You’ve got a strict $500 to spend and you’re looking for the best Android smartphone you can get. Two phones that simply must be on your radar are the Moto Z4 and the Google Pixel 3a XL, but which one should you buy? Let’s take a look at what makes these phones special, where they falter, and how they differ, so you can select the right one for you.
|Moto Z4||Google Pixel 3a XL
|Size||158 × 75 × 7.35 mm (6.22 × 2.95 × 0.29 inches)||160.1 × 76.1 × 8.2 mm (6.3 × 3.0 × 0.3 inches)|
|Weight||165 grams (5.82 ounces)||167 grams (5.89 ounces)|
|Screen size||6.39-inch OLED||6.0-inch gOLED|
|Screen resolution||2340 x 1080 pixels (403 pixels per inch)||2160 × 1080 pixels (402 pixels per inch)|
|Operating system||Android 9.0 Pie||Android 9.0 Pie|
|MicroSD card slot||Yes||No|
|Tap-to-pay services||Google Pay||Google Pay|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 675||Qualcomm Snapdragon 670|
|Camera||Single 48-megapixel rear, 25MP front||Single 12.2MP rear, 8MP front camera|
|Video||Up to 2160p at 30 fps||2160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps|
|Bluetooth version||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C||3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C|
|Fingerprint sensor||Yes (in-display)||Yes (back)|
|Water resistance||Splash-proof coating||No|
18W fast charging
|App marketplace||Google Play Store||Google Play Store|
|Network support||T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint||T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint|
|Colors||Flash Grey, Frost White||Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish|
|Buy from||Motorola||Google, T-Mobile|
|Review score||Hands-on review||4.5 out of 5 stars|
Performance, battery life, and charging
With the slightly newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor inside, the Moto Z4 has an edge in performance. The Pixel 3a XL has the Snapdragon 670, which isn’t quite as fast, but we’re not talking about a big gap here. Plus, Google’s software feels slicker which makes this an even tighter race. Both phones have an ample 4GB of RAM.
The battery in the Pixel 3a XL is a touch bigger at 3,700mAh and wired charging is a touch faster at 18W. Google improved battery life in the 3a series over the original Pixel 3 and 3 XL and so you can expect the 3a XL to comfortably last you a day. With a slightly larger screen and a smaller battery, the Moto Z4 may struggle to keep up, though it does support Moto Mods, which gives you the option of buying a 3,490mAh battery that attaches to the back for an extra $80.
Design and durability
The Pixel 3a XL has a fairly dated design that combines a plastic body with a fingerprint sensor on the back and a standard screen with big bezels top and bottom on the front. The Moto Z4 squeezes a bigger screen into a smaller body and employs a teardrop notch to accommodate the front-facing camera. It also has an in-display fingerprint sensor. The back has that signature, round Moto camera module and pogo pins at the bottom for connecting Moto Mods. We’re not keen on the look of the Moto Z4 without a mod attached, but the mods do add considerable bulk. It does look better than the Pixel from the front, but we’ve also had issues with the reliability of the in-display fingerprint sensor in early testing.
Neither has an IP rating, but the Moto Z4 does boast a P2i coating that makes it splash resistant. On the other hand, the plastic body of the Pixel 3a XL is probably slightly more durable than the glass of the Z4 if you drop it.
We’re delighted to see OLED screens filter down to midrange phones, as they offer superior contrast and wonderfully deep blacks. The Moto Z4 has the bigger screen at 6.39 inches with a resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels which translates to 403 pixels per inch, but there is a teardrop notch carved out of the top. The 6-inch screen in the Pixel 3a XL has a 2160 x 1080-pixel resolution, so it’s every bit as sharp and completely notch-free. They’re both bright and legible, even in broad daylight.
Google offers the best camera phone around in the shape of the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3a and 3a XL benefit from the same hardware and software smarts. Though they lack the Pixel Visual Core chip that’s in Google’s flagships and they have a lesser processor, the only real difference is that image processing is slower. You’ll still enjoy wonderful photos in all kinds of conditions and portrait shots that you’ll want to share with the Pixel 3a XL. There is no better camera anywhere near this price.
On paper, the Moto Z4’s single-lens 48-megapixel shooter beats the 12.2-megapixel camera in the Pixel 3a XL, but the Z4 uses pixel binning and combines pixels to improve low-light performance, which means the effective output is 12 megapixels. There’s also more to a camera than megapixel count and Google’s image processing is far better than Motorola’s.
The selfie camera in the Pixel 3a XL is rated at 8 megapixels, while the Moto Z4 boasts a 25-megapixel front-facing camera.
Winner: Pixel 3a XL
Software and updates
The Moto Z4 comes with Android 9.0 Pie with a handful of extras like Moto Display and Moto Actions on top. Motorola has confirmed that the Z4 will get Android Q, but it may not get another version update beyond that. Thankfully, it will get at least two year’s worth of bi-monthly security updates.
Google offers some tempting extras in the Pixel 3a XL. You can have Google Assistant screen your calls, Now Playing will show what music is playing nearby, and there’s a new AR mode in Google Maps. Add to that the fact that Google will update Android immediately when a new version comes out and that security patches will be regular and swift, and there can be only one winner here.
Winner: Pixel 3a XL
Both phones have some interesting camera modes and software options, but only the Moto Z4 offers mods that you can clip onto the back of your phone to add an extra battery, new camera capabilities, a printer, or even 5G support. If you buy the Moto Z4 unlocked you’ll get the Moto 360 Camera mod bundled with it. The 5G Moto Mod isn’t supported at launch, but will be later, provided you’re on Verizon. The best Moto Mods may prove useful for some, but others feel a bit gimmicky. Take a look and see if anything appeals before deciding if this is a reason to buy the Z4.
Winner: Moto Z4
The Moto Z4 is available on Verizon from June 13 and you’ll be able to get it for $400 if you select it as an upgrade via Verizon’s Device Payment Plan. The unlocked Moto Z4 can be pre-ordered now for $500 and comes with the Moto 360 Camera mod. It will ship from June 6 and will work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.
The Google Pixel 3a XL costs $479, and you can buy it directly from Google or through Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. It also works on AT&T. If you like the sound of the Pixel 3a XL and don’t mind a smaller, 5.6-inch screen, then the Pixel 3a is just $400 and it’s identical in every other respect.
Overall winner: Google Pixel 3a XL
If you want the best camera and software experience, then the Pixel 3a XL cannot be beaten in this price range. There are pros and cons on both sides in terms of performance and design, so your preference there will depend on your needs. If the Moto Mods appeal that might tip it in the Z4’s favor, but the special software features of the Pixel 3a XL will prove more useful for many. Given the choice between these two phones, we would always pick the Pixel.
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