Noel Campion says most people will be happy to trade off a few features for the low price tag with Google’s Pixel 3a XL
Prior to the launch of the latest duo of Pixel phones a month ago, Google surprised me by sending out a Pixel 3a XL for testing. I’ve been using it ever since and although this less expensive alternative to the Pixel 3 XL, most should be happy with the sacrifices made to reduce the final price tag.
The screen on the Pixel 3a XL, which is a good, but not spectacular OLED display that has a resolution of 2,160 x 1,080 pixels. The Pixel 3a sports a 5.6-inch FHD+ screen while the bigger brother has a larger, 6-inch panel. For those that care, both devices come with a 3.5mm headphone jack, but you won’t find any headphones in the box. Crucially, and for those who will buy a phone primarily for its camera, you get the same rear-facing camera found on the much more expensive Pixel 3 and 3 XL. This is a big deal and probably one of the biggest reasons I’d purchase this phone over others in this price range.
There’s only a single front-facing camera on the Pixel 3a XL whereas the Pixel 3 XL has a secondary wide-angle camera. Personally, I don’t use the selfie camera too much, but if you’re into it, the extra wide lens on the 3 XL does come in handy, especially for things like group photos. Compromises were made in several areas and this is just one of them.
Other features that make the 3a XL a more affordable version of the Pixel 3 XL include a more mid-range processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670. In real-world use, the 670 performs flawlessly thanks to stock Android and Full HD+ screen. However, if you were to downgrade from a flagship that had a Snapdragon 845, or above, you will notice a difference.
The display quality is impressive for a phone in this price category, but it isn’t as good as you’ll find on more expensive top-of-the-range phones. I love that the 3a has the excellent always on display that shows you all of the essential details and notification icons without having to unlock the phone. You also get Now Playing, the lock screen feature that displays the name and title of tunes it hears.
There’s no notch, but there a small bezel on the top and a slightly larger chin on the bottom of the display. This does make it look a little dated for a new 2019 smartphone, but not so much that it bothers me. Unlike the 3 XL, the 3a XL doesn’t have those impressive front firing speakers. However, you do get a stereo setup with a front facing grill on the top bezel and a single bottom firing speaker on the bottom edge. This doesn’t sound as good as the 3 XL, but it is better than some flagships. The OLED display supports HDR using streaming services like Netflix or Prime Video. Not all TV shows or movies currently support HDR, but those that do, look fantastic. With the stereo setup and notch-less display, the Pixel 3a XL is an awesome device for media consumption.
Other sacrifices that the Pixel 3a XL has made over the 3 XL is the polycarbonate back instead of glass. To be honest, I’m totally okay with this and it actually takes close-up inspection to tell the difference. Most will wrap this in a case of some sort, which will cover the back anyway and the high-grade plastic back is less likely to break or shatter like glass will.
There’s no wireless charging, but very few people I know use this anyway. Also missing is waterproofing or a microSD card slot. The lack of a memory card expansion slot is becoming less and less of a thing now as cloud storage and streaming is more prevalent. Most users will be happy with the 64GB of storage, but if not, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The squeeze to launch the Google assistant is present on the Pixel 3a XL. This can be handy but it’s a feature I rarely use. Your mileage may vary.
The Pixel 3a XL comes with a decent 3,700mAh battery that’s good enough to get you through a heavy-ish day of use. What’s nice is that you get a fast 18watt charger in the box that will give you seven hours of use from a 15 charge.
And then there’s that Google Pixel, single lens rear camera that everyone raves about. Yes, it really is great and although I love the flexibility of phones that feature more than a single lens such as the Huawei P30 Pro, the Pixel 3a XL manages to create stunning photos with each shot you take.
The Pixel 3a XL can take super sharp detailed portraits with DSLR looking bokeh backgrounds. At times, it almost looks too sharp. Google uses computational photography techniques to maximise the camera hardware, but I did notice a longer delay in processing time compared to the Pixel 3 XL. Being spoilt with an ultra-wide angle lens on other phones the Pixel 3a and 3a XL can only simulate this by creating panorama photos. It does a decent job of creating a detailed zoomed in photos too, but not as good as you’ll get with a lens that has 2x or more optical zoom.
One of my favourite camera features on the Pixel 3a XL is Night Sight. The 12-MP single camera is capable of capturing stunning photos in near-dark environments. This feature is only second to the P30 Pro, which has three lenses to help it capture incredible details of nightscapes, handheld and without a tripod. In particular, I love the way Night Sight can capture cityscapes with neon lights. However, at times the effect of Night Sight can look very artificial but in general, it’s a game-changing feature that allows you to capture photos that would not be possible otherwise.
The Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL are impressive offerings at this price especially if photography is one of your key requirements. As with all Google phones, you’re getting a stock Android experience and you’ll always be first to get the latest updates to the OS. At starting prices of €349 for the Pixel 3a and €449 for the Pixel 3a XL, you’re getting a fantastic phone with a flagship camera and mid-range hardware that most will be more than happy with.