Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

In late 2020, I was finally able to get my hands on two of Google’s latest Pixel phones, of which I have long been a fan. The only difference between the previous Pixel phones I have used and the latest 4a and 5 was a little less “oomph” in their processors.

The bump down in processing power might be a dealbreaker for some, but is the previously stronger snapdragon processor worth the additional $400 to $500 price point?

Worth noting: As I stated in previous Pixel reviews over the past two years, it is important to note that the Google Pixel phones also have an amazing potential to connect with the vast Google Fi network, a phone service plan offered by Google.

(RELATED: Native Nerd Review: The Google Fi Smartphone Network - A GREAT cell plan option)

Google Fi has the permissions to leapfrog from network to network so I decided to put Google Fi to the test during a unique personal situation. I had to drive cross country to care for my father. In my travels, in which I used two phones, one on another major network and my Pixel on Google Fi. I used one phone for Google Maps driving navigation and the other for phone calls. I constantly had to battle with the other network. And though Google Fi jumped from 4G to 3G on my travels, the service only dropped one time when going through the desert.

Overall, the phone using the Google Fi was actually a superior service in outlying areas, thus the network gets a major thumbs up from me in regards to connecting to service when traveling in rural areas. Which is, of course, a superior option for those in the rural areas of Indian Country.

My first impressions of the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5

After receiving the Pixel phones from Google, I was automatically impressed by the look and feel of both phones. And looking at the phones, I really couldn’t see why the Pixel 4a would be less expensive, especially since the device is bigger than the 5.

Look and feel: Polycarbonate vs. Aluminum

Via the descriptions of the phones, the 4a is less expensive due to the plastic housing. But I can’t even tell a difference between the 4a and 5. The 4a is a little bigger than the 5, but it costs less. Specifically, the 4a has a “soft touch polycarbonate unibody” and the 5 has a “100 percent recycled aluminum encasing.”

Pixels

Processor and memory

The processor change doesn’t translate as far as I could tell in the use of the phone, other than an occasional lapse of time in pulling up text messages (less than a second) or when switching to another app. If you are a techy, the 5 has a bit more memory and processing power with 8 GB LPDDR4x RAM, and the 4a has 6 GB LPDDR4x RAM. They both use the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 765G with Octa-Core processor. Memory or RAM usage is employed when you are using a lot of apps and separate processes need to be utilized.

Think of your phone like a deck of cards. The processor is the card dealer and the better the processor, the better the experience of the dealer. Storage is synonymous to how many cards you have in the deck, and the RAM is the ability to find the Ace of Spades. I once used this analogy with an IT guy and he said he was going to use that example when explaining to clients.

In my usage of the two Pixel devices over the past two months, the additional bump really wasn’t discernable other than the occasional pause before texting or while switching to another app with the 4a.

Cameras

Both phones reportedly have the same cameras. But I did notice a difference in photo quality, most evident in low light. Both front cameras are 8 megapixels and the rear cameras are 12.2 megapixels.

The low-light camera quality of the 4a was the only big difference in the front-facing cameras, but other than ensuring you have a good source of light, the Pixel phones outshine the competition of nearly any phone I have used. I once used my Pixel 4XL to cover a pow wow and was incredibly impressed with the results.

One great effect is the soft background in portrait mode which creates a magazine-style photo. The camera makes the adjustments after the photo is taken but it is magical to me in the way it makes the background out-of-focus as if there was a professional adjustment to the lens’ aperture.

(RELATED: #NativeNerd Review: Covering a powwow with a Pixel 4 XL)

But something magical has happened since the 4XL. The video features on the newest Pixel phones have blown me away. Such capture techniques as Motion Autofocus, Cinematic Pan and more is paving the way for a literal ability to film full feature documentaries on a Pixel smartphone. I can’t believe how far the video technology of phones have come in just a few years.

Phone size: less is more, literally in terms of the money you will spend

The Pixel 5’s screen measures at a diagonal 6.0 inches and the 4a measures at 6.2 inches. There are a few additional add-ons with the 5 in that is also has fast wireless charging (the 4a does not) and battery share, meaning the 5 can help to charge another person’s phone wirelessly.

But other than that, I can’t see any real difference in the phones. So at $449 for the 4a and $699 for the 5a, I’d have to opt for the 4a price wise and for the little bit of additional screen size. But wanting the larger screen size for me, is a personal preference.

The Pixel 5 is on the left (6.0 inch screen) and the Pixel 4a with 5G is on the right (6.2 inch screen.)

Pixels size

Is a headphone jack necessary?

The Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a do differ in a few small ways. The 5 is absent a headphone jack.

I know Google’s idea is that people will most likely connect to Bluetooth-enabled headphones, but I like having the option of hardwired headphones on occasion.

With the Pixel 5, instead of having a charging port and a headphone jack, the Pixel 5 combines the two. As I have said previously, I get that the world is full of Bluetooth-enabled headphones, but I have a pair of wired Bose earbuds I received as a gift, that are my sincere favorites. They have the standard headphone connector.

I have a minimal battery charge on my phone and I want to listen to music while resting on the couch, it is nice to have the option of listening to music or watching a movie while charging my phone.

I chalk this up to personal choice. Pixel 4a has a headphone jack, the Pixel 5 does not.

The best fingerprint sensor on the market

When Google introduced the Pixel 4XL, I was truly disappointed to see that they had removed the fingerprint sensor. If you are unfamiliar, the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, centrally located just below the camera, is one of the phones biggest perks.

The fingerprint sensor, just below the square cameras on the back of the phones, are amazingly accurate and fast.

When you initially set up the phone, the Pixel asks you to set up biometrics (physical attributes that you and you alone have like fingerprints) which is a way to unlock your phone. In my opinion, it is the best in any phone. The Pixel 4 XL used facial recognition and if you wanted to look at your phone in the dark on check a text message when the phone was lying on the end table, you had to move the phone back and forth a few times to get it to recognize your face. It was a bit cumbersome and I eventually just opted to type in my PIN number.

With the fingerprint sensor, it is literally immediate. You can also opt to use your fingerprint to pen apps in lieu of a fingerprint. A feature I love and truthfully have come to rely on. In this sense, the Pixel phones are unparalleled.

Other great features

Google has a great feature that recognizes phone calls. Using a screening feature, Google can potentially ask the caller who they are through a screening process. The process makes use of ways to block spam calls and more.

I block several calls a day with this feature. I appreciate it.

The 5G is pretty fast. I disabled my wifi on several occasions and couldn’t ever really tell when it was off or on. I think phone service providers have a right to promote it as a great feature. I appreciated it.

The battery lasts all day with heavy usage. Very few battery bummers with the Pixel phones.

Native Nerd

For a few more technical specs check :

So which is my favorite?

Pricewise, the 4a with 5G takes the affordability prize. But if I had to choose overall, I am going with the 5 even though the phone is a bit smaller and doesn’t have a headphone jack.

The tiniest oomph in the camera is a key feature for me and that is my choice.

But in terms of affordability, access to all the features and more, the Pixel 4a with 5G, paired with the Google Fi network, really may be the best bet in terms of the biggest bang for your buck, especially when it comes to some of the rural areas in Indian Country.

Native Nerd Phone

Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indincountrytoday.com.

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