While OnePlus has been over-hyping the Nord, no one seems to know if Google is going to launch the Pixel 4a – is it May, is it July, is it going to happen at all?
But we actually know a lot about both these phones, so let’s take a speculative look at what you might get from both and how they might compare.
Price and availability
- Nord: £/$/€TBC, 21 July launch date
- Pixel 4a: $399?, 3 August launch suggested
We know that the OnePlus Nord is launching on 21 July and we’ll expect it to be available soon after. There’s no official word on the price, but we’re expecting in the region of £499.
An early leak suggested a price of $399 for the Pixel 4a, but the launch date is unknown. It was 12 May, then 13 July and the latest suggestion is 3 August. We suspect it will always be the cheaper device than the OnePlus.
- Nord: 159.2 x 74 x 8.6mm
- Pixel 4a: 144.2 x 69.5 x 8.2mm
The designs for both phones have leaked on a number of occasions, but the measurements come from early leaks – and we’ve no way to verify if they are accurate. The Nord is going to be the larger phone – it has a larger display so that makes perfect sense.
The OnePlus Nord is said to have a glass back and a metal frame, with the cameras offset to the left in a vertical line, while the Pixel 4a has a polycarbonate body, with a raised camera square in the top left corner, reflecting the design of the Pixel 4.
There’s also been the suggestion that the Nord will have IP53 water protection – which may or may not be true. It’s unlikely that the Pixel 4a would be waterproof – the Pixel 3a wasn’t.
We’re expecting a couple of colours for each phone – the OnePlus Nord has been shown off in a teal and a grey colour, while the Pixel 4a is expected to come in Just Black or Barely Blue versions.
The OnePlus Nord definitely looks like the more premium handset.
- Nord: 6.4in AMOLED, 2400 x 1080 pixels, 90Hz
- Pixel 4a: 5.81in AMOLED, 2340 x 1080 pixels, 60Hz
A range of different specs have been suggested for these phones – and there’s a big difference in size, which will set these phones apart. The Nord is thought to come with a 6.4-inch AMOLED display – and it’s believed that it will have a 90Hz refresh rate.
OnePlus is all about providing a smooth experience and Carl Pei – co-founder of OnePlus – said on stage at the launch of the OnePlus 7T that the company would not be going back to 60Hz. From the early days of leaks around the Nord – when it was being called the OnePlus Z – a 90Hz display was suggested, aiming to give smoother visuals.
We’ve also seen that the OnePlus Nord will have dual punch hole cameras, so there’s two cameras in the display.
We’re expecting both phones to offer a 1080p resolution, but the Pixel 4a is going to be a compact handset. At 5.81-inches it’s a relatively small display – it’s been reported that there’s no Pixel 4a XL.
The Pixel 4a has also been pictured with a punch hole camera, but just a single lens. To be honest, all the dual front camera phones we’ve used haven’t been worth the screen space they eat – we’d rather just have one decent front camera.
Hardware and specs
- Nord: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, 4115mAh battery
- Pixel 4a: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage, 3080mAh battery
Some of the OnePlus Nord specs have been confirmed: we know it’s going to run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G and that means it’s going to be 5G enabled. It should come with 8GB RAM as standard, although benchmarks have revealed 12GB RAM versions too – so it’s aiming to appeal to those who want big specs.
The battery is reasonable at 4115mAh, confirmed thanks to a case leak showing the internals of the phone. That should give it all-day endurance.
Things are a little less precise for the Google Pixel 4a. It’s thought to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730, so the same series of hardware as the Nord, but slightly older. Firstly, there’s no 5G, it’s 4G only.
Secondly, it’s an 8nm SoC whereas the 765G is 7nm, although both are octo-core. The 765G uses newer processors and has a slightly newer GPU, so is going to be a touch more powerful with slightly more graphics processing power. With all that said, we’ve had great experiences with Snapdragon 730 hardware, so don’t discount it.
Although there’s a big difference battery capacity, this might not amount to much: the OnePlus will be more power hungry thanks to 5G, the faster refresh rate and the larger display, so we don’t think there will be a huge difference in the overall endurance – but that remains to be seen.
- Nord: 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, 2MP depth; dual selfie cameras
- Pixel 4a: 12.2MP f/1.7 main; 8MP selfie
There’s an obvious difference between these two devices on the hardware front, but before we go racing off declaring the OnePlus Nord the better camera load-out, let’s look at the details.
It’s been confirmed that the Nord will get some flagship hardware and we suspect that’s the 48-megapixel main sensor. Bare in mind, that this uses pixel combining to get back to 12-megapixel images, so it’s not the immediate winner one might consider it to be, although it might enable better digital zooming.
The advantage that Google has is a mastery of computational photography. The Pixel 3a was easily the best performaning affordable camera phone in 2019, in many cases producing images from its single camera that many multi-system rivals failed to match.
That could well make depth sensor on the OnePlus obsolete, because Google will probably produce better results from AI – which it has shown to do on the Pixel phones before. Sure, the lack of a physical wide angle lens will give you fewer composition options on the Pixel and the macro lens – well, that will just comes down to how close the Pixel will focus or not. We don’t put much stock in macro cameras on phones, it’s a fairly niche thing to want to do.
Let’s not write off OnePlus, who made great gains in photo quality on the OnePlus 8, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking a lot of cameras makes for a better experience.
We’d apply that to the front cameras too. The Pixel has one punch hole camera, which we’d expect to offer great performance as other Pixel devices have. The Nord, unusually, has two. We don’t know what the second lens is (it’s likely either a depth sensor or ultra-wide angle) but the fact that OnePlus hasn’t put this arrangement on its flagship phones does raise some questions.
Why is OnePlus suddenly adding two front cameras on its budget phone?
- Nord: Android 10 with Oxygen OS
- Pixel 4a: Android 10 with Pixel extras
When it comes to software, both of these devices are likely to be in a really strong place. Both will run Android 10 and both won’t mess around with it too much.
The Pixel – as a Google phone – will be the cleaner of the two, likely to get access to some of Google’s Pixel features that don’t always appear on other devices. It will also be at the front of the upgrade queue, so you can expect it to have Android 11 on day one.
OnePlus’ Oxygen OS is popular, however, as it’s a fairly clean take on Android – as well as having a good reputation for keeping things clean and fast. OnePlus is also fairly fast with updates, but obviously, not as fast as Google. But Google has, in the past, released some devices with software that’s less well optimised for its hardware than you expect – and OnePlus is generally very good with optimisation.
It’s clear that the OnePlus Nord and the Google Pixel 4a (if it ever launches) are very different phones. Both aim to offer a more affordable route to great features, in the case of the Pixel that’s pure Android and the Pixel camera experience – and that’s likely to be its strongest feature, despite having a camera system that looks simple on paper.
But the Pixel 4a could also get solid mid-range hardware, making it a fast phone, capable of dealing with everything you throw at it.
OnePlus is looking to fill the void left by its flagship phones getting more expensive. It’s a higher spec than the Pixel, with 5G and more power, but it’s also a larger device, which goes some way to justify the price. Again, Snapdragon 765 is impressive hardware and we suspect the Nord will be even closer to a flagship experience than the Pixel.
What we know for sure is that the OnePlus Nord will be with us soon – OnePlus won’t stop taking about it – whereas the Pixel 4a? We still don’t really know if it’s going to launch.