Review roundup: Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL
Google’s latest duo of Pixel handsets are aimed firmly at the midrange market, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re cheaply made – under those polycarbonate cases beat the same heart found on their premium siblings.
They were only just announced yesterday at I/O 2019, but major tech outlets have had them in-hand for a while already, and reviews started posting up today.
Fun fact: This is the first all-Google Pixel produced by the company, designed and built in the smartphone division that Google purchased from HTC last year.
Let’s see what the tech world thinks of the new Pixel 3a and 3a XL:
They’re Pixels, all right. Anyone who’s seen the Pixel 2 or 3 will recognize the curves on the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. There are a few minor changes though, other than the beautiful Purple-ish colorway. The dimensions of the smaller Pixel 3a have changed from the Pixel 3, moving to an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. The outer casing is now polycarbonate instead of the slippery glass of the premium models, but otherwise not much else has changed from the design cues.
Oh, the headphone jack is back. Yay! There’s no IP-rating on either phone though, possibly because it costs extra to get certified and would have increased the phone’s prices. The new phones are also slightly larger than the premium versions, although that does bring slightly higher battery capacities with it.
Active Edge also made it across from the more expensive models, which was one of the cooler functions of the higher-priced Pixel range. Kinda surprised by this, it felt like a premium-only feature.
TechRadar has this to say: “the Google Pixel 3a could easily be confused with the Pixel 3 – it has a similar-looking body with rounded edges and screen corners, the same placement of the front- and rear-facing cameras, and the same buttons in the same places.”
The New York Times only had one major issue with the design, citing the “lack of waterproofing.”
The Verge said that the new handset designs: “don’t look or feel cheap at all even though they have plastic bodies instead of metal.”
The 12.2-megapixel sensor and f/1.8 lens on the back are the same as the Pixel 3, and so is the 8-megapixel selfie cam (although it’s not as wide-angle as the premium version). With the Pixel 3’s camera being the king of the mobile world until very recently, that means you get a flagship camera for a midrange price. Oh, and all those camera modes? They’re still there, along with a new one – Time Lapse.
The Pixel 3A doesn’t get the (probably expensive) Pixel Visual Core processor, so it does all of its image processing on that midrange Snapdragon SoC. That means you’ll have to wait a little longer for the camera to do its thing once you hit the shutter button, but will it slow down much?
TechRadar pointed out the differences between the Pixel Visual Core and the software-only processing on the Pixel 3a, saying: “it seemed to us that colors were boosted a little too much at times, resulting in pretty but unnatural-looking images, and some of the optimization options, like ‘cloudy image mode’, applied a blanket filter rather than intelligently working out how to enhance the image.”
CNET noted the difference in Google Photos storage that comes with the lower-priced devices, with: “Pixel 3A owners have unlimited storage only at a compressed size it calls high quality.”
Wired said that on the back camera: “Even the depth-blurring (bokeh) effects in the Pixel 3A’s portrait mode, done with software, looked as good or better than what Samsung or LG could cook up.”
The screens are still high-resolution OLEDs, although it’s Dragontrail glass instead of Corning Gorilla Glass. That seems to be the only difference, making the Pixel 3a and 3a XL come out ahead from most midrange priced devices and their LCD screens.
How much ahead? Well, The NY Times said that the “screen also has marginally less accurate colors than the high-end Pixel’s display, but you would need to hold the devices side-by-side and look very closely to notice the difference.” Sounds good to me.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor inside should mean slower performance, but Google reportedly tweaked the software to work better with the lower-price CPU.
CNET was impressed by this, saying: “during my time with it so far, day-to-day usage didn’t feel much different from the Pixel 3.”
TechRadar said that the slower processor was “evident when you’re using the phone – the interface feels a little bit slower to navigate, apps take a tiny bit longer to load, and it takes longer for the phone to spring to life when you put your finger on the fingerprint sensor.”
So should I buy it?
That depends. Do you value your smartphone’s camera quality? Do you have a budget of between $300 and $500 to spend on your next handset? Do you have service through Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, or Google Fi? Does a financing option from all of these sound good?
If the answer to any of these is Yes, then put the Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL onto your shortlist.
The NY Times boldly said: “There’s little that casual technology users would want from a phone that the Pixel 3A doesn’t provide.”
The Verge said that even the list of drawbacks vs the premium Pixel range: “doesn’t include the stuff that usually makes a cheap phone suck” while going on to mention again that they were “annoyed enough by the fact that you don’t get Google Photos original resolution backup for free.”
TechRadar said to not compare the Pixel 3a to the Pixel 3, but “to compare it to other mid-range phones at around the same price point – and by that metric, the Pixel 3a blows its competitors out of the water.”
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