Google is trying its hand at something new. Its signature phone, the Pixel, is jumping into the midrange market with the Pixel 3A and 3A XL. At $399 and $479 (£399 and £469 in the UK, and AU$649 and AU$799 in Australia), the handsets are essentially reworked Pixel 3 ($813 at Walmart) phones. They have the same rear camera and overall look, but there are a few hardware downgrades that contribute to the lower price.
Why did Google go the budget route? For starters, its flagship phones, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL,despite their exceptional cameras and critical acclaim. This could be because the phones are (though they work on other US carriers), plus the fact that people in general aren’t buying phones as much as they used to. There’s also been , though we at CNET haven’t experienced them personally.
But perhaps the biggest factor are the phones’ prices: $649 for the 3 and $769 for the 3 XL. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL aren’t as expensive as their iPhone XS ($1,000 at Amazon) and competitors, but they’re pricey enough that Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet, acknowledged because of “pressures in the premium smartphone market.”
With a lower price, the Pixel 3A has a better chance of attracting a new set of customers and ultimately increasing sales. And while it doesn’t have as many features as the other “budget” options of its competitors, such as the iPhone XR ($686 at Amazon) and the , the Pixel 3A is still at least $250 cheaper. If you want the latest software from Google and the ability to take fantastic photos — all at under $400 — then the Pixel 3A is the phone to get.
Both the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3 have a lightweight, unibody design, a matte finish with a glossy shade on the back and a rear fingerprint reader. If I came across both phones for the first time, I wouldn’t know off the bat which one was the more expensive.
But there are some differences. The Pixel 3A is bigger and made out of polycarbonate instead of glass like the Pixel 3. Its bottom bezel is thicker and the display is a tad larger. The phone also uses a different type of OLED display that features glass as its base layer instead of plastic. Even when both displays are in the same color mode (which you can change in Settings), the Pixel 3A looks a bit punchier at times. Reds, yellows and oranges are warmer and whites look brighter, purer. In contrast, the Pixel 3’s screen is bluer and despite being the more high-end device, it has much more obvious color shift.
One new feature is time-lapse video. You can set your frames to record at various time intervals — for example, you can condense between 50 seconds or 20 minutes of recorded footage into 10 seconds — and there’s a useful indicator that denotes how long your video will be in real time. To save battery, the viewfinder will also dim after some time, while the phone is still recording.
In general, time-lapse videos were clear and steady, and I love that I can see how long my video will be in the end. But the quality isn’t as good as the iPhone XR. In one video I shot at a darkened cocktail party, footage on the Pixel 3A was muddier and grainier than that captured by the iPhone XR. The time-lapse also looked jerkier or more “pulsating” than on the iPhone. Despite the fact that the interface for the iPhone XR’s camera is bare and doesn’t have different time frame options, it churns out better video.