The Pixel purchasing puzzle of 2020

It’s a weird year for Pixel phones.

I’ve been spending some time with Google’s current trio of homemade Android devices — the flagship Pixel 5, the budget-minded Pixel 4a, and the confusingly in-between Pixel 4a (5G) — and lemme tell ya: This isn’t your typical Pixel lineup.

Between Google’s pivot to a more value-minded approach and the midyear manufacturing delays caused by this lovely little pandemic of ours, the Pixel family of 2020 ended up looking pretty different than what we’ve grown accustomed to expecting. And if you’re thinking of picking up a new Pixel phone for yourself or your workplace, it’s more than a little difficult to sort out which model makes the most sense for any given purpose and whether it’s a worthwhile upgrade from an older Pixel model.

Having lived with all three 2020 Pixel phones now, I think I’ve sorted out what the lineup’s actually all about, why it’s so damn confusing, and how you can know which specific Pixel option is (or isn’t!) right for you.

Let’s break it all down, shall we?

Pixel 5, Pixel 4a, and Pixel 4a (5G): Reframing and renaming the phones

Part of the reason this Pixel lineup is so tricky to process, I think, is that the phones’ names don’t make much sense.

In carrying around all three current Pixel models, here’s what I’ve come to realize: For all intents and purposes, the Pixel 5, Pixel 4a, and Pixel 4a (5G) are three versions of the same device. Once you start thinking about ’em in that light, they’re a lot easier to understand.

I’m gonna give you new, more sensible names for two out of three of those products, in fact, but let’s start at the top: The Pixel 5 is the flagship — the top-tier model of the three. That part’s pretty obvious, right? The difference is that compared to past Pixel flagships, it’s a little less high end and thus also less expensive, with a starting price of $699 — barely more than the original Pixel phone cost in 2016 (and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much phone prices in general have skyrocketed since then).


Google’s Pixel 5 phone, in its distinctive “Sorta Sage” color.

The interesting thing is that most of the Pixel 5’s cost-cutting measures aren’t especially consequential; quite honestly, hardly any regular phone owners are gonna notice the real-world, practical difference between, say, the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 865 processor present in most 2020 flagships and the less expensive Snapdragon 765G chip in the Pixel 5 — or between…

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