With its not apologetic plastic housing, the enormous camera system and the low price, the Google Pixel 3a XL is a winner. And despite some middle class specifications, some missing features and other cost reduction measures.
From a design point of view, the Google Pixel 3a XL is a fun drawback: It has a unibody polycarbonate (plastic) design, like the best Nokia Lumia models from a few years back, and it eschews the giant notch of the Pixel 3 XL for the unremarkable forehead and chin bezels, similar to the 2017 Pixel2 family. In fact, I like it better than the full-glass Pixel 3 XL design, which is slippery and slightly cracked and produces a strange internal echo and vibration when playing audio.
Polycarbonate is a good choice, although it prevents Pixel 3a XL from supporting wireless charging if that bothers you. (It does not bother me at all.) In return, you get a body that does not tear or splinter. If you actually drop it and damage the surface, the scratch will keep the color of the polycarbonate flowing through the material. There is no surface color or coating.
If you're talking about color, you can choose from three colors: Clear White, Black Only, and Purple. I chose the latter and really enjoyed it. It's a subtle purple hue that may look white from certain angles, and it's about as colorful and attractive as the brownish Not Pink of my Pixel 3 XL.
And the case I bought from Google clearly indicates the underlying color of the handset.
Polycarbonate is also noticeably lighter than the glass and aluminum sandwich design used by Google for the Pixel 3 XL. Where the flagship weighs in at a whopping 6.49 ounces, the Pixel 3a XL only weighs 5.89 ounces. So the Pixel 3a XL is almost 10 percent lighter and you can really feel the difference when you hold both in your hands at the same time. The Pixel 3a XL looks light and airy in comparison.
Viewed from every perspective, the Pixel 3a XL follows the Pixel 3 XL's design very closely, and the design aesthetics are consistent with the previous pixels as well. On the back there is a dual-band design, a pixel standard, a camera and a rear-facing fingerprint reader. The buttons for power and volume are also located on the right side of the device. (The SIM tray is on the left side of the 3a XL and not on the bottom like the 3 XL.)
There are a few minor differences between the materials. The bottom USB port is flanked by two downward / sideways speakers. The Pixel 3 XL are facing forward. And there is a headphone jack – a headphone jack! – on top of the handset, as God intended.
From the front, the Pixel 3a XL does not look as futuristic as the OnePlus 7 Pro and its true full screen. But it does not look outdated either. Instead, it is both appealing and functional, questioning the need for notches.
It may not be surprising that the Pixel 3a XL display is a key area where Google wanted to save money by using a cheaper and less sophisticated part. Nevertheless, I find that this display is cheap compared to the superior – on – paper display used in the Pixel 3 XL. If I compare several identical apps, photos and videos side by side, I can not tell them apart. Well. Apart from the intrusive notch on the Pixel 3 XL.
The Pixel 3a XL comes with a 6-inch Full HD + (2160 x 1080) OLED display and an 18: 9 aspect ratio delivering 402 ppi. This does not seem to be very good compared to previous pixels: the 18.5: 9 pixel 3 XL is larger with a diagonal of 6.3 inches and offers a higher resolution (2960 x 1440) and pixel density (523 ppi). Even the Pixel 2 XL delivered 538 ppi in the Full HD + display (which was otherwise inadequate).
However, these measurements can be misleading. The display of the Pixel 3 XL is diagonal larger, but due to the unpleasant large notch, it offers a lot of usable screen areas, at least when the status bar is displayed. If you look at apps like Instagram or Facebook side by side on both handsets, the view on the Pixel 3a XL is just a tiny pinch less than on the Pixel 3 XL. In fact, this almost exactly matches the height of the status bar (on the 3a XL). Not much.
The differences in resolution and pixel density between the two devices should be even more important. But they do not do it. In apps of all kinds – games, productivity apps, photo apps, and video streaming apps – I see only a small difference in the real world when I look at them side by side. (For example, I configured both screens identically with the adaptive color scheme, and no pixel supports reducing the resolution, as we see on some other Android phones.)
Where does the Pixel 3 XL come from? Front is the brightness: The more expensive handset also provides whiter whites, if that makes sense, the full white areas of the Pixel 3a XL often look just a bit light gray. But that may be the only big difference I've noticed. And no one would notice it without specifically comparing the two handsets.
However, the Pixel 3a XL has more potential: Instead of being protected by the latest Gorilla glass, the Pixel 3a XL display is instead described as a scratch-resistant glass called Dragontrail. But it's not in the same league as Gorilla Glass when it comes to being unbreakable. It is therefore possible that problems with long-term use occur. In a few weeks I have not encountered any problems.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for. In this case, the compromise was right, in my opinion, so that Google keeps the reasonable price for the Pixel 3a XL. And the display looks great.
