Pixel 3a vs. Pixel 3 vs. Pixel 2: Which Google phone is perfect for you?

google pixel 3a and xl hands on 5
Pixel 3a Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Fans of the Google Nexus range have something to be excited about: There’s a new midrange Google phone in town, and it’s a beauty. The Pixel 3a has been revealed at Google I/O 2019, and it has everything we loved about the Google Pixel 3 wrapped up in a more affordable bundle. But price is only one part of the story, and there are inevitable comparisons with the new phone’s stablemates. So within the pint-sized Pixel pantheon, which phone comes out on top? We compared the Google Pixel 3a, the Pixel 3, and the Pixel 2 to find out.

Specs

Pixel 3a Pixel 3 Pixel 2
Size 151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2 mm (6.0 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches) 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm (5.73 x 2.69 x 0.31 inches) 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm (5.74 x 2.74 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 147 grams (5.19 ounces) 148 grams (5.22 ounces) 143 grams (5.04 ounces)
Screen size 5.6-inch gOLED 5.5-inch OLED 5-inch OLED
Screen resolution 2,220 x 1,080 pixels (441 pixels per inch) 2,160 x 1,080 pixels (443 pixels per inch) 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 9.0 Pie Android 9.0 Pie Android 9.0 Pie
Storage space 64GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 4GB 4GB 4GB
Camera Single 12.2MP rear, 8MP front camera Single 12.2MP rear, dual 8MP and 8MP front camera Single 12.2MP rear, 8MP front camera
Video 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes (rear-mounted) Yes (rear-mounted) Yes (rear-mounted)
Water resistance Splash resistant IP68 IP67
Battery 3,000mAh

18W fast charging

2,915mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

2,700mAh

Fast charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish Just Black, Clearly White, Not Pink Kinda Blue, Just Black, Clearly White
Price $400 $800 $650
Buy from Google Google, Amazon Amazon
Review score 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Google Pixel 3 review
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Stock Android makes judging these phones difficult. A Pixel is always going to be super-smooth to use, and these three phones are no exception. There’s a winner in terms of objective power though, with the Pixel 3’s Snapdragon 845 making short work of the Pixel 2’s older Snapdragon 835. The Pixel 3a uses the midrange Snapdragon 670, which simply won’t match the Pixel 3’s strength — though it does surprisingly well against the Pixel 2’s benchmark scores.

Battery capacity has been steadily increasing, with the Pixel 3a sporting the largest battery of the three here. Unlike the Pixel 3, there’s never any need for battery anxiety, and the midrange phone performs excellently, providing good battery life for a solid day’s work. Charging is where the latest flagship starts to pull away; all three sport Google’s fast charging, but only the Pixel 3 comes with convenient Qi wireless charging.

While all three are very smooth performers, the Pixel 3’s more powerful processor and Qi wireless charging win it this round.

Winner: Pixel 3

Design and durability

Google’s designs for the Pixel range have generally split opinion, with many branding the phones as ugly. They have a point — Google was slow to embrace the design trends adopted by other manufacturers, and so none of these phones are a match for the Samsung Galaxy S10 or the iPhone XS. The Pixel 2 is the worst of these three due to extensive bezels. The Pixel 3 and 3a are the better-looking by far, with slimmer bezels. The Pixel 3a is also the only phone to include a headphone jack.

The Pixel 3a is made from polycarbonate, while the Pixel 3 and Pixel 2 are made from more luxurious materials. The Pixel 3 is all glass, while the Pixel 2 has an aluminum body with a glass panel at the top. The glass sections will be fragile of course, but the Pixel 2’s aluminum and the Pixel 3a’s polycarbonate are likely to be more durable over time. Still, a case is recommended for all three. The Pixel 3 has an advantage in waterproofing too, thanks to an IP68-rating that’s slightly superior to the Pixel 2’s IP67-rating. The Pixel 3a only has splash- and dust-resistance, so won’t survive submersion.

It’s a tougher round to call, with a lot going for each phone. However, we think the Pixel 3’s more attractive design and strong waterproofing put it ahead here.

