Google Pixel 3a vs Nokia 7.1 vs Moto G7: Budget phones get better and better

google-pixel-3a-phone-calling
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While some of the best smartphones on the market cost $1,000 or more, you don’t have to spend that much. Your choice of cheap phones is rapidly improving. There’s no need for major compromises, because you can get a decent device for less than $400 now.

The Google Pixel 3a offers many of the headline features that you’ll find in the Pixel 3, but at just $400 it’s half the price. The Nokia 7.1 at $350 and the Moto G7 at $300 are also well worth considering. We decided to compare these three budget beauties to break down the differences and help you decide which bargain will suit you best.

Specs

Google Pixel 3a  Nokia 7.1 Moto G7
Size 151.3 × 70.1 × 8.2mm (6.0 × 2.8 × 0.3 inches) 149.7 × 71.1 × 8mm (5.89 × 2.79 × 0.31 inches) 157 × 75.3 × 8mm (6.18 × 2.96 × 0.31 inches)
Weight 147 grams (5.18 ounces) 160 grams (5.64 ounces) 172 grams (6.06 ounces)
Screen size 5.6-inch OLED display 5.8-inch PureDisplay IPS LCD 6.2 inch MaxVision LCD
Screen resolution 2,220 × 1,080 pixels (441 pixels-per-inch) 2,280 × 1,080 pixels (435 pixels-per-inch) 2,270 × 1,080 pixels (403 pixels-per-inch)
Operating system Android 9.0 Pie Android 9.0 Pie Android 9.0 Pie
Storage space 64GB 64GB 64GB
MicroSD card slot No Yes Yes
Tap-to-pay services (NFC) Google Pay Google Pay No
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 Qualcomm Snapdragon 632
RAM 4GB 4GB  4GB
Camera Single-lens 12.2-megapixel rear, 8-megapixel front Dual 12MP and 5MP rear, 8MP front Dual 12-megapixel and 5MP main camera, 8MP front
Video 2,160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2,160p at 30 fps, 1,080p at 30 fps 2,160p at 30 fps, 1,080p at 60 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack
Fingerprint sensor Yes (back) Yes (back) Yes (back)
Water resistance Splash and dust resistant No Water repellent
Battery 3,000mAh

Fast charging 18W

3,060mAh

Fast charging 18W

3,000mAh

Fast charging 15W

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint AT&T and T-Mobile T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish Midnight Blue, Gloss Steel Ceramic Black, Clear White
Price $399 $350 $300
Buy from Google, Best Buy, Sprint, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, Visible Amazon Walmart
Review score 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

google-pixel-3a-usb-c
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

These are all midrange phones with Qualcomm processors, but there’s a definite gap in performance. The Pixel 3a leads the field by a distance with a Snapdragon 670. The Nokia 7.1 comes next with a Snapdragon 636, which just slightly outperforms the Moto G7’s Snapdragon 632. All three have 4GB of RAM, which is plenty for multitasking. While the Pixel 3a is unmistakably the fastest, which will be particularly important for people who love to play graphically challenging games, the Nokia 7.1 and Moto G7 are solid performers.

Both the Pixel 3a and the Moto G7 have 3,000mAh batteries, but the Pixel 3a beat the Moto G7 by more than two hours in our video streaming battery test. The Nokia 7.1, which actually has the biggest battery at 3,060mAh turned out to be the weakest performer in the real world. They all support fast wired charging, though the Pixel 3a and Nokia 7.1 are a touch faster than the Moto G7. None of the three have wireless charging support.

Winner: Google Pixel 3a

Design and durability

Budget phones have been growing consistently more stylish and adopting design cues from the other end of the market, so the Moto G7 and Nokia 7.1 are both glass front and back with metallic frames. The chunky aluminum construction in the Nokia 7.1 feels durable, while the Moto G7 is more rounded. You’ll also find fingerprint sensors on the back of both with camera modules directly above. Google has economized with the Pixel 3a and gone for a polycarbonate body, but it sports the same two-tone finish as the Pixel 3. It too has a fingerprint sensor on the back, but the camera module is top left.

