Since most flagship smartphones cost a month’s rent, the trend is for manufacturers to create a budget-friendly lineup. In some cases this amounts to a sub-par knockoff of a high end handset, but the new Google Pixel 3a feels like the company tried a lot harder than that. I got my hands on one of the first handsets and got to spend a couple of weeks with a regular size 3a, but the phone also comes in 3a XL.
What is Google Pixel 3a?
Google Pixel 3a is Google’s brand new budget smartphone, selling for about $549 (the Pixel 3a XL is $649) compared to the $999 regular size Pixel 3. It runs the latest Android 9.0 Pie (same as the Pixel 3 regular), and comes with many of the same features you’d get on the Pixel 3.
The processor on the 3a is the Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 670, and that does differ from the Pixel 3, which is equipped with the Qualcomm® Snapdragon 845.
One of the early questions I got on my Instagram page when I showed off the phone for a first look was about whether or not it feels cheap. I’d say definitely not. It is a bit lighter that the Pixel (though I have the Pixel 3XL, so naturally I’d notice a weight difference) but it’s got a good sized 5.6” display that also looks clear and sharp and bright.
What’s in the box? Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL
Inside the package you’ll get:
The Pixel 3a phone
An 18 W USB-C™ power adapter with 1 m USB-C to USB-C cable (USB 2.0)
Quick Start Guide
Quick Switch Adapter
Design & access: Fingerprint scanner is back
Pixel 3a keeps the familiar two-tone Pixel phone design (my demo model came in white), but there’s also a new colour: Purple-ish. The colour pop power button is still here, and it’s got the rear fingerprint scanner, dubbed Pixel Imprint, too. I actually really love the placement of the scanner. It’s high on the back of the phone in the most natural place, and your finger settles there easily, making unlocking the phone feel effortless. Plus it opens lighting fast.
How’s the screen on Google Pixel 3a?
The screen is an OLED display, which again is the same as the full spec Pixel 3. There’s a headphone jack in the 3a and the Always-On screen display makes a re-appearance.
How is it in bright outdoors sun? Definitely bright enough, and no harder to view than any other smartphone.
The Pixel 3a has different screen colour modes so you can set it the way you like it; the default is Adaptive Mode, which gives you bright, vivid, yet “still natural” colours. If you find it a bit too vibrant, you can tone it down by switching to Natural Mode or Boosted Mode You can find these in your Settings menu under Display>Advanced>Colours; you get a vivid colour photo to sample the settings on which is helpful. Truthfully, I didn’t personally see a whole lot of difference overall in the different settings so Adaptive was fine by me.
Plus the screen has adaptive brightness control which automatically adjusts the screen brightness depending on the light. That’s a pretty surprising feature in a budget phone.
The Active-Edge squeeze function that summons the Google Assistant is also still here.
What is Pixel 3a missing?
This is where the rubber will hit the road for shoppers. While the Pixel 3a doesn’t feel like a budget version, it is obviously missing some of the features that are helping you save hundreds of dollars.
The 3a has just one front facing speaker to the regular Pixel’s two speakers. Do you listen to a lot of stuff off the phone’s external speakers? I sure don’t—that’s what headphones are for—so I didn’t miss it.
Pixel 3a camera specs & performance
There have been questions about the camera and whether it’s as good as the outstanding camera in the Pixel 3.
The 3a’s cameras are near-clones of the 3: a 12.2MP f/1.8 single rear camera and 8MP front-facing camera are the same, but missing is the second, wide-angle front-facing selfie camera found on the Pixel 3. Did I miss it? Again, not really. Video stabilization is packed in here too for those with shaky hands.
The real difference between the cameras in these two phones is that the 3a is missing some behind the scenes tech, like the Pixel Visual Core imaging chip. Will you notice it? Not likely. This chip supplies some of the behind the scenes processing power that means your photos might seem a bit less optimized. What?! You need to work a little harder to take better photos yourself? Kinda, but we’re talking minuscule incremental changes.
I took some photos with the Pixel 3 and the 3a to compare and I have to say there’s no real difference to my naked eye. I’ve always said the Pixel’s cameras are extraordinary and I’ll often carry it just for taking low light snaps at events, or when I need to get creative. The 3a will also have a place in my bag for this reason alone.
The camera’s Night Sight setting is back here too, and again, it’s just as good as the original; the Pixel 3a takes great low light photos. It’s the only camera phone I bring when I’m trying to capture night shots.
Other toys are still in the toybox here too, like Photo Booth Mode, which automatically snaps your photo when it detects a smile, but it now adds the ability to detect a kiss, and will trigger the shutter then too. Smart.
Top Shot, where the camera automatically detects the best frame of a photo for you is also available, and the animated Augmented Reality Playground feature where your can add animated characters and interact with them in your video is also back. Again, seeing this feature on a lower-cost smartphone is a welcome surprise.
Overall I found the camera on the 3a took great photos… Yes, as good as the ones on the Pixel 3, in my opinion.
Storage/memory options on Pixel 3a
There’s only one power/storage option: on the Pixel 3a you get 4GB RAM and 64GB memory, but you do get Google’s Unlimited cloud Storage option, so it might not be an issue.
Battery life & Charging: it’s not wireless, but it’s fast!
The Pixel 3a is missing wireless charging, but it does have a long lasting battery. You should be able to get about 7 hours of juice off a 15 minute charge, which is again amazing in a budget phone. Google calls this battery Adaptive (a lot of Adaptive features here, Google) and it says that with a full charge you can get up to 30 hours. The Adaptive feature is also supposed to learn your most used apps and prioritizes and powers those first. I didn’t really see that happening, since I guess it’s all in the background, but again, the details here are extraordinary for a budget phone.
Is the Pixel 3a as fast as Pixel?
With a smaller processor than it’s big sister, many potential customers might fear the phone will be slow or laggy. I didn’t find that to be so. Apps like the camera and Settings launched immediately, as did Chrome browser and my Gmail. I mean, let’s be honest, with smartphones we’re often talking about things happening in split seconds, so it’s hard to notice or time a difference; it’s about feel, and the Pixel 3a doesn’t feel slow.
Overall review of Google Pixel 3a smartphone
Overall the Google Pixel 3a is a relatively small cut to the specs that most of you won’t even miss, and a big drop in price in return. If you’re looking for a lower priced smartphone that still has all the bells and whistles, you won’t be sorry about choosing a Pixel 3a.
Google Pixel 3a sells for about $549 (the Pixel 3a XL is $649) compared to the $999 regular size Pixel 3 and you can get them from Google or most mobile phone carriers.