Judie has a Google Pixel 3XL and loves it. And why wouldn’t she? The phone is fast, has a gorgeous screen and, by all reports, has the camera to beat. Currently $699, that’s a good $200 less than it was initially. The Pixel 3a has a similar design, costs just $399, and it is a problem.
I could go into a full, in-depth review of the Pixel 3a I have been using for a number of weeks, but there are plenty of excellent reviews available. And while all of them offer each reviewer’s unique take, they all begin by listing the phone’s specifications. So before we get into why the phone is a problem, let’s run those down.
Inside the box, you will get the Pixel 3a, an 18W USB-C power adapter, a 1-meter USB-C to USB-C cable, a quick start guide, a quick switch adapter, and a SIM tool. you don’t get headphones, a case, or any of the other extras you sometimes find in the box.
The phone measures 6” by 2.8” by .3” and weighs just 147 grams. It runs Android 9.0 Pie with a guarantee of updates for at least three years. The 5.6” OLED display with 441 ppl has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio and looks fantastic. Under the hood is a 2.0 GHz + 1.7GHz, 64Bit Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor with an Adreno 615 and Titan M security module. 4GB of RAM ad 64GB of storage make this phone hum. WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz work in tandem with Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Google Case; AptX and AptX HD codecs make this an incredibly well-connected, great-sounding device.
The cameras also impress. The rear camera is a 12.2MP dual-pixel camera with optical and electronic image stabilization, an f1.8 aperture and powerful imaging software that takes advantage of the hardware Google put into the device. The front camera is 8MP with an f2.0 aperture. Pictures taken with the phone look great. Here are just a few examples…
At my niece Talia’s graduation.
At a recent runaway to Long Island’s North Fork
All of that adds up to the fact that Google put hardware into the Pixel 3a that can compete with these in the far pricier Pixel 3. A quick comparison look at the specs of the two Pixel 3a devices (the one I have and the larger XL) and the Pixel 3 make that clear:
All that adds up to a phone that is just $399 unlocked. And that’s why the Google Pixel 3a the problem… for Apple… for Samsung and even for OnePlus. In fact, after spending some serious time with the device, I think it is safe to say that the Pixel 3a is a problem for all of the current flagship phones. How else would you describe a phone that delivers a close-to-no compromise experience for less than half of what you might otherwise pay?
A few years ago, I wouldn’t be writing this. A few years ago a phone in this price range would be a compromise. (Although it is also worth noting that a few years ago flagship phones didn’t cost as much as a laptop.) A few years ago a “budget” phone, and I think it is safe to call a sub-$400 phone a ‘budget” phone in the current market, would have “mid-level components.” That was, of course, how companies kept the price down. But not only are mid-level components now far superior to the premium components of just a few years ago but as the charts earlier in this “review” make clear, the Pixel 3a doesn’t even use “mid-level components.” It delivers anything but a mid-level experience.
But that is beside the point. As the Pixel 3a makes clear, phone technology has come so far in recent years that even mid-level phones now deliver an experience that is better and more powerful than all but the most power-of-users need. Sure, there will always be a few compromises that get made when opting for anything but a flagship phone. In the case of the Pixel 3a, those compromises come in the form of lack of wireless charging and waterproofing, two “features” I love but can certainly live without. One other “compromise” comes in regard to the materials used in the construction of the phone. The screen doesn’t have the latest technologies or highest pixel density currently available. But who cares? The phone’s screen is still bright and sharp. If you aren’t comparing it side by side with a “premium” device, you won’t know the difference.
Then there is the phone’s body. In 2019 using plastic in a phone sounds like a company cheaper out. Thing is, the Pixel 3a has a plastic body but not only doesn’t it feel like Google “cheapened out” but the plastic construction feels solid. Moreover, the plastic construction results in a phone that is feather-light.
Add in the fact that most people keep their phones in a case and… who cares what the body is made of?
Yes, Google should have included a case with the phone. They didn’t, but the $40 case they offer is quite nice…
And it offers good protection without adding too much weight to the phone. That’s significant since the light weight of the Pixel 3a is one of the things I love about it.
So what’s the bottom line? Quite simply this. With the Google Pixel 3a (and the larger Pixel 3A XL), Google has released a phone that is affordable, looks and feels great and promises an excellent smartphone experience. The cameras are among the best I have tried in a smartphone, and the device is fast enough that there aren’t any slowdowns, stutters or hiccups … and you get all that for under $400. That’s great news for consumers but could be a problem for Apple, Samsung, OnePlus and even Google. After all, if you can get a phone as great as the Pixel 3a for under $400, is waterproofing and wireless charging really worth spending two or three times as much? Perhaps more to the point, is the $449 2016 iPhone 7 worth $50 more? Is the two-year-old iPhone 8 worth $200 more? Is Apple’s least expensive current model, the $749 iPhone XR worth $350 more? As a judge might say, “Asked and answered.”
Perhaps Carly put it best in a recent discussion when she said, “I think this race for bigger faster more expensive is going to backfire and cause more people to hang onto phones longer…so if phone makers want to drive sales, they have to follow Googles lead.” I concur and the first shot across the bow is the Google Pixel 3a. It’s an amazing phone, and it won’t break the bank! The Pixel 3a is a great phone… and it is a problem. But only for other phone makers.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Fast; Excellent Screen; Light; Cameras are awesome; Has a 3.5mm headphone jack; Affordable without compromise
What Needs Improvement: Plastic body so it should come with a case; No headphones included; No wireless charging; Not waterproof