A little of the way — I’m an iPhone man through and through. Nothing will change. But after a stay of about a week review of the Google Pixel 3a, I have to say that it impressed me. A lot.
And at $400, the 5.6-inch Pixel 3a which is perhaps the best Android phone on the market. At any price.
Announced at Google’s recent developer conference, it is clear that Google took its time to get the right hardware to go with its world-class list of services. Not only is the OLED screen and the camera look and act, but also dead simple to use, even for someone like me who was used to iOS, an operating system that prides itself on its usability.
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Like any good George R. R. Martin fan, I put the screen on the test and looked at “Game of Thrones”. The episodes looked good, even The “Long Night” episode, which people complained was too dark. I’m not sure what people were watching, but it didn’t look too dark on my TV as I saw it the first time and it was not too dark on the Pixel 3a. Stop whining.
The software is where the Google Pixel 3a really shines. It makes use of Call-Screen, an incredible function in a time of seemingly endless and annoying robocalls. Active Edge, you can also activate Google Assistant is better than Siri, but not as much) by squeezing with the phone. This is cool, but I’m not sure that it is much easier than simply hitting a button. To each their own, I think.
It comes with Android 9 Pie, the last full operating system. Android Q is still in beta and is that it is a Google phone, you get access to it on the first day it is publicly available, which should be in just a few months.
Almost every major phone company, from Apple to Samsung, are working their way up the price ladder, Google included. But you don’t need to spend $1,000 or more for a great camera that makes great photos. And the use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 chipset, it is sufficiently fast. It is not THE fastest phone on the market, so if that is something that concerns you, the Pixel 3a, in three colours (purple, black and white) is not for you.
But I was able to do the same tasks, such as sending WhatsApp messages to friends, or watching YouTube videos or listening to music, often performing several tasks at the same time and did not find my performance to be affected. For the average person, Google is clearly going for the release of this budget phone, it will have to suffice.
And as someone who religiously held on to their iPhone SE for many of the reasons mentioned above (price, good, not great internals, headphone jack), this says a lot.
The battery life for a $400 phone is also pretty darn good, it took me about 12 hours on a single charge, continuous surfing on the web and perform all of the normal tasks I would do every day. This compares favorably with the iPhone Xr and beats some of the other budget Android phones out of the water. For an extra $100, Google larger Pixel 3a XL has a better battery life, but if you have 12 hours for $400, I’m not sure it’s worth it to spend the extra money, even if the internals are a little better.
An important improvement that Google has made with the Pixel 3a is not with the phone itself, but the distribution methods — the works finally on T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular, as well as Verizon. It also works on AT&T, but you have to buy it from Google directly, that seems strange, considering the fact that a large number of people still use their phones from their carriers.
As my faithful and reliable iPhone SE, the Pixel 3a has a 3.5 mm headphone jack, an important distinction at a time when many (if not all) smartphones evolve in the direction of doing away with the headphone jack. Yes, I understand the wireless headphones sound better (I love AirPods), but I acknowledge that there is a good portion of the population who are either not comfortable spending $100 or more on a wireless headset or afraid that they will lose.
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The Pixel 3a certainly does have a lot to offer, especially the $400 price. However, as with everything in life, there are disadvantages and the Pixel 3a has its fair share.
Unfortunately, the Pixel 3a does not come with its own headphones (presumably to keep the cost down), so you will still have to use an old pair or buy. Google said that they wanted to give its users “the flexibility to choose the headphones,” but I still think it’s more about the price than about the necessary degree of flexibility. For me that is a drawback, having regard to the fact that older iPhone models are supplied with headphones and the many Android phones, including several new models do as well.
It is also a kind of a pity that instead of two years worth of unlimited the same resolution uploads that previous Google Pixel phones received, the Pixel 3a only gets 15 gb of full-resolution images. You’ll also get access to unlimited “high-quality” storage for photos, but so does every other Android phone. That is a bit of a disadvantage, especially if you are someone who wants to eventually present your photos somewhere other than your phone.
As you would expect, it doesn’t have wireless charging. But a major disadvantage is that the Pixel 3a is not water resistant, and although the camera is damn good, has a 8-megapixel front-facing camera, and only one, 12.2 MP rear-camera. Apple’s Phil Schiller has said in the past that the smartphone is probably the most people the best camera, so if you’re looking for an incredible camera, the Pixel 3a is not. It is very good, it’s just not great.
The Pixel 3a makes use of a hard plastic polycarbonate body, so you notice the difference between plastic and metal. You can’t help it. It doesn’t feel like a toy or that it might break, but there is a noticeable difference in feel, something that was a little off-putting I in my review.
There is also the disadvantage of the processor. If you have a lot of gaming or on your phone, the Pixel 3a is probably going to be a little slow; the same can be said for a lower-end phone.
At the end of the day, the Pixel 3a is not to compete with high-end phones that have better tech specs and is not going to appeal to image-conscious buyers who want the latest and greatest. At $400, the Pixel 3a does feel like a Toyota or a Honda Accord in comparison with the Porsche or Maserati feeling that you get with a number of high-end smartphones, be they from Apple or Samsung.
It is, however, going to appeal to Android users who don’t want to spend a lot of money on a phone and you want to feel like they are a part of 2019, something many lower-end smartphones don’t offer or can’t compete with.
After years and years of trying to get it right, it seems that Google finally has a winner with the Pixel 3a.
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