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Google Pixel 3a XL review — 75% Pixel 3 experience at 50% the price

By Ng Chong Seng - 12 May 2019
Prices:

Google Pixel 3a XL review - Pg 1

 

A for affordable?

At the Google I/O developer conference today at Mountain View, California, Google has officially unveiled its long-rumored midrange Pixel handset — the Google Pixel 3a. Available in two screen sizes, I can confirm that the Pixel 3a is coming to Singapore and has a starting price of S$659.

 

Wait, isn’t there a Pixel 3 already?

Despite coming a good seven months after the Pixel 3 (our review here), the Pixel 3a isn’t meant to replace the Pixel 3 — the Pixel 3 remains Google’s flagship phone until the “Pixel 4” arrives later this year. Google is pitching the Pixel 3a as the more accessible (read: more affordable) Pixel, one that doesn’t cost north of S$1,000 like most modern flagship phones do.

 

So how much does it cost?

The regular Google Pixel 3a, with a 5.6-inch OLED screen and 64GB storage, goes for S$659. There’s also a Pixel 3a XL, which really, is just a 3a with a bigger 6-inch screen and larger battery (3,700mAh vs. 3,000mAh), and that’s priced at S$779. The phone is available in Just Black, Clearly White, and Purple-ish colors, but only the first two are sold in Singapore. You can get the phones directly through Google, carrier partner Singtel, and retailers such as Courts and Challenger.

Comparatively, the 64GB Pixel 3 and 3 XL have a sticker price of S$1,249 and S$1,399 respectively, so the Pixel 3a phones are quite a bit cheaper.

 

Okay… but what’s the catch?

To achieve nearly half the price of the Pixel 3, something’s got to give on the “budget” Pixel 3a.

Components-wise, neither of the Pixel 3a phones runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip that’s on the Pixel 3. Instead, the Pixel 3a uses the Snapdragon 670, an octa-core processor that’s also in other midrange phones such as the Oppo R17. The 3a still comes with 4GB RAM and charges over USB-C (18W max using the bundled USB-C charger).

To go into specifics, the regular Pixel 3a has a 5.6-inch OLED display with a 2,220 x 1,080-pixel resolution (18.5:9 aspect ratio). The 3a XL’s 6-inch display also uses OLED and this has a 2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution (18:9). Neither display goes edge to edge, which means both phones have a forehead and chin, like, you know, most phones launched before 2018. The lightning-fast Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor is still mounted on the back of the phone.

Material-wise, while the Pixel 3 uses an aluminum frame and sports a glass back, the 3a is unabashedly housed in a polycarbonate shell. The rear coating is actually very well done that I didn’t notice the swap when I first picked up the Pixel 3a XL, which is the model I’ve been testing the past week. What gave it away is the 3a XL’s incredibly light weight: a scant 167g. For comparison, the Pixel 3 XL weighs 184g. On the other hand, the Pixel 3a is only a gram lighter than the Pixel 3 (147g vs. 148g). Also, the Pixel 3a uses Asahi’s Dragontrail glass instead of Corning’s Gorilla Glass.

A personal favorite Pixel 3 feature that Google has omitted from the Pixel 3a is wireless charging. Because the 3a doesn’t have a metal back, I’ll chalk this as yet another cost-related decision than a technical one. In addition, while the Pixel 3a still has stereo speakers, only one of them faces the front.

Last but not least, the 3.5mm headphone jack is back on the Pixel 3a, but no headphones are bundled in the box.

The Pixel 3a can do up to 18W fast wired charging over USB-C (supports USB PD).

The white Pixel 3 XL has a lime green power button, but the white Pixel 3a XL has an orange power button.

Hello, 3.5mm headphone jack!

 

What about the most important component — the cameras?

I know of many people who got the Pixel 3 because of its cameras. With the Pixel 3a, Google has continued to put faith in the powers of computational photography and is using the same Sony IMX363 12.2-megapixel sensor that’s on the Pixel 3 for the 3a’s rear camera. 1.4μm pixel size, dual-pixel phase detection, f/1.8 aperture, optical and electronic image stabilization, 76° field of view — nothing’s changed in this department.

But it’s a different story for the front-facing camera. Unlike the Pixel 3 that has dual 8MP front cameras, the 3a only has a single 8MP front camera with an f/2.0 lens and 84° field of view. The FOV of the 3a's selfie camera is interesting: it’s wider than the standard front camera on the Pixel 3 (75°) but not as wide as its second wide-angle camera (97°). Google has chosen a middle ground here.

The Pixel 3a has the same rear camera as the Pixel 3, but it's missing the flagship's spectral and flicker sensor.

7.5
  • Design 7
  • Features 7.5
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7
The Good
The same rear camera performance as the Pixel 3 (Night Sight, yo!)
Feature and security updates straight from Google
Very fast fingerprint sensor
Headphone jack!
The Bad
2017 design in 2019
No wireless charging, no dual front-facing speakers, no IP68 build
This isn't a cheap Pixel - you're still paying a premium for the Pixel experience
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