Google’s unveiling of the new Pixel 3a and 3a XL was a peculiar sight to see. In a market where major smartphone manufacturers are touting the capabilities of their flagship line of phones, Google has decided to go against the grain and instead introduce a product aimed at attracting consumers who have a smaller budget.
Right now you can purchase the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL at SGD $659 and $779 respectively; that’s a really good price compared to the phones by its competitors which routinely hit beyond the $1,000 mark.
Of course, with that price point, it’s fairly obvious that Google had to make sacrifices. Now, we are going to lift the lid on what those sacrifices were.
While aesthetically the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are very similar to their predecessors, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, certain differences are apparent. Instead of a glass body adorning the previous models, the 3a and 3a XL uses plastic.
The word plastic most likely gives off the impression of low-quality, but the build itself is really strong and sturdy, quite akin to its older brothers. You also won’t have to deal with the annoyance of the scratch-prone soft-touch texture that plagued the previous iterations, instead, the back has a smooth matte texture feel that is scratch-resistant.
The caveat of not having a glass back though is the removal of any capability for wireless charging, so that’s a consideration you have to take into account.
Display and Sound
The screens are also quite similar to the Pixel 3 series. You’ll get a 5.6-inch and 6-inch OLED display for the Pixel 3a and 3a XL respectively; nearly indistinguishable when you put the two series side-by-side. That’s a good thing as the Pixel 3 line had really bright and vibrant displays even on default settings, and the Pixel 3a series continues that aspect.
The big difference would be the removal of the notch that was a big talking point about Pixel 3 XL; both the 3a and 3a XL have bezels at the top and bottom of the screen instead. Some may rejoice at the culling of the hideous notch, but you also lose the wide-angle front lens that was housed within the notch.
The speakers have also changed slightly. Instead of dual front-firing speakers that the Pixel 3 series had, the 3a line only has the single front-firing speaker, with the second one moved to the bottom where the ports are. Sound quality is more than serviceable when playing at a loud volume, but it lacks the “punchy” factor that the dual speakers offer, plus there’s still the risk of muffling the sound when accidentally covering the bottom.
The biggest concern that people may take into account is possibly the processors that are powering the devices. Both devices have a Snapdragon™ 670, which is weaker than the Snapdragon™ 845 featured in the Pixel 3 series and also a ways off from the Snapdragon™ 855 currently powering popular flagship phones.
While this indeed sounds a damning account on the new Pixel line, in reality, it really isn’t all that significant, especially when taking into account the problems that the Pixel 3 series had.
This phone is not going to win awards in terms of its speed and responsiveness; you’ll find other smartphones which beat the 3a series relatively easily in that aspect. But that is not to say that it’s horrible or broken, it just works boringly normal.
From a week of using it, it performed relatively routine with no visible slowdown even with multiple apps in the background. Zooming in on photos is a little bit of an issue as it isn’t as responsive as the older generations of iPhones even, but it gets the job done.
In general, you’ll probably find that pinching and one-finger gestures require slightly more effort during everyday use, but it is something you can get used to. But that’s really the gist of it, it’s not fast, but it’s not slow either.
But enough about cuts, because the Pixel isn’t all just that. In fact, some improvements have been added to the phone. Now the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL have a 3,000 mAh and 3,700 mAh batteries powering them respectively, an improvement from the 2,915 mAh and 3,430 mAh batteries found in the Pixel 3 and 3 XL.
Combined with the processor which requires less power, it makes for vastly improved all-round battery performance. To put that improvement into perspective, the battery percentage only hovered around 55% to 60% after an average day of use (social media surfing and video streaming with the occasional taking of photos).
Those with wired audio devices will also be happy to know that the headphone jack also makes a return, having been missing since the Pixel 2 discarded it.
But the most important feature that is still present is most definitely the camera. The Pixel 3 series still has one of the best cameras on the market, and the Pixel 3a series keeps that quality. Despite only using a single lens, the computational software that Google utilises for its Pixel cameras keeps that image looking crisp and sharp; you can see details like pores with selfies in particular.
Night Sight, the low-light camera function is also here, and it is still really good. In near pitch dark environments, Night-Sight uses that same computational software to light up the environment. The result creates images that look like they were taken at dawn even though it was captured during the dinge of midnight.
Google-specific features like Google Lens are also found within the camera app itself, so you can utilise it to find information on products or places while out and about.
Overall, for the price that it has, you would be remiss to find another phone with the functions that can rival what the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL carries at a similar price. Despite the slight downer about the processor and speakers, the battery and camera more than redeem it; simply giving this Pixel phone tremendous value.
Photos by Soloman Soh and Goh Jing Wen of the DANAMIC team.