Pixel 3a XL review: Superb camera performance, still expensive

deccan chronicle

Technology, Mobiles & Tabs

Google’s Pixel 3a series compromises on a lot of features when compared to the Pixel 3 series.

Google brought in the Pixel 3 camera performance to those who want an affordable handset on the 3a series this year.
Rating: 4/5

Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are definitely still the talk of the town with respect to the camera performance that comes from its AI-based operating system. The Pixel 3 series can shoot something entirely out of this world with just a single camera while rivals are still struggling with two or more sensors on their back. Google’s own hardware is very well refined and tuned with its own Android operating system, which is probably similar to what Apple does to its iPhones. Google has worked hard to redefine the notion that hardware is not a limitation to performance and software can take the lead ahead. With the intelligent algorithm from Google’s Android and a single camera, the magic of photography is what the world witnessed with their jaws on the floor. However, the Pixel 3 series is not as affordable to the masses and maintains its position as the premium flagship in the Android world.

With consumers wanting better camera performance and price being their main point of return, they started looking for other brands that offer a similar experience. However, the Google Pixel 3 series has almost no match. But Google planned something for the others who wanted the sheer camera performance of the Pixel 3, but with an affordable price tag. And finally, Google brought in the Pixel 3 camera performance to those who want an affordable handset on the 3a series this year.

However, is the ‘affordable’ price tag justifying the compromises that Google forces on its customers? Let’s check it out a bit more.

Google claims the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are ‘entry-premium’ handsets, but does not actually pronounce it as affordable. Priced at Rs 39,999 for the 3a and Rs 44,999 for the 3a XL, the handsets, though just as promising as their older siblings are definitely not as affordable, especially for Indian consumers.

Google’s Pixel 3a series compromises on a lot of features when compared to the Pixel 3 series. Check out the comparison table below which highlights the two phones. We highlight the XL variants in both models below.

If you peep into the specifics above, you will note that there is a massive difference in the hardware between the two phones — 3a XL and 3 XL. While one supports the 2018 flagship processor from Snapdragon, the other is a mid-range processor. There are differences in almost every area except for the rear camera, which is similar, and the operating system, which is common, and the most important factor.

Performance-wise, the two phones are miles apart, especially when you consider it as a gaming phone or other heavy apps. Antutu scores reveal that the Snapdragon 670 processor on the 3a XL performs at around 40% slower in core processing power as compared to the 3 XL. However, when using the Pixel 3a XL, you will find that usage is not actually compromised with respect to general daily usage. Apps do pull up a tad slower, games work well, but at medium settings, and so on. The only difference noted is when you click a photo, the AI processing in the background take around a second or two more in comparison to the 845-chip Pixel 3/3XL. However, it is good to note that though the 3a series are using the SD670 chip and Google has tuned the operating system very well to ensure that consumers will not have issues with respect to the overall experience.

The camera performance is at par — thanks to the same camera sensor being used from the Pixel 3 / 3XL series. This means that you will find the same photography performance that the expensive flagship variant offers, without any loss in details. Check out a few photos that we managed to click using the Pixel 3a XL below.

As for the build quality and specifications, Google has compromised a lot. Firstly, the body is no more a glass front and back. The rear panel is now a single structure or unibody using polycarbonate. The rear, though plastic, looks almost similar to the flagship series, with a two-tone glossy and matte-finish combo. Being plastic, the unit feels lighter and adds more grip. With the 3a series, Google has supplied the 3.5mm headphone jack which was missing from the flagship series. Lastly, the front panel also sports a cheaper Asahi Dragontrail glass for protection as opposed to a Gorilla Glass 5 that is seen on the flagships. While Dragontrail is also good, it isn’t as strong and scratch resistant as the GG counterpart.

Digging deeper, Google has replaced the QHD+ OLED display with a notch-less FHD+ OLED panel. Going from QHD to FHD makes sense here because the SD670 chip will have plenty of room to handle other resources rather than working more to handle the additional pixels. Also, the missing notch is for those who probably did not favour that ugly bathtub-styled large notch. While the RAM is the same at 4GB, the storage is capped at 64GB only and there is no 128GB version for the younger ones (3a). Additionally, Google has also limited the free online storage offer for the 3a series where users can store unlimited photos online but in high resolution as opposed to the original resolution photos. Other differences are the front camera which gets cut down to a single sensor instead of dual, the battery gets a bit better by around 270mAh, water resistance IP68 rating has been kicked off, wireless charging has been eliminated, and the USB Type-C port gets an older version of v2.0 instead of v3.1. While user experience has not taken a deep hit, the sheer performance of what the SD845 offers is definitely an area which would bother those who are looking for flagship performance.

All the areas where Google compromised are basically simply to cave on cost. But what Google definitely offers without a compromise is sheer camera performance. So if you are looking for a smartphone specifically for photography, then the Pixel 3a series is the ideal choice within the Rs 40,000 range. The Pixel 3a series will surely offer you stock Android with three years of guaranteed OS updates, the experience and sheer power of Android directly from the parent company and great photography. However, if you want to bite into all segments, OnePlus has something good for you too — their latest flagship OnePlus 7 Pro offers a vanilla, near-stock Android, loads of features, a good camera with 3X optical zoom, better display and flagship SD855 chip for sheer gaming, apart from a waterproof body, larger RAM, and a great design too. However, a Pixel will always be a Pixel for those who know what we mean.

In short, the Pixel 3a series offers the unmatched strength of photography with Android’s best, but is not as price friendly as one would like it. In India, the price seems to be comparatively higher than the international market, especially when considering the competition brands that offer better at lower prices here and the contract-combos that are available abroad. Nevertheless, if you have the budget and camera performance along with pure Android and a preference of a known and trusted brand is your concern, then the Google Pixel 3a XL is definitely recommended.