Updated May 22, at 3:58 p.m. ET: We've added battery test results from our review of the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.
Google has gotten into the midrange smartphone business, announcing the $399 Pixel 3a and $479 Pixel 3a XL during its annual developer conference. Those phones are now available, and we've had the chance to review both the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL in the weeks following Google's announcement.
Think of the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL as lite versions of Google's Pixel 3 flagships. Google's latest phones cost hundreds of dollars less than the more fully featured Pixel 3 and 3 XL, with the tradeoff being the processor powering Google's new phones and the materials Google used in the design.
Here's a closer look at the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL and what kind of specs you can expect from each phone.
|Phone||Pixel 3a ||Pixel 3a XL |
|Starting Price||$399||$479 (opens in new tab)|
|Screen (Resolution)||5.6-inch OLED (2220 x 1080)||6-inch OLED (2160 x 1080)|
|CPU||Snapdragon 670||Snapdragon 670|
|Rear Camera||12MP (f/1.8)||12MP (f/1.8)|
|Battery||3,000 mAh||3,700 mAh|
|Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)||11:59||11:44|
|Colors||Clearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish||Clearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish|
|Size||6 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches||6.3 x 3 x 0.3 inches|
|Weight||5.2 ounces||5.9 ounces|
Price and Availability
The most eye-catching feature with the Pixel 3a may be its price tag. The smaller of Google's two new phones starts at $399 — roughly half the price of what you'd pay for a high-end flagship phone. The Pixel 3a XL only costs $80 more, starting at $479.
If you wanted a Pixel phone from a carrier in the past, you previously had to go through Verizon. Big Red returns as a carrier partner for the Pixel 3a, but it's got company this time. Google says its new phones will be available through Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular. You'll also be able to buy it through Google Fi, the company's only wireless service, and discount carrier Visible tells us they'll offer the phone, too, starting in June.
Design and Display
The Pixel 3a looks like a recognizable member of the Pixel family right down to the two-tone finish. These phones are made out of a polycarbonate plastic instead of the metal materials favored by the Pixel 3. But the new lower cost phones still feature OLED screens instead of a less costly LCD panel.
The Pixel 3a is the smaller of the two models with a 5.6-inch display housed in a 6 x 2.8 x 0.3-inch frame. You'll get a 6-inch screen with the 6.3 x 3 x 0.3-inch Pixel 3a XL.
Both phones have one welcome change from the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL — they have 3.5mm headphone jacks instead of forcing you to opt for a wireless headphone or a cumbersome dongle. The phones come in the usual Just Black and Clearly White color options, with a new third color that Google is dubbing Purple-ish. It gives the Pixel 3a a light lavender look.
To bring the price of the Pixel 3a down, Google is opting for a midrange processor, the Snapdragon 670. Don't necessarily assume the Pixel 3a will deliver hobbled performance, though — Qualcomm's Snapdragon 6 series chipset power a lot of midrange Android devices, and the chipmaker has put an emphasis on improving the camera, AI and gaming features in recent 6 series chips.
Google will augment the Snapdragon 670 with 4GB of RAM in both phones. You'll only be able to buy the phone with 64GB of storage, unlike the Pixel 3 which comes in 64GB and 128GB capacities.
Google's phones have stood out with their photo-capturing skills, and that seems to be one area where the company isn't compromising with the Pixel 3a. The phone features a single 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture on the back. That just happens to match the camera setup found on the Pixel 3.
Clearly, Google is going to place the same emphasis on AI-powered photo features with the Pixel 3a as it does with its flagship phones. That means features like Night Shot, which captures detailed photos when the lights are low, and Super Res Zoom, which uses AI to keep zoomed-in images sharp, will be present on the Pixel 3a.
"What other smartphone cameras try to do with expensive hardware, we can deliver with software and AI," Google's Sabrina Ellis said.
You'll notice one change from Google's recent flagships on the front of the Pixel 3a. There's just one selfie cam — an 8-MP shooter — instead of the twin lenses found on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
The Pixel 3a sports a 3,000 mAh battery, while Google has turned to a 3,700 mAh battery to keep the Pixel 3a XL's larger screen powered up. Google is promising 30 hours of use on a single charge, and in our battery test — continuous web surfing over T-Mobile's LTE network until the phones run out of power — both Pixels held up well. The Pixel 3a lasted 11 hours, 59 minutes, while the Pixel 3a XL ran out of juice 15 minutes sooner. Both those times place the new Pixels among the longest-lasting smartphones we've tested since late 2017.
When it's time to power up the battery, you should get about 7 hours of battery life after 15 minutes of charging. Again, our testing found that the Pixels charge fairly quickly: after 15 minutes of charging, our Pixel 3a XL went from being out of power to a having a battery indicator at 22 percent.
Despite the Pixel 3's outstanding camera — we rank it as one of the top camera phones — Google has had a hard time selling the phone as the market for high-end flagships has contracted and people are holding onto their phones longer. The company's response is to turn to mid-tier phones that deliver the same AI-powered camera features for a lower price while skimping on some other features you'd normally associate with flagships.
Will Google's Pixel 3a gambit pay off? A first glance at the specs for the Pixel 3a reveals a phone with a compelling mix of price and features, and now that we've had a chance to test the new phones, we think they compare quite well to the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, particularly when it comes to capturing photos. The Pixel 3a is the best phone you can get for less than $400, placing it on our list of top smartphones available right now.
Check out all the news Google announced at its developer conference on our Google I/O 2019 hub page.
Lead Image Credit: Google