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iPhone SE vs. Pixel 4A: Camera, design, software, performance and battery compared

Apple and Google both released budget versions of their flagship phones, but which one is better?

This has been an abundant year for wallet-friendly phones with impressive performance and specs. Apple and Google launched smaller versions of their marquee handsets -- the iPhone SE and the Pixel 4A are affordable alternatives to the iPhone 11 and Pixel 4, respectively.

Both phones are $400 or under. The iPhone starts at $399 (£419, AU$749) while the Pixel 4A costs $349 (£349, AU$599). Their single 12-megapixel cameras also take brilliant photos and with iOS 14 and Android 11 coming down the pipeline, their software promises to remain fresh and up-to-date.

To see which phone is the better fit for you, I compare them in terms of camera, design, software, performance and battery. In short, the iPhone SE is the faster, more polished phone. But the Pixel 4A's cheaper price tag, longer-lasting battery and nimble camera make it the better value buy.

Apple iPhone SE (2020)

The 'mini' flagship experience

Though it's the cheapest iPhone you can get new, the iPhone SE offers a lot of what the premium iPhones also have. That includes the powerful and fast A13 Bionic processor, a water-resistant design, wireless charging and Wi-Fi 6. Its superb camera also records excellent video. At $400 it's a bit more expensive than the Pixel 4A, but it's still relatively affordable as far as phones go, and especially as far as iPhones go. Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

Google Pixel 4A

The money saver

This makes more compromises than the iPhone SE and it has fewer features than its bigger brother, the Pixel 4. It doesn't have wireless charging or water-resistance, for instance, and it has the less powerful Snapdragon 730G processor. But its enduring battery life outlasts the iPhone SE and its exceptional camera is the same as the main camera on the Pixel 4. Lastly, when you consider storage and compare the Pixel 4A to the 128GB model of the iPhone SE, the $50 price difference jumps to $100. Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

Camera: iPhone SE's superior video vs. Pixel 4A's fantastic Night Sight

Design: iPhone SE's elegant build outshines Pixel 4A's sharper display

Pixel 4A: Plain looks, but a great price and camera

Software and UI: iOS vs. Android

The new iPhone SE shines with classic Apple styling

Performance: iPhone's faster but Pixel 4A has a longer-lasting battery

Other phone features to consider:

Both phones have dual-SIM. In addition to your regular nano-SIM, both phones use e-SIM technology that supports multiple phone numbers. This is useful if you travel often, or want to keep two numbers (say your personal and work) on the same device.

The iPhone SE has Wi-Fi 6. Though Wi-Fi 6 was only certified in September 2019 and routers featuring the next-gen network remain expensive, the fact that the iPhone SE has Wi-Fi 6 means it's ready for the future. Devices with Wi-Fi 6 speak that same Wi-Fi language to talk to each other. Compared to Wi-Fi 5, it's faster and more battery efficient. 

Neither phone has expandable storage. The Pixel 4A has one memory option: 128GB with 6GB of RAM. This is double the amount of storage compared to last year when the Pixel 4 started with only 64GB. The iPhone SE, in contrast, has three: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. When strictly comparing 128GB models of both phones then, the iPhone SE's price difference is even higher: The 128GB model of the iPhone SE costs $449 (£469, AU$829) compared with the $349 (£349, AU$599) Pixel 4A.

If you want more storage, Apple's iCloud gives you 5GB for free and it costs $10 a month for 2TB. Google, on the other hand, allows Pixel users to upload unlimited photos and video at "high" quality, which is of lower resolution and less detail than "original" quality. If you want the latter, you'll need to sign up for Google's One service. Google One is free for the first 15GB, but also costs $10 a month for 2TB.


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