. The company didn’t share any details about these devices other than to say that they will both support 5G connectivity and become available in the coming months.

The Pixel 4a’s design is also slightly different than that of the Pixel 4; the device has a 5.8-inch OLED screen with a single hole punch-shaped cutout for the front-facing camera. The Pixel 4, by comparison, has a slightly smaller 5.7-inch screen that’s framed by a thicker border, while the larger Pixel 4 XL comes in a 6.3-inch size.

But the Pixel 4a is made of a polycarbonate material that feels less premium than the Pixel 4’s aluminium design.

The phone runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 730G processor – a chip made for cheaper smartphones that’s optimised for gaming performance – while the Pixel 4 runs on Qualcomm’s more powerful Snapdragon 855.

Since it’s a Pixel phone, the Pixel 4a also comes with Google features like Live Caption for captioning media and the company’s Personal Safety app. It also supports the newer, faster version of the Google Assistant that the search giant announced in 2019.

The launch comes as the market for cheaper smartphones has become increasingly competitive, reversing the trend of rising prices that has dominated the industry in recent years. While smaller companies like OnePlus have been launching more affordable devices for years, Google made headlines in 2019 for being one of the few industry giants to debut a version of its flagship phone that was hundreds of dollars cheaper than many competitors with the Pixel 3a.

Apple, meanwhile, launched a $US400 iPhone in April called the iPhone SE, which features a design similar to that of the iPhone 8 with the same chip that powers the iPhone 11 lineup. It marked the first time Apple had launched a phone in its budget SE line since 2016, and it’s a bet that’s already paying off for the company. Apple’s iPhone revenue grew year-over-year in its fiscal third-quarter of 2020 after facing several quarters of decline, an accomplishment that Apple partially attributed to the success of its smaller, cheaper iPhone model.

Samsung has been offering more budget-friendly smartphones for years, but it only recently began selling some of those models in the United States. Earlier this year, for example, it announced that it would start selling its Galaxy A series devices in the US, a lineup that includes devices that come as cheap as about $US100.

Google, however, only accounts for a sliver of the smartphone market compared to Apple and Samsung. The latest research from The International Data Corporation shows that Samsung and Apple placed in second and third respectively in the second quarter of 2020 when it comes to global smartphone shipments, landing just behind Chinese tech giant Huawei. Google, meanwhile, wasn’t noted in the report and has been lumped into the IDC’s “Others” category.

The aggressively priced Pixel 4a could be an effort by Google to grab a bigger slice of the market, particularly as spending habits are changing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The debut of the Pixel 4a is another signal that smartphones are becoming cheaper after years of skyrocketing prices. Data also suggest there’s interest in cheaper phones; a study from NPD Group published in late 2019, for example, suggested that less than 10% of consumers are spending more than $US1,000 on new smartphones.

If you need further evidence that people are willing to compromise on certain features and technologies to save money when it comes to smartphones, market research firm Omdia reported that Apple’s $US600 iPhone XR from 2018 was the top-selling phone of 2019 – not the flashy new $US1,000 iPhone 11 Pro.

The Pixel 4a is another move by Google to stay ahead of this trend, as its priced even more competitively than the iPhone SE and last year’s Pixel 3a.