Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL quick review: Best of Pixel at relatively affordable prices
We have heard of the affordable or cheaper Google Pixel phones for over a year now. Well, finally two of them are here. After many leaks, which revealed almost all that is there to know about the new Pixels, the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL have been officially launched globally and in India. And while they are not exactly what you will call cheap, or even affordable, if you use the word "relatively" they do make some sense. Compared to the Pixel 3, which debuted at a price of above Rs 60,000, last year, the Pixel 3a costs Rs 39,999 in India. The Pixel 3a XL costs Rs 44,999, which you can say is "relatively" more affordable compared to the Pixel 3 XL that debuted at a price of above Rs 70,000.
So, in a way, Google now plays in the premium market as well and not just in the ultra premium market. And here its competition is with the likes of OnePlus, Honor and Samsung. The question then is: Do the "relatively" affordable Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL make sense for consumers? Should you pick one of these over an Honor or a Samsung. And answer, from what I have seen and tried of the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL, seems to be yes. Google is playing to its strengths with the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL, albeit it doesn't entirely succeed in giving Pixel fans what they were expecting as far as the price is concerned.
The two newly launched Pixel smartphones are a bit pricey. While the Pixel 3a, which comes with 5.6-inch full HD+ gOLED display and a 3,000mAh battery, costs Rs 39,999, the Pixel 3a XL, which comes with 6-inch full HD+ gOLED display and a 3,700mAh battery, costs Rs 44,999. Both the smartphones come with Qualcomm 670 processor, 4GB RAM and 64GB memory, a 12.2MP rear camera and an 8MP front camera. By comparison, the OnePlus 6T, that boasts up to 8GB RAM, Snapdragon 845 processor and a dual rear camera setup, was recently selling for as low as Rs 32,999, while the Vivo V15 Pro, that comes with 6GB RAM, Snapdragon 675 processor and a triple rear camera setup is available for Rs 28,990.
But, as it happens with the Pixel phones, there is more to the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL than what meets the eyes.
During my limited time with the two smartphones, I found the devices to perform spectacularly well both in terms of the camera performance, which is one of the highlights of the Pixel smartphones, and otherwise. The two smartphones look quite similar to the original Pixel 3 smartphones, they are fast, despite having a more mainstream processor, and they produce sharp images even in the low light conditions - which is one area where other smartphones in this segment often fail to impress.
Difference between premium and ultra premium according to Google
Like I said, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are quite similar to the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL smartphones and yet there are subtle differences that separate the new Pixel smartphones from their ultra-premium siblings.
The Google Pixel 3a XL looks quite similar to the Google Pixel 3 XL that was launched last year. And while the Pixel 3 XL comes with a glass back, the Pixel 3a XL features a plastic body. Visually, the difference is apparent, even though Google has tried to give similar dual-tone finish (glossy and frosted finish) to the plastic back of the Pixel 3a phones that the Pixel 3 from the last year sports. The plastic bodies of of the new Pixel phones look a bit more shiny as well and more down-market compared to the premium finish of the glass. The difference is subtle but it's there. Pick up the phone, and you notice the difference even more because obviously the plastic bodies of the Pixel 3a phones feel different compared to the glass and metal of the Pixel 3 phones.
The one good aspect of this plastic is that the new Pixel 3a phones are lighter. This means that if you like keeping your smartphone in the back pocket of your denim, you won't feel Pixel 3a XL weighing it down like a dead weight.
Notably, a glass body is not the only point of difference between the two smartphones. The Pixel 3 XL sports a notch on the top, which houses two cameras. The Pixel 3a XL, on the other hand, comes with old-fashioned bezel on the top that houses a single camera. Besides this, the budget Pixel 3a XL also sports thick bezels on the sides and on the bottom, and that clearly indicate their more affordable price tag.
Another surprise with the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL is that they bring back the 3.5mm jack that went missing in the premium Pixel smartphones - something that the jack lovers would appreciate a lot.
Great low-light shots
If you ask Google, or anyone following Pixel phones for a while now, about the raison raison d'etre of the new Pixel 3a chances are that you will be told that this about bringing (now well known) Pixel 3 camera to people who don't want to spend Rs 60,000 on a phone. And it seems like a good reason. It also seems like a reason that Google justifies by offering consumers what it is giving in the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL rear camera, which uses the same 12-megapixel Sony-made IMX 363 image sensor that is inside the more expensive Pixel 3 phones. And its performance is in line with what hardware suggests.
During my limited time with the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL smartphones, I tried their cameras under indoor lighting conditions and under low-light conditions and the images they produced were impressive. The two phones shoot pictures that are clear and with no signs of starkly evident noise or distortions. The colours captured by the two phones, particularly under the low-light conditions were bright and quite similar to the ones visible to the naked eye. I believe the credit for this goes to Google's image processing software. I will have more to say about the phone's camera performance in the coming days.
Clean software and good performance
The Google Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL are fast, something that I believe is because of the neat and clean Android 9 Pie software paired with fairly capable Snapdragon 670 processor. I haven't yet pushed the Pixel 3a I am testing to its limits by playing some games like PUBG or Real Racing, but in day-to-day use the phone performs admirably well. It doesn't slow down or show any signs of lag while I use apps like Facebook and Instagram. When I switch between app there aren't any lags, and camera app works without stutters.
As I said earlier, this doesn't mean that the Pixel 3a would be as fast as a phone like the OnePlus 6T that costs similar and has top-end, albeit from last year, Snapdragon 845 processor, because once you are pushing the phone by playing a game like Fortnite at top graphics settings, the Snapdragon 670 is bound to huff and puff. But for now let's keep that as an assumption. As I use the Pixel 3a more, I will be taking a more detailed look at its performance in its full review in the coming days.
The performance is also good with the phone's fingerprint sensor, which effectively unlocks the phone in less than a second without an error each time.
Besides this, the Pixel 3a is full of some cool tricks that make using it an absolute delight. You can squeeze the phone to invoke the Google Assistant and you can even set it to identify the song playing in your vicinity.
In my short time with the Google Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL, I found the two smartphones to be good performers. Yet, there are many aspects of the two phones that I am yet to assess. Google is promising stellar battery life with both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL - something like best in the class battery life - but that is something I am yet to test. Then there is the display, which too according to Google is one of the top highlights of the Pixel 3a phones, but with that too I need some more time to see if its brightness can stand up to the scorching Delhi sun or not. Camera too needs a more through testing.
But overall my impression of the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL is positive. I don't particularly like the plastic design, but I don't mind it either. It's an issue not because it's not a good design but because better designed metal and glass phones - hint Honor and OnePlus - exist in the market around same price points. Other than that, it is clear to see that Google is playing to its strengths here and if you have craved Pixel-class - yeh, it has become an adjective - camera and clean Android software, the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL are "relatively" more affordable options for you from Google.