It’s a great time to buy a mid-range smartphone, with phones like the OnePlus Nord and Google Pixel 4a breaking cover in recent weeks. Both phones are similarly priced, and both overall are excellent choices — although buyers in the U.S. would need to import the Nord since it isn’t sold in the country. Nevertheless, each represents a very different set of priorities, so it’s going to take a deeper dive to figure out which one’s right for you.
OnePlus Nord vs. Google Pixel 4a Radically different choices
Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central
On both the inside and outside, there’s a stark contrast between the OnePlus Nord and Google Pixel 4a. There’s no question that the Nord has the more striking design of the two, especially in its trademark “blue marble” hue. While Google opts for a subdued matte black plastic chassis, OnePlus’s handset definitely has the appearance of a more premium smartphone thanks to its glass back and reflective mid-wall.
The Nord is considerably larger than its rival too, with a 6.44-inch display diagonal compared to the Pixel’s mere 5.8 inches. That makes one-handed use a little trickier, though if you’re used to modern, large-screened smartphones, the Nord won’t be a challenge to use. The Pixel 4a, conversely, is definitely the winner for fans of small phones, being one of the few high-profile Android phones around the same size as a smaller “Pro” model iPhone.
On the inside, the OnePlus Nord is clearly the technically superior phone. It features Qualcomm’s upper mid-range chipset, the Snapdragon 765G, boasting more computational horsepower in general, but especially in terms of graphics. The 765G also enables 5G connectivity for added future-proofing, which may not be a concern right now, but will ensure the Nord is equipped to run on next-generation networks as they roll out.
OnePlus also offers dual SIM support, whereas on the Pixel side you’ll need to switch your main SIM to an eSIM in order to use the single physical SIM slot in dual-SIM mode.
The Nord is the technically superior phone, but Google’s strengths lie elsewhere.
The single biggest performance advantage you’ll actually notice while using the Nord, however, comes from its display. The 6.44-inch panel packs a 90Hz refresh rate, which until recently have been exclusive to expensive flagship phones. The extra fluidity and responsiveness this brings is palpable, and it’s hard to go back to 60 once you’ve experienced it.
One area where the Pixel 4a pulls ahead of the Nord, though, is in audio. Not only does it pack a pretty loud and clear stereo speaker setup — combining a bottom-firing loudspeaker with the earpiece tweeter — but the 4a retains the good old 3.5mm headphone jack.
While the Pixel 4a comes in a single SKU with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of non-expandable storage, the OnePlus Nord can offer upgrades beyond its base 8GB/128GB configuration — up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. While 128GB should be enough for most people, the option to double it (for a price) is certainly nice to have.
On paper the Nord’s battery also bests the Pixel by a considerable margin. However due to a larger display and higher refresh rate, the Nord’s real-world lead is shorter than you might expect. With my usage patterns, both phones got me through a full 15- to 16-hour day of use, with the Pixel 4a clocking in between 4 and 4.5 hours of screen-on time and the Nord creeping closer to five. OnePlus also wins on charging speeds, thanks to its Warp Charge 30T spec, which promises zero to 70% charging in 30 minutes.
|Google Pixel 4a||OnePlus Nord|
|Operating system||Android 10|
|Display||5.8-inch 60Hz AMOLED|
|6.44-inch 90Hz Fluid AMOLED|
Gorilla Glass 5
|Chipset||Snapdragon 730||Snapdragon 765G|
|GPU||Adreno 618||Adreno 620|
|Rear camera 1||12.2MP 1.4μm|
4K at 30fps
|48MP (IMX586), 0.8μm|
4K at 30fps
|Rear camera 2||❌||8MP wide-angle, f/2.25|
|Rear camera 3||❌||2MP macro, f/2.4|
|Rear camera 4||❌||5MP portrait lens, f/2.4|
|Front camera 1||8MP f/2.0 |
1.12μm fixed focus
|32MP, f/2.45 (IMX616)|
0.8μm, EIS, fixed focus
|Front camera 2||❌||8MP wide-angle|
f/2.45, 105-degree field-of-view
|5G Bands||N/A||Europe: N1/3/7/28/78|
|Charging||18W USB-PD||USB-C 3.1|
Warp Charge 30T (5V/6A)
|Security||Rear fingerprint (capacitive)||In-display fingerprint (optical)|
|Dimensions||144 x 69.4 x 8.2 mm |
|158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm|
|Colors||Just Black||Blue Marble, Grey Onyx|
Smooth software or the best cameras?
Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central
Google and OnePlus are both well known for their slick, fast Android software, and on the surface, the Nord and the Pixel 4a share a similar software aesthetic. Neither diverges too much from vanilla Android, but both have layered it with their own unique loadout of features.
Google’s Pixel software is all about tight integration with the company’s own services, particularly Google Assistant, which is at the heart of the phone’s intelligent capabilities. The Pixel 4a boasts the new-looking, faster Assistant that’s still unavailable outside of Google’s own smartphones. The Pixel software suite also includes on-device live transcription, which can intelligently turn spoken words in any app into captions. Extras like the Personal Safety app and car crash detection could be genuinely life-saving in the right (or wrong) situation.
OnePlus comes close, but you can’t beat the Pixel’s software support promise.
Google’s continuing to add to Pixels’ capabilities over time through its regular feature drops, the most recent of which included video blurring options for Duo video calls, and improvements to memory management to allow more apps to remain in memory.
