The Pixel 5a is an excellent budget phone from Google, but for folks who already own the Pixel 4a or 4a 5G, is it really worth upgrading to? That’s a question that often pops up with the new generation of any smartphone. A new phone typically means a better display, faster processor, improved cameras, etc. These year-over-year improvements are sometimes worth the upgrade, but other times, it’s not enough for owners of the previous generation to shell out their hard-earned cash.
Looking back on the Pixel 4a series from 2020, Google crafted two powerful budget handsets. The baseline Pixel 4a and its $349 price are still a force to be reckoned with. It’s built well, has a compact design, takes great photos, and the price tag is tough to argue with. The $499 Pixel 4a 5G lacks the Pixel 4a’s dirt cheap luster, but it makes up for that with a faster chip, bigger battery, and additional rear camera. For 2021, Google’s ditched the two-model strategy and instead launched the singular Pixel 5a. For anyone with a 4a handset and wondering whether or not they need to upgrade, here’s a look at how all three phones compare.
From a design standpoint, the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, and Pixel 5a are all very similar — at least on the surface. All three phones have a plasticky backside, square camera bump, and a hole-punch cutout in the display. Compared to its 4a siblings, the Pixel 5a has a few hidden tricks. Where the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G have a polycarbonate construction, the Pixel 5a features a metal unibody. It has a soft-touch coating that makes it feel like plastic, but underneath that is a much more durable frame. The glass covering the Pixel 5a’s display is also a more durable Gorilla Glass 6, compared to the Gorilla Glass 3 used on the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G. Perhaps even more important than all of that — the Pixel 5a is the only one of the three handsets with an IP67 dust/water resistance rating. Compared to its 4a siblings, which aren’t officially protected against any water contact, Google says the Pixel 5a can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes at a time. Outside of that, the rest of the hardware is identical. Across all three phones is a 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo speakers, and rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.
In regards to its display, the Pixel 5a doesn’t introduce anything new. Present is an OLED screen, 2400 x 1080 resolution, and a pixel density of 413 ppi. Since all three of the Pixels have FHD+ OLED displays, the viewing experience is mostly identical on either one. What it really comes down to is display size. The Pixel 4a is the smallest of the bunch at just 5.81-inches, the Pixel 4a 5G is quite a bit larger at 6.2-inches, and the Pixel 5a is the largest of the trio with a 6.34-inch canvas. Something else that’s shared is the camera system. The three phones have the same 12.2MP primary camera, while the Pixel 5a and 4a 5G also use the same 16MP ultra-wide sensor. The selfie camera is no different, with the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, and 5a using an 8MP lens. That means all three phones take gorgeous pictures in various settings, but the Pixel 5a isn’t doing anything drastically different that hasn’t been seen with its predecessors.
Taking a look under the hood, the similarities keep coming. The Pixel 4a is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. The Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a have a more capable Snapdragon 765G chipset but retain identical amounts of RAM and storage. This means the Pixel 4a is limited to LTE networks, whereas the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a support sub-6 5G. The three handsets are also equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. There’s just one internal upgrade exclusive to the Pixel 5a, and that’s its battery. With 3,140 mAh and 3,885 mAh batteries, respectively, the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G have become well-known for delivering long endurance. The Pixel 5a takes that winning battery life and improves upon it substantially, shipping with a massive 4,680 mAh cell.
So, does any of this make the Pixel 5a worth upgrading to? For someone with a normal Pixel 4a, the answer could be yes. The Pixel 5a has a snappier processor, larger display, more rugged design, that 16MP ultra-wide camera, and a much bigger battery. The Pixel 4a is still an excellent device for anyone happy with it, but if the 5a looks like a compelling upgrade, there’s no reason not to recommend it. However, if someone has a Pixel 4a 5G, it’s probably best to wait for the eventual Pixel 6a. The IP67 rating and larger battery are both nice upgrades, but the rest of the 5a is pretty much identical. The IP rating could be enough on its own for someone who’s constantly by the pool or beach, but for all other 4a 5G owners, there’s no reason to upgrade.