Google's Pixel phones have traditionally been high-end devices, but for the first time the company has launched a pair of mid-range phones – the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. These strip out a few premium features of the current flagships, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, in favor of an easier-to-swallow price tag. But just what do you get and what do you lose? Here, New Atlas compares the specs and features of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL with the Pixel 3a and 3a XL.
Both the 3a and 3a XL are slightly bigger than their flagship counterparts – in fact, the 3a XL is one of the biggest phones of the year dimension-wise.
On the flip side, both Pixel 3a models are lighter than the base 3 models. In the case of the 3a, that's only by a single gram, but the 3a XL has slimmed down by a much more impressive amount, most likely the result of switching to lighter (and cheaper) materials.
All four Pixels are available in black and white variants. If you're after a splash of color, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL also come in pink, while the 3a and 3a XL have purple versions – no matter how shy Google seems to be about calling them those colors.
Google adorned the backs of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL with frosted glass, with an aluminum ring around the phone for support. In an effort to shave some dollars off the price tag, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL opt for a plastic backing instead.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL have a water resistance rating of IP68. That means they're dust-proof, and will have no problem shaking off splashes of liquids, like rain or spilled drinks. They should even survive being submerged in water as deep as 1 m (3.3 ft) for up to 30 minutes.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL have no official rating, but Google has vaguely said that splashes of water should be fine. It's probably fine if you take the usual precautions and not try to test them out too much.
The Pixel 3a has a slightly bigger screen than the regular 3, while the 3a XL has shrunk a little compared to the 3 XL.
As a result of growing frames and shrinking screens, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL have both had a bit of a drop in the ratio of how much space the screen takes up on the front of the device. They both have relatively large black bars across the top and bottom of the screen, although none of these phones have notches – whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.
In pure numbers, it looks like the resolution of the Pixel 3a has had a bump over the Pixel 3, but those extra 80 pixels are just the result of stretching the screen another 0.1 inches.
Meanwhile, the Pixel 3a XL has had quite a drastic drop in resolution compared to the Pixel 3 XL. It's now the same as the Pixel 3, and lower than the 3a – despite having a larger screen.
All four of these Pixels are built with Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) displays.
The only biometric system for unlocking any of these phones is the fingerprint sensor on the back.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are running on Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 670 processors, while the flagships are built with the premium Snapdragon 845. Interestingly though, the performance gap is narrower than ever – the biggest difference is the price, and the budget-conscious phone-buyer will likely not even notice any drop in performance.
All four Pixel phones are kitted out with a reliable 4 GB of RAM.
A generous 64 GB of storage space is the baseline amount on all four phones, while the Pixel 3 and 3 XL also give the option of doubling that, if you need it.
Whatever you choose, choose wisely – none of the Pixels have a MicroSD card slot, so you can't expand that storage down the track.
Interestingly, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL have had a bit of a battery boost over their corresponding flagships. Especially in the case of the 3a XL, which should let it last a little longer in your day-to-day.
All four phones can be fast charged with the included power adapter.
Wireless charging is one of the features stripped out of the Pixel 3a and 3a XL for the sake of affordability. But in our experience, that's no big loss. If you want to wirelessly charge the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, you'll also need to buy a separate charger.
Weirdly enough, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL sees the return of the 3.5-mm headphone jack. The port was nixed between the first and second generations of Pixels, and is getting rarer and rarer on smartphones nowadays. Bluetooth headphones work just as well, but it's nice to have the choice again.
Of course, you can still use wired headphones with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL – you'll just need to use the included adapter to plug them into the USB-C port.
All four phones charge through a USB-C port.
Another cost-cutting measure for the Pixel 3a and 3a XL is dropping the second front-facing camera, but unless you're taking a lot of wide-angle selfies, you might not miss it too much.
Where the mid-range Pixels have just the one 8-megapixel cam, the flagships add a second wide-angle lens, designed to squeeze more friends into selfies.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL manage to hold onto the same main camera as the 3 and 3 XL. In all four cases, that's a 12.2-MP shooter with an aperture of f/1.8, which allows for better low-light shots.
Since all four Pixels use the same main cameras and software, most of the photo and video modes are the same across the board.
They can all take photos with High Dynamic Range (HDR), and shoot video in Full HD and 4K resolutions. To smooth out the bumps, they're also equipped with both Optical and Electronic Image Stabilization (OIS/EIS).
They can all shoot in slow motion, up to 240 frames per second, or speed things up with timelapse videos.
One of Google's most interesting experiments is the ARCore system, which senses depth through the camera and lets it project augmented reality (AR) images and characters over the real world. With that you can take photos and videos with characters from franchises like Star Wars, The Avengers, Stranger Things, and Pokémon, as well as generic animated animals and foods. A more practical use is due to drop soon for Google Maps, where your directions will pop up over the real world.
A nifty new trick that Google has recently rolled out to its devices is Night Sight. This long exposure takes in as much light as possible and uses an algorithm to brighten up even the darkest photos, with some pretty impressive results.
All of these Pixels come preloaded with the latest version of the Android operating system, Android 9 Pie.
As you'd expect from Google devices, these Pixels all come with the Google Assistant.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL are still relatively new, having launched in October last year. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are fresh off the production line, launching earlier in May 2019.
This may be the most important point of difference of them all. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are positioned as more affordable alternatives to the premium and pricey Pixel 3 and 3 XL, but as we've seen, you don't actually miss out on all that much.
And here's the kicker – the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are roughly half the price of their flagship friends. the Pixel 3a costs just US$399, while the 3a XL is yours for an extra $80.
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