- Between what it offers and the incredible price, Google’s Pixel 3a is my favourite smartphone of 2019.
- Starting at just $A630, Google’s excellent “budget” smartphone is as good or better than competing phones that cost nearly double the price.
- With its beautiful screen, powerful processor, and excellent camera, the Pixel 3a proves that there’s no reason for smartphones to be as expensive as they have become.
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In September, Apple released its latest pair of iPhones: The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, which start at $A1,199 and $A1,899
Instead of getting either, consider Google’s Pixel 3a. It’s Google’s best phone in years, and it’s also shockingly affordable at just $A630.
The Pixel 3a comes with Google’s best-in-class camera, and works just as well or better than phones that cost double its price – such as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. I’ve been using the Pixel 3a since its launch earlier this year, and I’m convinced it’s the best smartphone available anywhere near its price point.
1. The price.
That we as a society refer to the $US700 iPhone 11 as the “cheap” version of the iPhone says it all – there are nearly no major smartphones being made for people who don’t want or can’t afford bleeding-edge $US1,000 devices. The “cheap” version of Samsung’s Galaxy line, the S10e, is also $US750.
As flagship smartphones drop headphone jacks, remove bezels, and use your face as a login, the price keeps going up. The latest iPhone, the iPhone 11, looks great and has some cool tricks. But $US700? Seven hundred American dollars for a device that gets maybe two years of use and does essentially the same things as the previous model, albeit in a sexier form factor?
The Pixel 3a is perhaps the greatest example yet that smartphones don’t need to cost so much money. If nothing else, it’s a tremendously strong example of the power of utilitarian design in smartphones – not since Google’s excellent Nexus line and the iPhone SE has a smartphone so directly appealed to the huge market of smartphone owners who don’t want the bleeding edge of tech (or the price that usually comes with it).
2. The camera is ridiculously great.
As you can see above, the Pixel 3a takes gorgeously detailed photos up close. This falafel sandwich from Nish Nush that I had 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 into my lunch. (And yes, it was delicious.) I was so impressed by the camera that I wrote a whole piece about it that you can read right here.
It looks so good because the cameras in the Pixel 3a are nearly identical to those in the far more expensive Pixel 3. That’s right: Despite the Pixel 3a costing far less than the Pixel 3, the crucially important camera is basically the same.
3. It’s more than powerful enough.
At just $A630, you might imagine that the Pixel 3a isn’t as quick or nimble as its competition. I thought that might be the case as well, but I was pleased to discover I was wrong.
While using Google Maps, listening to Spotify, chatting on Slack, and messaging a friend through Google Messages all at once, I was glad to see that there was no discernible slowdown. I double-tapped the power button to bring up the phone’s camera in the middle of all this, and it handled that command just as quickly as ever.
I hadn’t intended to test the Pixel 3a’s processor like that, but it provided a great use case for putting the device through its paces.
If you’re somehow doing more than that all at once with your Pixel 3a, and it slows down, I think that’s on you.
4. The screen on the Pixel 3a is superb.
The bezels on the Pixel 3a are slightly larger than those on the Pixel 3, but the Pixel 3a makes up for that with a slightly larger screen overall.
The Pixel 3a has a 5.6-inch screen, whereas the Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch screen – not exactly a huge difference, but it doesn’t hurt. The Pixel 3 XL has a slightly larger screen than the Pixel 3a XL at 6.3 inches versus 6.0 inches on the Pixel 3a XL.
Apart from the size of the screen, the Pixel 3a has the same gorgeous OLED display as the more expensive Pixel 3 (just at a slightly lower resolution).
In practice, the screen on the Pixel 3a is vibrant, bright, and sharp. Admittedly, I’m not watching feature films on it – but, even more crucially, photos look excellent on it. And that’s particularly great considering how good of a camera is on the Pixel 3.
5. The battery life is strong, and the headphone jack is a nice bonus.
I’ve made it 1 1/2 days on a fully charged Google Pixel 3a battery (not the large-screen Pixel 3a XL , but the standard issue Pixel 3a). That battery performance is entirely anecdotal, and what you’re doing with the device can dramatically alter battery-life expectations. If you’re sitting around watching videos at full brightness or playing games a lot, you shouldn’t expect the battery to last 1 1/2 days.
That said, I intentionally didn’t charge the Pixel 3a overnight, and when I woke up it had more than 50% of its battery life left. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s plenty strong – even a bit longer-lasting than I was expecting.
The same could be said for the inclusion of a headphone jack. Personally, I’m over the moon about it. Not having to charge headphones is great, and being able to plug headphones directly into a smartphone is as convenient as ever. If I want to use wireless Bluetooth headphones, I can. I’m just glad the option is there for wired headphones as well.
6. I don’t miss “flagship” phones whatsoever, and that’s huge.
Given the Pixel 3a’s $A630 price – a difference of hundreds of dollars from the closest “flagship” phone – it’s hard for me to imagine switching back to phones like the Pixel 2. What would be the point? So that I could pay much more for something nearly identical?
The Pixel 2 – like the Pixel 3, the Samsung Galaxy S10, and the iPhone 11 – feels premium. It’s made of nice-looking metal, and it’s got a heft that makes it feel like the real deal.
But in terms of what it does, it’s a slightly less good version of the Pixel 3a.
Perhaps you’re spending a lot of time inspecting the build quality of the materials on your smartphone. I most certainly am not. But even if I were, I’d appreciate the totally sweet little off-colour button on the side of the Pixel 3a over the comparatively bland facade of the Pixel 2 (and the Pixel 3 for that matter).
In any case, the Google Pixel 3a doesn’t feel like a trade-off compared with more technically capable devices, such as the iPhone 11 and Pixel 3. It feels like a slick, modern phone with great features and a shockingly great price tag that I would unequivocally suggest to anyone looking for a new phone.
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