Google has announced a pair of mid-range smartphones to bring its excellent premium features to those with less money to spend. The Pixel 3a XL is the larger of the two and we’ve been hands-on with the phone.
The Pixel 3a phones were announced at Google’s I/O developer conference alongside the Google Next Hub Max.
The main reason Google has launched these phones it to appeal to those who can’t afford the flagship Pixel 3 phones.
To this end, the Pixel 3a is £399/$399 and this XL model is £469 or $479. That puts them in the top half of the mid-range market but still a lot more affordable than their bigger brothers – although we don’t mean in size there.
Design & Build
There’s not a huge amount to say about the design of the Pixel 3a XL because Google has really kept the same design language from the existing phones.
So the 3a XL is pretty much the same size as the Pixel 3 XL and pretty much looks the same with the two-tone finish on the back. It’s a little bit thicker at 8.2mm but the new mid-range device is actually a fair bit lighter at 167g, which is almost 20g less.
Google has had to cut costs somewhere, so there’s no waterproofing here. Otherwise, it’s just smaller tweaks such as the lower speaker being mounted to the side of the USB-C port instead of forward facing.
The pressure sensitive Active Edge sensors remain though, and the Pixel 3a even has a headphone jack which is something you don’t get at the flagship level.
Alongside Just Black and Clearly White is a new colour. Purple-ish has a light subtle tone complete with a lime green power button.
Specs & Features
Unlike the 3a, the 3a XL isn’t actually bigger than its premium brother. It’s got a 6in vs 6.3in screen and this is partly because it doesn’t have a notch at the top going around the speaker and camera. However, it’s not that much bigger than the already large 5.6in Pixel 3a.
The display is still OLED despite the cheaper price and has a decent Full HD+ resolution of 2160×1080. A pixel density of 402ppi is good and the screen has various always on features.
What Google has also done to save costs is install a lower-grade processor with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 instead of an 845. This is backed up by 4GB of RAM and just one option when it comes to storage – 64GB.
That’s not bad but it’s worth bearing in mind that Google doesn’t offer a microSD card slot to add more storage here. You can make use of cloud storage though with all photos and video uploaded at High Quality without any limits. That means photos are full resolution since they’re below the 16Mp cap, and videos will be 1080p.
Those specs are still decent, and the most important thing for many buyers is that Google offers the same main camera experience here. It’s the 12.2Mp Dual-Pixel camera from the flagship range and the same software.
This means you can take snaps in the same way, making use of modes like Night Sight, Top Shot and Portrait. You’ll just have to wait a little longer for them to process on the mid-tier Snapdragon.
You also get Photobooth for the front camera (now with new triggers including a pout) but there is just one 8Mp selfie camera here so you don’t get the Group Selfie Cam option.
It’s no surprise to see wireless charging dropped for this phone but you do get a fingerprint scanner, Active Edge (squeezable sides for Google Assistant) and stereo speakers – although they’re not both front facing here.
Back on the battery front and the Pixel 3a XL has a large 3700mAh battery (bigger than the 3 XL) and you can top it up with 18W fast charging using the USB-C port. Even the 3000mAh Pixel 3a lasts us a couple of days so we’ve got high hopes for the XL.
As you would expect, the 3a XL comes with Android 9.0 Pie and will be updated to the next version (Android Q) when it arrives. Google promises at least three years worth security and operating system updates with these new phones.
You get the same experience as the flagship phones such as Digital Wellbeing, and there are some new ones too including Google Maps AR. This is in preview form at the moment but lets you use Google Maps a bit like Pokémon Go, only you’ll see huge arrows and other information overlaid on the real world to help you with walking directions.
The Pixel 3a XL seems like a decent enough mid-range smartphone, bringing some flagship Pixel features to those with less money to spend on a phone.
There is tough competition at this price, though, so it’s not an instant no-brainer. You also need to consider whether getting the smaller Pixel 3a is a better choice because it’s pretty much the same phone, just with a smaller screen and battery.