Google Pixel 3A, Pixel 3A XL Reviews: Best Deal in Android


Fancy high-end iPhones and Android phones start at $750, and the best phones routinely exceed $1,000 these days. You might think a $400 phone should come with a lot of sacrifices, but in the week I’ve spent with Google’s new Pixel 3A ($400) and Pixel 3A XL ($480), I haven’t felt them. In fact, thanks to its camera, it’s the first phone I’ve used in some time that really wowed a few people.

Sacrifices were made in the name of a $400 price, of course. Most of those features just aren’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. If they’re important to you, the new Galaxy S10 Plus has them all for double the price. Or you could wait for one of the $2,000 folding phones that are twice as thick and may come with a laundry list of new problems. For me, a $400 phone that checks the boxes, and adds a couple, is good enough.

Good Where It Counts

The A in 3A likely stands for “affordable,” and you’ll give up a few luxuries for the price tag—most of them surface-level.

Like the standard Pixel 3, the OLED displays on both models do not stretch to the top or bottom of the phone. They’re also 1080p, not 1440p, so there are a few less pixels on each display than some expensive phones. If you have a sharp eye, you might notice, but the displays are still as sharp as an iPhone Retina display.

There’s a small bezel on the top and bottom of the display, which isn’t exactly fashionable right now. I liked having a small place to hold the phone, though. Some new high-end devices have no bezels anywhere and curved edges that pour over the sides. Features like this look pretty, and lead to a lot of accidental screen tapping if you don’t own a case.


The body of the 3A and 3A XL feels like glass at first, but it’s actually polycarbonate, a high-end plastic. Google has retained the look of previous Pixels with a pleasant matte finish on most of the phone’s back that becomes glassy near the camera up top. Phone makers seem to love glass right now, but polycarbonate is more durable. You may not even need a case with the Pixel 3A. It may survive light falls and it doesn’t suicide-slide off tables and counters like some of the slippery phones right now. (I’m looking at you, LG G8 ThinQ.)

Two of a Kind

You probably know by now if you’re more of a small phone person or an XL kind of device buyer. Either way, both versions of the Pixel 3A are identical outside of their size difference. The power button and volume buttons are well placed on the right side and there’s a headphone jack up top, unlike many expensive phones, including the standard Pixel 3. The standard 3A has a 5.6-inch screen and the Pixel 3A XL has a 6-inch display. They also both have the same cameras and insides.

Both phones have a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, 64 gigabytes of storage, and 4 gigabytes of RAM. The Snapdragon 670 is not as quick as the 855 chip in ultraexpensive phones, but it’s speedier than anything you’ll find in most $400 devices and doesn’t really come with any noticeable issues. I encountered no slowdowns or lag whatsoever. Games run fine, too. These phones work as well as anything you can buy. They even have Google’s Titan M chip to protect personal data on the device and Bluetooth 5.0, which improves the performance and range of some wireless earbuds.

You can buy the phones in three colors: black, white, and “purple-ish.” Yeah, that’s an actual color choice. I got the purple-ish version and it shocked me to learn it was purple at all. I’d call it a very subtle off-white, but to see if I was going colorblind, I collected a bunch of purple things and put them next to it. Secretly, I hoped to make a fool of Google for calling it purple at all. But I am the fool. Turns out, if you put it next to enough purple things, it does look … almost purple-ish. When it’s not next to every purple item in your home, rest assured, it’s most definitely an off-white. And I shake my fist at the Google designers in the sky who think otherwise!

Jeffrey Van Camp

The XL does have a larger battery, but both seem to last about a day in my testing—about average for a 2019 phone. Sadly, there’s no wireless charging (no waterproofing either, just resistance to dust and rain), but Google includes fast-charging USB C, which is what I tend to use most of the time anyway.

Bells and Whistles

Usually, a cheaper mid-range phone will come with watered down features that debuted on more expensive devices a year or two prior. Not today. Since this is a Pixel phone that always gets the latest and greatest version of Google’s Android operating system (most Android phones don’t), along with monthly security updates, Google decided to debut a couple notable features.

