Mobiles & Tablets

Google Pixel 3A XL review: Affordable avatar?

Mala Bhargava | Updated on May 08, 2019 Published on May 08, 2019

The Google Pixel 3a XL smartphone is arranged for a photograph in San Francisco, California, US   -  Bloomberg

Super-smooth Android and an iconic camera is what you’ll get on this re-priced phone — but in India it should be ₹10,000 cheaper

There’s something about a Google phone. A certain smooth finesse that almost no one else can match. Other phones can be snappy fast, but few, if ever, manage the feeling of melting fluidity that a Pixel has. Nor can anyone manage to come up with an industry-leading camera that is more software than hardware, managing jaw-dropping photos with a single lens where others use a whole collection.

The only problem is that the Pixel phones have cost more than what most are willing to pay. Now, Google is trying to fix that with a more affordable version of its 2018 Pixel duo: the Pixel 3A XL and the Pixel 3A, much rumoured, thoroughly leaked, and now finally here.

Also read: Google unveils Pixel 3a, 3a XL for Rs 39,999 onwards

We’re checking out the 3A XL, but the two phones are identical except for size and battery and would work the same way.

Design continuity

The new Pixel 3A phones retain the design of the Pixel 3 devices. The polycarbonate —everyone’s new word for plastic — Google has used is very sensual to the touch we haven’t had enough time with it to see whether it scratches easily.

The new 3A Pixels looks and feels like the 3s, and will come into India in black and in white. A third colour Google calls ‘Purple-ish’ will not be available — that’s a very light lilac tint similar to the pinkish one available for the earlier series. Oh well.

The Google Pixel 3a smartphone.   -  Bloomberg

 

Turning to the front — big relief. There’s no notch of any kind. Not v-shaped, not u-shaped, and certainly not like the Pixel 3’s notch, which was about as broad as the bezel itself. So nothing intrudes into the symmetry of the screen. But, the trade-off is that you go back to the visible bezels. Though they really aren’t too bad, other smartphones in this price bracket have virtually no bezels and use workarounds like pop up cameras and punch-hole cutouts to make an all-screen phone. While you can live with these borders and even get the 3.5mm headphone jack because of them, some may specifically want an all-screen phone in this day and age.

The display is otherwise really very nice — a bright 6.0" gOLED FHD+ display with a resolution of 2160 x 1080 at 402 ppi. The default colour for the screen has been set to Google’s “Adaptive" mode, which is vivid, with strong contrasts and colours. For those users who prefer more muted colours, there are other optional modes in settings to tinker with the look.

Bezels or not, the display is definitely easy on the eye and very pleasing to use. There are some displays that you immediately feel are just nice to look at and this is one of them.

For protection, it’s got Dragontrail glass, not Gorilla Glass.

The Pixel 3A phones do not have the specs you would expect for the price. They work on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor 670 2.0GHz + 1.7GHz, 64Bit Octa-Core and Adreno 615. It’s a mid-range processor but at a price at which others are offering a flagship processor. The devices use 4GB RAM with 64GB storage.

The Indian customer is actually very specs-focussed and wants to be assured of getting full value for money and so this is likely to be a continuing disappointment. Google, on the other hand, has a different philosophy and doesn’t believe in being in the specs race.

 

The Pixel phones work very smoothly and only somewhat slower than the Pixel 3 but if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t be able to guess that there’s such a difference in specs — unless you look at a competing phone and then you’ll know. We haven’t tested gaming on this device.

The 3A XL has a 3,700mAh battery and comes with an 18-Watt charger, and delivers up to 7 hours of battery life on a 15-minute charge and up to 30 hours on a full charge. It actually has better battery life than the Pixel 3XL.

All the same, it’s difficult to un-see the fact that even some outgoing phones like the OnePlus 6T and the Poco F1 and even the Asus Zenfone 5Z have top-of-the-line powerful specs. In fact, The Pixel 3A’s will also face competition from the Pixel 2/s as long as stocks last, because they also work smoothly and their camera is no slouch either, and they cost less.

The Pixel 3A phones naturally come with the latest Android 9 and will be first with updates and some very interesting features just shown off at Google’s developer conference. Meanwhile, the phone triggers the Google Assistant if you squeeze the sides, works seamlessly with Google Home and is generally Google-centric in every way.

During the course of the year, Google Search is to get capabilities that use the camera and display results in AR but how the new Pixels will handle that isn’t known yet. Of course, other phones are also quite tied into Google services since the operating system on them is anyway Google’s.

That leaves the one big reason you might want a Pixel 3A phone. The camera.

Sharp shooter

The Pixel 3’s camera quite astonished everyone and set a new bar for the smartphone industry with what it could do with a single lens where others used multiple. The one big draw for anyone considering the Pixel 3A would be the camera which gives consistently good clear sharp results, including in low light.

The rear camera is a 12.2MP using a dual-pixel Sony IMX363 lens with autofocus and dual-pixel phase detection. It has optical and electronic image stabilisation at an ƒ/1.8 aperture with a 76° field of view. The front camera is an 8MP 1.12μm pixel width f/2.0 aperture and a fixed focus lens with 84° field of view. The Pixel 3 actually had a dual front camera which isn’t present here.

The Pixel 3A phones bring with the interesting shooting modes from the Pixel 3. Night Sight, a mode that almost magically lights up an almost dark place and lets you see what you cannot with the human eye, PhotoSphere, Panorama, Top Shot, Motion Auto Focus, Super Res Zoom, Photo Booth, Slow Motion, and Playground are some of these modes.

A new feature that comes to the Pixel 3 and 3A cameras is Time Lapse. The camera is no longer using Google’s Visual Core chipset which helps image processing and enables HDR+. That also allows third-party apps to take advantage of of the Pixel’s capabilities. But the differences between its photographs and the original Pixel 3 isn’t really visible.

Overall, the Pixel 3A XL is different from the Pixel 3 in several ways. It’s got lower specs, specifically in the processor it uses, in the screen resolution (not noticeable), and in other features like wireless charging and water resistance. But more importantly, it’s very different from other similarly priced pre-flagship phones that offer users a lot of what they like and have cameras that are not doing a bad job either though nothing so far offers a camera like the Pixel’s at the price.

All the same, the new devices should really have been a good ₹10,000 cheaper in India.

Price: ₹44,999 (₹39,999 for Pixel 3A)

Pros: Unique game-changing camera, well-optimised smooth functioning, tightly integrated with all Google services, clean Google software with updates, squeeze for Google Assistant feature, excellent display, good battery life

Cons: Unrealistically expensive even now for the specs it comes with, faces strong competition including from its own Pixel 2, lower specs than Indian customers expect, pricey for a polycarbonate body.

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Published on May 08, 2019
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