Google Pixel 3a XL Review
The Google Pixel 3a offers you the chance to get one of the best smartphone cameras available, for almost half the price of the flagship version, the Google Pixel 3. After testing this, and finding the same impressive results at the flagship, the 3a is quite simply a “no-brainer” for anyone looking for a quality camera phone. Some may even prefer the Pixel 3a for it’s headphone socket.
- 12MP performs extremely well
- Easy to take great photos
- Impressive Night Sight mode
- Stock version of Android
- Great value for money
- RAW available
- Lacks a “Pro” or manual mode
- No MicroSD card memory slot
The Google Pixel 3a was introduced as Google’s new mid-range smartphone, available as the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, with the 3a offering a 5.6inch screen and 3000mAh battery, and the 3a XL offering a larger 6inch screen, and a 3700mAh battery. The 3a is available for £399, and the 3a XL is available for £469.
The Google Pixel 3a may be a “mid-range” smartphone, but it still benefits from the same 12mp camera as the flagship Google Pixel smartphone, featuring an f/1.8 aperture, and optical image stabilisation, as well as all of Google’s clever AI photography technology, which includes “Super Res Zoom” (electronic), Night Vision, HDR+, and Portrait blur modes.
There are other shooting modes as well including Google Lens, which can copy text, search for similar products, identify plants and animals, discover books and media, as well as scan barcodes and QR codes, Playground AR which lets you add animations and characters to your environment, and Top Shot – with Motion Photo, the camera will pick the best shot, or you can choose a different shot.
The Pixel 3a is available for £399, almost half the price of the Pixel 3, but it still benefits from the same 12mp camera as the flagship smartphone!
The Pixel 3a is not waterproof, unlike the flagship Pixel 3, but it does offer a headphone socket, something the flagship doesn’t feature.
The selfie camera on the 3a and 3a XL features an 8mp sensor, and an f/2.0 aperture. The 3 and 3 XL both feature an additional ultra-wide selfie camera, and a brighter aperture of f/1.8 on the main selfie camera.
The phone has a polycarbonate back and edges, rather than glass, and the smartphone doesn’t support wireless charging.
4GB of RAM is built-in, and 64GB of storage, although roughly 49GB is available, as the rest is used by the system.
The phone runs Android 9.0 Pie, and Google promise 2 years of updates to the latest version, as well as 3 years of security updates.
Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth are built-in, as you would expect. With NFC you can use Google Pay, or any other payment system. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back.
You can record 4K video at 30fps with optical and electronic image stabilisation. Slow-motion video recording is also available, with 4x slow-motion available for FullHD video, and 8x for 720p video.
The Pixel 3a is available for £399, almost half the price of the Pixel 3 (£739), and half the price of many other premium smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 (£799), and Huawei P30 Pro (£899).
- 12.2mp f/1.8 standard camera, with OIS, PDAF, 1.4um pixels
- 8mp f/2.0 selfie camera, 24mm equivalent
- 6inch OLED 18:9 screen, 1080×2160
- 4K 30fps video
- AI photography
- Dual LED flash
- Headphone jack
- Rear fingerprint reader
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
- 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
- 3700mAh battery
- 167g weight
- Android 9.0 Pie, with a minimum of 3 years of updates
- Available in Black, White or Purple
The Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL both feature a plastic build, and the 3a XL is quite light, weighing in at 167g, while the 3a weighs 147g. Many premium smartphones weigh more than this. A nice feature of the smartphone is the built-in stereo speakers, which both the 3a and 3a XL have. These sound quite good, although you can always connect the phone up to some speakers or headphones, as there’s a headphone socket on the top.
With a plastic body the smartphone may not feel as premium as other flagship smartphones, or even glass-backed mid-range smartphones, however the mixture of a gloss and matt back is a nice touch, giving the smartphone a little more grip, and something to appreciate. Despite the plastic build, the smartphone still feels extremely well-made. The orange power button on the side is a welcome feature, making the smartphone look a little more stylish.
The front of the smartphone is glass, as expected, and the option of an “Always On” display is a nice option, with double tap to unlock available. Because phones have large glass screens we’d recommend the use of a protective case, or screen protector, as one isn’t provided with the smartphone.
The 6inch screen offers a FullHD+ resolution of 2160 x 1080 and an 18:9 aspect ratio. For people with small hands, this may make it a little large, and it may be difficult to reach areas of the screen with one hand, but for most people the screen size should be quite good, and the size makes viewing videos and photos enjoyable.
The display is also sharp, bright and colour reproduction is excellent. There’s no top notch eating in to the screen, just some top and bottom borders, with the bottom chin looking fairly large by today’s standards.
As mentioned, there’s an orange power button, with a volume control below. The smartphone features “Active Edge” whereby you can squeeze the sides of the phone to access the Google Assistant.
Shooting with the camera app there are a number of modes including:
- Night sight
- Photo sphere
- Photo booth – take selfies automatically when you smile
- Slow motion
- Time lapse
- Payground (AR)
- Google Lens
You can leave the camera to take HDR+ photos automatically, or you can take control of this in the advanced settings, where you’ll also find options for: RAW + JPEG control, HDR+ control, “Show dirty lens warning” and H.265/HEVC format video recording instead of H.264/AVC. There is no manual or pro mode, however you can always use a third party app for this.
The selfie camera can be used in the normal mode, or with the “Portrait” mode, giving you a blurred background. You also have control over whether HDR is on or off, and you can even shoot raw with the selfie camera. The camera has a fixed focus, so it’s best to be at arms length from the camera for the best shots.
The phone uses a stock version of Android with a number of Google’s apps pre-installed. There’s not much else on there, leaving it up to you what software you want to put on the phone.
There’s a good amount of RAM at 4GB, with 64GB of storage, although if you need more space, there is no MicroSD card slot. However, you do get unlimited Google Cloud storage.
Part of the reason why the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL are available for a much reduced price, is the use of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor – a mid-range processor. The processor was announced in late 2018, and in the Pixel 3a gives a Geekbench 4 score of 1637 (single-core), and 5212 (multi-core). The AnTuTu score is 157990, which is reasonable. It’s not as quick as a premium smartphone, which can score around 250-298,000, but it is similar to what premium smartphones were scoring a couple of years ago.
Battery life – The 3a has a battery rating of 3000mAh, while the 3a XL has a more generous battery rating of 3700mAh. This should provide at least a day of power, and depending on how you use the phone, maybe even longer. However, if you’re going to be away from a power source, we’d recommend getting yourself a portable power bank just in case.