Notes on the Google Pixel 4a (5G)
2022 November 11
I guess this is a review of sorts.
I recently got my hands on a Google Pixel 4a (5G) Android phone. It's not mine, just a resource lent to me for research purposes. I thought it would be worth making some notes on this device, since Pixel phones are among the best Android device options for privacy (ironically) and security.
I think it's mostly fine. This section is just complaints because the things that didn't stick out in my mind are fine.
Like every other modern phone, it doesn't have a physical keyboard, which sucks. Phones should have physical keyboards.
The battery is not removable, which also sucks. I don't trust phones with non-removable batteries. I should be able to force the phone off. (I once had a phone which would sometimes get stuck trying to do something and overheat. The only way to make it stop was to physically remove the battery. I'm sure modern phones with non-removable batteries are less susceptible to this kind of problem, but being unable to physically remove the battery feels actually unsafe to me. It's also bad for sustainability because you can't replace just the battery without replacing the whole device.)
It has a front-facing camera in the screen, which looks awful in my opinion. I'd rather just have a bezel.
It uses USB-C and comes with a USB-C to USB-C cable, along with a power to USB-C brick and a USB-C to USB-A adapter.
One of the reasons to get a Pixel is because they're well-supported by third-party projects. (I think this is basically because the bootloader can be unlocked (and re-locked!), and because by default they run something fairly close to vanilla AOSP. Google makes sure new versions of Android can run on Pixels, which can't be said of most other phones.) In particular, at the time of writing, CalyxOS only supports Pixels and the Fairphone 4, and GrapheneOS only supports Pixels.
I have personally installed LineageOS (as well as the version with microG), /e/OS, and GrapheneOS on this device so far. I'll install CalyxOS later. They all run okay, from what I've seen. (Bear in mind, though, I'm using this for research, not as a regular user. I haven't tested their usability very thoroughly.)
/e/ did not support double tap to wake. (I also noticed that /e/ is on an older Android version than LineageOS.) Otherwise, I haven't noticed any issues (again, from very limited practical use).
I don't really have a conclusion. As much as I hate to recommend giving Google money, if you're looking for an Android phone, a Pixel is probably your best option. Of course, I recommend replacing the OS with a less Googly one. The Pixel 4a (5G) will be supported by Google until at least a year from now (November 2023). It might be worth getting a newer model with longer support. Projects like CalyxOS and GrapheneOS support these phones for longer, but you'll stop getting security updates from Google, so it'll become what GrapheneOS calls "harm reduction". At the time of writing, GrapheneOS only recommends purchasing a Pixel 6 or later.