The Pixel 4a has it goin' on. It's affordable, its camera is truly outstanding, and it's got great battery life for a small phone. But Pixels come with another key perk: long software support is part and parcel of Google phones, even the less expensive ones. The 4a is going to have incredible staying power for its price point.
As phones get more expensive, people are keeping them longer — about three years on average. Having an up-to-date device is about more than the latest cool features (which people who upgrade infrequently likely don't care much about anyway). Phones that go un-updated are more vulnerable to security risks, which people using older devices may not be savvy enough to mitigate. Going without patches increases the likelihood of all manner of phone-related headaches, from minor annoyances to major issues.
Google promises at least three years of OS and security updates with the Pixel 4a. That's not just posturing, either — the company has a great track record of keeping its devices up to date. The first-generation Pixel, released in October 2016, actually got what ended up being its final update in December 2019, two months after its official end-of-life date. The Pixel 2, released in 2017 and rapidly approaching its own EOL date, is set to get the stable version of Android 11 when it lands this fall.
The 4a guarantees longer software support than any other Android phone currently on the market.
The $349 Pixel 4a will stay current and secure until at least late 2023, which is practically unheard of at this price point. Samsung recently committed to OS updates for "up to 3 generations," but that phrasing has plenty of wiggle room; grammatically, it's more of a ceiling than a floor. And you can bet the high end is reserved for painfully expensive devices like the Note20 line — phones that, based on recent trends, probably won't sell very well. In its first seven weeks on the market, the S20 family failed to sell even half as many units as the S10 series had by the same time. Given the current economic environment, people by and large just aren't as down as they once were with spending more on a new phone than on this month's rent. The Pixel 4a is eminently more accessible than the upper echelon of what Samsung offers, and it'll stay up to date just as long — and quite possibly longer.
Of course, the elephant in the room when it comes to software parity across generations is the iPhone. Apple's devices enjoy famously long lifespans: phones as old as the iPhone 6, released nearly five years ago, are on iOS 13, the most recent version of the operating system. This year's $399 iPhone SE is likely to continue getting software updates long after the Pixel 4a's official support has ended. That's definitely a high water mark to continue to aspire to, and if your primary concern is long-lasting software security on the cheap, Apple's entry-level phone is the way to go. But if you're married to Android, the 4a guarantees longer software support than any other phone currently on the market, in this or any other price segment.
Today's excellent photos will still be pretty good come 2023.
Another arena the Pixel 4a punches above its weight in: photography. It's generally agreed upon that last year's Pixel 4 took the best photos of any phone on the market at the time, and the 4a's shots are practically indistinguishable.
Sure, the 4a only has a single lens — already a dated look in 2020 — but shots from that lens should outperform basically any other phone today. Considering mobile photography isn't advancing nearly as fast as it was just a few years ago, today's excellent photos will probably still be at least pretty good come 2023.
Taken with the Pixel 4a's top-notch software support and fantastic imaging prowess, its above-average performance and battery life for its price and size (respectively) mean it'll actually be bearable to use for several years. That's not something that can be said of many phones that cost $350. And it's important, particularly when so many people are facing uncertainty about their financial futures. The 4a has successfully brought once-luxurious smartphone features down to a more accessible price point in a way few — if any — Android phones have before. Not only will you not have to replace it in a year (or even two), you probably won't want to, either.