Review: Google Pixel 3a represents amazing value

Although it's cheaper, Google preserves lots of the good stuff. ...

Google’s Pixel 3a is best described as a cheaper Pixel 3. In a broader context, the Pixel 3a enters the mid-priced market and has a feature lineup that’s seriously compelling. If your budget won’t stretch for a flagship, then you need to consider your options at a lower price point. Before you buy, make sure you read through the review to understand what you’re buying and if the decisions to reduce price were the right ones.

DESIGN

Efficiently sized for smaller rooms

The Pixel 3a is marginally larger than the Pixel 3 at 5.6″ versus 5.5″. When it comes to the supersized version, that trend is reversed with the Pixel 3a XL comes with a 6.0″ display, compared to the Pixel 3 XL that has a 6.3″ display. These display size differences really are subtle, while the phone’s construction is far more differentiated.

As part of the price reduction process, Google designers opted for a hard plastic body, rather than the aluminium body of the Pixel 3. While the idea of owning a plastic phone sounds bad, the reality is this dual-finish plastic surface feels great in the hand. With the lower 2/3rd being a matte finish and the top 1/3rd a polished plastic.

After using the phone for a while, that’s sliding it into pockets, placing it on desks, stone benchtops, plastic surfaces in the car console and even glass outdoor tables, the plastic back was actually a refreshing change. I didn’t realise how much mental security I’m doing in an effort to protect the back of premium smartphones. Devices like the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung S10+, like the iPhone XS look amazing but are more slippery and fragile than the Pixel 3a.

FEATURES

Connected and capable

This phone has a long list of features, many of which you wouldn’t expect to find at this price point.

Display

The Pixel 3a features a 5.6″ OLED display that runs a 2220 x 1080 pixels which translates to 441 ppi. These pixels are arranged in an 18.5:9 which gives the phone that now familiar elongated rectangle feeling. The Pixel 3a is a nice size for regular hands and you can generally get most phone operations done with a single hand.

That display actually looks great indoors, outside and at night thanks to a 100,000:1 super contrast ratio, complete with great black levels, achieved thanks to that OLED display. It’s great to see Google didn’t throw in a budget display to hit this price point, however, I did notice the display’s mild forehead and chin, breaking away from the full-screen displays found in 2019 flagships.

Cameras

Another reason you should buy this phone is its cameras. Google continues to do amazing things with a single lens, while other device manufacturers continue to add lenses, additional image processors and cost to their devices.

On the rear of the Pixel 3a, you’ll find a 12.2 MP dual-pixel with aauto-focus with dual-pixel phase detection, complete with optical + electronic image stabilisation. The lens features a ƒ/1.8 aperture making it great at night and the lens has a decent 76° field of view.

One of the the Pixel 3’s most famous features was Night sight and it’s great to see Google didn’t drop that with the cheaper Pixel 3a. Night sight is the combination of great hardware and brilliant software to take dimly lit photos and produce sharp, natural-looking captures.

While there’s no crazy optical zoom on offer here, there is some software magic with a Depth editor allowing you to tweak the blur behind your subject in post-production.

The best attribute of the Pixel 3a camera is its ability to work quickly and produce great photos the first time you hit that digital shutter. With other phones, I often take safety shots when an event isn’t easily repeatable, however with the pixel, almost always the first shot is the only one you need.

Performance

The Pixel 3a is snappy, despite having a 2018 Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor and 4GB LPDDR4x RAM. This will gladly get the job done for email, social, photography and even some casual gaming like Pokemon. In terms of performance requirements, I’d say I’m a moderate user, occasionally recompressing video may be the most intensive task I do. Thankfully the Pixel 3a performed well during normal use, while it’s not the speed demon of flagships, we’re talking a second here or there, not a big deal.

Squeeze to launch Google Assistant

The sides of the Pixel 3a features the same squeeze to activate Google Assistant as the Pixel 3. This is a cute little feature they didn’t have to include, but I love that they did. It gives the phone a bit of personality and is actually something you’ll want to use daily.

Storage

When you buy a Pixel, you get 64GB of storage on the device, but you also get storage online. Most of the storage used on a device is made up of the photos and videos that you take. We all want those memories preserved and Google helps by providing unlimited storage to Pixel owners. The condition on this is that the content is saved in high quality (down from original quality). Given the quality coming out of our current smartphone cameras, this feels like a great trade and a feature that may swing you to a Pixel over a competing device.

Software

Buying a Pixel from Google means you get the latest version of Android and are likely some of the first to get the next version when released. The Pixel 3a is shipping with Android 9.0 Pie.

Battery 

The Pixel 3a features a 3000 mAh battery, while its big brother houses a 3,700mAh battery. While the volume doesn’t match the 4,000+ that we’ve seen from other brands, it does a great job at providing you with a phone that’ll get you through the day with medium-heavy use. If you’re an absolute heavy user, on your most intense day, then maybe you burnt through it by 6 or 7PM, but often you can expect to head to bed with 20%+ remaining.

If you do manage to drain it, you can grab some charge fast thanks to 18W fast charging. This provides you with as much as 7 hours of use for just 15 minutes of charging. That’s crazy.

 

ISSUES

Room for improvement

As good as the Pixel 3a is, it does lack the face unlock I’d become quite accustomed to on the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung S10+. I understand why it’s not in this phone, but if there was 1 thing I wish it had, that’d be it. The fingerprint reader on the back of the phone is well placed and works fast, making the constant unlocking multiple times per day an breeze.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

One of the biggest selling points for the Pixel 3a is its price and the value for money given the features available. When we look at the price, it’s almost half of the regular Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL flagships.

The Google Pixel 3a costs A$649.00, while the Pixel 3a XL will set you back $799. Google will sell you them directly with free delivery, so that’d be my recommendation, however, if you’d prefer a retailer, they’re available at JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman or Office Works. The phones are also available from Vodafone.

The phone is available in just 2 colours, white or black, simple but fairly limited if you like your phone to match your personality. That’s where cases come in. Google offer a range of fabric covers that feel great in the hand and cost A$59.00 regardless of which sized phone you buy.

OVERALL

Final thoughts

Releasing a new version of a phone that almost slashes 50% off the price of your flagship could have ended very badly. The decisions most companies would make to reach that number would so badly compromise the user experience that it’d be impossible to recommend. Somehow Google has avoided this mistake, delivering the Pixel 3a, a cheaper version of the Pixel 3, but still one hell of a phone.

Not everyone has the budget for a flagship, after all, they have grown in price well past the A$1,000 price point and rapidly approaching the A$2,000 mark. The Pixel 3a may have a plastic body, but given most will wrap it in a case, this barely even matters. The important aspects of the phone, like pure Android, great cameras, speed and battery life are all still on offer. Given the reduced price, it represents great value.

All of these factors add up to a very simple reply to the question of can I recommend this phone, the answer, absolutely. You will need to decide between the 3a and the 3a XL, but that’s simply a decision based on person preference based on the screen size.

8.9
Google Pixel 3a
The Good
  • Great value
  • USB-C and headphones jack
  • Plastic back isn't slippery
The Bad
  • No face unlock
  • No dual-sim
  • Design
    8.0
  • Performance
    9.0
  • Value
    9.8
Categories
MobileReviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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