Starting off with the most important thing to say right now, is that if you want to buy a smartphone in a price range between $300 and $500, the Google Pixel 3A or Pixel 3A XL is the best smartphone you can buy right now. It is the best phone in that price range and it’s also competitive with the most expensive phones having only one thing that ranks it so high up, the camera.
For the past years, buying a phone came up with a big rule: if you wanted a good camera, you needed to spend at least $600. You could either do that, or buy an older iPhone (as famous about their cameras) or just buy a used or refurbished phone. On the other side, Android phones have become quite great recently starting first with their cameras, which in the past were quite mediocre.
The $399 Pixel 3A or the Pixel 3A XL, don’t follow that above rule. While you maybe see some compromises similar to other cheap phones, the actual smartphone can take photos that are nearly identical to the Pixel 3. The Pixel 3 can cost from $200 to $300 and more.
Personally, I can say that a $400 phone has a camera that almost surpasses every other phone’s camera right now, I know, unbelievable.
|Low price||Slow processor|
|Excellent camera||No wireless charging|
|Great version of Android||Not water resistant|
On first sight, the Pixel 3A phones are nearly identical to the Pixel 3 phones. The 3A models are just a bit taller than the 3 ones, but that’s for the headphone jack brought back for that model on the top of the screen. The bottom speakers are down-firing instead of front-facing, but generally the aesthetics are extremely familiar to the Pixel 3.
They have the same matter/glossy fingerprint sensor on the back of them. The screen sizes are very close, though the Pixel 3A XL doesn’t have the unsightly notch of the 3 XL and the 3A phones also use OLED panels under the glass. Although they have plastic around its corners and the whole body, the 3A phones don’t feel or look cheap at all. The 3A and 3A XL come in black, white, or a new color called “purple-ish”.
The Pixel 3A is going to be sold by more carriers this year, such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular and Google Fi, which they will carry and of course support financing options and troubleshooting right from their stores.That comes after may user concerns about repair and replacements without having physical stores to go.
About the rest of world, carrier support will be just the same as last year, but unfortunately the prices for the UK are 399 and 469 respectively.
Pixel phones run a smoother, faster and cleaner version of Android, which just erases each company’s way of displaying their Android version, such as Samsung, LG or Huawei. It is more disturbing at pushing some Google services than those other phones, but the trade-off is that Google has guaranteed to get the latest Android updates as soon as they are out for the next three years from the times the phone is released.
The Pixel 3A has made an absolute impression to me on its photographing skills and it looks nearly identical to the Pixel 3, which until very recently was the best camera on a phone. It is one of the best cameras for now, better than iPhone’s XR and clearly among the best between the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the iPhone XS.
The 12.2-megapixel sensor and f/1.8 lens on the back are the same as the Pixel 3, as is the single 8-megapixel selfie cam on the front. The only hardware difference is that the Pixel 3A lacks Google’s custom Pixel Visual Core processor, so it has to do its image processing on the main CPU and GPU.
That change may lead to some different image processing choices, but if so, they’re super hard for me to spot. The main difference is that images take longer to save. The camera takes about two seconds to fully launch from the lock screen, but after that, it has an instant shutter. It also supports all the same camera features as the Pixel 3: Night Sight, dancing AR cartoons, Top Shot, and the new Time lapse feature coming to all Pixel phones.
When you’re on a thought of buying a good camera phone, you usually end up thinking about the ones on the high lines. You finally end up zooming to the pixels and talking about the ISOs and contrast differencies. You try to copmare portrait mode features and blur background ones.
After a big comparison on the camera of the Pixel 3A and 3A XL, we have found a way to say that, you can that time take a picture with two different phones that looks the same. To say everything, the Pixel 3 photos seem better in contrast and detail in some cases. But, without Adobe Lightroom, a good monitor and a photography expert to take you through the differences, you can’t notice them so easily.
Of course, there are better cameras surpassing the Pixel 3 in some ways. For instance, the Huawei P30 Pro has a better zoom and good low-light shots. Talking about videos, there is not much difference between the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3A. The good news stop there, as the Pixel 3 can’t quite compete with the iPhones and Galaxy phones for video quality.
