Pixel 4a Vs. iPhone SE 2020: Google & Apple's Budget Phones Compared

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The budget-minded Google Pixel 4a has been officially released and is available to pre-order. Making now the perfect time to take a second look at Apple’s similarly priced, iPhone SE 2020. Both phones from US tech giants aim for the middle in terms of specifications and price, but which offers the most value to consumers is tough to quantify as the decision will come down to how the phone is used, and other personal choices.

Google exploded onto the smartphone scene in 2016 with its shockingly resourceful AI-powered camera app that allows a fairly standard camera sensor to deliver photos rivaling the best smartphone cameras available. Google Pixel phones have been rated among the top phones ever since. While not as popular as the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phones, many consider Google to be a serious competitor for best phone. Meanwhile, Apple, the company that introduced the first version of the smartphone in 2007, single-handedly holds its own against the vast number of Android phone manufacturers, by providing a rock steady solution with unmatched integration of hardware and software. Apple’s iPhone is always among the top rated phones, year after year.

Related: Google Confirms Pixel 5 & Pixel 4a 5G Phones Will Launch This Fall

For anyone considering a phone upgrade without suffering sticker shock, the Google Pixel 4a and Apple iPhone SE may be the top choices. At $349, the Pixel 4a beats the iPhone SE’s already low cost of $399. In terms of build quality and appearance, the iPhone SE wins easily with its aluminum body and three color choices, black, white and red. With an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, an accidental dunk won’t damage the iPhone SE. The Pixel 4a features a tough polycarbonate body and only comes in black. It also has no IP rating, so it must be kept dry and out of dusty environments. Those choosing the Pixel may want to consider a case to provide extra protection and style options. Moving on to battery life, this one goes to Google. The Pixel 4a features a 3140 mAh battery that Google describes as an all-day battery, while the iPhone SE is hurt by a surprisingly small 1821 mAh capacity that Apple expects to provide up to thirteen hours of video playback. Both offer quick charging ability, but Apple doesn’t include a quick charge adapter. A good third-party charger will cost about $20 to $30, worsening the iPhone’s value. The iPhone does work with Qi wireless chargers, so that’s a bonus, if you prefer not to fiddle with the cord.

The photo and video quality of a smartphone is arguably the most important detail when making a choice. Both manufacturers chose a camera comparable to the main camera on their flagships. So the Pixel 4a should produce images nearly identical to what the Pixel 4 can capture with its wide-angle lens. Likewise, the iPhone SE features a camera that matches the wide-angle lens on the iPhone 11 Pro, so photos are on par with Apple’s flagship for wide-angle shots. Neither budget phone includes ultra-wide or telephoto lenses, so they can’t fully compete with their more expensive siblings in that regard. That said, photos are most often taken with the main lens and each phone uses the full force of their AI power to optimize the image and provide extensive editing options after the photo is taken.

When comparing photo quality, many favor the Pixel phones for the superior AI enhancement, however, some feel Google is too heavy handed, particularly when it comes to low-light photos. It is hard to go wrong with either, but if low-light is of particular interest, the Pixel 4a will edge out the iPhone SE. Where Apple has an advantage is with video, offering 4K video recording in 24, 30 and 60 frames per second (fps) and slow-motion video in 1080p at up to 240 fps. The Pixel 4a can handle only 30 fps when shooting 4K video, and slow-motion video resolution drops to 720p when shooting at 240 fps. Therefore, those favoring videos over stills, may want to choose Apple’s iPhone SE.

Possibly the most important consideration is which OS the shopper is currently using, iOS or Android. For consumers that are already entrenched with iOS or iPadOS, there is an incentive to stay with an Apple. A new iPhone will allow access to existing iOS and many iPadOS apps and games. Also, existing iCloud accounts will be easily accessible with a new iPhone. For those that use MacOS computers, Apple has built in Continuity features that make switching between phone and computer seamless. For example, the clipboard and browser page are transferred and a single click away. It is a small thing, but very convenient. The incentive to stay in the Android ecosystem is somewhat similar, but not as strong. The reason being that most of Google’s apps are available for iPhone and Google Drive can be connected easily. Google Assistant can even be installed on an iPhone. So switching from Android to iOS is easier, but any paid Android apps will need to be purchased again. Both Google and Apple are now offering excellent phones at remarkably low prices, but whether the Pixel 4a or the iPhone SE is the best phone is going to be a very personal choice.

More: Pixel 4a: How Much Google’s New Phone Costs & Where To Buy

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