Hardware and Specifications
You can get any Pixel 3A XL configuration you want, as long as it's not powered by a mid-size Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor with Adreno 615 graphics, 4GB of memory, and a USB stick expandable memory. On paper, each of these components is problematic. But in real use, only the memory really bothered me. I would like to upgrade at least 128 GB.
This may change over time – Android is legendary for its performance issues – but I've never seen significant performance issues with the normal use of the Pixel 3a XL like I've done with any smartphone. Serious gamers will, of course, want to look elsewhere, but this handset handled casual games and the Asphalt 9: Legends race title without complaint. (That is, the sheer size of this game makes it less convincing on the Pixel 3a XL and its limited storage capacity.)
I've only seen two daily performance issues with the Pixel 3a I consider both XL and both understandable and acceptable for a phone in this price range. The first is a slowness of the photo editing, which I briefly describe in the next section. The second one refers to the voice-to-type functionality in the gboard keyboard app, which I often use because I find typing on small phone screens difficult and error-prone.
On When I tap the microphone icon on the keyboard to start speaking, a short line of messages will appear at the top of the keyboard indicating: Initialize … and then Speak now . In truth, I have never really noticed these messages because Speak Now is displayed so quickly that I just type in the symbol and start talking.
On the Pixel 3a XL This happens more leisurely, and in the end, the first words I say each time are not transcribed, unless I remember waiting. It's about the difference between 0-1 seconds (Pixels 3 XL) and 1-3 seconds (Pixels 3a XL), and although this does not necessarily seem to make a big difference, it's day and night when you try in it Phone to talk.
None of these issues is a deal breaker. But I think they actually speak for the difference in the real performance of the two handsets. And the question you have to ask is whether it's worth another $ 420 so you do not have to wait a second longer each time you want to convert your voice to text. This break is real and noticeable. But I can wait.
Better yet, the Pixel 3a XL never seems to warm up and stay warm, a problem I've had repeatedly with the Pixel 3 XL. Whether this is due solely to the modest installations or the combination with the polycarbonate exterior is unclear. No matter. I'm always worried when a phone warms up. So that's a welcome change.
After the performance, the Pixel 3a XL, as you would expect it here in 2019, is equipped with state-of-the-art components. The phone supports all major carrier tapes and works perfectly on all US carriers (it's even officially available from all major carriers except AT & T.) It's fully Google Fi compliant, of course, and supports network switching between GSM and CDMA networks. It also includes Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band 802.11acn Wi-Fi networks and NFC.
The battery is a nice improvement over the Pixel 3 XL: It is a device with 3700 mAh, compared to the smaller one with 3430 mAh version used in the 3 XL; In combination with the less powerful innards of the 3a XL and the less power hungry display this should lead to a longer battery life. And that was my experience: Where I can not survive a fixed day without charging the Pixel 3 XL, the Pixel 3a XL has worked well.
Like the Pixel 3 XL, the Pixel 3a XL has stereo speakers, but there are some differences between the two, some of which are improvements and some are not. On the negative side, the speakers of the 3a XL sound less full and loud than those of the 3 XL, and the right / lower speakers are not frontal. However, in the positive column, the Pixel 3a XL does not suffer from the echoes and vibrations that I experience at the more expensive pixel, and the stereo separation is more balanced. (The Pixel 3 XL is highly focused on the right / lower speaker, which is irritating.) Given these drawbacks, I prefer the Pixel 3a XL overall despite the less rich sound. It is good enough.
The Pixel 3a XL has another audio feature missing from the Pixel 3 XL: a real headphone jack. This allows you to perform futuristic tasks such as listening to audio through a headset while charging the device. That's wonderful, but it's even better if you forget your dongle and it just works. For the first time in a few years, on a flight to Miami, I listened to music and an audiobook only with my headphones, without a dongle. It was great.
One final note on the hardware: While I found serious audio and microphone problems when using the Pixel 3 XL, I have a clean and flawless experience with the Pixel 3a XL. When I called my wife for the first time after switching to the 3a XL, she actually noticed, without being asked, that the call sounded great. With the Pixel 3 XL my audio was often mechanically mutilated for her. There was a background noise with every call. both have never happened at the Pixel 3a XL. It works the way it should.
At this price, Google can be forgiven for making some compromises in the camera department. But the compromises are perfectly acceptable. In fact, most buyers of Pixel 3a XL will never notice that something is missing.
