Google Pixel 3a XL comes with the promise of the same great experience as the more expensive Pixel 3 variants, though there are noticeable downgrades. Now, Google has gone for a more mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor on these phones, while the Pixel 3 had the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
Another noticeable miss in the Pixel 3a’s hardware is the Visual Core chipset, which is present on the Pixel 3 phones. Google has used this Visual Core chipset to power the camera’s HDR+ mode, PhotoBooth, TopShot, etc, and it has also ensured that third-party apps can rely on this to get access to the top end camera optics of the Pixel 3 phones.
On the front, the Pixel 3 has dual cameras, which also support a wide-angle selfie mode, which is not an option on the Pixel 3a because this one comes with a single front camera. Google itself has said there could be a slight difference in the image quality between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a given the two have vastly different processors. But how much of a difference is it in the image quality and user experience? Here’s what we thought.
Pixel 3a XL: A tad slower
With the Pixel phones, Google’s camera will take a few extra seconds to process the final image in HDR+ mode, which is turned on by default, though users can turn switch on the option to show manual control for HDR+.
In HDR+ mode, the camera is basically taking a number of shots at multiple exposure rates and combining them to give the best image with the widest dynamic range, while preserving details.
In Portrait mode too, the final photo takes a few seconds to process, given Google is relying on software rather than two lenses to create the shallow depth of field in order to make the subject stand out. In the past Google has explained that the reason they have chosen this approach with Portrait is because the hardware is still not fast enough.
In case of the Pixel 3a XL the camera is noticeably slower when it comes to processing the photos, both in Portrait mode and in regular settings where HDR+ is turned on. This is not exceptionally slow, nor are there issues with focusing, but there’s a noticeable difference in both phones when it comes to processing the image, which is hard to miss.
Pixel 3a XL: Can it match up in image quality?
That’s really the question that many users will want to know. I’ve used the Pixel 3 extensively. It is my default device when I need pictures of other phones (a major use case for me), it is what I rely on when I want to take that rare Portrait selfie, which I know will make me look good, and it has impressed me with Night Sight. I like Pixel 3’s camera because the idea here is simple: just hold and shoot, the software will do the magic.
With Pixel 3a XL, I would say Google has largely preserved some of this. Pixel 3a XL’s camera certainly carries the software power that one has come to expect in these phones. In a shot-by-shot comparison, one can hardly tell the difference. Images on the Pixel 3a XL are sharp, crisp and impressive given this does not have a high-end processor.
However with the Pixel 3a XL has some differences. The pictures on Pixel 3a XL were certainly more saturated than the Pixel 3 XL. In some of the photos I took the greens were darker, the pinks a tad more vibrant and the red not as accurate than what I got on the more expensive variant.
Another noticeable difference was that in the Portrait mode of the Pixel 3a XL, which can make some shots seem a bit unnatural and doesn’t quite get the edges right, at least with the smoothness of the Pixel 3 XL. Still it delivers well in Portrait mode given that there is only a single camera at play here. Check out Portrait shots below.
Portrait mode shots on Pixel phones
Pixel 3a XL: What about Night Sight, Super Zoom?
This is where I feel Pixel 3a XL is still not as great as the Pixel 3 series. In Night Sight, the Pixel 3a XL tends to miss details more and the results are not just as sharp as the Pixel 3 phones. The Night Sight Mode and Super Zoom in Pixel 3a XL do result in noise in the photos, though the images are brighter and have details, given some of these were taken in the room with no light on at all or just one light source.
Below is a shot with Night Sight mode and no light in the room
Night Sight with some light
Night Sight with SuperZoom and some light
Pixel 3a XL: So how is the camera really?
The Pixel 3a XL camera is impressive for most parts, and yes Google’s software magic is powering the results. As a camera, this is still one of the best out there, no matter how many extra sensors other phones are packing.
Yes, there are noticeable differences compared to the Pixel 3 XL, which can deliver some exceptional results, especially in Portrait and Night Sight mode and these are expected given there are hardware differences. While the Pixel 3a XL might not pack the best specifications in the Rs 40,000 price bracket, it certainly packs a camera that is top notch.