But, to be honest, these phones cost a lot more than the Pixel 3A. And I cannot stress enough to think of a phone which costs $400 and has nearly the same camera as an iPhone or a Galaxy one.
There is one important photo difference between the Pixel 3A and the Pixel 3: free backups to Google Photos. On the Pixel 3, you get free unlimited backups of the original resolution photos you’ve taken with the phone. The Pixel 3A is limited to free “high quality” backups, and it makes you pay for more storage if you upload too many original quality photos, just like any other phone. I suppose that’s one way to help get to that $399 price, but I think it’s a cheap move.
By now you’re probably thinking: fine-looking phone, great price, good software, great camera… what’s the catch? Well, there are a few big ones and lots of little ones. Every smartphone — especially every inexpensive smartphone — has trade-offs. Google had to pick some battles to win and some to lose to hit this price point. If you aren’t spending north of $700 to buy a phone, you’re going to have to give a few things up.
|PIXEL 3A / 3A XL SPECS|
|Display: 5.6 inches, 2220 x 1080 (3A); 6 inches, 2160 x 1080 (3A XL)|
|Size and Weight: 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches, 147g (3A); 6.3 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches, 167g (3A XL)|
|Battery: 3,000mAh (3A); 3,700mAh (3A XL)|
|Memory: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM|
|Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 670: 2.0GHz + 1.7GHz, Adreno 615 Graphics|
|Rear camera: 12.2-megapixel with optical + electronic image stabilization; f/1.8 aperture|
|Front camera: 8-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture, 84-degree field of view|
The most important catch is speed. The Pixel 3A is not fast. You will absolutely notice it when you’re opening an app for the first time in a while because it will take a second or so longer to load than it would on more expensive phones. When you take a photo that requires some kind of more intense processing — like HDR or portrait — that will take longer, too. Webpages tend to load in instead of snapping instantly into place. You’ll notice it, especially if you’re coming from a relatively recent high-end phone.
And then you won’t — or at least I didn’t. I’m a longtime Pixel user, and within minutes of using the phone, I wasn’t put off by the lag. It didn’t occur to me that I was using a phone with a slower processor because I just never perceived a lag. I don’t think I’m being some kind of apologist here, either. I’ve shown this phone to several of my colleagues and asked if it felt slow, and the universal response has been “I guess, maybe? But it seems totally fine to me.”
The Pixel 3A uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, which is a new-ish midrange processor that’s a bit of an overachiever. It’s not as fast as a Snapdragon 845 (Pixel 3) or 855 (Galaxy S10 and lots of other 2019 phones). It’s nowhere near as fast as the processor in the iPhone XR or XS.
Still, once an app is up and running, it’s just as good as it would be on a Pixel 3. Heck, I even managed to stay alive for several half-hour PUBG mobile games without adjusting away from the default high graphics settings.
One note of caution: the Pixel 3 has earned a reputation in the Android community for inexplicable slowdowns. Some of those problems have been improved with software updates, but not all. Over time, lots of phones have a tendency to slow down. If you have a phone that already starts slower than a flagship out of the gate, it could be a risk that it won’t have the staying power of a more expensive phone.
The second catch is the screen. A great screen has become a must-have for a phone to be considered “premium,” and it’s a big part of what you’re paying for. The best screens on the market go edge to edge with wraparound sides. They have incredibly high resolutions, near-perfect color reproduction, and get blindingly bright. Some even have high refresh rates, which make them feel like you’re moving a physical object instead of coaxing pixels into disappearing and reappearing as you scroll.
The Pixel 3A doesn’t go in for any of that, but it is, nevertheless, a better screen than you would normally get on a phone at this price range. It’s OLED, for one thing, which means that you get perfectly black blacks and an always-on display to show you the time and notifications. The front panel may be surrounded by a plastic rail, but it is real hardened glass. It’s just that it’s Dragontrail glass instead of Corning Gorilla Glass. Unfortunately, I have no idea yet if that means it’s more crack or scratch prone.
