The Google Pixel 3 has been an excellent device with the superb Android experience. Many felt the price was a little too high, so the Google Pixel 3a was born. It inherited many features from the Google Pixel 3 at nearly half the price. Some compromises had to be done to get it down to such a lower price, let’s take a closer look at the Google Pixel 3a.
Design and Build Quality
It’s not really obvious but one of the changes is the build material. The body is now made of plastic instead of metal and it feels much lighter in weight. Although made of plastic, the finish on the 2 tone back really feels a lot like metal which is pretty nice. So far using it 1 week without a case, the back holds up pretty well. But plastic means it might be more prone to scuffing so it’s better to put on a case. There are 2 colors available currently for the Google Pixel 3a, Just Black, and Clearly White in Singapore.
For the front display, Google chose the Asahi Dragontrail Glass for the Google Pixel 3a this time. I noticed some scratches at the top right which I’m not sure how it got there. I’m usually quite careful with my devices and so far the rest of the display seems to hold up. I highly recommend getting a screen protector once you get this phone. Another big difference is that the notch is gone, but the bezels are a lot thicker all round.
The Google Pixel 3a still features stereo speakers but the bottom ones are now sided facing, so some muffling can be expected when holding in landscape. As for volume, it can get pretty loud as well. All the buttons are pretty tactile and the smaller version is much easier to navigate. One feature I really like is swiping down on the fingerprint sensor to check notifications.
Talking about the fingerprint sensor, it’s concaved and easily accessed with the finger. It unlocks pretty fast and works even when the screen is off. There are a few kinds unlock methods like Trusted Places and devices, but there is no face recognition.
Hardware and Display
The Google Pixel 3a features Asahi Dragontrail Glass, 5.6 inch display with a resolution of 1080 x 2220, which is around 441 PPI. Although it’s just 1080p, it still looks pretty sharp with a smaller screen size. OLED panels have deep blacks and the colors on the screen looks very vibrant. Viewing angles are pretty good and there isn’t any blue shift.
Since it’s OLED, Ambient Display is supported. It saves battery by turning on those pixels that’s needed to show information. Icons will be displayed and you can double tap or lift up the phone to check alerts. You can turn on Adaptive Brightness to automatically adjust brightness and change the color from Natural, Boosted or Adaptive. Night Light will be useful to reduce Blue Light and you can adjust the intensity.
There is a headphone jack at the top compared to the original Google Pixel 3, but there isn’t any Google Pixel buds with it. The Switch Adapter is to set up your new Google Pixel 3a by migrating and copying data from your old phone, and it needs to download all the apps from the Google PlayStore.
As for ports, there is a microphone at the top, and a single SIM tray at the side. There isn’t any expandable storage and it comes in a single variant, 64GB and 4GB of RAM. For more storage, it also supports USB OTG through the Type C port and USB adapter. For Pixel users, you have access to free unlimited high quality storage on Google photos till 31st Jan 2022. To keep the cost low, IP68 rating is not available on the Google Pixel 3a.
Software and Performance
This time, the Google Pixel 3a is equipped with the midrange Snapdragon 670 and Adreno 615. I played the same games on the Pixel 3a that I tested on the Pixel 3 XL, which has the high end Snapdragon 845 and Adreno 630. To be honest, apart from the slightly slower load times, the performance is just as good as the flagship.
Benchmarks scores are for reference only but overall experience was pretty solid for daily usage. There were no noticeable lags, stutters or overheating. Day to day calls and web surfing was pretty good on both WiFi and cellular networks. As for connectivity, it has Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC.
Google never compromises on security, even on a midrange variant. Just like the Pixel 3, the Pixel 3a also features the latest enterprise grade Titan M chip, which focuses on security for your data and operating system.
The soul of the Google Pixel 3a is near identical in the Pixel lineup. It’s running Android 9 Pie that still focuses on Machine Learning and Google Assistant. To activate Google Assistant, you can trigger Active Edge by squeezing on the sides, voice activation or pressing on the pill shape Home button.
