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Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE specs compared: What’s the better $399 buy?

The mid-range smartphone market in 2020 is about to get a shot in the arm. Google’s Pixel 4a has been one of the most anticipated smartphones of the year, but Apple stole a ton of Google’s thunder with the debut of its $399 iPhone SE. Which is the better buy? We’ve already told you how we think the iPhone SE is setting a high bar, but let’s take a closer look at it spec-for-spec.

There are a ton of differences between Apple’s iPhone SE and Google’s Pixel 4a, but at $399 these are smartphones that a lot of people are going to be deciding between this year. Since neither smartphone has been released yet — Google hasn’t even officially announced the Pixel 4a — we can’t compare them side-by-side in hand. Still, thanks to our exclusive reporting, we look at these phones spec-for-spec and help you decide between them.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE hardware specs

Aluminum or Plastic?

First, let’s talk about the physical design of these two phones. Google’s Pixel 4a is a brand new design versus 2019’s model, but the iPhone SE is essentially just a recycled iPhone 8 (which was a recycled iPhone 7, which was a recycled iPhone 6s, which was a recycled iPhone 6). In the iPhone’s case, that means you’re getting a metal frame and glass back in black, white, or “pow” red.

Looking at the Pixel 4a, though, things aren’t quite as premium. The Pixel 4a will has an entirely plastic build just like the Pixel 3a did. Luckily, if last year’s model is any indication, it’ll still be a well-built casing that feels lightweight, but not in a bad way.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE charging: 18W wired, but only one has Qi

What about charging? Both the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a support 18W wired charging, but with a couple of considerable differences. In the Pixel’s case, that charger uses USB-C on both ends and includes the 18W charging brick in the box. The iPhone, on the other hand, only supports 18W charging with a separately purchased adapter and cable.

The iPhone SE does have one big advantage, though, in that it supports Qi wireless charging. Why Google didn’t include this feature is a bit confusing to us, but regardless Qi may be a deciding factor for many people.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE display specs: OLED or LCD?

How about the display? This is perhaps the area Google’s Pixel 4a has the biggest strength.

Apple’s iPhone SE is using a 4.7-inch LCD display that’s not even HD (1334×750). Meanwhile, Google’s Pixel 4a will offer up a 5.8-inch 1080p OLED display. That will offer not only more viewing space, but also better contrast and, possibly, better brightness too. OLED is the same type of display Apple uses on its high-end iPhones.

2014’s design or 2020’s?

Apple is using a recycled design on the iPhone SE. As mentioned, it’s using a slightly updated version of the same basic design that inspired the iPhone 6. The SE is based mostly on the iPhone 8’s design, but it’s still a very outdated look with huge bezels on the top and bottom, and that also means you’ll be stuck with a considerably smaller display overall.

apple iphone se black white red

The Google Pixel 4a, meanwhile, it using a design that’s pretty common of other Android smartphones in 2020. The front part of the Pixel 4a has a display that pushes up to the edges on all four sides, even eliminating the top bezel by using a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera.

This will also really come down to personal preference, but I’d much rather be using a Pixel 4a in 2020 versus an iPhone SE when it comes to design.

google pixel 4a leak

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE fingerprint sensor: Back or front?

Both the Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE use fingerprint sensors instead of the face unlock systems the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 use. Fingerprint sensors are totally fine, and in this case it’s just a matter of the placement.

On Google’s Pixel 4a, the fingerprint sensor is on the back of the phone. Personally, I like that because it’s ergonomic, fast, and enables useful gestures. Apple’s sensor, on the other hand, is at the front of the phone and integrated into the home button.

Storage space: Maybe Pixel 4a will win out?

We know that the iPhone SE 2020 is available in 3 storage capacities, but we’ve heard rumors that the Pixel 4a might start at — and only come in — one storage capacity: 128GB. That would mean Pixel 4a might offer 128GB for the same price that the iPhone SE offers 64.

