The Pixel experience is driven (mainly) by Google software and A.I. working tightly with a given set of hardware — and judged on this front, the Pixel 3a isn’t that much different from the much more expensive Pixel 3.
But Google giveth and Google taketh away. One of the main selling points of Pixel is the ability to store all the original-quality photos and 4K videos taken with the phone for free on Google Photos. But with the Pixel 3a, there's only the "high quality" storage option. This means that if a photo is larger than 16MP, it will be resized to 16MP; and a video higher than 1080p will be resized to 1080p. I've asked Google the reason for this decision — here's the reply.
On the security front, the Pixel 3a uses the same custom-built Titan M security chip as the Pixel 3. This chip secures the boot process, verifies your lock screen passcode, prevents insider tampering (e.g. unauthorized firmware updates), and protects sensitive transactions — just to name a few.
Being a Pixel handset also means you’re guaranteed to get Android version and monthly security updates for three years.
Yes, there are. The Pixel 3a's Camera app has a new feature called "Time Lapse". This lets you take a series of photos at regular intervals and then combine them into a continuous sequence in the form of a video. You can do 6 frames per second all the way to one frame every 4 seconds.
Google is also readying an early preview of AR in Google Maps. First shown at last year's I/O event, this lets you see AR-powered directions overlaid directly on the map.
Both features aren't exclusive to the Pixel 3a, of course — they're expected to come to other Pixel phones as well.
I was reading through my colleague’s Pixel 3 review and was surprised (not surprised?) that the bulk of her conclusion applies to the Pixel 3a.
I like the Pixel 3a because it offers a pure Android experience, a very good camera, a more-than-decent battery life (I consistently got 5 hours screen-on time by the end of each day), and Google is promising regular security updates. If your priorities are the same and you trust Google and rely a lot on Google services, the 3a is an easy recommendation.
But there are things on the Pixel 3 that I really miss on the 3a and these include the ultra-wide-angle selfie camera, wireless charging, and the IP68 build. I’ve been using the Pixel 3a XL for over a week now, and I’ve been mostly pleased with the smoothness of Android 9 Pie — the thought that the phone needs a high-end Snapdragon chip has never crossed my mind. But benchmarks don't lie either, and as you can see below, the Snapdragon 670 is... erm... not the fastest chip in the room.
All that said, if your priorities don’t match mine, couldn’t care less about the Pixel experience, or you prefer a more trendy phone, there are plenty of alternatives. The new Huawei P30 Lite is one. Priced at just S$398, the P30 Lite features a 6.15-inch teardrop display, runs on Huawei’s midrange Kirin 710 processor, comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage, and offers a triple-lens rear camera setup. The newer S$849 Oppo Reno, which has a faster Snapdragon 710 processor, a notch-less display, a dual-lens rear camera, and an A.I.-powered Ultra Night Mode, is another interesting phone that arrived in stores recently.
Now don’t get me wrong and see this as a knock on the Pixel 3a’s pricing — all this just shows that in the smartphone market, specs have a very flimsy correlation with price. Like how Apple values the iOS experience, Google clearly also places a certain value on the Pixel experience. Overall, I’d say that the Google Pixel 3a offers 75% of the Pixel 3 experience at 50% of the latter’s price. This is no easy feat and Google has done it by cleverly playing to its software strengths. The question is, is this lower premium attractive enough to lure you to ditch your current Samsung or Huawei phone (which may even have "better" specs) to give the Pixel a go?
This review was first published on May 8.