Google’s Pixel 6 is coming today, but should you buy a Pixel 3, 4 or 5 instead?

Between the Pixel 3, Pixel 4A, Pixel 5 and Pixel 5A, which Google phone makes sense to buy now?

Angela Lang/CNET

Recently, I faced a dilemma: My Google Pixel 3 XL was on its last legs. Its battery was a pale shadow of its former self. Its USB-C port failed to carry a charge half the time. Both sides of the phone, screen and glass back, were a spiderwebbed mess of cracks and chips. And according to Google, the phone won’t be guaranteed more Android updates after this October. I needed a new phone, pronto.

I know the new Pixel 6 is likely to arrive at Google’s next launch event on Oct. 19 (here are how to watch the launch live and all the rumors we’ve heard about Google’s next Pixel). However, I didn’t really want to wait. And even as we get closer to the event, there’s always the price aspect that draws people to older models. At first glance my options looked straightforward. Long ago, I’d thrown in my lot with Google’s pure Android platform back in the days of the Nexus 5. Since then I’ve moved on to the original Pixel XL and the Pixel 3 XL. So the thought of switching to an iPhone like the new iPhone 13 was ludicrous. And the idea of using a Samsung Galaxy phone was equally alien.

Read more: 6 tempting reasons to buy a Google Pixel now

My plan was to go with another Pixel — the problem was choosing which one. Scoring a refurb Pixel 3 XL is one way to go. But there’s also the Pixel 4A and Pixel 5. The Pixel 4A and Pixel 5A with 5G are also interesting options. Confused yet? I don’t blame you. Ultimately though, I settled on the right Pixel for me. If you’re like me and need a Google handset right now, read on. The phone I chose (and why I picked it) will likely make sense to you, too.

Current Pixel phones should get the latest software first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Straight Android, no chaser

After I went pure Android, the way Google intended, I could never go back. Duplicate apps and tons of nonremovable carrier bloatware are but a distant memory. Pixel phones are also the first to get Android OS and security updates. That’s not usually the case with Samsung or OnePlus devices. And the fact that I’m a Google Fi cellular subscriber often narrows my phone replacement options. All that makes getting a Pixel, any Pixel, my chosen path.

It’s time for me to move on from the Pixel 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Choice 1: Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL

Google no longer officially sells the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. That said, you can find both models on Amazon. To replace my current Pixel 3 XL (128GB) though, I would have had to shell out $470. That’s too much to pay for an older processor (Snapdragon 845) and a measly 4GB of RAM. More importantly, Google will end guaranteed software updates soon. That’s why this phone isn’t worth it no matter how much the price has dropped since or may drop in the future.

Read more: Google Pixel 3 vs. 3 XL

The Google Pixel 4A.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Choice 2: Pixel 4A

The Pixel 4A comes with the Snapdragon 730G, a better processor than the 3 XL. You also get 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal memory and promised software updates from Google up until August 2023. Not a bad deal for $349 — it’s a compelling option. Still, I could do better.

The Google Pixel 5

Juan Garzon/CNET

Choice 3: Pixel 5

Representing the ultimate Google-branded Android phone (at least for now) is the Pixel 5. It’s powered by a respectably muscular Snapdragon 765G processor alongside a robust 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. Google will also keep the device’s software fresh until October 2023. Other welcome features include wireless and reverse wireless charging, plus IP68 water and dust protection. The Pixel 5 links to 5G cellular networks, too.

But even at $699, this phone is pricey. The Pixel 6 will be here soon too, and it’s rumored to cost $749. Paying top dollar now for last year’s model isn’t a shrewd move. But I think it’s better to be frugal and possibly splurge once Google releases the full Pixel 6 details. Depending on how much it costs and what it can do, you may decide to pass on it or snap one up.

The Pixel 4A 5G offers a nice compromise between price, power and potential. 

Pixel 4A 5G

Choice 4: Pixel 4A 5G

This is the phone I ultimately selected because it’s a perfect compromise of price, performance and potential. (At least that’s what I thought back when I ordered my Pixel 4A 5G in June. With the recent launch of the Pixel 5A, however, all bets are off. More on that below). At the time I was able to snatch a Pixel 4A 5G for $500 through Google Fi. Right now, Amazon has it in white for $499.

With the same Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5, 128GB storage and 6GB of RAM, the Pixel 4A 5G also packs a punch. It supports 5G wireless and has a bigger battery than the classic Pixel 4A, too.

Google expects to provide Pixel 4A 5G software updates until November 2023 (oddly, one month longer than the Pixel 5). All that made this phone the clear choice for me — until recently.

The Google Pixel 5A is a great Android deal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Choice 5: Pixel 5A

What a difference a few months makes. Now that Google has unveiled the Pixel 5A, my calculus has shifted, big time. If I had to choose today, I’d get the Pixel 5A 5G with no hesitation. Of course, I’ll likely experience sour grapes once the Pixel 6 launches.

Priced at $449, this new phone is essentially about $50 less than the Pixel 4A 5G. Even so, like the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G, the 5A comes with a beefy Snapdragon 765G processor. Likewise it’s decked out with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. You also get 5G cellular comparability with the Pixel 5A.

What really sets the Pixel 5A apart, at least for now, is its 4,680-mAh battery and 6.34-inch display (2,400×1,080-pixel resolution). Both are bigger than what either the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G offer. Better yet, Google plans to supply the phone with software updates until August 2024. All that currently makes the Pixel 5A the best Pixel deal around.

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Pixel 5A with 5G: Google surprises us yet again


For more, here’s how to decide between a Pixel 5, Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL, the Pixel 5 versus the Pixel 4A 5G and the Pixel 5 versus the iPhone 11, Galaxy S20 FE and OnePlus 8. Plus, six reasons to buy a Pixel and how the Pixel 6 could compare to the Pixel 5

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