In Review

Google Pixel 3a vs. Pixel 3: which handset should you choose?

Budget smartphones offer the same cameras as their flagship siblings - at nearly half the price

Google has finally taken the covers off its Pixel 3a range of smartphones, following months of rumours and leaked images. 

Announced at the search giant’s I/O conference in California this week, the new Pixel 3a and larger Pixel 3a XL are cheaper versions of the Pixel 3 range, and should pose a strong challenge to rival models from budget smartphone makers such as OnePlus and Xioami.

On the surface, the Pixel 3a series looks almost identical to the standard Pixel 3 line-up - leaving some commentators wondering whether the price jump between the budget handsets and flagship range is justified.

With the Pixel 3a series now on sale, here’s how it compares against its iPhone-rivalling sibling:

Prices

At £399, the Pixel 3a is the cheapest phone sold by Google, followed by the slightly larger Pixel 3a XL at £469. Both models come in three colours, marketed as Just Black, Purple-ish and Clearly White.

Meanwhile, the standard Pixel 3 line-up carries a hefty premium over the budget models. Prices start at £739 for the base-spec Pixel 3, while XL versions come in at £869. Buyers get the colour options of Just Black, Clearly White or a Pixel 3 exclusive shade - Not Pink.

Screens

The screen specs for the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3 ranges are as follows:

  • Pixel 3a - 5.6in OLED with a 2220x1080 resolution
  • Pixel 3a XL - 6in OLED, 2160x1080
  • Pixel 3 - 5.5in OLED, 2160 x 1080
  • Pixel 3 XL - 6.3in OLED 2960 x 1440

The Pixel 3a range makes “some sacrifices” on display quality compared with the standard Pixel 3 line-up, but the differences aren’t all that noticeable, says Tom’s Guide

Both of the budget smartphones and their more expensive siblings come with OLED panels, so the Pixel 3a’s screens “should be just as vibrant and crisp as those on the other third-generation Pixels”, the tech news site adds. 

TechRadar agrees that the Pixel 3a’s screen “provides good detail”, while Google’s always-on display mode “allows you to have the time, date and key notification icons displayed on-screen when the phone is locked for at-a-glance updates”.

Winner: Pixel 3a and 3a XL

Cameras

Arguably the “biggest sell” for the Pixel 3a range is their cameras, which are “nearly the same” as the critically acclaimed systems found on the standard Pixel 3 line-up, according to The Verge

The Pixel 3A’s single-lens camera is equipped with Google’s much-praised Night Sight mode, which lets in more light for a higher level of detail on images taken in dark conditions. 

The cameras on both devices are “undoubtably the best smartphone camera on a phone in this price range”, the news site concludes.

However, CNet notes that unlike that on the standard Pixel 3 range, the Pixel 3a’s camera can shoot time-lapse videos of between 50 seconds and 20 minutes in length. 

Although the quality of the video isn’t quite as high as the more expensive iPhone XR, the Pixel 3a’s time-lapse footage is “clear and steady”, the tech news site says. 

Winner: Pixel 3a and 3a XL

Performance

The major differences between the two models can be found below their screens. 

Google has installed Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor inside the new Pixel 3a line-up, while the standard Pixel 3 range gets the latest Snapdragon 845 chip, reports Stuff

The budget phones “feel super-snappy in everyday usage” and are almost indistinguishable from the more expensive models, the site says. Gaming is another story, though, as some titles don’t look quite as good on the Pixel 3a as they do on the faster Pixel 3. 

While the Pixel 3a series lags behind on gaming performs, it comes with larger batteries, somewhat surprisingly. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL has 3,000mAh and 3,700mAh batteries respectively, compared with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL’s 2,915mAh and 3,430mAh battery packs. 

Winner: draw

Verdict

The Pixel 3a series looks to be a more complete and competent package than many were expecting, leaving buyers considering both phones facing a tricky choice. 

The Pixel 3 is still the flagship device in the range and appears to provide the best experience for gamers. It’s also water-resistant and has wireless charging - neither of which are available on the Pixel 3a. 

On the other hand, the budget phones also offer good performance, a vibrant screen and a 3.5mm headphone port. The Pixel 3a series is nearly half the price of the standard phones, too. 

However, the Pixel 3 is frequently discounted. If buyers can find a good deal on the Pixel 3, the faster phone appears to be the better option. But those after a quick bargain won’t be disappointed with the new Pixel 3a series.

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