What is a premium smartphone? A phone that costs $999 or more? Is it one that comes packed with three cameras at the back? The definition of a premium phone has gotten more complicated in the past two years. Apple has gone the higher price route, while Samsung and Huawei have been packing on features to the camera, along with wireless charging, faster charging to name some.
Then there’s OnePlus, which has stepped in to offer a premium device-like experience at a more reasonable price. So where does that leave Google and its Pixel phones? Though first launched in October 2016 as premium phones, the devices have not sold well. The Pixel camera, while undoubtedly seen as one of the best for its features, has not been enough to sell the devices.
So Google is trying a new path with the Pixel phones — the Pixel 3a is supposed to be more ‘affordable’. At Rs 39,999 for the Pixel 3a and Rs 44,999 for the Pixel 3a XL, the phones are expensive for Indian users, especially given the specifications they pack. But are the new Pixel 3a phones worth the hype? We used the Pixel 3a XL for review and here’s what we thought.
Pixel 3a XL specifications: 6-inch full HD+ display | Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor | 4GB RAM+64GB storage | 12.2MP rear camera + 8MP front camera | 3700 mAh battery | Android Pie
Google Pixel 3a XL Price in India: Rs 44,999
Google Pixel 3a XL review: Design Display
Unlike the Pixel 3 XL, there’s no notch on the Pixel 3a XL, which is good to see. But the phones also come with bigger bezels on the top and bottom and have the 18:9 aspect ratio compared to some of the newer phones, which are sporting taller displays. Google’s decision to not include a notch might work in its favour with some users, though the broad bezels do makes these seem outdated.
The Pixel 3a series has a design similar to the Pixel 3 phones, but the newer phones come with a polycarbonate body. Google has maintained that half glass and half matte look at the back on the Pixel 3a phones as well. What I liked about the Pixel 3a XL is that the phone is light to hold and easy to use with one hand despite the 6-inch screen.
But the new phones come with a compromise as well. There’s no wireless charging, there’s no IP rating for water or dust resistance. The lack of both these features on a phone that costs Rs 40,000 is disappointing. Even some budget phones these days come with a P2i coating for minimal splash resistance. Google has, however, included a headphone jack on these phones, which is something many users will appreciate.
The 6-inch full HD+ display is an gOLED screen, and it works well in all kinds of lighting. As I noted in my first impressions, I used the display late at night to read a PDF document, without any other lights, and I found it to be most comfortable. The viewing angles are good. However, in really harsh and bright sunlight, legibility can be a challenge.
Google Pixel 3a XL: Performance, Software
This is really the part which will get the comparisons going and where the India prices seem unjustified. Pixel 3a series is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Google isn’t offering a higher storage option, there’s no microSD slot. Yes, there is unlimited storage at full resolution on Google Photos for photos and videos, but more storage options would have been appreciated.
On benchmarks, Pixel 3a does not impress. It scores around 158,000 plus for us on Antutu, which puts it below phones like Redmi Note 7 Pro, Honor 10, vivo V15 Pro, OnePlus 6T, and others, which are priced lower. On GeekBench 4, Pixel 3a XL scored 1620 in single-core, and 5175 in multi-core. Again, these scores put the phone’s performance below older devices like Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2, and others.
But that does not mean regular performance has been an issue. Pixel 3a XL has worked without problems in my daily use. Games like Asphalt 9, 8 ran without any problems in high settings, and there was no frame drop or app crashes. Running multiple tabs on Chrome was not a problem either. Basic tasks like WhatsApp video calls, watching videos all worked without any problems.
However, the phone did start to heat up considerably near the top part within just 20 minutes of gaming. I also noticed that some of the apps I thought were open, were force closed in the app menu. This issue was previously raised in the Pixel 3 series.
Coming to the audio quality, compared to the Pixel 3 phones, the Pixel 3a XL does not feel as powerful. I had to crank up the volume to full in some YouTube videos, and the audio quality left me wanting for more.
