Google Pixel 3a – Budgetish

Yesterday, Google launched its new budget-centric line of phones, dubbed the 3a and 3a XL. Are they worth it, when compared to competition? Let’s see.

Specs

The Pixel 3a comes with a 5.6″ or 6″ 1080p OLED display, which is good, for the price range, but not nearly as good as flagship phones. They come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 chip, which is very underpowered. It should affect day-to-day use too much, but it may be noticeable at first, especially if you are moving from a higher-powered phone. It comes with 4gb of memory, and 64 of storage. That isn’t much, even for a cheap phone.

Design

The Pixel 3a line has a very similar design to the Pixel 3 line, but with a few differences. The rear of the phone is made of polycarbonate plastic, so feels less premium than competitors. The bezels on the front are also a bit bigger than the Pixel 3’s. But, neither of these phones has a bathtub notch, which is always good to see. Also, there is a new colour addition, Purplish. It is light purple and features a yellow power button. It’s coolish.

Also, there is a new colour addition, Purple-ish. It is light purple, and features a yellow power button. It’s cool-ish.

Battery

The Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL have a battery capacity of 3000mAh and 3700mAh, respectively. For the former, that is not a good sign, because that is very similar to the Pixel 3, which had very bad battery life in my experience. For the latter, however, it is improved by 270mAh, which, along with the reduced screen resolution, smaller screen and more efficient chipset, should result in noticeably better battery life than its counterpart.

The phone comes with 18 watt “quick” charging which is actually quite slow by modern standards but should be fine for this price category. Neither of the phones, however, utilise the wireless charging of their flagship counterparts. That shouldn’t bother many people, but it does bother me.

Software

In typical Pixel fashion, these phones come with the latest instalment of Android 9.0 Pie and will receive updates for a few years to come, including Android Q at the end of the year. Other than that, nothing else of note here.

Cameras

Now, here is where the Pixel 3a really shines. It comes with very similar image processing to the Pixel 3, which, simply put, means flagship-beating photos. Literally. This phone will likely beat out the Samsung S10, iPhone XR and most other competitors in camera quality. However, the processing power is significantly lacking on these phones, so the photos will probably be less impressive than the Pixel 3’s, which is understandable.

When it comes to smartphones in 2019, the camera is the most competitive and compelling feature of nearly every type of phone, so the fact that Google has dominated this area by such a huge difference is incredible. But, actually, it isn’t that surprising. Google’s camera prowess comes from its software, which is free to replicate. That allows them to cram in the same software that made the Pixel 3’s camera so good, but for a significantly lower price.

However, the simple fact is that nobody has had the phone long enough to make a definitive conclusion about its camera quality. There are a few camera comparisons that I would recommend watching before preordering, but we basically just don’t know how good the camera is going to be. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Extras

The Pixel 3a comes with a rear facing fingerprint scanner, and no face unlock. That is acceptable for the price range, but is not good compared to flagship competition. It comes with stereo audio, but – unlike on its flagship counterpart – the bottom speaker is downward-facing. For many, though, that won’t be too big of a deal, and will be easily overlooked with the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack on this phone. To some, that will make this phone a more viable option than the Pixel 3.

However, about that headphone jack. Google has taken to twitter to state “No dongle, no worries.” This has led a lot of people to question if the headphone jack may make a return on the Pixel 4, or if Google will just go back on their word again.

Price

Now, for the good part. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are debuting for $400/£400 and $470/£470, respectively. That is just amazing. At about half the price of the Pixel 3 and 3XL, they might just be worth it. But are they? Let’s see.

Verdict

A lot of this comes down to what you look for in a phone. In this price range, if you are looking for the best design, there are better. If you are looking for the best battery life, there are better. If you are looking for the best speed, there are better. But if you are looking for a phone less than £600 with the best camera possible, this is it. The camera will be able to compete with phone 2, even 3 times its price, for probably quite a long time into the future.

It is for this reason that I don’t like to call the 3a a ‘budget’ phone, because it can quite comfortably compete with phones twice its price. I guess Google knows what it is doing. Not entirely purple, just purplish. Not entirely budget, just budgetish.

Google knows what it is doing. Not entirely purple, just purplish. Not entirely budget, just budgetish.

I think that a big problem with people’s thinking about the 3a is that they are comparing it to competitors of the Pixel 3. But it isn’t a Pixel 3. It is 3a. That “a” stands for “abscind” (we don’t actually know what it stands for yet, I just made that up). They abscinded (cut off) all of the unnecessary things in the phone, but left the cameras basically untouched. That has never been done before. So, it needs to be compared to competitors like the Honor Play, or the Moto G7. Both of those phones have a better chipset, better design and probably better battery life, but neither come close to the 3a’s cameras, nor its software.

So what do you think? Is the 3a worth it? Will you be picking one up, or are the tradeoffs Google made dealbreakers for you? Let me know in the comments below.

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