I noticed a bit of variation in screen temperatures across the Pixel 3A, 3A XL, and the regular Pixel 3 modes. The 5.6-inch Pixel 3A, in particular, was a little warmer than it probably should have been. If you’re familiar with the history of Pixel phones, I’ll put it this way: both 3A models have more color-accurate screens than the Pixel 2 XL.
On a $1,000-plus phone, you should absolutely nitpick the screen. It should be a pristine expanse of bright, completely invisible pixels. I don’t think a $400 phone needs to be held to the same standard, but that doesn’t mean you should accept crap. This isn’t a crap screen. It’s good, and I had no problems with it.
We are used to live in a world where good and pricey phones have thin metal around their display and generally the whole phone itself, but this one is made of polycarbonate. It doesn’t have glass to be melted around the frame, though. You can clearly see that the bezels are bigger above and below the screen, but no notch. There’s no second camera on the front or the back. The fingerprint sensor is sitting at the back of the phone instead of under the screen, and you won’t get a face recognition feature either.
I personally don’t have such an ache about all those features and the Pixel 3A is not a “premium” phone, but it certainly is a well-designed, simple and comfortable one. The only real adornment is the classic Pixel’s two-toned finish on the back: the top of it is glossy; the majority is matte. It still supports the squeeze-to-launch Google Assistant feature. You can pick from three colors with twee names: “just black,” “simply white,” and “the new purple-ish.”
There is one build quality trade-off that I wish Google hadn’t made: the Pixel 3A isn’t water resistant. Everything else about this phone — including the price — makes you feel like it can be a knock-around device that you don’t have to worry about. But you will have to worry about it getting doused with liquid.
There are a lot of little things you’ll miss out on with the Pixel 3A. Some of them might matter to you, but I strongly suspect most will not:
- It doesn’t have front-facing stereo speakers. The bottom speaker fires downward. But it still gets plenty loud and sounds all right.
- It doesn’t support wireless charging. This one’s a bummer, but it’s not surprising.
- It doesn’t have the fastest possible networking. If you are on a Wi-Fi network that could push through more than 600 Mbps, you won’t be able to achieve that. (You are almost surely not near such a network.)
- The only storage option is 64GB, and there’s no SD card support to expand it.
- It doesn’t support Daydream VR.
- It can’t do wide angle selfies like the Pixel 3 can.
- I’m annoyed enough by the fact that you don’t get Google Photos original resolution backup for free to mention it again.
Add up all of those catches, from the speed to the screen to the build quality to the above list. Are those things worth $300 or more? For a lot of people, the answer is clearly yes. Especially in an age when people are upgrading their phones less frequently and amortizing the cost of them over two or three years, I can definitely see the case for buying the nicest thing you can possibly afford and hanging on to it for as long as possible.
But I really think that, for a lot of people, the answer is no. That’s because that list of catches doesn’t include the stuff that usually makes a cheap phone suck. The Pixel 3A has an excellent battery life, for example. Both the small one and the big one lasted all day for me, with screen-on time well north of four hours, which is better than what I get on a Pixel 3.
It also isn’t filled with the kind of bloatware that manufacturers usually lade cheap phones with in a desperate bid to offset the cost and increase the profit margin. It’s just a clean, Googleified version of Android. That does mean that it’s a little more Google in places like the home screen, the camera, and Assistant, but that’s a damn sight better than what sub-$500 phones usually get.
The biggest catch you don’t have to deal with is the one I’ve already droned on about: cheap phones have always had bad cameras. The Pixel 3A has an excellent camera.
Also, it has a headphone jack.
Am I recommending this phone? Yes. If you want a phone between 300 and 500 bucks, you won’t find a better option.
In a head-to-head comparison with all of the phones you’re probably familiar with, from the iPhone X lineup to the Pixel 3 to the Galaxy S10, the Pixel 3A will lose. I don’t know if the cost savings and the expanded carrier support will be enough to make this phone popular.
But I do know this: I have been waiting for Google to make this exact phone for something like five years. Google used to make phones that were ridiculously good for the price. 2013’s $349 Nexus 5 is still the pinnacle of an inexpensive, excellent phone. Since then, prices across the industry have gone up, up, and up again. So I am glad Google is getting back to those roots. This is the kind of phone Google should be making: something really good and really affordable.
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