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This week Google officially pulled the plug on the Pixel 4a, the company’s most affordable Pixel to date, and the one that so many love. Looking to the future, though, the Pixel 4a may very well be the last truly “delightful” Google phone for a while, as the company’s next step appears to be on a different path.

Google’s Pixel 4a debuted in a weird spot, arriving in the dead of Summer in 2020 amid COVID-spurred delays and other problems. The phone’s launch was mostly unceremonious in the shadow of Apple’s iPhone SE, but the phone itself left a lasting impact.

The $349 mid-ranger checked a lot of boxes. It kept up Google’s tradition of offering a stellar camera despite the price point, while also offering software performance and support that outlasted most other phones in the same bracket. And it did all of that while breaking the expectations competitors had set.

What makes the Pixel 4a “delightful?” It comes down to the decisions Google made within the constraints of the phone’s price point. The Pixel 4a wasn’t trying to trick you into thinking it was a high-end device – it was happy providing the bare essentials with an unimposing design. The compact design only doubled down on that goal, but offered enough room to do what you needed without being a burden. That was in stark contrast to devices in the same price range, which tried to compete on the best specs and gimmicky features while ignoring aspects such as longevity. Our Damien Wilde called the Pixel 4a a perfect “palate cleanser” compared to the rest of the smartphone space.

The same year, Google’s Pixel 5 was close to the same “delightful” description, but its high price tag and many compromises left a somewhat sour taste. Meanwhile, Google further improved on the Pixel 4a with the later release of a lovely blue color.

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And really, it seems that the Pixel 4a will be the last time we’ll see this sort of delightful experience from Google, at least for the time being.

The Pixel 6 series appears to be a success, and the Pixel 6a is set to follow its blueprint pretty closely with a considerably bigger, flashier design that takes a completely different approach compared to the 4a. The Pixel 6a will be much closer in size to the almost-too-large Pixel 6 than it will be to the Pixel 4a with nearly half an inch of additional screen space.

In a way, it’s sad to see, but it’s definitely for the best. The fact remains that, especially in the mid-range market, bigger phones sell better, and with 5G becoming a standard that carriers demand support for, smaller phones become harder to pull off without compromise. The Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a 5G are excellent phones, no doubt, but they never matched the simple charm of the smaller sibling even though they clearly struck a chord with the average buyer.

The Pixel 6a will also benefit greatly from the upgraded Tensor chip that far outpaces the mid-range Snapdragons the Pixel A-Series has used for years. The added performance will make it easier to provide a great experience, and it will, more importantly, allow Google to stand out from the competition with longer update periods.

RIP Pixel 4a. You’ll be missed.


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