There’s actually quite a bit of Google to be found in the OnePlus Nord, too. The Nord is the first OnePlus phone to use Google’s own phone dialer and Android Messages app for calls and texts by default. That means you get access to Google’s smart spam filtering options and caller ID features. Meanwhile, OnePlus also recently integrated the Google Feed into its home screen launcher, while all the company’s 2020 handsets have come bundled with Live Transcribe.
Where OnePlus sets itself apart is in the speed and fluidity of its OxygenOS software, as well as features inspired by its enthusiast community. Zen Mode helps you disconnect with enforced smartphone downtime. Lock screen gestures help you jump straight to favorite apps. And OxygenOS is endlessly customizable, even more so than vanilla Android 10 on the Pixel.
When it comes to software updates, Google leads the way with a full three years of platform updates for its Pixel phones from their U.S. launch date. Meanwhile OnePlus is no slouch, offering two years of platform updates and a third year of Android security patches. Nevertheless, OnePlus likely won’t be able to match the speed of update deployment to Google’s Pixels. During their supported lifespan, Pixel phones can update to new versions of Android from day one.
The greatest software edge for Google, however, might be the Pixel 4a’s camera. On paper it’s identical to the camera of the flagship-priced Pixel 4, only with slower photo processing because of the weaker chipset. There’s only one rear camera, as opposed to the four of the OnePlus Nord, but considering the price and the quality of that one camera, it’s a worthy trade-off.
The Nord’s Sony IMX586 sensor is a proven component, and combined with OnePlus’s software processing and HDR features, produces pleasing shots with ample dynamic range and vibrant colors. The Pixel’s main camera arguably produces more lifelike images, with less tendency to crush shadow detail. Google’s processing also produces shots with greater highlight detail, and a trademark grain effect when examined up close.
Both cameras offer impressive dedicated night modes. However, only the Pixel can boast Google’s astrophotography mode, which (with the help of a tripod or stand) allows extreme computational long exposures of stellar vistas.
Both phones pack flagship sensors, but Google pulls ahead with computational magic.
While the Nord’s main camera is no slouch in the photographic department, its secondary cameras are fairly weak, with even the 8-megapixel ultrawide producing blotchy images without much fine detail. Also, the lack of telephoto zoom feels like a missed opportunity in a phone with so many lenses — instead you’ll be getting 12-megapixel crops from that 48-megapixel sensor when you zoom in.
Google’s camera relies on computational zoom based on the movement of the lens, which is decent at up to around 2X, but beyond that can produce strange artifacts around certain objects.
Around the front, OnePlus offers two selfie cameras — one standard, and another ultrawide, for fitting more people or stuff into your images. That’s something Google doesn’t offer, however the Pixel’s front camera does benefit from Google’s software portrait mode and the excellent Night Sight mode.
OnePlus Nord vs. Google Pixel 4a A question of priorities
Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central
With the OnePlus Nord not being sold in the U.S., and the Pixel 4a limited to a handful of countries at present, there are only a few territories where both the Nord and the Pixel will be sold side-by-side. That means for many people, the question of which to buy will be answered by whichever one is available locally.
Provided you are in a country where both are sold, you really can’t go wrong with either. Both offer excellent value for money, great software, fast performance and long term software support. Instead, the choice between the two comes down to your own personal priorities.
If great photos are your main priority, I’d have to hand the win to Google. The 4a’s camera is that good, and such quality is unprecedented at this price point outside of the phone’s immediate predecessor, the Pixel 3a. Same deal if you want a great, small phone at this price. It doesn’t get any better than the Pixel 4a. The Pixel is also first in line for new Google features with its day-one Android updates and regular Pixel feature drops, so if you’re an Android nerd, that’s a big draw.
Superior photos and pocket-sized charm? Or souped-up specs and faster everything?
However, OnePlus is a step ahead in terms of sheer technology. So if you want more power for gaming, as well as the speed that only a fast refresh rate can deliver, it’s a clear win for the Nord. Likewise, spec fiends will appreciate the ability to bump up to 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, as well as real dual-SIM support and 5G connectivity. True to its heritage, OnePlus has the better and more powerful phone for enthusiasts.
Neither device delivers everything you could want. Are you a power-hungry enthusiast who lives for big screens and fast refresh rates, or are you swayed by the promise of a superior pocket-sized camera that doubles as an AI-equipped smartphone? Your priorities (as well as your location) will dictate which of these excellent mid-rangers is right for you.
Googley goodness on the cheap
The most competitive Pixel yet
The Google Pixel 4a lacks some of the Nord’s whizbang features, but is slightly cheaper, and still packs all the smartphone power most people will need. It’s also smaller — a bonus for fans of more pocket-friendly devices, and includes the best main camera you’re likely to find for less than $400, or even $500 or more. To top it off, you get Google’s excellent and helpful Android software, backed up by the best update track record outside of an iPhone.
The mid-range overachiever
The OnePlus Nord is exceptionally good value for money, and technically superior to the Pixel 4a in most respects. For £379, you get features previously reserved for expensive flagship phones, slick software, a striking glass-backed design and 5G future-proofing. But while the Nord boasts a total of six cameras (two up-front and four on the rear), only the main sensor is as performant as we’d like.
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