As great as the OnePlus 9 is, I keep finding myself going back to the Pixel 4a.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the latest value flagship from OnePlus when I got to write our OnePlus 9 review. I liked it so much that I dubbed it „Android’s new value flagship champ,“ and I’ve been using it continuously to this day. Even though many would argue that the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE still holds that crown, there’s no denying that the OnePlus 9 is a better option than previous OnePlus devices like the 8 or 8T.
I praised the 9’s Hasselblad-tuned cameras, its beautiful 120Hz AMOLED display, and its improved haptics, and even though I was a little let down by the color options in the U.S., I was suitably impressed with the availability of cases that can add a little flair and protection to the device.
But as much fun as I’ve been having with the OnePlus 9, I have to admit that I’ve been giving a couple of my other devices some serious side-eye of late, most notably the Google Pixel 4a. You probably think I’m crazy for wanting to „downgrade“ from a premium $700+ phone for a lower-end budget phone at half the price. Maybe you’re right, but I do have my reasons.
As a longtime iPhone user (I still have and often use an iPhone 12 mini), I appreciate things like simple software and first-party extras and exclusives. Still, I also just really prefer the option of a smaller form factor. I thought I could get past this hangup of mine after using an arguably superior device in the OnePlus 9, but I just don’t think that I can shake this feeling any longer. The more time I spend with the larger phone (particularly in the hefty tank-like Spigen Tough Armor case that I’m currently rocking), the more it feels like a brick to me.
I don’t game (like, at all), and I don’t really watch videos or video chat on my phone, so I have found that I don’t actually gain that much from having a larger or technologically superior screen in my hands. For those activities, I much prefer to use my Chromebook or desktop. With phones, I value portability, being able to use them one-handed, and pocketability (yes, even with the massive pockets of my dad jeans).
I regularly use Pixel-exclusive or Pixel-first features on the 4a like Google’s Personal Safety app to let my wife know where I am when I’m on a long hike and to alert her and authorities in the event I get into an unfortunate automobile accident. My big fingers are always making mistakes while typing, so I’ve enjoyed the new Smart Reply enhancements to the Pixel’s keyboard, and I always appreciate getting the jump on new Google Photos, Google Assistant, and camera features.
Wireless charging and an official IP rating aren’t worth spending twice the price of a Pixel 4a, at least for my needs.
Really, there are only two things that I wish the Pixel 4a had that larger flagship and value flagship phones have — official IP ratings (which technically my OP9 doesn’t have) and wireless charging. The IP ratings I like for when I’m out running or hiking and don’t want to ruin my phone with excessive flop sweat or a random rain shower, though to be honest, I usually put my phones in a protective running armband during these times anyway.
I don’t really miss the wireless charging, although it is nice to have at night when I’m too tired or groggy to fiddle with a cord. But I’ve found the battery on the 4a holds up well, and I can top it up quickly enough with a good 18W charger.
And finally, let’s not gloss over the most obvious benefit of the Pixel 4a — its price. I appreciate being able to get a good phone without spending an arm and a leg, and it’s clear to me that the 4a is the best cheap Android phone that you can buy right now.
I still love me some OnePlus, and I’m sure that I’ll go back to my 9 now and again, but what I’d really love to see is the return of a next-generation OnePlus X, especially if it was close(r) to that original form factor.
One thing’s for sure — if the rumors of a larger Pixel 5a are true, I’ll have some tough decisions to make regarding my next upgrade. But since the 4a will get major platform updates through 2023 and security patches through 2024, I might just be spared that painful decision for another year.
What do you think? Am I crazy to want to go back to the Pixel 4a? Has the Pixel 4a ruined me for bigger, fancier phones?
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