Winner: Pixel 3

Display

google pixel 2 images 036
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Google has compromised in some areas to bring the Pixel 3a’s price down to midrange levels, but the display doesn’t seem to be one of those areas. It’s a 5.6-inch gOLED display in an 18.5:9 aspect ratio with a 2,280 x 1,080 resolution. It’s slightly larger than the Pixel 3’s 5.5-inch display, and considerably larger than the Pixel 2’s 5-inch display. The larger size means it’s not quite as sharp as the flagships, but as an OLED, you can be sure it comes with a great color range and inky blacks.

While the Pixel 3a puts up a strong fight, we favor the Pixel 3’s screen.

Winner: Pixel 3

Camera

google pixel 3a and xl hands on 9
Pixel 3a Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Despite sticking with a single rear-facing lens, the camera has always been one of the Pixel range’s biggest strengths. Each phone comes with the now iconic 12.2-megapixel main lens, featuring a great portrait mode, A.I. optimization, and software tricks like Night Sight and Top Shot. The Pixel 3 and 2 have an edge thanks to the Visual Core feature, which boosts processing times and overall camera performance. But it’s important to note that all three phones offer a great camera experience.

The Pixel 3a and Pixel 2 come with a similar 8-megapixel selfie lens — though the Pixel 3a’s has a fixed focus — but the Pixel 3’s additional selfie lens gives it another edge. The Pixel 3 sports two 8-megapixel lenses, the second of which has a wide-angle lens that allows it to take pictures of large groups. This additional lens paired with its Visual Core scores the Pixel 3 the win here, but it’s a close contest.

Winner: Pixel 3

Software and updates

Google Pixel 3
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

As the Pixel is Google’s own device, it’s only right you’d find the latest version of Android 9.0 Pie on these phones. It’ll be exactly the same version of Android Pie no matter which phone you pick up right now, as Google is exceptionally good at pushing updates out to its phones regularly and on time. Each phone gets three years of major Android upgrades and security updates from its release date, so while the Pixel 2 will be the first of these three phones to stop receiving updates, it will definitely receive Android 10 Q, and might even stretch to Android R in 2020. As such, there’s not much need to worry about getting value for your money, even when picking up the Pixel 2.

There’s no way to pick between these three choices here, as they’re all exactly the same.

Winner: Tie

Special features

google pixel 2 images 039
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

But it’s the newer phones that pull slightly ahead. The Pixel 3 comes with support for the Google Pixel Stand to turn your phone into a smart display, while the Pixel 3a will be the first phone to come with support for Google Maps’ new AR mode. While the Pixel 2 is by no means lacking in features, it’s the newer ones that pull ahead here.

Winner: Tie – Pixel 3a and Pixel 3

Price and availability

While the Pixel 2 is no longer available from Google itself, you can still pick it up from Amazon, with prices generally hovering around the $600 mark. It will work on most major U.S. networks. The Pixel 3 is currently available from a variety of retailers and carriers, including Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, and T-Mobile. While it’s not available from AT&T, it’ll still work on its networks. Prices for the Pixel 3 start from $800. The Pixel 3a is a different beast from any Pixel before, as it’s a midrange phone. It costs $400 — or half the price of the Pixel 3 — and it has the same availability as the Pixel 3.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 3

In these sorts of comparisons, it’s usually the newest device that wins the day, but due to the large gulf in relative price, it’s the Pixel 3 that comes out on top. That’s not all that surprising really since the Pixel 3 is Google’s flagship device, and while the Pixel 3a is newer, it’s aimed at a more budget-conscious audience and simply can’t match the Pixel 3’s power, luxurious design, and exceptionally strong camera.

But it’s closer than you think, and the Pixel 3a holds up extremely well against its more powerful and expensive cousins. The Snapdragon 670 chip is likely to surprise you with its capabilities, and its camera is close to being on par with the Pixel 3. Where the Pixel 3a falls down is on build materials, waterproofing, and a lack of Qi wireless charging. But it is $400 cheaper, and if you don’t mind making those sacrifices in the name of an exceptional camera, strong performance, and good battery life, then the Pixel 3a may win out for you here.

If money is no object, it should always be the Pixel 3. It’s a straight upgrade to the Pixel 2, and it outclasses the Pixel 3a. The Pixel 3 is an excellent phone and our worthy winner.

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