Pixel 3a XL runs the Android 9 Pie and it comes with some of the features we see on the high-end variants. There’s the side squeeze option via Active Edge to activate Google Assistant, though I’ve never felt the need to use it. It has the same gestures as the other Pixel phones, and yes, these are still not as smooth as the navigation gestures on iOS.
This phone will be eligible for Android Q for those who are interested in testing it out. Of course, once the final build of Android Q rolls out, Pixel 3a phones will get it first, which is an advantage.
Google Pixel 3a XL: Camera
This is a department where Google is offering no compromises, compared to the Pixel 3 phones. Now unlike, the Pixel 3, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL don’t come with the Visual Core custom AI chipset, which handles tasks like enhancing features such as Top Shot, Photobooth and HDR+ mode on Pixel phones.
Top Shot is where Google recommends a best picture option from a series of the photos taken in the Motion Photo mode. In Photobooth mode, Pixel will automatically take photos, when you smile, though it only works for the front camera. With the Pixel 3a XL, the Google camera also comes with a new TimeLapse mode for those want to have some fun and create quirky videos.
With Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a, photos take extra few seconds to process, and this is especially noticeable in Portrait mode. At first glance, the Pixel 3a XL and Pixel 3 XL photos look very similar. There’s no doubt the image quality is there, details are preserved for most part, though the bigger Pixel 3 XL does better with edges in Portrait mode. Still, Pixel 3a like the Pixel 3a XL can do a Portrait shot with any object, no matter what the size, and it is a definite advantage.
The Pixel 3a XL photos are a tad more saturated in terms of colours like green, which appear darker. The original Pixel 3 XL does a better job of preserving the details around edges of a picture, unlike the Pixel 3a XL, where these details are lacking.
Night Sight works as well as it does on the Pixel 3 XL, which is definitely one of the best features of the Google Camera in my view. Photos taken in Night Sight are brighter, but details are missing in some photos. Yes, Night Sight still requires that you and the object you are clicking stay absolutely still while taking the photo.
SuperZoom, where Google is relying on software to ensure you can take close up photos of an object from afar, is what I found least impressive on the Pixel 3a XL. The loss of details is much more evident here, though Google tries its best to make the images sharper and brighter with software.
The selfie camera likewise does not give as such sharp results as the Pixel 3, when used in indoor lighting conditions which are not ideal. The lack of details is evident in these cases, and there’s noise in some of the photos. Of course, Night Sight can help to some extent here, but the selfie game is not as strong on this phone.
Google Pixel 3a XL: Battery
Pixel 3a XL has a 3700 mAh battery, which is bigger than the Pixel 3 XL that has a 3430 mAh battery. Pixel 3a XL comes with the same 18W fast charger we saw on the Pixel 3 phones, though there is no wireless charging support here.
With the Pixel 3a XL, I expected more out of the battery. With heavy duty usage, which included a lot of YouTube videos, gaming, WhatsApp messages and video calls, the phone lasted around a day. It needed to be plugged in by the end of the day, which was surprising. With moderate usage, I could extend the battery life to more than a day, but I expected more on the battery front from this phone.
Google Pixel 3a XL: Verdict
The Google Pixel 3a XL has a lot of positives. The camera capabilities are impressive, better than several other phones, which are priced in a similar range. I say this because I find the Pixel 3a XL’s camera or rather the Google Camera to deliver results which are most natural and pleasing. Is it as good as the Pixel 3 camera? There are differences, and I will have a more detailed comparison for that.
The performance has been good so far, though there are heating issues. The broad bezels on the display does make it look very old-fashioned. The battery life could be better in my view.
Really, Pixel 3a XL’s big problem is the price. At Rs 40,000, one wonders what space Google is trying to play in. Will it take on the newly launched OnePlus 7, which has more storage, better RAM, better battery and a better processor to offer? Or does it compete with the Oppo, vivo phones in the markets which are playing in the Rs 30,000 price mark? Pixel 3a XL seems confused.
In India, this is just too expensive for the kind of specifications it is packing, and the kind of features that Google has removed. Yes, the camera is excellent, but that alone cannot justify the price tag. There’s certainly a compromise here in terms of the overall package, and it appears more ‘premium’ than ‘affordable’ in India.