Yes, we're still in that phase of the OS where die-hard Lumia users are scanning the horizon for a decent iOS or Android smartphone to switch to. One that will match their 950 in the areas that matter and exceed it in others (in theory), all while not breaking the bank (begone £1000+ phones!) And into this process I'm inserting the brand new (in the UK) Google Pixel 4a, at £349 all in. (Yes, Google just announced the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, but they're not out for a month or so and they're a lot more expensive. Watch this space as I get these in for review in due course.)
How well does the Pixel 4a match up to a classic Lumia? Looking at the specs - as usual, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device, and any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where all devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given each a 'green'(!)
[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on a phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet!]
|Microsoft Lumia 950||Google Pixel 4a|
|Date first available||November 2015||October 2020 (in the UK, a USA variant shipped earlier)|
|Current price, availability||No longer officially for sale, though it's often on clearance prices if you're lucky and at outrageous profiteering prices due to rarity (if you're not!)||£349 (has to get the win on price and availability)|
|Dimensions, form factor, weight||
145 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here!), 150g, bezels are comparatively small
|144 x 69 x 8 mm, 143g, glass front and plastic sides/back, sealed as per modern smartphones. Slightly narrower and lighter than the 950. Even smaller bezels.|
|Durability||No specific durability metrics, though the fact that the back comes off will help enormously for water damage, i.e. taking out battery and cards immediately, drying out the internals, even unscrewing the motherboard from the guts of the phone. I'm old-school here! All damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. If spare parts were all still available, all this would get a win here, but I notice that the likes of Replacebase have stopped listing replacement Lumia 950 screens, so it's all a little bit moot in 2020...||
No specific durability claims, though the SIM card tray has a gasket on it and I suspect there's water protection for jack, speaker, etc. even though it's not IP-certified. Indeed, YouTube tests show the 4a surviving under water for multiple minutes.
|Operating system, interface||Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls, as needed, now officially updated to W10 Fall Creators Update (Redstone 3, Autumn 2017) with security to 'January 2020'. No more updates, though, so we're at End of Support.||
Android 11 out of the box (in the UK version here), September 2020 security, full-screen gesture navigation.
|Display||5.2" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio, matching most video media), Gorilla Glass 3, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles. Screen area is approximately 75cm2
Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons, plus some detailed info from a specified app.
|5.8" 1080p OLED, 19.5:9 ratio, HDR, Gorilla Glass 3, screen area is roughly 83cm2, so more screen real estate in the same form factor. Gets the win here, despite the lower resolution, because of better use of space, all other things being equal - more screen in a smaller form factor.
Always on 'glance' screen is available and includes 'Now playing' detection of ambient music around you.
LTE, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 4.2 (all uses).
Continuum connectivity to use a wide range of first and third party UWP apps on external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display. Includes the new NexDock 2, transforming the Lumia into a Windows 10 S laptop, effectively.
LTE, NFC (all uses) Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.0 (all uses).
|Processor, performance||Snapdragon 808 chipset, 3GB RAM, decently smooth on the Fall Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the Pixel. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
||Qualcomm SDM730 Snapdragon 730G, 6GB RAM, very fast at everything compared to the Lumia, things just happen instantly.|
|Capacity||32GB eMMC internal storage, expandable via (cheap) microSD to extra 256GB||128GB internal storage, non-expandable, joint winners here despite the lack of expansion because - come on - 128GB is still an awful lot.|
20MP PureView f/1.9 1/2.4" BSI sensor, Phase Detection auto-focus, dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, genuine 2x lossless digital zoom (in 8MP oversampled mode), OIS. 'Rich Capture' produces customisable HDR shots and 'dynamic flash', with triple LED illumination. Outstanding shots in most light conditions, with just focussing issues in low light as an Achilles heel.
5MP front camera, no auto-focus
12MP, f/1.7, 1/2.55", dual pixel PDAF, OIS, the same as Pixel cameras for the last few years, but (as usual) dramatically enhanced with clever multi-shot algorithms. Watch this space for an imaging comparison - yes, in theory results should be similar to previous Lumia-Pixel shootouts, but they're always popular and I enjoy doing them, so...(!)
