Google Pixel 3a Review

April 29, 2019
Colin Prime-Moore
Consumer Tech

Google released new phone range a couple of weeks ago with a main differentiator from the flagship Pixel 3 being that it only costs around £399, so my main questions are – what’s missing, whats good and whats bad about this phone to make it so much cheaper than other phones on the market today – this review aims to answer those questions.

I have been using the pixel 3a for a couple of weeks now and thought its time for me to share my thoughts on these questions and whether a £400 phone can stand up to other phones as well as its more expensive relatives.


Let’s get into this, firstly let’s talk about that design.  Well from first impression it looks virtually identical to the Pixel 3 range with that two-tone gloss/matt finish on the back minimalist look, clean lines and with similar dimensions you would be hard to tell these phones apart when placed next to each other.  But what does set these phones apart from their more expensive version is the build material.  These phones are made from an all plastic / polycarbonate unibody, and not glass like the Pixel 3 range uses. Some might feel that this makes the phone feel less premium, but come on… its half the price, and to be honest Google has done a pretty good job making this phone feel as good as it does even without those premium materials, its still grippy, perhaps even better than the Pixel 3 with its metal polished edges, everything is well placed around the phone and you would be hard pushed to tell the Pixel 3 and 3a apart from each other.


Next up is the Pixel 3a hardware and this does have some differences and some surprising similarities. The display is a 5.6” OLED display with a resolution of 2200×1080, slightly larger than the Pixel 3.  This display is pretty good, although not QHD, you get some really good results, vibrant colours, colour accurate and being an OLED at 1080p its saves on battery life too. Unlike the Pixel 3, the 3a uses DragonTail Glass rather than Gorilla Glass, again probably to keep those costs down. I have noted that this is slightly more susceptible to marking and scratches, but still hold strong against keys and coins etc.  When compared to its older brother, the Pixel 3, the screen quality is still amazing quality and would not be a deal breaker between these phones.

Let take a look around the phone and Google has maintained its physical buttons with its volume rocker and its cheeky coloured power button. Moving to the top and the front facing speaker is maintained, a secondary microphone and a welcome return to the headphone jack, something the Pixel 3 does not have down the other side we have the SIM drawer and towards the bottom you will note that we have lost the stereo front facing speaker, but worry not, the stereo speaker has been relocated into the bottom of the phone providing great quality stereo audio, although not the loudest, the quality at maximum volume is still fantastic with little to no distortion.  Google has maintained USB-C headphones and fast charging with an 18W fast charger supplied in the box enabling 7hours of battery from a 15 minute charge.  That brings us onto something that the Pixel 3a does not support and that wireless charging, to me this is a small issue as I feel this phone is more targeted and users upgrading from phones would not have this anyway like the Pixel 2 for example. When it comes the battery life, the Pixel 3a  is equipped with a slightly larger battery at 3000 mAh, and this paired with the Adaptive Battery technology from Google that 1080p OLED screen, I can easily get through a day and a half of usage with the Pixel 3a without noticing many performance issues or throttling, that may also be thanks to the optimised Stock Android 9 Pie that these phones come with.

Finally for hardware, Google has maintained the same Active Edge technology allowing you to squeeze the phone to call up google assistant. it has the same Haptic motor as its more expensive brothers to provide user feedback, these are seriously underrated, but makes a real difference to the user experience. Also, unlike some phones, the Touch capacitive finger print reader remains on the back, to be honest I prefer it here anyway then inside the front glass and prefer it to faceID technology too. Its ultra fast and ultra reliable too.

So one of the biggest differences with this devices compared to the Pixel 3 are the processors.  Where the Pixel 3 has the luxury of the Snapdragon 845, the Pixel 3a uses a slightly less powerful mid-tier Snapdragon 670. A processor that is not going to perform as well as the 845, but what does this mean for the Pixel 3a. Well during my testing the 670 performed really well, in fact for day to day activities, the 670 delivers everything you need, where it can struggle however is in the more high end and demanding activities like gaming, this phone is not for heavy games users, that said loading Asphalt or PubG on this phone for occasional game play was still a good experience, but be aware that loading will take longer.


Now let's get onto the biggest surprise for me and that’s the Camera.  This is where most budget phones would compromise, but not the Pixel 3a, it has the same Camera as the Google Pixel 3 range. With the rear facing camera supporting the same 12MP you can achieve the same quality photography as the flagship Pixel 3 rang, however I would sya that the 3a are not equipped with the Dedicated image processing chip or Pixel Visual Core and therefore has to use that slower snapdragon 670, so processing images can take slightly longer, but we are talking seconds more something to consider whether double the cost in phone is worth for shaving seconds from the image processing. The processed image, however give the same quality, so I am sticking with the 3a on this one.   The camera app remains best in class in my honest opinion and you still gain all the features including night-sight and the new timelapse features too. I would argue that its edge detection is even better than previous and and miles better than the Pixel 2 – even though that was still a phenomenal camera experience.

For front facing camera, we have lost that wide angle selfie camera, but to be honest its something I used all that much anyway, so no love most with the Pixel 3a.  Its 8MP single camera is still awesome supporting features like portrait mode in post processing.

The camera is the biggest single appealing feature for me and when a camera this good appears on a £400 phone with this quality of images, its hard to argue that this is not an ideal phone. I would note though that one feature NOT to come to these phones from the more expensive brothers isn’t actually a phone feature at all. It's actually a feature of Google Photos.  As we all know that Google Photos will allow you to upload and store unlimited photos without using up your allowance as long as they are in an optimised format.  With the Pixel 3, you could upload and store unlimited images in their original format and not optimised, however this is not the case with the budget phones.  You can store all images in an optimised state, but if you want them stored in their original format, this will consume your storage allowance, so something worth bearing in mind if you are coming from a Pixel 2 range that has offered this unlimited storage in the past. (don’t get me wrong though, the optimised photos still look amazing).


So at the end of the day, would I recommend this phone? Well if you are after a clean phone without bloatware, a solid camera experience and at good price point, then you cannot go wrong with the Google Pixel 3a, if gaming, un-optimised photo storage and heavy apps multi-tasking is your thing, then perhaps look towards the Pixel 3 range. Google has done well with this phone, they have left in the features and functions that are important to most people, whilst driving the cost down to a place where most could afford, making the Pixel range a far more mainstream range of devices.

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