9 things I learned switching from the iPhone SE to the Google Pixel 4a

While you can spend a thousand bucks or more on a phone if you want, you don’t actually need to anymore. In the past few months, Apple and Google have both released impressive mid-range phones that cost less than $400 and bring many of the features usually reserved for premium handsets, including wireless charging, all-screen designs, and impressive battery life.

But as with all things Apple and Google, the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a are not created equal. But I wanted to see just how different they are. I had been using the iPhone SE since receiving it in early June, so when the Pixel 4a arrived on my doorstep, I popped out the SIM and jumped back into the world of Android. Here’s what I learned:

Speed isn’t all that important

The biggest selling point of the iPhone SE is its processor. Apple gave its low-cost SE the same A13 chip that’s inside the flagship iPhone 11 Pro, and you can definitely feel the power when launching apps and multitasking. It’s a whole lot faster than the Snapdragon 730G inside the Pixel 4a. But while using both, the Pixel 4a didn’t really feel that much slower during day-to-day use thanks to Android 10. Frankly, the people buying these phones aren’t going to be looking for flagship-level speeds anyway. It’s nice for sure, but not necessary.

64GB of storage isn’t good enough

The iPhone SE might start at $399, but most people should opt for the $449 model with 128GB of storage. System files and formatting take up 5GB-10GB or more, and when you factor in photos, videos, and apps, 64GB can fill up very fast.

I didn’t really notice how conservative I was being with my space until I started using the Pixel 4a, which comes with 128GB of storage, twice as much as the $899 Pixel 4 XL. Where I was judicious about photos and apps on my iPhone SE, I didn’t hesitate to install or download anything on the Pixel 4a.

pixel 2 now playingMichael Simon/IDG

The Now Playing notification has been a staple feature since the Pixel 2.

Apple is wasting Shazam

Ever since the Pixel 2, Google has included a cool ‘Now playing’ feature that automatically scans the surrounding area for music and identifies what it hears. It’s a fantastic feature that Apple could easily mimic, and it wouldn’t even have to build its own database or algorithm as Google did. Apple already owns the Shazam song identification service, and could use it to build a speedy, private, and delightful feature for the iPhone that’s just as good as it is on the Pixel 4a. Instead, the only feature it’s added to Shazam is an automatic Apple Music playlist. Yawn.

pixel 4a iphone se back Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 4a is Android’s ying to the iPhone SE’s yang

Read more about the iPhone SE and the Pixel 4a:

Macworld: iPhone SE review

PCWorld: Pixel 4a review

PCWorld: iPhone SE vs the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Google out-designed Apple for once

While the iPhone SE is certainly a well-built phone, there’s no getting around its 2016 design, with giant bezels, lots of wasted space, and a home button. The Pixel 4a, on the contrary, looks a lot like the iPhone 11, with a near-all-screen design, rear fingerprint sensor, and rounded corners on the display. It looks better and more modern than the iPhone SE and doesn’t feel cheap, either. But Apple wins with colors. Sadly, you can only get the Pixel 4a in black (though I really like the mint-green power button.)

Night mode is essential

Google revolutionized nighttime shots with Night Sight on the Pixel 3, and Apple followed suit with its own Night mode on the iPhone 11. You can quibble over which produces better results, but there’s no denying that both represent a huge leap for low-light smartphone photography. If you buy a Pixel 4a, you get it—and even without a dedicated image signal processor, it’s nearly as good as it is on the flagship Pixel 4 XL. Apple has inexplicably left Night Mode off the iPhone SE, and the camera suffers as a result.