With the Pixel 3a, Google is this year also entering in the highly competitive middle class. But what losses do you have to accept in comparison to the more expensive Pixel 3? Fewer than expected, as our test of the latest Pixel smartphone shows.
- Handy format
- Stereo speakers
- Top camera
- Solid battery life
- No wireless charging
- Restricted storage space
- Old-fashioned design
That Pixel feel for 400 bucks
In the sale starts the Google Pixel 3a on May 8 and is then available to buy through the Google Store. The price is 399 dollars, and the same in GBP for the UK. The available colors again have special names like "Just Black", "Clearly White" and "Purple-ish". US carrier partnerships for Pixel phones now include T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. Of course, you can still get them through Google Fi and Verizon. There will also be a larger XL version with a 6 inch screen and 3,700mAh battery available for $479.
In addition to the smartphone itself, a USB-C cable and an 18-watt power supply unit, Google packs a USB-A to USB-C adapter as well as in-ear headphones with jack and various attachments into the sales box.
An old-school design
At first glance, the Pixel 3a can easily be confused with the normal Pixel 3. This is also due to the quite wide bezels above and below the display and the optical splitting of the back with the striking single camera. Unfortunately, the Pixel 3a still looks a bit old-fashioned, if you look at the format-filling displays that can already be found in the competition.
At second glance, however, the lack of the lower front loudspeaker and the second front camera, as well as the glossy frame, are noticeable. The difference becomes even clearer if you take the Pixel 3a in your hand. Thanks to the polycarbonate housing, the new Pixel smartphone is also much lighter at 147 grams. And even if you look at the case material of the device through the shiny frame, the whole thing feels pretty good in the hand.
One of the reasons for this is the unibody design, with which there is no interruption between the frame and the back, as is the case with Pixel 3. Google did a good job here. But I'm probably not the norm either, because contrary to the current trend, I would always prefer plastic to glass back - also because I'm so damn clumsy.
The workmanship is good. Neither uneven gap dimensions, nor sharp edges or unsightly edgings are noticeable here. What I don't like so much, however, is how deep the openings for the speakers and microphones are on the underside. Dust and dirt are quickly deposited here. In addition, the case is unfortunately not officially protected against the ingress of water and dust.
The display is nothing to complain about
The Google Pixel 3a has a 5.6 inch OLED display in 18.5:9 format with a resolution of 2,220 x 1,080 pixels (FHD+) and is therefore slightly longer and wider than that of Pixel 3. The display panel convinces with strong colors, crisp contrasts and a deep black.
Content is easy to read even in direct sunlight thanks to the sufficiently high display brightness. In the evening, the brightness can be adjusted finely enough not to be dazzled too much. For color display, users can choose between "Natural", "Enhanced" and "Adaptive" modes. A manual adjustment of the color temperature is not possible.
The problem could rather be the protective glass of the OLED panel, where Dragontrail Glass is used. Although Pixel 3a has been treated with the utmost care over the past few days, the first scratches are already visible on the screen. Here I advise the use of a protective film or a less clumsy use behavior.
Pure Android with all Pixel features
Of course, the Pixel 3a has a pure Android 9 Pie and the promise of at least three years of Android and security updates from Google. But there are also some surprises that you might not have expected at this point: Google has given the cheap Pixel phone almost all the software features that can also be found in the high-end model.
That means from Now Playing to Active Edge to Flip to Shhh everything is included. You only have to do without the animated live wallpapers. Not to forget the chat and phone support directly on the smartphone, one should encounter problems. Not all manufacturers do that.
Nevertheless, the software does not really offer a unique selling point in comparison to other manufacturer skins. The interface can only be adapted to your own ideas within strict limits, and this will change very little even with Android 10 Q, apart from the true dark mode.
Excellent everyday performance
The Pixel 3a doesn't use a high-end chip or one of Qualcomm's new 700 series under its hood, but the Snapdragon 670, which has 4 GB of RAM at its side. As Google tells us, the chip was deliberately chosen because it delivers somewhat less performance than the Snapdragon 710, for example, but is also more energy-efficient.
In addition, a great deal of work has been done on the software in order to get the best possible performance out of it. And this is also shown in the test, because the Pixel 3a delivers a solid performance for everyday use and is hardly slower than Pixel 3 when opening apps or multitasking. It's a different story for graphically complex games, where the budget model allows much longer loading times.