Around front the Pixel 3a has big bezels top and bottom of the screen with a front-facing speaker at the top and a bottom firing speaker. The Nokia 7.1 has a big bezel at the bottom, and a small notch at the top, and the Moto G7 has the slimmest bezel of the three at the bottom with a teardrop notch at the top. They all have USB-C charging ports and audio jacks, but the Pixel 3a lacks a MicroSD card slot for storage expansion, which is something the other two have.

None of these phones score an IP rating, but the Pixel 3a is splash and dust resistant and the Moto G7 has a water repellent coating.

Winner: Tie

Display

google-pixel-3a-display
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Pixel 3a has a 5.6-inch screen with a 2,220 x 1,080-pixel resolution. The Nokia 7.1 has an LCD screen with a resolution of 2,280 x 1,080 pixels. The Moto G7 has the biggest screen at 6.2 inches, also an LCD panel, and it has a resolution of 2,270 x 1,080 pixels. There’s very little difference here in terms of sharpness, but because the Pixel 3a has an OLED screen it has much deeper blacks than the other two. The Nokia 7.1 is the only one to boast HDR10 support, which will impress with the right content from Netflix or Amazon, but OLED is simply superior to LCD so the Pixel 3a screen is the best option here.

Winner: Google Pixel 3a

Camera

google-pixel-3a-camera
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This is where Google’s phone really runs away with it. The Pixel 3a has the same single-lens 12.2-megapixel camera as the Pixel 3, our current camera phone champion. It’s a fantastic camera and combined with Google’s artificial intelligence processing you’ll enjoy stunning photos of people with one of the best portrait modes around, great low light performance with Night Sight, and impressive quality thanks to HDR Plus which stitches together multiple frames for best results. The Pixel 3a might slightly slower to process than the Pixel 3, but this is by far the best quality camera we’ve ever seen in a phone this price.

The Moto G7 and the Nokia 7.1 both have a dual lens setup that combines a 12-megapixel lens and a 5-megapixel lens. They’re capable of capturing good shots in optimal conditions, but both are prone to blur and really struggle with low light photography. All three phones have an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, but Google’s processing know-how squeezes better results out of it. The Pixel 3a is also superior at shooting video.

Winner: Google Pixel 3a

Software and updates

google-pixel-3a-quick settings
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

As the developer of Android it should come as no surprise that the Pixel 3a wins this category too. You’ll get the latest version of Android immediately after release and a steady stream of security updates. You also get some special Google extras, like Now Playing, which shows what music is playing in your vicinity on the lock screen, or Call Screen, which enables Google Assistant to handle spam calls for you. The Nokia 7.1 runs it close because it’s an Android One phone, which means no bloatware and guarantees the same swift Android version updates for two years and security updates for three years. The Moto G7 is the weak link here with some bloatware and no promise of future updates beyond Android Q.

Winner: Google Pixel 3a

Special features

google-pixel-3a-xl-now-playing
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Moto G7 comes with some gesture shortcuts in Moto Actions to enable you to do things like a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight. There’s also Moto Voice which can read your text messages out loud when you’re driving. The Nokia 7.1 has the aforementioned HDR10 support for the screen. The Google Pixel 3a offers far more. Beyond the camera and software features we already discussed, there’s an AR mode for Google Maps, three months of YouTube Music Premium for free, and Google Lens integration in the camera. Active Edge also allows you to launch the Google Assistant by squeezing your phone. One other thing worth mentioning is that the Pixel 3a and Nokia 7.1 both support Google Pay, but the U.S. version of the Moto G7 does not.

Winners: Google Pixel 3a

Price and availability

The Google Pixel 3a costs $399 and you can buy it directly from Google or other online retailers. It will also be sold in Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular stores. Although it won’t be sold at AT&T it will work just fine on AT&T’s network. The Nokia 7.1 is $350, and it’s available from Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H in the U.S. You should know this phone only works on AT&T and T-Mobile, not on Verizon or Sprint. The Moto G7 costs $299 and you can buy it direct from Motorola or from retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy. You can also find it at Google Fi, Republic Wireless, and Ting.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 3a

The Google Pixel 3a is easily the best phone you can buy for $400. No other device comes close to this quality in terms of features, performance, and photography. It also has the best display and battery life. If you simply can’t find the extra $50, then the Nokia 7.1 is a worthy runner-up, and the Moto G7 offers a lot for $300, but we would urge you to scrape together the extra cash because the Pixel 3a is well worth it.

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