I think that the Pixel 3a has immediately made it hard for me to recommend anyone looking for a midrange phone look at anything else right now. If your budget is $400 then this is a no-brainer, and even if you’re willing to spend a little more and you bring the OnePlus 7 Pro into play, I think this phone will hold its own very well for a lot of people.
Just like last year, Google is back at it with the 4a, which feels very much like the successor you expected it to be. Google made the same choices they made last year, leaning into making the camera experience amazing, and compromising in materials and performance.
While the 3a had the exact same camera hardware and software as the flagship 3 and 3 XL, the 4a is actually a bit of a downgrade this year. It shares the same main sensor as the Pixel 4/4 XL, but it lacks the 2x telephoto lens. This is a sad omission, but it's not the end of the world. You still get the same great processing that you get from the flagship line, and I'm sure photos will just look great from this phone.
I'm actually impressed with the build quality this year, too. Last year's phone was definitely not "premium" but it felt good in the hand and certainly did not feel "cheap". I don't have it in hand to tell for sure, but the materials look at least as good as last year, and the screen got a solid upgrade. There's far less bezel than even on the Pixel 4, and the hole punch camera is something I disliked initially when I had it on the Galaxy S10e, but I've come to like it more over time.
There's a bigger battery than than the Pixel 4, which I very much appreciate. Coupled with a lower energy processor and this thing should get solid battery life, just like last year's model (again, can't say for sure, but the math works and early reviews seem to indicate this is indeed the case).
And then there's performance, which is the thread they had to leave a little short to hit the price point. It's a little slower than the OnePlus Nord which is not shipping in the US, but that's pretty encouraging. This ain't going to be a top-tier phone for benchmarks, but for lighter users it's going to be perfectly capable, at least for a year or two.
That's all I can really say for now. I'd love to get my hands on one of these, but since I've already got a Pixel 4, I don't have a good reason to buy one for myself. Instead, I'd recommend Michael Fisher's impressions as a solid overview.