8 MP, f/2.0 front camera, no auto-focus
|Imaging (video)||Up to 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and HAAC microphones for high quality, gig-level stereo capture.||Up to 4K video capture, digitally stabilised using gyro-input. Stereo audio capture, though with no live rock gigs under pandemic rules, it's hard to test absolutely in terms of dynamics!|
|Music and Multimedia
|A very average mono speaker by modern standards, though as ever you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak on Lumias.
|Stereo speakers, though with bass mainly coming from the bottom component and just mids and top end coming from the earpiece speaker. Still, it makes a satisfying sound for a phone, when watching YouTube or Netflix etc. They're louder and crisper than those in the Pixel 3a range, notably, but they fall short of the astonishing Dolby Atmos output from the iPhone 11 series or any recent Samsung flagship, many of which I also have here for testing.|
|3.5mm headphone jack driven by a dedicated Qualcomm DSP chip, plus Bluetooth A2DP+AptX, so great wired and wireless headphone audio too.||3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX HD on Bluetooth. The wired audio uses the basic DAC built into the 730G chipset, so it's not as loud or as high quality as that in the Lumia.
|Navigation||Windows 10 Maps is now pretty mature and impressive, especially once you've learned the live traffic routine trick! Offline maps save a lot of data bandwidth for those on tight contracts or anyone in a low signal (data) area, and these get the win here.
||Google Maps is now the gold standard in phone navigation, tied in with many other Google services and offering true real time navigation around traffic issues.|
|Cortana/Voice||Cortana was now mature and well integrated, though functionality has been falling away and it no longer functions at all in most parts of the world.||Google Assistant is built-in and is now significantly more capable than the competition.
|Battery, life||Removable 3000mAh battery, and the ability to change cells gets the win here, plus USB Type C Power Delivery (up to 3A, so 15W) and 1A Qi wireless charging built-in also helps enormously. However, a Lumia running Windows 10 Mobile will now discharge in 24 hours even if you don't use it much, so this remains a caveat.
Sealed 3140mAh battery, USB Type C fast charging (up to 18W, i.e. 9V at 2A). No Qi wireless charging, sadly, this would have got the Pixel a win here.
|Cloud aids||Windows Photos syncs across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff (stingy, unless you have Office 365), should you have thousands of images in the system. Plus Windows 10 backs all your media, application data and settings to a separate backup folder system, tariff-free on OneDrive, for easy restoration on a new or factory reset phone.||Google Photos, once installed, does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets. Plus backup space is free forever, with only a few caveats...
|File compatibility||As with all Windows phones, plugging into a Windows PC gives full drag and drop to the phone's user file system. Plugging into a Mac isn't trivial, though see here!||Plugging into a PC gives full MTP access to the Pixel's (user) file system, plugging into a Mac requires Google's Android File Transfer utility, but this works very well too.|
|Biometrics||Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a couple of seconds (including an animation!) in real world use. There's also no official way of paying in shops using this, at least not in most of the world.||Fingerprint sensor (on the back) works well and very quickly. Yes, it's 'old school' biometrics, but in today's mask-wearing society such an approach works pretty well.|
|Applications and ecosystem||Windows 10 Mobile has most (though not all) mainstream apps and services covered. Often third party clients are involved, mind you, there are companies who hate Microsoft so much that they simply refuse to write for Windows, it seems. And 'long tail' niche/boutique apps are hard to find for real world companies and shops.||The might of Google and Android's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form.|
|Upgrades and future||Windows 10 Mobile is now effectively out of support. From now on, it will be useable but with more and more service caveats applying. Still, 'end 2019' was a full four years since the Lumia 950 XL was launched, so it's hard to complain.||The single biggest USP of a Google Pixel device is the upgradability and support, in this case a guaranteed three years, taking us up to Android 13/T (probably) but certainly security updates through then.|
Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a resounding 13-5 win to the much newer device, unsurprisingly. Aside from the lack of Qi charging, the Pixel 4a is a pretty good match/replacement for the Lumia 950 across the board. Narrower, much faster, with equally good imaging, all at a knockdown price and available for years to come. What's not to love?
Your comments welcome, anyway.