Now Playing is a program that quietly runs in the background, listening and logging the name and artist of every song you hear, if you turn it on. Google is quick to point out that it does this all internally on the device. It can help you discover new music and play it on Spotify—or, Google Hopes, YouTube Music. It does seem to log songs offline to some degree. Even on airplane mode, it picked up a few random songs I played—old ones, too, like “3 a.m.” by Matchbox Twenty. It doesn’t always pick up lesser hits from the past, and does seem to need a connection to the internet at some point to put the dots together.

All in all, Now Playing isn’t fully baked. Google is good at passively picking up some (maybe most?) songs, but sometimes it just doesn’t pick up a song, even if it was a hit, and there isn’t a great reason why. I wish I could ask it to check a song. Currently, this has to be done separately through an app like Shazam or Google Assistant. If you search for “Now Playing,” you can find a hidden app that lets you see every song your phone has logged. Again though, I wish it had more to it. I also worry that Google has deeper ad-targeting motives for wanting to record every song that has ever played near me. You can disable the feature by searching for “Now Playing” in Settings.

Google Maps AR walking directions are more fun. Google Maps has always worked great in a car. Using it for walking … not so much. It’s a guessing game whether you’re actually walking the right way, or if that street is the right street.

Just the other day, I spent an extra 15 minutes walking a family member in circles (well, rectangles) trying to find the Museum of Science here in Boston. My phone had no idea which way it was going, and I had trouble translating the 2D world of maps to real life. I wish I would have had AR then. It lets you hold up your phone, scans the buildings it sees, realizes where you are, and paints big arrows the direction you should go. The second you start walking, it tells you to lower your phone and switches back into 2D mode so you don’t get hit by a bus or walk into a river.

These new features will also come to the standard Pixel 3 soon. Everything else about the interface is standard Android, and quite snappy. My only complaint is that Google’s new iPhone-like on-screen gesture system for multitasking makes it’s a little tougher to pull up the apps menu. Both the apps menu and multitasking involve swiping up. The new ability to swipe to the side to scroll through recent apps has made it much easier to copy and paste between apps.

Night Sight

You may notice that the Pixel 3A doesn’t have dual or triple cameras on the front or back. There’s a single camera on each side. This is normal on some cheaper phones. What’s not normal is how outstanding the photos look on the 12-megapixel rear and 8-megapixel front cameras. Its shots looked as good as—sometimes even better than—the Galaxy S10e and LG G8 on a shootout I did the other day. That’s a remarkable feat, given those other phones each have two rear cameras to lean on.

The rear camera appears to be identical to the one on the more expensive Pixel 3 models. Even the depth-blurring (bokeh) effects in the Pixel 3A’s portrait mode, done with software, looked as good or better than what Samsung or LG could cook up.

Like the Pixel 3, the 3A phones also have Night Sight, a complete game changer for low-light photography. In the gallery here, you can see some photos taken with and without Night Sight on. Most of these photos came from an evening rooftop party I attended the other day. Toward the end of the night, everyone was trying to take group photos, mostly on iPhones, and having trouble. After seeing how clear some of the Pixel 3A’s shots came out, I actually got a request to shoot a photo for someone else.

Night Sight isn’t perfect. It sometimes lightens the sky too much, and group shots tend to look like they were taken with a mild flash on. But it’s leagues better than the dreary, dark, dead photos I usually take at night.

Ready for a Close-Up

The Pixel 3A starts at $400 and comes unlocked, ready to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and most other U.S. networks (though don’t rule out having to contact Verizon’s customer service if you have trouble on that carrier). Only you know what your own dealbreakers are, but if they aren’t wireless charging and full IP68 waterproofing (this can handle splashes, possibly more), then let’s talk. The Pixel 3A and 3A XL deliver a remarkably good camera, speedy interface, regular feature/security updates, a headphone jack, a semi-durable design, and an affordable price.

I’ve used every flagship Android phone on the market, and right now, I think you’re better off saving a few hundred dollars and buying a Pixel 3A or 3A XL. They aren’t the most stylish, but they can snap one helluva night shot.

(The Pixel 3A will be available to purchase starting May 8.)

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