Google finally releases an affordable phone worth buying

google pixel 3a and xl hands on 6
Pixel 3a Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Google Pixel 3a is the biggest bargain I’ve seen in years. Here’s a phone that offers up nearly everything that’s good about the Pixel 3 for half the price.

Google has compromised in all the right places, switching to plastic in an already fairly uninspired design doesn’t make much difference and you’ll put a case on it anyway. Most people can live without wireless charging because they haven’t gotten used to it yet. You’ll only notice that it’s a few ticks slower if you switch directly from a Pixel 3, and no one is going to do that. Besides, Google’s slick software makes its Pixel phones feel faster than the competition, even with a lesser processor.

Google has compromised in all the right places.

Not since the Nexus 5 have I seen such a compellingly-priced phone. Google even brought the headphone jack back and improved battery life – the Pixel 3’s Achilles’ heel. You could argue that selling the Pixel 3a at $400 is a slap in the face for Pixel 3 owners. But everyone else should be excited at the prospect of an amazing camera packed with clever A.I. features, the slickest Android software around, and an OLED screen in a phone this price. It’s not unprecedented, but it’s rare.

It’s also timed perfectly to slot into a segment of the market that’s mostly filled with less familiar Chinese brands and sub-par devices from the big boys.

Vacating the middle ground

You know what most of the dominant smartphone manufacturers are really bad at? Making good, affordable phones. It’s almost as though Samsung and Apple are scared of chipping away at their gleaming, premium flagships, and that’s understandable. They want you to buy that $1,000 slice of aspirational cutting-edge tech and fill their coffers further.

When Apple does do a cheaper device, it’s either a Frankenstein from the parts bin, like the iPhone SE, or it’s actually not that cheap, like the $750 iPhone XR. Samsung turns out midrange and budget phones that vaguely resemble their more expensive relatives, but pick one up and it’s immediately clear you’ve got the slow-witted cousin. The cheaper smartphones shed most of the special features that are highlighted in the flagship line.

iPhone XR
iPhone XR Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Though they often fall in price within a few months, other manufacturers like LG and HTC have been matching the top-tier pricing on release day, and don’t even get me started on Sony. All of the midrange devices it turns out harbor a deal-breaking flaw of some kind. Huawei works with subsidiaries to push out great midrange devices, saving that Huawei badge for the best — but most of the time these aren’t available in the U.S.

The Google Pixel 3a is easily the best phone for $100 in either direction.

OnePlus has soared to such success, by swooping in and grabbing that barren midrange ground, but its phones are creeping up in price with every passing year. The original OnePlus One cost $300; the OnePlus 6T was $550; and the OnePlus 7 Pro is set to be even more expensive.

At $400, the Google Pixel 3a is easily the best phone under $500. You’ve got perfectly decent devices from Nokia and Motorola if you go down, but they’re inferior in every way to the Pixel 3a. You’ve got OnePlus, Honor, and Xiaomi in the other direction, but they can’t develop software or process an image like Google can.

A mass market phone?

The big question is whether people will buy the Pixel 3a. Google has never achieved any real critical mass with its hardware. The Nexus line was originally for developers, with phones serving as reference designs, as Google seemed afraid of pushing its luck with manufacturing partners by competing too brazenly. Even though phones like the Nexus 5 were favorably reviewed, not many people bought them, and Google relied heavily on manufacturing partners.

google pixel 3a and xl hands on 7
Pixel 3a XL Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Those days are gone. The Pixel 3a comes from an experienced Google team bolstered by an acquisition of HTC talent. It has built the Pixel brand steadily and puts real marketing muscle behind phone releases now, something it never did in the Nexus days. Perhaps most importantly this new phone is a Pixel. It’s part of the same range as Google’s flagships and it boasts a very similar feel and look, with almost all of the same compelling features. Better yet, these phones are finally no longer sold through just Verizon. Now you can get them through Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Visible, and other retailers.

People who have read about Pixel phones and been tempted have often been put off when they glance at the spec sheet and clock the price. It’s hard to quantify why a Pixel is better than a cheaper alternative when you only look at hardware specs – you need to pick one up and use it. With that price barrier removed, more people will bite and when they find out what sets a Pixel apart, they’re not going to want to go back to flagship prices.

With that price barrier removed, more people will bite.

