If you want to buy an US Android smartphone that has minimal out-of-the-box bloatware, a headphone jack, fingerprint sensor, great camera, and an unlockable bootloader, there is only one phone on the market that meets that criteria, the Pixel 4a. I personally desire these features on my smartphone, but manufacturers have been removing them from their flagship smartphones from sometime. I used to only buy smartphone flagships and was always excited to upgrade. I purchased the first Google Pixel XL on launch day back in 2016 and it has been the best phone I’ve ever used. I loved my Pixel XL so much I have tried to replace it twice but ended up selling the newer phones as I considered them to be inferior. My Pixel XL stopped receiving software updates from Google a while back, but I’ve been able to extend its lifespan by loading LineageOS on it.Subsequent Pixel flagships have removed several features I want on my phone or added features I did not want. The Pixel 2 series removed the headphone jack, the Pixel 3XL had an ugly notch mimicking the iPhone X, and the Pixel 4 (non-A) series does not have fingerprint sensors.It really does not make sense that the Pixel 4a, a budget offering, has more features than the Pixel 4, but this is the reality we live in. I’d like to quickly run over the things I love about this device before I start tearing into with criticism. I love that it has a headphone jack. I have no problem with wireless technology, but Bluetooth in 2020 still provides inferior sound quality when compared to a wired connection. When I’m in my car or listening to headphones, I want a wired connection for the best quality possible. Wired headphones also don’t require batteries meaning they are much more environmentally friendly and never require battery replacement.I also love that this phone has an unlockable bootloader. If you want to keep this phone past the 3 year window of software support Google offers, you can load an aftermarket ROM on your device like LineageOS. It’s also a plus if you want to root your device. Many smartphone manufacturers (Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, Motorola, to name a few) either don’t allow this or limit the functionality to certain models which I consider unacceptable. Can you imagine if you bought a computer with Windows 7 but were forbidden from loading Windows 8 or Ubuntu on it? You don’t have to imagine, that’s essentially what most smartphone manufacturers do. Google doesn’t and I appreciate that.While an unlockable bootloader is nice, I would say that most people would like to use their new phones with out-of-box software as long as possible. Google’s version of Android is the closest thing to pure/bloatware-free that you can get. There are no duplicate apps (except YouTube/YouTube Music), and almost everything can be uninstalled or disabled out of the box. Mine did come with a T-Mobile app which I saw as strange since it’s an unlocked phone, but I was able to uninstall it. This is what I like to see. Other brands such as Samsung have gone as far as to create entire duplicate app stores, calendars, mail apps, assistants, and internet browsers that are not removable from their phones. Others, like OnePlus, now put Facebook services on phones out of the box. I am glad that Google has not embraced these practices and still leaves app choice up to the owner of the phone.The camera, like on all Pixel phones, is fantastic. Great low-light performance and amazing detail, contrast, and color. No other smartphone on the market can compare with the Pixel series of phones when it comes to cameras. Both the front and rear shooters take great shots, but for reasons I’ll get to later, I hate the front camera.So what are the compromises? This thing is cheap, gross, fingerprint-attractive plastic. In all honesty, I hate all plastic. Plastic is what disposable products are made from. I don’t want a plastic phone. Make it out of aluminum, steel, glass, whatever. But plastic is not acceptable on any smartphone in 2020, even a budget one. Immediately when I took this phone out of the box I hated how it felt in my hand. It feels like a kid’s tox, reminiscent of the iPhone 5c. You may think this is being harsh on a $350 phone but the iPhone SE 2 is made from aluminum and is the same price. The aesthetic design of the phone isn't too bad, if it were made of aluminum it would be a nice looking phone, that is, if it weren't for what I'll get into next.The screen is horrible. It’s only 1080p-equivalent (my Pixel XL from 2016 is 1440p, it’s not wide enough for my taste, and rather than have a bezel on the top of the phone like on the Pixel 4, Google instead decided to embrace the hole punch-style front camera design popularized by Samsung. Whenever you look at this phone, you are going to see this camera. It sticks out like a sore thumb, a giant black mark on the screen. It’s even worse when you’re watching videos in portrait mode, as the top of the display darkens to simulate an artificial bezel. If the video you’re watching is dark then rather than seeing the beautiful perfect black scenes you can