When Google launched the original Pixel phone back in October 2016, the company was very clear: they were creating a premium phone, meant to take on Apple’s iPhone. The Pixel series came with the promise of a great camera. In fact, I would argue that it was the first true challenger to the iPhone in the camera department.
Google achieved this feat solely on the basis of software, instead of just cramming more hardware at the back as is the trend. While the Pixel series and their cameras have won rave reviews, the phones have not done well commercially. Google also acknowledged this in its quarterly results, admitting the Pixel 3 sales were lower than Pixel 2. So now, in mid-2019, we have Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, a more ‘affordable-premium’ device as Google calls them.
The Pixel 3a phones offer the same no-frills camera experience, which claims to be one of the best in the business, pared down specifications compared to the regular Pixel 3 phones, and the same look and design as the premium phones. Here’s our first impression of the Pixel 3a XL.
Pixel 3a XL: Design, Display
The Pixel 3a XL has a 6-inch full HD+ display and the overall design language is similar to the Pixel 3. In fact, if you place the Pixel 3 XL and 3a XL next to each other, they look very similar, except that we have a black and a white coloured variant for review respectively for each unit. The power button on the Pixel 3a XL is neon orange, similar to how it is on the premium versions.
One big difference though: Pixel 3a XL is made of polycarbonate, though it has the half glass/ half matte look that we are now used to seeing on the Pixel phones. The Pixel 3a XL at 167 grams is lighter than the 184 grams Pixel 3 XL and very comfortable to use with one hand.
It is also good to see that Google has brought back the headphone jack on the Pixel 3a XL, though it does not come with the IP water and dust-resistance rating, which is a shame.
The display of the Pixel 3a XL looks promising so far, at least for its price with accurate colour reproduction. It could do with more brightness. I used this phone late at night to read a PDF text and I found it worked well without straining my eyes. I wasn’t a fan of the Pixel 2 XL’s display, but with the Pixel 3 series, Google has improved the display drastically.
The Pixel 3a series also has the Active Edge feature, where you can squeeze the sides of the phone to activate the Google Assistant. So yes, Google is trying to preserve most of the experiences from the more expensive variants. Though as someone who has been using the Pixel 3 for a long time, I have rarely used this particular feature.
Pixel 3a XL: Processor, RAM, Storage and battery
This is the bit where Pixel 3a XL will have a hard time convincing buyers, especially in India, that it is worth the price. The Pixel 3A XL runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, and inevitably there will be comparisons with devices in the market that offer a better Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or 855 coming up for the same or lower price.
OnePlus 6T is a good example of an excellent phone with the 845, which is priced lower than Pixel 3a XL. OnePlus 7 with the Snapdragon 855 will end up being the other option where Google’s phone will be compared and might find itself falling short.
This is not to say performance is an issue on Pixel 3a XL. So far, it has worked smoothly though again I have used this for a little over two days. But there’s no doubt, that Pixel 3a XL with its 4GB RAM and 64GB storage will not appeal to those who care for specifications.
Battery on the Pixel 3a XL is 3700 mAh and given the adaptive battery feature in Android Pie, it should easily last more than a day. The battery on the Pixel 3 unit easily lasts a day and a half for me, and I expect the Pixel 3a XL to do even better.
Pixel 3a XL: Camera
Now, this is where the promise lies. Google is pitching this as the best camera on a phone in this particular price range. It is promising the same quality experience as the Pixel 3 phones. When it comes to the Pixel 3 XL, I find the camera most impressive. It is reliable, delivers a punch with the photos and Night Sight just converts even the worst lighting into something worthy of posting on social media, which is exactly what most people want.
I like the Pixel camera because it does the job without confusing you about the various mode, hardware, etc. So what about the Pixel 3a XL? I took some shots with it, and so far, it reminds me of the same great experience I’m used to with the Pixel 3 phones.
Yes, the Delhi sky looks rather grey, (we know it is dull Google, thanks), and this is mostly true to form, rather than other phones, which can sometimes embellish the colours. The Portrait mode works with any object, which is something most other phones struggle with, and the colours are pleasing in some instances.
Right now it doesn’t look like the camera comes with any compromises as the experience is very similar to the premium phones.
Pixel 3a XL: Early thoughts
Pixel 3a XL is a confusing device. The price of Rs 44,999 is certainly not affordable by any standards in India. It is a premium phone and the specifications will not help its cause. Whether Google likes it or not, the comparisons are coming and they will be ruthless. I would say the US price of $399 for the smaller Pixel 3a could work to its advantage.
But the phone has an impressive design, it is light to hold, there’s no notch, though you have to live with the rather prominent top and bottom bezels, which I’m not sure is such a concern for the average consumer. The battery is big and that’s good to see. The camera experience will certainly put this one right at the top. Now, whether this Pixel can convince more consumers to come on board will be the big question.