Ever since its 2016 debut, the Pixel phone has always deserved better: better design, better camera hardware, better carrier support, better price. Instead, what we got was an expensive phone that would have been long forgotten if not for the ‘G’ stamped on the back.

But despite its high price tag, the Google stamp of approval has come to be synonymous with a phone that delivers on the things that matter. It might not have the glamour of a Galaxy or the instant appeal of an iPhone, but the Pixels are still considered among the finest phones on the market, mainly for three reasons: Assistant, Android, and computational photography. 

pixel 3a plasticAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

Even in plastic, the “frosted” Pixel 3a cuts a striking pose.

With software that shines that brightly, what Google’s really selling here is a platform, while the phone is just the vessel. Now Google is bringing that platform to a much cheaper phone.

On paper, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL have pretty ho-hum specs:

Display: 5.6-inch or 6-inch Full HD+ OLED
Processor: Snapdragon 670
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB
Camera: 12.2MP, f/1.8
Battery: 3,000mAh or 3,700mAh

But much like their premium siblings, specs don’t tell the whole story of the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. The downgraded screen and processor may be noticeable when compared to the Pixel 3 XL, but they shouldn’t affect the experience. The 670 processor is about as fast as the Snapdragon 821 in the original Pixel, and the 1080p screen packs plenty of pixels.

At half the price you’d expect to sacrifice a lot more. None of the absent features—wireless charging, water resistance, dual front cameras—will detract from what it is: a Pixel.

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Premium at a lower price

One could even argue that the 3a is the first Pixel phone that truly makes sense, because it’s not trying too hard to be premium. Frankly, if you didn’t know how much the Pixel 3 XL cost, you’d never guess it was an $899 phone. The design is bland, the notch is a downright eyesore, and it has just a single rear camera.  





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