achieve with an OLED screen, you see the camera. It’s also a distraction when you’re viewing a wide photo or video in landscape mode, it’s a giant black dot on the side like a fly landed on the screen. I spend a lot of time watching videos on my phone and this is not acceptable. When in dim rooms the camera hole is also very reflective and will shine light right into your eyes, adding further distraction. The only thing I can compliment is that at least the hole is off to the side and not in the center. It’s still terrible.I’m not happy with the fingerprint sensor. It’s plastic so it feels terrible, but it also doesn’t seem to read fingerprints well. To its credit it does read quickly, much more quickly than my Pixel XL, but I find myself having to read my print three or four times just to get it to unlock. I prefer optical under-screen fingerprint sensors such as those found on the OnePlus series of phones but can accept a rear fingerprint sensor if it’s accurate and quick. The sensor on the 4a does not seem to be accurate.The battery is too small at 3140mah. There are budget Indian and Chinese phones that are packing 4000mah+ batteries into smartphones of similar size, Google is lagging behind the competition. They’ve advertised this as having “adaptive” battery optimization and while it seems to perform fairly well out of the box, how well will it perform after several major updates and a few hundred charge cycles? One of my last jobs was spent working with batteries and one of the things I learned is that when it comes to lithium-ion cells, higher capacity + lower discharge depth = longer lifespan. Even if this phone can get you through morning to night with 10-15% capacity left of a 3,140mah battery, you’ll be left with a battery lasts less long than if you had a 4000mah battery ending the day at 30% before going back on the charger. Lithium-ion cells also degrade as they’re cycled. After 100 cycles a Lithium battery can lose as much as 5%-10% of its capacity. If you start with a larger cell then that degradation will be less of an issue as age sets in. Needless to say, Google fumbled on battery size.I think this is the best new Android phone on the market, but in the same breath, I think that reflects poorly on the Android smartphone market. You might think my criticisms are harsh considering the low price of the phone, but I did not buy this phone because it was cheap. I bought it because it has the features I want. If I had the option of buying a flagship smartphone with a headphone jack, fingerprint sensor, metal/glass body, excellent camera, large battery, no hole punch, and no bloatware, I would buy that. I can’t buy a new flagship smartphone like that so this is the next closest thing. I’m not even asking for luxury features like wireless charging. Basically, I feel no guilt in being critical towards the device’s flaws because my desires as a consumer are not being met by the companies I’m purchasing from. I would recommend this device if you need the features it has.
Great phone if you just want the basics to do everyday tasks (e-mail, social media, selfies, take pictures of random stuff, Youtube, streaming video, online shopping, etc) without the bells and whistles.$350 is an excellent price for what it can do especially if you're on a budget.Unlike a premium $800+ phone it does NOT have1. Water, Dust Resistance. Have that bag of rice handy just in case, and don't kick it around constantly in dry dirt/sand2. Active Edge. Unlike the past few pixel phones, cannot squeeze phone for Google Assistant3. Facial recognition. Has a very responsive fingerprint reader on back.4. 4K screen. Has 1080p OLED display, 60hz refresh. If your eyes are used to 4k screens with high refresh rate then this may feel like a downgrade, if not, it's manageable. Able to multi-task without any lag (unless your eyes are trained to do so)5. Wireless charging. Wired fast charging only.6. Aluminum or glass body: Phone exterior has a uni-body plastic design. Sturdy and fingerprint resistant7. Support 5G. There is a 5g model coming soon (as of this review)--What it does have/list of features:Excellent camera: Single camera front and back (12MP). No wide angle. excellent post processing software. One of the best cameras on the market (as of this review) even when compared to $1000+ phones especially in astro photography. Front camera is a whole punch design instead of integrated into a bezel.Great Battery life: 10 hour screen on time. Can last 1 to 1.5 days depending on usageIt does have headphone jack for those who still use wired headphonesStereo speakers are basic. Able to hear others through speaker phone. Decent bass if you want to listen to music without headphones128gb storageE-sim option. No need for physical sim if you don't want to use itHas live Caption mode (basically subtitles for your phone for media and phone calls), and Now Playing (tells you what music is playing without going into an app)Has 3 year software and security updates. No bloutwear on phoneOverall, excellent price for what you get especially when you want the phone to do basic everyday tasks