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This is the moment budget phone fans have been waiting for. It’s the clash of the best affordable phones around: the Apple iPhone SE, Apple’s price champion, and the challenger, the Google’s Pixel 4a, that has an even lower price, yet still claims to have an even more powerful camera.
Which one should you go for? We have been using the Pixel 4a vs the iPhone SE (2020) in parallel for a while now, and this is what you should know about the differences.
While both phones are on the small side, you immediately notice that the iPhone SE is the more compact of the two, it’s a bit smaller and a bit thinner. The iPhone is also made of glass on the back and front with a metal frame, and it looks very stylish, while the Pixel uses plastic all around which definitely does feel a bit cheaper, but the plastic has a soft touch to it and it's a "good plastic" feel. The plastic construction is also the reason why the slightly bigger Pixel is actually a tiny bit lighter. Both phones, however, feel very featherweight, extremely comfortable to carry in a pocket.
The Pixel does come with a headphone jack, while the iPhone misses that feature, and for many people this is an important advantage.
It however lacks one other feature: water protection. The iPhone SE might be affordable, but it has full-on IP67 water and dust protection rating meaning it will survive a drop in water easily.
Overall, the iPhone does look cooler and you can also get it in different colors too, while the Pixel only comes in black. But there is something else about design, and just look at the front of the iPhone where you have these big bezels on the top and bottom, and a much smaller screen. You have a 4.7 inch display on the iPhone and a noticeably bigger 5.7 inch screen on the Pixel, a big advantage for the Google phone.
Not just the size, the screen on the Pixel is also of the newer AMOLED kind with beautiful deep colors, excellent viewing angles, and extremely well calibrated colors, while the iPhone uses the older LCD type screen that looks dim at an angle and doesn’t have quite as punch colors as the Pixel. The Google phone also wins in terms of resolution: you get a sharper, 1080p display on the Pixel vs a lower resolution 750p display on the iPhone where you will notice edges of letters appear slightly jagged when reading text.
The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.
The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.
The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.
In these pandemic times, fingerprint scanners often feel more convenient and both phones use traditional fingerprint scanners that are fast and accurate, and we’ve had no issues with either one. The iPhone has its fingerprint on the front, which is definitely a bit more convenient, while for the Pixel you have to reach out to the back and the fingerprint scanner sits flush with the body of the phone, so it’s a bit hard to find it by touch.
Next up, let’s look at performance. It’s still a bit of a shock to know that this cheap iPhone comes with the flagship Apple A13 processor that beats most Android flagships, but it indeed is. The Pixel on the other hand makes its biggest compromise under the hood as it is powered by the Snapdragon 730 chip. This is a mid-range chip with decent performance but it just doesn’t have the firepower of a flagship processor. This doesn’t mean that the Pixel is slow per se, but it’s definitely no match for the ultra-fast SE which loads up things a bit quicker and just feels zippier all around.
However, we have to also mention storage: Apple charges quite a bit of money for extra storage and the base SE model only has 64GB of storage which probably won’t be enough for power user in the long term, while the Pixel 4a comes with double that at 128GB of native storage, an important advantage.
AnTuTu is a multi-layered, comprehensive mobile benchmark app that assesses various aspects of a device, including CPU, GPU, RAM, I/O, and UX performance. A higher score means an overall faster device.
If the T-Rex HD component of GFXBench is demanding, then the Manhattan test is downright gruelling. It's a GPU-centric test that simulates an extremely graphically intensive gaming environment that is meant to push the GPU to the max. that simulates a graphically-intensive gaming environment on the screen. The results achieved are measured in frames per second, with more frames being better.
These are your two best options in the budget segment for a great camera. Both phones features just a single rear camera, no ultra-wide, no telephoto here. Still, those single cameras are powerful, and during the day both phones do an excellent job.
There are differences but it’s hard to pick a winner: images from the iPhones come out a bit brighter, while the Pixel prefers a slightly darker exposure but you get that slightly better dynamic range in exchange. The real difference shows up in low light. The SE lacks a Night Mode, while the Pixel 4a is equipped with a brilliant automatic night mode that makes images taken in the dark stand out, they look amazing. Both phones also support portrait mode and do a good job blurring the background, but again the Pixel does a bit better with that feature in low light.
iPhone SE 2020
The first photo here showcases that while the Pixel often captures outstanding images, sometimes it does err with the white balance and this photo is way too warm, while the iPhone has much more pleasing colors. That doesn't happen often with the Pixel, but sometimes those algorithms get fooled.
iPhone SE 2020
This is a challenging shot because of the bright light outside and the much dimmer light inside the room, but even this challenging shot was no match for the incredible HDR on the Pixel 4a which captures all of the dynamics of this scene brilliantly. In comparison, the iPhone burns out the highlights in the windows, and while it's a good image, it's not quite as impressive as on the Pixel.
Pixel 4a Portrait mode
iPhone SE 2020 Portrait mode
Both phones support regular selfies as well as portrait mode selfies with a blurred background, and both do an excellent job with rendering skin tones.
The major difference is in the exposure where the iPhone tends to prefer a brighter one, but both selfies look sharp, well-detailed and good looking.
Final round, in this epic battle would be a battery life comparison. Things don’t look good for the iPhone SE here: it has a tiny, 1,821mAh battery compared to a 3,140mAh battery on the Pixel, that’s a huge difference in size. In real life, you can definitely notice the iPhone SE battery drain very quickly in intense tasks like watching YouTube videos or playing games.
We have run three separate battery tests on both phones and the Pixel has the advantage. It’s not a huge difference between the two, but you can definitely notice it in everyday use.
Another disadvantage for the SE is that it comes with a paltry 5W charger in the box that takes nearly two hours and a half to fully juice up the phone. The Pixel 4a on the other hand comes with an 18W fast charger included in the box for free and it takes a much more reasonable hour and a half. The iPhone also supports these faster speeds, but you need to buy a fast charger separately.
The iPhone has one advantage, though: it supports wireless charging, which the Pixel does not.
Sо there you have it, feature by feature, the Pixel seems to offer a bit more for a lower price and it’s the winner in this comparison, at least on paper. Google has really made a great budget phone and we can easily recommend it. Get it for the amazing screen, the more versatile camera, the clean Android and for the lightweight design, but if you just want an iPhone, the SE still offers the noticeably faster performance and it is also a bit more compact and arguably looks sleeker.
So this will do it for this clash of the budget phone titans. Which one would you go for?