Processors: Apple’s in-house A13 chip advantage

On the internals, Apple has a huge advantage with the iPhone SE. This device is using the same A13 processor as the iPhone 11 series, so expect blazing fast performance from this device.

What about Pixel 4a? The Snapdragon 730 in the device paired with 6GB of RAM will absolutely be more than capable for the vast majority of people, but in terms of raw horsepower, Apple has an unarguable win.

apple a13 bionic

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE features

Clean experiences all around

In the feature department, there’s a clear win on both of these smartphones: they’ll have clean experiences. Google Pixel 4a and iPhone SE both run their software as the makers intended, free of extra bloat, changed designs, and more.

This is a pretty big deal, really, because historically most mid-range smartphones from other brands have been packed full of other apps or customizations either to subsidize the cost or just because that’s what the company thought was best. Instead, the Pixel 4a gets pure Android 10 and the iPhone SE gets iOS 13.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE messaging: A decision-maker for many

Here’s the thing. In the United States, iMessage is going to make this decision easy for a lot of people. The admittedly-excellent messaging option is dominant in the United States especially among the younger generation. It’s perhaps the biggest reason Apple’s smartphones continue to explode in popularity in the region.

It’s also something that the Pixel 4a — even with RCS — can’t compete with.


Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE value

Resale value

Here’s a fact: iPhones have much better resale value than literally all Android smartphones. As such, if you’re really counting the pennies on your next smartphone purchase, the iPhone SE will be a better long-term investment. A year or two from now, you’ll still be able to sell an iPhone SE for a good portion of what you paid for it.

Google’s Pixel 4a? The same won’t be true. For example, the Pixel 3a which debuted in May of 2019 for $399 currently sells for as little as $175 on Swappa.

Pixel 4a will be discounted before iPhone SE

The counterargument to resale value, though, is the upfront cost. The simple truth is that, outside of carrier deals, Apple doesn’t discount iPhones hardly ever. Google, on the other hand, often offers bundles, credits, or just straight discounts on its Pixels — including Pixel 4a — not long after launch. You’ll probably get some sort of credit with a Pixel 4a purchase and, if your patient, a sale will probably come up within a few weeks.

google pixel 4a leaked billboard

That $399 price is far from fixed on the Pixel 4a

Long-term support

The other question of value is simply how long you can use it. If you take care of it, Apple’s iPhone SE will likely last you at least 5 years with full software support the entire time, too. That’s under $100 a year to own the device!

The Pixel 4a, on the other hand, is only promised 3 years of updates/security patches from Google. That’s still more than the vast majority of other cheap smartphones will get you, but it’s still a far cry from what Apple brings to the table and it’s absolutely something to consider.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE camera specs

Both single cameras

While flagships pack 2, 3, or even 4 cameras nowadays, both the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a offer the same array — a single 12MP camera. That means no telephoto and no ultrawide, but both Google and Apple have proved that a single sensor can still produce stunning images.

Pixel 3a vs iPhone ad

The camera was a big point of the Pixel 3a’s marketing, but is it good enough when the prices are identical?

We don’t know the winner, but stills will probably be Pixel

Technically since neither of these phones are on the market yet, we don’t know which one will truly be better. But let’s be honest here, the Pixel is probably going to be the winner. As for video, Apple’s track record is essentially flawless lately where Google has stumbled.

Despite offering the same basic hardware and features, Google’s Pixel lineup has consistently bested even flagship iPhones and, more than likely, that’ll happen with the Pixel 4a as well. Apple is using software to improve the camera just like Google is, but camera software has been Google’s exact strength for the past few years.

Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE: Which are you buying?

With all of this information in mind, which device are you picking up? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check out our poll (and the results)! The iPhone SE launches April 24th widely while Google’s Pixel 4a… well we don’t know yet. The device was expected to arrive at Google I/O in May, but that’s been canceled. Still, the device is likely right around the corner.

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Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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