Expectations are high for Google’s next affordable Pixel phone, the 4a, which will likely land this May at I/O 2020.
Not only will the new device have to clear the high bar its predecessor set, but it also has to fix the mistakes of Google’s flagship Pixel 4.
The Pixel 3a did exactly this – it solved the memory management issues of the Pixel 3 and at a knockdown price, which was rewarded with a spike in Pixel sales.
But with May fast approaching can Google do it again? Here’s what the Pixel 4a will need to make it as successful as the 3a.
The elephant in the room
A lot has been written about the average (I’m being generous here) battery life of the Pixel 4Xl, including by myself. Whilst Google might be planning to release a new low-power mode to eek out an extra couple of hours with reduced functionality – it shouldn’t be necessary.
The Pixel 3a’s battery life was very good – largely because it had a bigger battery than the Pixel 3, a less power hungry 1080p display a more power efficient chipset.
In a time when Samsung and Apple are pushing battery size boundaries for their respective flagships – and the basic features like battery life are becoming increasingly important over technological innovations for budget conscious consumers – Google has little choice but to dramatically improve the battery life in the 4a over the Pixel 4.
Full roll out of Assistant features
The main draw of buying a Pixel phone is undoubtedly Assistant, which Google is steadily improving. Standout features like Duplex, which can book restaurant reservations in an eerily human-sounding voice – isn’t available everywhere, including here in the UK. Call Screening, which can answer possible spam calls on your behalf, is similarly restricted to the US.
The big appeal of the 3a was how much it emulated the flagship experience – Google relied heavily on Assistant to make that possible. Hopefully Google uses this year’s I/O to announce a wider roll out of the Assistant features that make Pixel phones worthwhile.
Better privacy controls
One of my gripes with Assistant is how easily it’s rendered useless if you don’t sign up to full web and app activity tracking. Google Home and Nest devices go from futuristic digital assistants to futuristic-looking bluetooth speakers when that privacy setting is toggled off.
Google told me last year that it’s technically possible for Assistant to deliver its best services without tracking your every action, but it’s not part of the company’s long term plan. Data is, of course, immensely valuable to a company like Google. It views trading your information for this next generation technology as a fair and reasonable exchange.
But I suspect that as users become more privacy conscious that balance – that trade, even – will become less appealing. Google is already including more hardware privacy features in its Nest products (local processing of facial recognition data and the ability to shut off cameras/microphones on some products) – but a real welcome change would be to provide more ‘offline’ Assistant features.
Stick to the plan
The Pixel 3a formula works and there’s no need to change it. The surprisingly similar Nexus formula – cheap, high-end hardware that has unique Google software – worked for a time too, before it all got out of hand.
I hope Google keeps a level head with the 4a and maintains the core of what worked previously. That means the same flagship camera experience, a low-price, above average performance and long battery life. If any improvements are made, they shouldn’t be at the expense of any of those four key principles.
There may be a temptation to add some additional premium design features in response to Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Note 10 Lite, but that urge should be quashed. A dated, but passable, design with top and bottom bezels is absolutely fine when measured against the value for money a potential Pixel 4a offers. Keep it simple, keep it ugly.
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