- Google just released a new smartphone: The Pixel 3a, and its bigger sister the Pixel 3a XL.
- The Pixel 3a line is intended as a mid-tier “budget” smartphone, but it’s one of the best smartphones I’ve ever used.
- One of its key features is an absurdly good camera that takes gorgeous photos just as quickly as the far more expensive iPhone XS – and the photos it produces are best-in-class.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Google’s new phone is an absolute delight to use, and it’s got an even more delightful price: Just $US400.
At that price – hundreds of dollars less than the least expensive iPhone – you might think that it would make some pretty major compromises. But, in my experience across the last week using the Pixel 3a, it’s one of the best smartphones available today.
It nails the three most important aspects of any good smartphone: A sharp screen, speedy internals, and a good camera. In the case of the Pixel 3a’s camera, actually, it’s better than smartphones that are far more expensive.
Look no further than these photos for proof:
Let’s start with the most basic of things: Detail.
As you can see above, the Pixel 3a takes gorgeously detailed photos up close. This falafel sandwich from Nish Nush that I’ve covered in garish orange amba looks absolutely ridiculous. Light glistens off the sauces and the moisture of the cucumber and tomato salad. Individual specks of parsley are visible.
This wasn’t a carefully rehearsed photo – I snapped it quickly before diving in to lunch. (And yes, it was delicious.)
That’s the case for all the photos below as well – I intentionally took them in the same way I would snap any photo: Quickly in the moment. The results have invariably been impressive.
Let’s move into a low-light situation, like this shot of the new One World Trade Center taken from the West Side Highway in Manhattan:
While driving back to Brooklyn last weekend, my partner and I were at a stop light in lower Manhattan along the West Side Highway. I looked up out of the sun roof, and staring back at me was a resplendent view of the new One World Trade Center.
I quickly double-tapped the power button on the right side of the Pixel 3a and snapped a few photos as we started moving.
Even with the super-bright street light in view, the World Trade Center is detailed and stands in relief to the darkening sky above it. If you look closely at the building along the left side of the photo, you can see people at windows looking out to the world below them.
This photo was taken at the worst time of day for taking photos; it managed to not only come out beautifully, but to also capture the gradient of the sky above.
This is my favourite photo that I’ve taken with the Pixel 3a so far, and it really demonstrates how strong the camera is.
I took this photo at late dusk, as the sunset transitioned to night, and was absolutely shocked by how easy it was to capture such an impressive shot on a smartphone. A photo like this usually takes a good deal of manipulating your phone’s camera into taking something worth looking at. In this instance, I simply tapped on the glowing neon sign and snapped away.
Not only does the photo capture the sign, but it also captures the glow of the sign on the ground below, the interior halogen lights in the deli across the street, and the fading sunset in the sky above.
Most of all, the photo looks natural. It was a near-perfect reflection of what I saw with my eyes in the moment – perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay a photo.
Things get even better when you’ve got good lighting and a subject with great colour variety:
First and foremost, I can’t suggest this fennel and celery salad enough. It’s incredibly delicious and looks restaurant-level fancy.
But also, hey, it makes a killer photo subject!
The colour spectrum on just the fennel fronds is incredibly impressive, to say nothing of the popping green of the parsley. Admittedly, this salad looks crazy beautiful regardless of the camera, but the Pixel 3a’s camera made it pop in the way it deserves.
The camera also takes great shots while moving, like this photo of the Brooklyn Bridge taken through my sunroof while my wife drove.
The same can be said for moving objects in an otherwise static image — the movement on the cars speeding through Bartel-Pritchard Square, for instance:
From the fading blue hue of the evening sky to the warm yellow glow of the streetlights, I was blown away by this image. The blur of cars careening past where I stood was captured perfectly by the Pixel 3a camera.
That a $US400 smartphone captured this image is absolutely ridiculous – this is a level of quality unmatched by most flagship smartphones, let alone mid-range “budget” phones.
You can see individual rain drops in this image!
As I ran from Business Insider’s main office to grab steamed dumplings for lunch on Monday, it started raining – of course it did.
Though the sun was creating a surprisingly bright sky, which should have blown out the photo, the Pixel 3a was able to capture individual rain drops as they fell to the earth. The lighting captured looks natural, and the level of detail is absurd.
Some of the most impressive shots I’ve snapped have been at dusk, as the light diffuses and images are most difficult to capture.
While walking our dog in Prospect Park last week, sunset gave way to dusk. The lighting was poor, and it was a perfect time to put the Pixel 3a camera to its hardest test yet.
I positioned myself underneath a dark tree looking out at one of the massive fields in Prospect Park and snapped a few shots. To my surprise, not only did the Pixel 3a camera capture the field, but it also captured a remarkable level of detail of the tree I stood under. I expected the phone to overcompensate for the contrast, darkening the overall shot. Instead, it captured both far better than I expected.
You can tell the camera was struggling with this one, as the shot is far more grainy than the rest – but it still captured a beautiful photo even in terrible lighting conditions.
As you might expect by this point, the Pixel 3a camera shines when conditions are ideal.
As I was walking to the subway the other morning, Brooklyn was in full bloom. I paused on a corner and snapped this shot of 8th Avenue, looking downtown. The sun was just coming up, and the streets were drying from the previous night’s storm, and things were just looking very attractive.
All it took was a single shot to capture the beautiful Brooklyn morning as it emerged from darkness.
The same could be said for this shot of the farmer’s market inside the Oculus, a transit hub in lower Manhattan.
Due to the layout of the Oculus, the interior is filled with glorious natural light. While visiting our local Apple store for a repair, I stopped and snapped this photo of a temporary farmer’s market bathed in diffused natural rays.
These are peak photo conditions, and the Pixel 3a really shined here.
The same thing applies here — when supplied with lots of natural light, the Pixel 3a produces best-in-class photos.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Even a bad photo of pancakes looks wonderful.
But this photo – captured at the Lakeside Diner in Stamford, Connecticut – was supplied with a heavy helping of natural light from the diner’s massive bay windows. That I took the photo just ahead of noon on a beautiful, bright spring day assuredly didn’t hurt.
All of which is to say one thing: When you’ve got ideal conditions, the Pixel 3a camera is beyond ready to take advantage of them.
More than just high-quality photos in varying conditions, the Pixel 3a camera is fast and easy to use.
You might think that a $US400 “budget” smartphone would be less snappy than the far more expensive competition. I thought so too! I was wrong.
If you’re, say, at a two-year-old’s birthday party trying to capture a photo of him being adorable, but he’s a two-year-old so you’ve gotta make it quick? That’s totally doable! I haven’t encountered a situation yet where the Pixel 3a’s processor couldn’t keep up with the speed of life.