Features

First look: Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL

7 May 2019 by Tom Otley
Google Pixel Lifestyle Shot

Mobile phone users tend to divide into iPhone and Android camps, but even among those who like the various Android systems, only a small proportion have Google’s own phones. Google wants to change this, but faced with the same criticism that all the phone manufacturers have faced over the price of their products, they have now released two less expensive versions of their phones. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are still being sold, but now there are slightly cheaper versions on the market, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.

First off, the price. Though less than the originals, they are still not cheap. The Pixel 3a is £399 and the Pixel 3a XL is £469. This compares with £739 for the 5.5 inch display and £869 for the 6.6 inch display respectively for the existing models. The price reduction has been achieved by changing the materials in the phones to a Polycarbonate unibody.

Pixel-3a-front-and-back-black

What remains unchanged is the camera. The Pixel has one of the best cameras on the market, and these new phones have the same capabilities. I’ve been using Pixels for some years, and at Christmas bought a Pixel 3 (it was in the sale, but still, I wish I’d waited for these new phones). Features of the camera app that let you do things like take pictures in low light (“Night Sight”) are excellent, and the overall quality of images is extremely impressive.

I also use Portrait Mode, which gives you the option of how much you want to blur the background – after you’ve taken the photo. Google Photos is built in, so you can save the photos and videos for free with unlimited storage and ensure your phone doesn’t get filled up.

Pixel-comparison-chart

I’ve been using the camera to search for items as well; you can use Google Lens to search for items that resemble whatever the camera is pointing at. Of course, you could simply walk around someone’s house valuing things, but more usefully if you want to quickly find something information or supplier-wise, the Lens is a good way of doing it.

Battery life is impressive on the existing Pixel 3, and the same seems to be true on this new one. I tested the larger Pixel 3a XL over the weekend and had trouble running down the battery to test how quickly it charges back up, though of course you need to have a phone for many months before you know the reality of the battery life. The phone learns your favourite apps and then prioritises powering those you use most frequently, which saves having to think about it yourself.

One improvement on the new phones is there is a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack – with the full-price ones you have to use the USB-C one.

Whether you like the design or not is down to personal preference. The phone comes in three colours: Just Black, Clearly White and Purple-ish.

Google is still pushing the Google Assistant, which is getting better, but which I still rarely use for anything other than setting a timer when I’m cooking. Perhaps when the Google Nest Hub Max comes out in the summer, this will change. We’ll see.

For those who really know their technology, I have included details from the specification below.

Verdict

I like Google Pixel phones. I am, however, a little annoyed that they have brought out these much less expensive phones only five months after I bought a full price one (it was in the sale, but still expensive).

That said, these new models are good value if you want a top-notch phone. Whether it will help Google sell more phones remains to be seen. I know many people who use Samsung phones, and while it’s not surprising they have made that choice, it is odd that in many cases they have not even heard of the Pixel.

I should say that although I’ve never had a problem with my own phone, I have read that a few people have (there’s a Reddit thread on this if you want to read about it there).

I have asked and been assured that these problems are being addressed, but since I haven’t experienced them myself, it certainly would not put me off buying another Pixel. I will probably not rush to buy the Pixel 4 when it comes out later this year, however, just in case Google releases a Pixel 4a.

The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are available from the Google Store

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