Digital Wellbeing records how much time you have spent on the Pixel 3a, and it records data like number of unlocks and apps used. You can also limit how long you want to use a certain app by using App Timer.
You can use Wind Down to disconnect you from your phone towards bedtime. The screen fades to grayscale and Do Not Disturb will be turned on. It blocks all alerts but those will reappear until Wind Down is turned off by schedule, or manually.
Flip to Shhh is another way to trigger Do Not Disturb. Flip the phone face down will turn it on and flipping it face up again will turn it off.
As for the UI, it’s pretty standard. You can tap and hold to access settings, add widgets and change wallpapers. Swiping right shows information in the form of cards and you can customize what you want to see in here. Swiping down shows the notification panel and you can tap and hold on the icon to access the settings, and also arrange the icons to your liking. Dark mode can also be turned on in the settings. A dot will be displayed on the app icon, to let you know you have unread alerts.
There is no longer a recent apps button; you can now access it by swiping up on the Home button. The Back button now shows when it’s needed, like when there is an app running or anything that’s open on top of the Home page. Spilt screen can be accessed in the Recent apps page, and tapping on the circle icon. Another way to access recently used apps is just swiping across the Home button.
Even with a 3000mAh battery capacity, I had absolutely no issues lasting throughout the day with Ambient Display. Usually my day starts around 8am and by 8pm, I would have around 25% – 40% battery left depending on how I use it. I consider my usage to be pretty standard, occasional games, some calls, messaging, web surfing and lots of memes on 9gag.
One feature missing is Qi Wireless charging, so you can’t use it with the Pixel Stand. The charger that comes bundled is rated 18W so it supports fast charging. Google said that charging for 15 mins gets up to 7 hours battery life, which I think its standby time.
If battery life is low, you can turn on Battery Saver that switches to Dark Mode and turns off some device features. Also, Adaptive Battery is enabled by default that limits battery for infrequently used app by using Machine Learning.
If you already know by now, the Pixel 3 has one of the best cameras out there. And the Pixel 3a has the same camera for both front and back, with the exception of the Ultra Wide lens. It has modes like Panorama, Slow Motion and also Time Lapse where you can adjust the timing. For Portrait mode, it uses software instead of a physical depth sensor.
As usual, HDR+ is enabled by default but you can manually toggle by enabling in the settings. Shutter speed is pretty quick but a little slower in HDR Enhanced mode. You can safely leave HDR+ on by default and pictures will still look great. Auto and Manual focus are pretty quick to capture an object as well.
Night shots are pretty clear but for really dark and dim surroundings, Night Sight will be a better camera mode. It uses computation to generate really bright photos and it’s pretty amazing how much detail it can bring out.
Top Shot uses Machine Learning to select the best shot for a picture. To enable it, turn on Motion and then swipe up on a photo to view all the pictures.
To track and keep a subject in focus when you move your camera, all you need to do is to tap on the subject and a circle will appear. Super Res Zoom adds details and makes Zoom shots much clearer. It uses natural hand movement to add additional resolution to photos.
For Google Lens, simply point the camera at something like an object or landmark, it will identify in real-time right from the camera. It can even copy and translate text too.
As for video recording, the back camera can record up to 4K resolution and the front camera up to 1080p. There is Fused Video Stabilization on the back camera which uses both Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) to make video look smooth and steady.
Although it’s missing the Ultra Wide lens, selfies are still pretty good looking especially with Portrait mode.
Comparing to the Google Pixel 3, it’s a bargain at nearly half the price. Apart from some changes like the plastic build, bigger bezels, no IP68 rating and the Dragontrail glass which didn’t work that well for me, the whole Pixel 3a package looks pretty good to me.
Battery life and the camera are great and performance wise, it’s pretty good considering that it’s using a midrange chipset. I feel the compromises made are fine and if you were holding out due to price, I think it’s worth getting the Pixel 3a since you will be getting latest Android updates at least for the next 3 years.