The Google Pixel 4a and the OnePlus Nord have both achieved the nearly impossible by making budget smartphones exciting again. While they lack the sizeable price tags of their premium counterparts, they manage to offer many of the features you’d expect to find on a Pixel 4 or OnePlus 8. The Pixel 4a boasts a camera that’s every bit as capable as anything on a flagship Google device, while the OnePlus Nord offers 5G support and strong battery life.

They’re both great phones, but which one is best? We break down their specs and compare how they perform across a variety of categories, which will hopefully help you decide which one offers you the most value for your money.

Specs

Pixel 4a OnePlus Nord
Size 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm (5.67 x 2.73 x 0.32 inches) 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2mm (6.23 x 2.89 x 0.32 inches)
Weight 143 grams (5.04 ounces) 184 grams (6.49 ounces)
Screen size 5.81-inch OLED 6.44-inch Fluid AMOLED
Screen resolution 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 19.5:9 ratio (443 pixels per inch) 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (408 ppi)
Operating system Android 10 Android 10 (under OxygenOS)
Storage 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Snapdragon 730 Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
RAM 6GB 6GB, 8GB, 12GB
Camera 12.2-megapixel rear, 8MP front Quad-lens 48MP, 8MP ultrawide angle, 5MP depth, and 2MP macro rear, dual-lens 32MP and 8MP ultrawide angle front
Video 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 480 fps
Bluetooth version 5.1 5.0
Ports USB-C, headphone jack USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes, rear-mounted Yes (in-display)
Water resistance No No
Battery 3,140mAh

Fast charging (18W)

4,115mAh

Warp Charge 30W (up to 70% in 30 minutes)

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support Most major U.S. carriers Most major U.S. carriers
Colors Just Black Blue Marble, Gray Onyx
Prices $350 379 British pounds ($480)
Buy from Google, Verizon, US Cellular OnePlus
Review score News 3.5 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

Pixel 4a

The Google Pixel 4a improves noticeably on the design of its direct predecessor, the Pixel 3a. Gone is the outdated forehead bezel — in its place is a more pleasing edge-to-edge display, featuring a corner-mounted punch-hole selfie camera. The OnePlus Nord also sports a tidy edge-to-edge display, although in its case, it features a dual-lens selfie camera in the corner. This is less discreet than a single-lens camera. However, the potentially negative impact on the Nord’s look is balanced by slightly narrower borders around the display. It also features Gorilla Glass on its rear, whereas the Pixel 4a makes do with cheaper — and less attractive — plastic.

The OnePlus Nord houses a larger, 6.44-inch AMOLED display, in contrast to the 5.81-inch OLED screen of the Pixel 4a. Compared to the 4a’s resolution of 2,340 x 1,080, the Nord’s is slightly bigger at 2,400 x 1,080. That said, the larger screen means that it actually packs fewer pixels per inch, at 408 instead of 443. This may make it seem a little less vivid in practice, although the difference won’t be that significant.

One advantage the Pixel 4a has over the OnePlus Nord is its size and weight. It’s just over 40 grams (over an ounce) lighter and is also thinner and less tall. Most users are, therefore, likely to find it more comfortable to hold and to use, although the Nord is hardly a pain in the wrist.

Lastly, both phones lack an IP durability rating, so it’s hard to say which will last the longest. We’re going to declare this round a draw since both phones are pretty in their own ways and both provide satisfyingly vibrant displays.

Winner: Tie

Performance, battery life, and charging

OnePlus Nord Keyboard
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Pixel 4a is powered by the Snapdragon 730, while the OnePlus Nord comes with the Snapdragon 765G under its bonnet. The difference between the two processors is slight, with the 765G having improved GPU performance, meaning graphics and visuals will be rendered more quickly by the Nord.

Both phones come with 6GB of RAM as standard, which should be enough to handle the vast majority of games and apps likely to come your way. That said, you can buy the OnePlus with either 8GB of RAM or 12GB of RAM, making it noticeably more powerful than the Pixel 4a if you have the extra cash to spare. The 12GB version of the OnePlus Nord also provides 256GB of internal storage, whereas the 8GB and 6GB versions come with 128GB and 64GB, respectively. The Pixel 4a gives you a generous 128GB as standard.