Apparently, Pixel 3 sales have been slow and there’s no doubt they’ll get even slower with the Pixel 3a on the scene, but if they’ve been poor anyway, it’s not really Google that needs to worry about the Pixel 3a cannibalizing sales. It should obviously attract anyone shopping in the midrange, but it’s also going to peel away a few people who realize they can save a few hundred dollars by turning their back on the latest iPhone or Galaxy S and try something different.

While Samsung and Apple push us to spend more and flagship prices creep higher, it’s refreshing to see Google go in the opposite direction.

Mobile

Samsung, T-Mobile to recycle an old phone for every S10e sold in the Netherlands

A Dutch company called Closing the Loop has persuaded Samsung and T-Mobile to trial an offsetting scheme whereby new phone purchases are offset by the recycling of old scrap phones that would otherwise end up in landfill.
Deals

Amazon knocks 29% off the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones for Prime Day

Looking to get your hands on a premium Google Pixel phone? Now’s your chance to score amazing deals on Pixel devices. For Prime Day, Amazon is offering the Pixel 3 (128GB) and the Pixel 3 XL (64GB) for just $639 each.
Deals

The Google Pixel 3 XL is $250 off for Prime Day

The Google Pixel 3 XL is one of the best phones of the last year, thanks to the fact that it has an amazing camera and super smart artificial intelligence features. For Amazon Prime Day 2019, the device has been discounted by around a hefty…
Wearables

The improved TicWatch Pro has 4G LTE connectivity and activity detection capabilities

Mobvoi may not be a household name in the U.S., but it sells affordable smartwatches running Google's Wear OS platform. The firm's next watch has been revealed, and the new TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE comes with full 4G access.
Mobile

Nomad's new Kevlar-reinforced cable range is now available for purchase

Nomad has just released an update to its super-tough Kevlar range of cables to include a new USB-C to Lightning cable and a blisteringly fast 100W USB-C cable. They're expensive, but they're the toughest cables you'll find.
Mobile

Xfinity Mobile customers can now bring their own Android device to the carrier

Xfinity Mobile, a mobile carrier for Xfinity internet customers, is adding the Samsung Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, S8, S8 Plus, Note 9 and Note 8 to its BYOD program. Customers porting a number on a new line are eligible for a $100 Visa card.
Deals

The best Prime Day smartphone deals: Samsung, Motorola, Google, and more

Amazon Prime Day 2019 is here, and there are a ton of great deals on smartphones worth looking into. Whether you're looking for a new iPhone or an Android device, there should be a Prime Day 2019 deal for you.
Deals

Apple Watch Series 4 smartwatch now just $360 in Amazon Prime Day deal

Amazon Prime Day is a fine time to buy a new smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 4 is the cream of the smartwatch crop, and now in an Amazon Prime Day deal, the 44mm model can be yours for just $354, down from its original $429.
Deals

The futuristic Samsung Galaxy S10 5G just got a price cut on Best Buy

Amazon Prime Day 2019 is finally here, bringing with it some of the best smartphone deals you're likely to see all year. In particular, there are some amazing deals on Samsung Galaxy phones, including the much-loved Samsung Galaxy S10.
Apple

Missed out on Amazon’s Prime Day Apple Watch deal? Walmart has you covered

Amazon's deal on the Apple Watch was pretty good, but it sold out within the first 24 hours of Prime Day. As an alternative, we'd suggest you shop Walmart, which has the Apple Watch Series 3 available for $80 off its normal price.
Mobile

Having issues with iOS 12? These fixes will help you get back on track

Apple's iOS 12 has a lot going for it, but it's not perfect and several issues have cropped to annoy people. Here are some of the most common iOS 12 problems we've heard about, with some advice on how to fix them or work around them.
Deals

Amazon cuts up to 40% off on Moto G and Z smartphones on Prime Day

Today at Prime Day, Amazon is exclusively offering selected items on the Moto G and Z family at a discounted price of up to 40%. Take this chance and check them out as we’ve gathered them all here.
Product Review

Samsung's $99 fitness tracker takes on Fitbit. Can it keep pace?

Samsung’s going toe-to-toe against Fitbit’s Inspire HR with its own $99 fitness tracker -- the Galaxy Fit. It also has a heart rate monitor, can automatically detect six workouts, and has a battery that can last for days.
Deals

There’s still time for Prime Day iPad deals, even without a Prime membership

Prime Day ends soon but there’s still time to score before the clock runs out. Shoppers looking for a new tablet should strike while the iron's still hot, and this might be your last chance before to snag an iPad deals before summer's…