As a wise man once said, “the only thing certain in life is the stellar quality of pictures shot by a Google Pixel”. I know I’ve tweaked the original quote here to suit my own selfish purposes, but the fact is, you can’t shoot a bad photo from one of these phones, no matter how hard you try. And if you do, I’d probably have to blame you, not the device. That’s how confident I am about the Pixel’s shooting prowess. Honed to perfection over three generations, the shooters on Big G’s smartphones are arguably the best out there. But if the associated high price was keeping you back, you should be delighted to know that Google has just launched a couple of phones that will give you the same cameras at half the price. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Google Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL.
Let’s set the context straight right up front. If you’re looking for a performance beast, these phones aren’t for you. If you’re one of those who plonk their phones on the table to flaunt them, again, these phones aren’t for you. If you weigh each spec and feature against the asking price before buying a new daily driver, these phones aren’t for you. But if you want a no-frills device that can help capture memories in the form of crisp, beautiful imagery, you should take a closer look at the Pixel 3a duo. I’ll just go right ahead a lay it out in black and white for you – at Rs 39,999 and Rs 44,999 respectively, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL seem a tad overpriced and overshadowed by the competition, but deliver similar image quality and the same signature experiences (Now Playing, Night Sight et al) as Google’s flagship Pixels. Here’s what you should know:
Pixel 3a vs Pixel 3a XL
The new Pixel 3a and 3a XL are exactly the same in terms of specs and features, barring two key differences – the screen size and battery capacity. The Pixel 3a sports a 5.6-inch screen and a 3,000mAh battery, while the 3a XL, obviously the larger of the two, rocks a 6-inch display and utilises a 3,700mAh battery.
The common specs include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 670 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, 64GB storage, FHD+ OLED displays (sans any kind of notch) with 18.5:9 aspect ratio (18:9 on the 3a XL) and Dragon Trail glass, single 12.2MP dual-pixel Sony IMX363 f/1.8 rear sensor with OIS and EIS, single 8MP front camera with f/2.0 and fixed focus, USB Type-C with 18W fast charging, rear fingerprint scanner, stereo speakers, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC. Both devices accept a single physical nano-SIM, but there’s an eSIM embedded inside, and support will come soon, allowing you to use them as dual-SIM devices. The 3.5mm headset socket (missing on the flagship Pixel 3 duo) has made a comeback, and I’m not complaining at all. The special Titan M security chip is there too.
Pixel 3a / 3a XL vs Pixel 3 / 3 XL
As compared to the flagship Pixels, the relatively more affordable Pixel 3a and 3a XL obviously lack some features. For one, the newer, cheaper devices come powered by the Snapdragon 670 SoC, while the higher-end device utilise the Snapdragon 845. Also worth noting is the fact that the Google Pixel 3 XL, the top-end member of the family, offers a QHD display, while the others stick to FHD. Next, there’s no wireless charging support or any kind of IP rating in the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, while the flagships have both these features. Also, the new Pixel phones use polycarbonate in their construction, as against the flagships that use glass… though visually, you’d hardly be able to tell any difference in terms of the overall design. The new Pixel phones use the same exact dual-tone finish at the back as the premium models. To Google’s credit, the fit and finish of the 3a and 3a XL is excellent, and the in-hand feel is almost the same as that of the pricier models.
In terms of the cameras, the rear sensor on the new Pixel phones is the same as the flagships, but the phones differ in terms of the front sensor. As compared to the single 8MP sensor on the affordable siblings, the flagships offer dual 8MP sensors, comprising an f/1.8 PDAF primary unit and a f/2.2 ultrawide sensor. Worth mentioning that the Pixel Visual Core, the special image processing chip that made its debut with the Pixel 2 duo and was used in the Pixel 3 / 3 XL as well, hasn’t been used in the new Pixel 3a duo.
The signature Google experiences
If you ask me, the excellent camera aren’t the only aspect that define Google’s Pixel phones for me. I’d also count the signature experiences that these devices offer. Chief among these are features like Night Sight for the camera, Now Playing for automatic song recognition, Active Edge (activating Google Assistant by squeezing the sides of the phone), unlimited high quality cloud storage for photos (via Google Photos) and deep integration of Digital Wellbeing features.
In a nutshell, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL can shoot almost as well as the flagship Pixel 3 and 3 XL, especially as far as the rear camera is concerned. The front camera leaves a little something to be desired though. I have more details in my Pixel 3a vs Pixel 3 camera comparison, and tons of camera samples too, if you’d like to take a look. Overall though, I’d count the new Pixel 3a duo among the best camera phones priced under Rs 50k.
So now that you have the context, the background, and how the new Pixel 3a duo compare among themselves and against their flagship counterparts, here’s the lowdown in bulleted format so that it’s easier to read:
- The screen quality is top notch, thanks to the use of OLED tech. The colours are crisp and vibrant, and sunlight legibility is very good too.
- The stereo speakers can get loud, and I love the fact that I can connect any standard 3.5mm headphones.
- Now that I have gotten used to it, I miss wireless charging support, though that feature, and IP ratings, are only available in premium-tier phones. So can’t hold really hold it against the 3a duo.
- The software experience is great, and the vanilla version of Android Pie works well, though I still hate the two upward swipes required to get to the app drawer. Also nice is the promise of timely software platform updates going forward. These devices should be among the first to get the final builds of Android Q, and that should appeal to many out there.
- The Snapdragon 670 SoC is fast and fluid, but can’t really match the smooth performance offered by, say the Snapdragon 845 on the OnePlus 6T. Daily, mundane tasks run smoothly on the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, and PUBG can also be be played at high graphics settings too. That said, if you’re heavily into gaming, you should look elsewhere.
- The cameras are superb, and while I can tell you that there is a slight difference when the rear camera image quality is compared between the mid-range Pixels and the flagship ones, most users would be extremely pleased with the results offered by the new phones. Sadly, the front camera isn’t that great, and if you take lots of selfies, your money is better spent elsewhere.
- As far as the battery life is concerned, I’d say it’s very good, especially for the Pixel 3a XL that utilises a bigger (3,700mAh battery). Even the smaller model (that uses a 3,000mAh) battery should last you through the day with medium usage. I’m going to update this article with more detailed battery drain numbers and charging times soon.
Priced at Rs 39,999 and Rs 44,999 respectively, I’d have to say that the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are a bit of a tough sell, especially in a market like India where we have tons of other options. At that pricing, these phones encroach upon the so-called flagship killer segment, where we currently have the likes of the OnePlus 6T (review) and the LG G7 Plus ThinQ (review). Then there are the upcoming ones, such as the OPPO Reno (10x Zoom), Vivo iQOO, Samsung Galaxy A80 (first impressions) etc to contend with too. And if you can stretch your budget a tad, phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10e (review) and the Apple iPhone XR (review) are there as well. If you ask me though, the real threat is going to come from the upcoming OnePlus 7, which is expected to come powered by the Snapdragon 855 SoC and likely to fall in the same price bracket. And with no other frills like a display notch, gradient finish, pop-up camera, etc to boast of, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL hold more nerd value than mass value. I really wish Google would have priced the Pixel 3a duo lower, but as things stand, I’d say they still deserve to be shortlisted if you want a relatively affordable, no frills smartphone that takes great photos. A price cut or two, and the Pixel 3a and 3a XL might just rule the mid-range, believe you me.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Excellent rear camera
- Smooth performance and decent battery life
- 3.5mm headset jack
- Selfie camera could be better