One area where the Pixel 4a isn’t that generous is the battery. It falls far short of the OnePlus Nord in this respect, offering a 3,140mAh cell, while OnePlus’ phone offers 4,115mAh. The Nord can last comfortably for more than a day without needing a recharge, while the 4a may need recharging within a single day, particularly if you’re a heavier user.

Then there’s the fact that the Pixel 4a supports fast charging at 18W, while the OnePlus Nord goes up to 30W. This enables OnePlus’ device to charge to 70% in around 30 minutes, which is great for anyone in a rush.

Combined with the superior processor, this battery advantage provides the OnePlus Nord with a clear win in this round.

Winner: OnePlus Nord

Cameras

Nord Wide angle
An example of the OnePlus Nord’s “oppressive” image of clouds. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The camera is where the Google Pixel 4a truly excels. It employs the same 12.2MP main lens as the Pixel 4 and operates using the same software (such as Night Sight), which makes full use of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) prowess. This might not sound like much on paper, but the 4a takes great photos in virtually every condition.

The OnePlus Nord, on the other hand, has more impressive specs but less impressive results. Its main camera is a 48MP Sony IMX586, topped off by an 8MP ultrawide camera, a 5MP depth sensor, and a 2MP macro sensor. Such hardware sets it up to be a highly versatile camera phone, yet the reality is quite different. We found that it often underexposes shots and can’t use HDR as well as the OnePlus 8, producing photos that too frequently lack detail.

To be fair, the OnePlus Nord does let you capture 4K video at 60 fps, while the Pixel 4a can muster only 30 fps. This isn’t quite enough to counterbalance the 4a’s superior camera, though, so this round is a decisive victory for Google’s phone.

Winner: Google Pixel 4a

Software and updates

Samsung Galaxy A51 Punch-Hole

The OnePlus Nord runs on OxygenOS 10, which is OnePlus’ own version of Android 10. It’s one of the best Android skins around, offering a fast and smooth user interface that’s not overly crowded with features. One of its main additions to Android that you can find elsewhere is Zen Mode, which helps preserve your sanity by giving you a 20-minute time-out, during which your calls and notifications are muted and you can’t access various apps.

It may not be as novel, but the Pixel 4a runs on Android 10. The advantage it has is that, being a Google phone, it will be the first in line to receive security and core software updates. This puts it ahead of the OnePlus Nord, which won’t benefit as frequently from new software releases.

Winner: Google Pixel 4a

Special features

5g feature image
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Pixel 4a and OnePlus Nord have one headline special feature each, and which one is more special will depend on your priorities as a phone user. The Pixel comes with the aforementioned flagship-level camera, which basically lets even inexperienced photographers point their phone at a person or scene and capture a quality photo. Meanwhile, the Nord comes with support for 5G, which will let you surf the web and download media at a much higher speed.

There’s not much else to write home about other than that, although the Pixel 4a provides a few Google-exclusive features you don’t normally have on other Android devices. Its Google Maps augmented reality directions mode comes in handy if you find yourself lost in an unfamiliar location, while AI-based features such as Call Screen can help you save time.

This round could go either way, though the Pixel 4a’s Google-only extras may swing it for some. Then again, 5G brings a level of future-proofing that others may value more than anything else, so we’re going to declare another tie.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

The OnePlus Nord is now available in the U.K. from OnePlus, Amazon, Three, and John Lewis stores. Prices start at 379 British pounds (approximately $480). OnePlus has said it won’t launch the phone in the United States beyond a restricted beta program.

The Google Pixel 4a is available for $400 from August 20. Google has confirmed that it’s being sold from Verizon, US Cellular, and Google Fi. It hasn’t yet confirmed whether the phone will be available from T-Mobile, Sprint, or AT&T.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 4a

It’s a close call, but the Google Pixel 4a does trump the OnePlus Nord as a budget smartphone. It doesn’t quite look as good, and it’s slightly less powerful, but its camera produces noticeably better pictures in most environments. It also has better software and will receive more regular updates, something which will keep it running securely for longer. Its display is at least as sharp as the OnePlus Nord’s, while it’s also the cheaper and more available (at least in the U.S.) smartphone.

The OnePlus Nord will be more attractive to anyone who wants 5G, of course. It’s a great budget smartphone in its own right, but in the end, the Pixel 4a gets the win for making premium features available at such a low price.

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