Google I/O 2019 conference made a surprise announcement this year by launching two new phones targeted towards the mid-range segment. Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL are officially here with a price tag of Rs 39,999 and Rs 44,999, respectively. The phones will be available May 15 onwards and if you're looking for reasons to buy or not buy the new Pixel devices, you're in the right place.
Google Pixel 3-series, despite their great value, failed to impress the masses and break the monopoly of Samsung and Apple in the premium smartphone segment, especially in India. But things could be changing soon for Google as it has brought affordable variants of its flagship smartphones - finally a chance for the masses to try out the impeccable camera without breaking the bank.
Google sent us the Pixel 3a review unit and after spending some quality time with the device, here are my thoughts on the cheapest Pixel phone there is to buy today.
Design and display
I've always used "XL" variants of the phone and using the Pixel 3a was a nice break from the usual big screens and awkward single-hand holding positions. The 5.6-inch Full HD+ display without a notch feels a bit old school considering phones these days have a notch or a full-screen display. This made the screen look oddly small, be it for gaming or watch multimedia, but the high resolution brings out vibrant colours and brightness to a satisfying level. After a while, I didn't mind the bezels or small display and absolutely dug the handiness of the smartphone.
The rear side of the Pixel 3a looks identical to the flagship Pixel models, with a dual-tone finish. Instead of metal back, the Pixel 3a gets a polycarbonate cover to make up for the lower price. The fingerprint scanner is located within the comfort of the index finger's reach. At the bottom, there are down-facing stereos, USB Type-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Interestingly, those who do not want to use the standard headphones, the USB Type-C port can also be used to plug your fancy new headphones. The overall design of the Pixel 3a is compact and one of the handiest phones one can buy out there.
Google Pixel 3a comes with a 12.2MP rear-facing camera with EIS, OIS and f/1.8 aperture. On the front, there's an 8MP snapper with f/2.0 aperture and 84-degree field of view. On paper, the camera specs may not impress many, but Pixel 3a's camera can put some of the best flagships to shame. After all, it is taking after Pixel 3, the best camera smartphone in the industry until recently.
I took a few shots during the day and to quench my curiosity compared those photos with Pixel 3. The difference was barely visible unless you can microscopic eyes to pick up on those tiny details and dynamic range. For most people out there, the Pixel 3a camera is going to be as good as Pixel 3, which makes the budget Pixel phone a solid purchase.
Selfies are just as good and there is little doubt you won't be impressed by the optics in Pixel 3a. Pixel 3a costs almost half as much the Pixel 3's price, and the camera is the biggest USP in both phones. Without a doubt, camera lovers can blindly go for the Pixel 3a instead of any other smartphone in this price range.
The camera also gets all the modes, including portrait, night sight, photo sphere, photobooth, slow motion, playground and time lapse. The portrait is, as usual, the best in blurring out the background and making the subject stand out. The result is almost as good as Pixel 3 XL.
Here are a few samples to give you a perspective of just how good Pixel 3a camera works:
In case you're wondering if the Pixel 3a camera is as good as Pixel 3, here are a few samples shot from Pixel 3 XL and some results are better on the 3a.
I was sceptical from the beginning about the Pixel 3a's performance. Why wouldn't I be? It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, which is a good processor for budget phones, but seeing it on an Rs 40K phone did raise a few concerns for me. So, I unboxed the device, imported all the data from Huawei P30 Pro using the ever-so-easy transfer mode via USB Type-C cable. I got all the apps I ran without a glitch on Huawei P30 Pro, which includes the popular PUBG Mobile. I did stop there for a second to think should I give this app the go-ahead on a Snapdragon 670 phone, but what better way to test high graphics apps.
In a matter of a few minutes the Pixel 3a was set up and ready to use. First things first, I set up my WhatsApp and all social media profiles, video-streaming and music streaming accounts. Then I synced my PUBG Mobile account and played a quick session. I haven't been on top of my game to get a Chicken Dinner of late, but the Pixel 3a had nothing to do with it. Surprisingly, the phone handled the game decently, without any lags during my 30-minute gameplay. But it's nowhere close to Pixel 3 XL. To say the least, I was not disappointed by the phone's gaming performance as it exceeded my expectations.
Now, using the phone for what it has been built - day-to-day tasks of usual communication and social networking. It did feel a bit slow while launching apps, but I was not reminded of using a budget smartphone while I was endlessly scrolling through feeds or catching up on my TV shows on Amazon Prime Video.
If you're comparing the Pixel 3a against Samsung Galaxy S10+ or iPhone XR, you'll certainly feel the difference. But the lack of any lags or freezing doesn't spoil the Pixel 3a user experience, which is fine as long as the phone doesn't slow down over time. For a flagship user, the delay in launching the app or processing images, especially in HDR and portrait, or even browsing the web will feel like you've been snapped into an older generation. But that's the kind of compromise one must make to settle for a phone that's nearly half the cost of a flagship phone. If performance matters, OnePlus phones, 6T or even the upcoming 7, should be your undoubted choice.
Pixel 3a also gets squeeze-to-launch Google Assistant, Now Playing feature to guess songs and display on the lock screen, Always on Display, dual stereos, shortcuts like pressing the power button twice to launch the camera or swipe down on fingerprint scanner to bring notifications area and much more. The phone comes with unlimited high-quality storage in addition to 64GB storage, unlike Pixel 3 XL's original quality backups. Google had to cut down things where it can to accommodate that low price tag.
Google Pixel 3a comes with a 3,000mAh battery, which is pretty standard for a phone its size. It took 90 minutes to fully charge the phone from 15 percent, which could be improved but even the flagship models from Google are not up to the mark on this front. In terms of battery life, the Pixel 3a delivers what is expected of it.
With mixed average use, the Pixel 3a lasted a whole day with an on-screen time of about 4 hours. With gaming, you might need to plug in your phone to charge sooner. But I was able to extensively use the phone for communication, social networking and more and still get about a full day of use. If you're looking for a reliable battery, Pixel 3a won't disappoint you.
Security and OS
The goodness of stock Android is the bread and butter of Google in Pixel phones. Pixel 3a delivers that true Android experience one cannot turn away from. There's zero bloatware, UI is clean, fast and there's Assistant integration to get things done faster. If there's another good reason to buy Pixel 3a besides the camera, it is the stock Android Pie in its complete glory.
The digital wellbeing, complete with Dashboard, App Timers, DND, Wind Down and Flip to Shh features, surely makes an effort for you to live outside the virtual world. It is effective if you want to balance your digital lives.
The fingerprint scanner is located on the back of the phone and works great. It's fast, snappy and efficient, more than I could ask for. But the lack of a face unlock did feel like I was missing out on something in the Pixel 3a.
|Bright display||No front-facing speakers|
|Compact Design||No dual SIM card support|
|Excellent cameras||No microSD card support|
|Lasting battery||Original resolution backup is not free|
|Best UI - stock Android experience||No face unlock|
|Low price||15W charging not fast enough|
Google's Pixel 3a is not the fastest phone out there, but it is definitely worth buying for the good stuff it offers. The cameras are clearly the biggest reason why Pixel 3a is a no-brainer choice for a mid-range smartphone. The clean, stock Android and compact design make compelling reasons to go for this Rs 40K smartphone. If performance is your main focus, OnePlus 6T or the upcoming OnePlus 7 is a sound choice, but if you're willing to compromise on that factor, the Pixel 3a isn't a bad performer.
Pixel 3a is what Google should really focus on going forward. Sure, the flagship models are great and I cannot wait to try out the Pixel 4, but the mid-range series could really help keep those numbers in the green instead of red.