Review: Google Pixel 3a
Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 8:41PM
Subeditor in Android, Buyers Guide, Canada, Events and Launches, First Looks, Google, Pixel 3a

At first glance, there’s very little difference between the new Pixel 3a and last year’s stellar Pixel 3. Both phones share Google’s sleek and rather muted aesthetics, they both run Pure Android efficiently, are build around Google Assistant and it’s AI features. Both Pixel models also feature outstanding cameras, with segment-leading Night Sight low light capability, and arguably the best camera software available today.

Cheaper, but is it better?

The Pixel 3a, which starts at $549, even improves on certain aspects of the Pixel 3 (which costs double the price). The new Pixel 3a, and its larger version, Pixel 3a XL, are made of sturdy polycarbonate which is tougher than glass. The midrange pixels also exhibit better battery life, which was one of the issues owners of the smaller Pixel 3 had to contend with. The Pixel 3a also has a headphone jack, which means you can now listen to music and charge the device simultaneously, whereas the Pixel 3 eliminated this feature in favour of water resistance.

To hit the midrange price point, Google had to make some decisions on what features and functions to cut. So, the Pixel 3a doesn’t have the latest or most powerful processor, it doesn’t use Gorilla Glass (but opts instead for a similarly solid Dragontrail glass). Google also ditched the dedicated Pixel Visual Core sensor on the Pixel 3a, but while capturing images and video seems slightly slower, quality and detail are almost identical to the naked eye. In many ways, the Pixel 3a is an improvement over its more expensive predecessor. Yes, I like it more.

Midrange Marvel

The Pixel 3a is an exceptional smartphone. It has all the key features one desires from a smartphone at a price that is hard to argue. It reminds me of the earlier Motorola Moto G smartphones, which were affordable devices built around tentpole features that mattered most to users. This isn’t surprising since Google’s Rick Osterloh, who leads its products and devices initiative, was from Motorola at the time the Moto G was launched.

Google is going all out on a campaign to prove that much desired smartphone features, like an excellent camera, the ability to use a smart assistant, and the best mix of hardware and software, doesn’t have to be exorbitant. That Google is giving consumers the best camera in the market on a device that costs less than half what iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices are going for, is truly extraordinary but only in the sense that it defies the trend of super premium pricing in the smartphone space. Making the best technologies and features available to more people for less, should always be the impetus of technology. Instead, Google has exposed how smartphone makers refuse to offer affordable devices with ok specs.

More extraordinary is that the Pixel 3a seems to be designed around critical mass. Not only is it more widely available and compatible with more carriers, it is being pitched as an international smartphone, available globally. This addresses one of the biggest issues with Pixels of the past, they were on very limited carriers and nonexistent in foreign countries. Google has a chance to push its market forward more than ever before.

The Pixel 3a is powered by a Snapdragon 670 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64 GB of onboard storage, has a 12 megapixel rear facing camera and a 8 megapixel front facing camera as well as a 3,000 mAh battery. The display is a 5.6-inch gOLED, 2,220 x 1,080 pixels with a 18.5:9 aspect ratio.

5.6-inch gOLED, 2,220 x 1,080 pixels, 18.5:9 aspect ratio

Read more at Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL Canadian specs, price and availability
5.6-inch gOLED, 2,220 x 1,080 pixels, 18.5:9 aspect ratio

Read more at Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL Canadian specs, price and availability

Daily Driver

After using the Pixel 3a for a week, it has proven to be a capable and competent smartphone. It runs Android efficiently and can manage multiple tasks without breaking a sweat. The slightly larger size is ideal for consuming content while still maintaining a one-handed experience. I use the Amazon Kindle or the Libby app for reading eBooks, Spotify for music and the native Google Podcast apps for podcasts.

 The camera remains the crown jewel of the Pixel experience and the photos and videos taken on this smartphone are simply delightful. I’m not a big fan of adding multiple lenses on to smartphones and part of the appeal of the Pixel 3 line for me is that while it has one rear-camera, it can manage to do a lot with that camera using software.

Shooting photos and videos with the Pixel 3a is nearly identical to the Pixel 3. Photo quality is impressive, specially when dealing with tricky movement or low-light conditions. There’s no midrange smartphone that can compete with the Pixel 3a which is even more impressive than competing flagship devices with multiple cameras.

Call quality on the Pixel 3a is superb, and battery life is outstanding, lasting a full day’s use. The stereo speakers are decent and the addition of the headphone jack is a welcome surprise.  All Pixel 3a models are limited to 64GB, many users would have gladly paid more for double the space, which feels like a limitation for anyone hoping to shoot a lot of videos and photos. Still, Google does back up all your photos in high resolution, so there are ways to offload content.

Wrap up

The Pixel 3a seems to be a 180’ direction for Google. While the first three generations of Pixel devices were aimed firmly at the high-end of the market, their lack of availability and carrier support, made them nonexistent to the world at large. The high-price was also a deterrent that drove interested buyers to iPhones or Samsung devices.

That’s all changed with the Pixel 3a which defies the norm in what a midrange device is supposed to offer. The Pixel 3a simply soars in the areas where it is strongest—camera quality, battery life, build quality and the availability of a headphone jack. This could be the breakthrough device that puts Google on the map as a smartphone superpower.



Familiar yet subtly different design

Stellar camera with outstanding low-light and portrait mode photography

Robust battery life, best on any non-XL pixel

Superb daily driver and midrange option for most Android users



Limiting storage to 64GB across the board is shortsighted

Display quality is mediocre

Lack of water resistance might be an issue for some



Google has created a world-beater smartphone and priced it within reach. Amplifying the key features that make people love their phones, the Pixel 3a is an accomplished and impressive device that makes us question the premium smartphone market. The Google Pixel 3a is a stellar device with all the right features to keep most users happy for a long time.


Rating: 5 out of 5

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