Google Pixel 3a: Benchmark results in comparison
|Device||Google Pixel 3a||Xiaomi Mi 9 SE||Nokia 8.1|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1||1.813||2.067||1.830|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Volcano||1.747||1.990||1.745|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0||2.647||2.944||2.688|
|3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited||26.945||29.177||28.942|
|Geekbench 4 (Single/Multi)||1.494 / 5.912||1.881 / 5.965||1.837 / 5.934|
|Passport Mark Memory||12.456||12.361||12.509|
|Passport Mark Disk||54.076||61.318||51.940|
As you can see in the benchmarks, the pixel 3a (Snapdragon 670), the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE (Snapdragon 712) and the Nokia 8.1 (Snapdragon 710) don't take as much as they would really notice when using the smartphones.
For some, it might be rather problematic that the Pixel 3a is only available with 64 GB memory. There are no variants with more storage space or a space for a microSD card. After all, even the security chip Titan M is on board, which among other things improves the security of the boot loader, the lock screen and the encrypted internal memory.
You don't have to go without stereo sound
Even if you have to do without the two forward facing loudspeakers on the Pixel 3a, this does not apply to the stereo sound. This is also possible thanks to the loudspeaker/earpiece combination on the front and the downward facing loudspeaker next to the USB-C connection. Both deliver decent sound with well-balanced highs and lows, with the upper speaker slightly quieter than the lower one.
In contrast to its high-end counterpart, Google also provides the Pixel 3a with a jack connector on the top and also includes headphones directly in the box. The latter deliver satisfactory sound, but should rather end up as a backup solution in your pocket. Thanks to the equalizer, you can also adapt the sound to your own listening habits.
Comes with Google's top camera
The camera's next special feature is the Pixel 3a, because Google uses the same sensor (Sony IMX363) as in the high-end version. This means 12.2 megapixels resolution, f/1.8 aperture, 76 degrees image angle and 1.4 µm pixel length as well as 1/2.5" sensor format.
But of course it's not enough to use just the same sensor - Google knows that too. That's why the camera app has all the same camera features as Pixel 3, including Night View Mode, Photo Box and Top Shot.
Another new feature is the time-lapse mode, which can capture between 50 and 1,200 seconds of recording time in 10 seconds. It even turns the display black after a short time in order to save energy and informs the user of this in a small text display. The mode is now also available step by step for the other Pixel phones.
The Pixel 3a doesn't have the Pixel Visual Core from the more expensive pixel smartphones, but according to Google, the software engineers have managed to adjust the important calculations so that they can also be performed with similar speed on the Snapdragon SoC. Read more about the camera features in our camera test of Pixel 3 (XL).
But what does that mean at the end? It's simple: the Pixel 3a offers the same camera experience as the more expensive Pixel smartphones and there's virtually no loss in image quality when it comes to detail and sharpness. However, the colors of the Pixel 3a usually appear somewhat more vivid, so that the images with Pixel 3 almost look pale in direct comparison.
Differences in the color scheme of the photos shown here, taken with night vision mode, are mainly due to different interpretations of the algorithm at the moment of shutter release. In terms of details, both smartphones are on the same level. By the way, you can record videos in 4K with a maximum of 30 fps and get the combination of optical and electronic video stabilization.
The quality of the front camera looks a bit different. There is only one sensor left to be found here, but at least it offers an angle of view of 84 degrees and thus lies between that of the two front cameras of Pixel 3. However, the image quality of night photos is visibly worse. You can see this very clearly by looking at the blue channel of the pictures (see below). In daylight, on the other hand, there is hardly any difference here either.
But as always, of course, see for yourself:
Pixel 3a doesn't lack stamina
Looking at the data sheet, the 3,000 mAh battery of the Pixel 3a appears to be somewhat tight at first. But in the test, the Google smartphone does really well and leaves other handy models such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 behind.
On a normal day, listening to music or podcasts for about four hours, checking social networks regularly, streaming YouTube over the mobile network for one hour, and writing countless chat messages, there is usually at least 60 percent battery left on the way home. But even with intensive use, you can manage it easily throughout the day and on average it takes between six and seven hours of screen-on-time.
Once the battery has been sucked out, it is quickly fully charged again thanks to the 18-watt power supply and quick-charging technology. Here you get 56 percent in 30 minutes and need one and a half hours for full charging. But before you have to do without the Pixel 3a, you need wireless charging.
Google Pixel 3a technical specifications
Conclusion: Google's mid-range is a true Pixel
For 400 dollars, the Pixel 3a is a damn good middle-class smartphone. On the software side pure Android, direct support on the smartphone itself and a three-year update guarantee. In addition, there is a top camera, where other manufacturers in the middle class like to slim down, as well as good battery life in a handy housing format.
But you have to do without wireless charging, wide-angle selfies and the high-end chip inside as well as a waterproof case. A good compromise, I think - if you can get onboard with the somewhat old-fashioned design. It feels as if Google had apparently thought about how to offer the excellent Pixel camera for the planned price and then looked at what hardware could be realized around it. And it turns out that Google has gotten the formula just right.