Google’s Pixel phones may have the best cameras on a smartphone, but they’re also expensive. The most recent Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL started at $800 and $900, respectively. It’s a big jump from the days of Google’s Nexus phones, which typically cost under $500.
Well, the Pixel flagships are now getting a midrange companion. Google took to the keynote of Google I/O 2019 to announce the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. Here’s everything you need to know about the phone, and if you want our in-depth impressions, check out our Pixel 3a and 3a XL review.
U.K. retailer Argos is offering a gigantic, and almost unheard of, 99% discount on the Pixel 3a. This slashes the price from 399 British pounds, to only 3 pounds and 99 pence. We doubt many would pass up on the chance to buy one of Google’s newest phones for so little.
Sadly, as with everything that sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. It’s a competition, and only 50 winners will be offered the chance to buy the Pixel 3a for this insanely low price. Still, every competition has to have a winner (or 50 in this case) and it doesn’t cost anything to enter, so why not give it a try? U.K. residents have until midnight on May 20 to enter on Argos’ website.
Design and display
Every Pixel revealed so far has tended to split opinion where design is concerned, and that’s not going to change with the Pixel 3a. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are essentially carbon-copies of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL — for the 3a XL, Google chose to omit the Pixel 3 XL’s horrendous notch. The main difference is in build materials. The rear part of the Pixel 3a phones is made of polycarbonate, unlike the all-glass Pixel 3 and 3 XL.
The polycarbonate body is the first hint of the cost-cutting measures Google has taken to shrink the Pixel 3’s flagship price down to midrange levels. The glass protecting the screen is Dragon Trail, which is made by Asahi. That’s opposed to the more commonly-used Gorilla Glass series from Corning. In addition to the cheaper build materials, the Pixel 3’s IP68 water-resistance is gone, replaced by simple splash and dust resistance.
On the plus side, the Pixel 3a still comes with dual stereo speakers, though one of the speakers is bottom-firing. And there’s Active Edge, so you can still squeeze the phone to activate Google Assistant. The headphone jack, missing in the Pixel flagships since the Pixel 2, has also made a return. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back, along with the single rear-facing camera lens.
Google has compromised on build materials, and with the display, you’re not getting the same Super AMOLED quality as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. The Pixel 3a has a 5.6-inch gOLED screen with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, running a Full HD+ resolution (2,280 x 1,080). The Pixel 3a XL has a 6-inch gOLED screen, with an 18:9 aspect ratio, and a slightly lower Full HD+ resolution at 2,160 x 1,080. They’re still OLED screens, so you should be getting strong colors and deep blacks, but the resolution isn’t as sharp as the flagship Pixel 3 phones.
Specs and battery
As you might expect for a midrange phone, the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL aren’t packing the latest and greatest processors. However, even though they’re both packing midrange specs, you might not notice.
The Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL are both equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670. The midrange processor may be a far cry from the powerful Snapdragon 845 in the Pixel 3 and the latest Snapdragon 855 flagship chip, but it’s likely you’ll get super-smooth performance anyway, thanks to Google’s excellent software optimization.
Both also come with 4GB of RAM — the same amount you’ll find in the Pixel 3 and 3 XL — and 64GB of storage space. Unfortunately, there’s no MicroSD card slot, but you’ll get free high-resolution storage on Google Photos for all your photos, which goes some way to making up for the loss.
Battery size has seen a boost. The standard Pixel 3a boasts a 3,000mAh battery, while the larger Pixel 3a XL sports a 3,700mAh battery. That’s the largest battery we’ve ever seen in a Pixel phone, and paired with less powerful specs, it’s likely the Pixel 3a phones will impress with battery life.
Unfortunately, there’s no Qi wireless charging, due to the polycarbonate back. Both phones do come with Google’s 18W fast charging cable and adapter, though. Google boasts the charging rate will give you 7 hours of power in just 15 minutes of charging.
Software and special features
Boot up either phone and you’ll find the latest Android 9.0 Pie operating system. It’s not pure Android though, as you’ll find the same special additions just for the Pixel phones. These include the Always-on Display and Digital Wellbeing, but also stretches to the latest A.I.-powered features from the Google Assistant, like Duplex, Call Screen, and Now Playing.
Excitingly, the Pixel 3a range is getting early access to Google Maps’ new augmented reality (AR) directions mode. Ask Google Maps for directions in AR and the Pixel 3a will be able to show you where you need to turn with virtual images layered over the real world.
As a Google phone, you’re guaranteed to get three years of Android OS upgrades and security patches. That means you’ll get Android Q, Android R, and might even get Android S. Since Pixel updates are generally handled directly by Google, you’ll also get the latest Android updates as soon as they come out.
The camera has historically been one of the Pixel range’s strongest areas, and you might imagine the Pixel 3a range’s camera has been dialed back to accommodate the lower-price. Well, you’d be completely wrong. You’ll find the same 12.2-megapixel lens with optical and electronic image stabilization with an f/1.8 aperture on both the Pixel 3a and the 3a XL, matching the hardware found on the Pixel 3.
The hardware is good, but the software has always been Google’s secret sauce — and Pixel 3a isn’t lacking there either. Though the Pixel 3’s Visual Core is missing, the Pixel 3a still has many of the same A.I.-powered capabilities as its more expensive cousin, including Night Sight, Portrait Mode, Top Shot, Super Res Zoom, and the AR-powered Playground mode. The Pixel 3a will also launch with Google’s new Time Lapse feature, which takes a video and speeds it up for a cool effect, as though time is passing quickly.
There’s also a new way to trigger the A.I. to take a photo in Photobooth Mode — just smile, and the camera will automatically snap away.
Video capabilities are similarly impressive, with the ability to record 4K resolutions at 30 frames-per-second (fps), 1080p at 120 fps, and 720p at 240 fps. There’s even more A.I. optimization here again with the Fused Video Stabilization feature that promises to keep your videos steady, even if you’re running.
The front-facing camera seems to be the sole admission to the phone’s midrange pricing, as there’s only a single, fixed focus 8-megapixel selfie lens. But the camera uses a wider angle lens than the standard camera on the Pixel 3, so you get a little more in the frame than before (it’s not as wide as the wide-angle selfie camera on the Pixel 3, though).
Release date and price
The Google Pixel 3a costs $399, and the Pixel 3a XL starts at $479. That comes with 64GB of internal storage. They’re available now for purchase from the Google Store, as well as other retailers like Best Buy.
The most exciting news is that the Pixel 3a range will be available more widely on release than any Pixel previously. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL will be sold in Sprint, Verizon, US Cellular, and T-Mobile stores, finally ending the Verizon exclusivity. While the Pixel 3a won’t be available in AT&T stores, it will still be useable on AT&T’s networks when purchased unlocked.
Updated on May 17, 2019: Added Argos U.K. deal details.
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