So what's missing ? The Pixel 3 XL lacks the Pixel Visual Core chipset from Google to improve the performance and quality of photos. This is especially true for night photography, which requires some AI processing. And where the pricier Pixel 3 XL offers two front-facing cameras for a cool ultra-wide selfie mode, the Pixel 3a XL comes with a single lens and normal selfies.
This means the Pixel 3a XL takes a little longer to capture and process Night Sight and other complicated shots, with the Pixel 3 XL possibly taking a second after being shot. For side shots, however, I see no quality differences between the shots with the two handsets. And while the ultra-wide selfie mode is nice, I can live without it.
In addition, the Pixel 3a XL offers the same hardware as the 3 XL: The rearview camera is a 12-MP single lens with a aperture of 1: 1.8, autofocus with dual-pixel phase detection as well optical and electronic image stabilization. The front-facing selfie camera is also a single 8-MP standard lens with a 1: 1.8 aperture and a 75 degree field of view. (The 3 XL's other front-facing camera is an 8-MP wide-angle lens with a 1: 8 / 2.2 aperture and a 97-degree field of view.)
 Excellent photos are taken in all conditions. And better shots in low light and at night than with virtually any other smartphone, including the latest and most expensive models from Samsung, Apple and Huawei. Not bad for $ 480. Hell, at $ 1000, it's not bad either.
In terms of security, Google has not compromised: The Pixel 3a XL contains the same Titan M security chip as the Pixel 3 XL, the same fast and efficient fingerprint reader for the back and the same software security controls. This handset, like the Pixel 3 XL, is also recommended by Android Enterprise, indicating that it meets a high level of corporate security.
To put it simply, the Pixel 3a XL behaves and works the same way from the security standpoint as the Pixel 3 XL. There were no problems at all here.
Unique Hardware Features
As previously mentioned, the Google Pixel 3a XL has the same fingerprint reader on the back as its more expensive sibling and offers the same great performance and accuracy. There is no face detection option, but that's probably best, considering how bad this technology currently works on Android.
Like the Pixel 3 XL, the 3a XL features Google's Active Edge technology, which lets you squeeze the bottom of the handset to call Google Assistant. I disable this feature, but I think if you could configure it for other actions.
The Pixel 3a XL mimics its much more expensive sibling, supports fast-charging and even includes an 18-watt fast charger box. At a discount, there is no wireless charging.
The Pixel 3a XL comes with the latest version of Google's clean Android 9 Pie software image and, as always, is a joy without crapware or other superfluous nonsense. As with more expensive pixels, Google will support the Pixel 3a XL with two years of Android version upgrades and three years of security updates. Given the medium specifications of this handset, it is likely that you will outgrow the phone before it gets any updates.
Pricing and Availability
The Google Pixel 3a XL comes in a single configuration with 64GB of storage space and costs $ 480. I would prefer to at least have the ability to update the memory and feel that 64GB, especially if not expandable via microSD, is the bare minimum for an Android handset today. Regardless, the Pixel 3a XL is a tremendous value for it's $ 480 asking price. A similarly configured Pixel 3 XL costs an unbelievable $ 900. For this extra cost, you get better performance, albeit subtly, in daily use, wireless charging and water resistance, a slightly better display, Gorilla Glass protection, and some other niceties that are most unnecessary.
The Pixel 3a XL also outperforms the 3 XL in some important ways. The polycarbonate case is more durable than the all-glass case of the 3 XL, and does not have the same echo and vibration in audio playback. There is a headphone jack that lacks the 3 XL. And in my experience, the call quality on the 3a XL is superior without static problems or microphone problems.
There are three color options: Clear White, Black Only and Purple Pixel 3a and 3a XL. (Not Pink is not available.)
Recommendations and conclusions
The Google Pixel 3a XL is easily recommended. It offers one of the best smartphone cameras currently available and still costs about half the price of flagship products from Apple, Huawei, Samsung and, yes, Google. Depending on your needs, Google has not filtered out any important features, though I will highlight the lack of upgradeability of the memory as possibly the only serious negative. Of course, there are questions about the long-term viability of the mid-range specifications of the Pixel 3a XL. But I was rarely so excited about a smartphone and certainly not for that price. Has Google found a new sweet spot in a crowded and overpriced smartphone market? I think they have.
The Google Pixel 3a XL is highly recommended.
At a Glance
- Outstanding Cameras with Outstanding Performance in Low Light
- Low price, great value
- Funny and durable polycarbonate case
- Headphone jack
- Quick and accurate fingerprint reader
- Support for fast charging, bundled fast charger
- Clean Android image
- Fully compatible with Google Fi
- No memory upgrade or extension
- No Gorilla Glass Protection
- None wireless charging
- Not waterproof
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