Pixel 3a First Impressions: A Likeable Smartphone With a Baffling Price Tag

Google I/O 2019 is currently underway and the biggest announcement of the developer conference, apart from Android Q, is finally out of the way. The highly-anticipated mid-range smartphones from Google, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, have been officially launched during the keynote announcement and they’re exactly what we expected them to be. Pixel 3a First Impressions: A Likeable Smartphone With a Baffling Price Tag Google was kind enough to loan us the Clearly White variant of the smaller Pixel 3a and I’ve been playing around with it for the past couple of days. This is my first time using a Snapdragon 670 chipset-powered smartphone, so I was skeptical of the performance on the daily but you’ll soon know how it turned out to be. The cameras were another major area which I wanted to focus on while using the device to see if they’re on par with the flagship Pixels. So, here’s my first impression of what could be the saving grace for Google’s hardware division:

Pixel 3a: Specifications

Starting off, let’s first take a quick look at the key specifications of the Pixel 3a and then move forward with talking about our initial impressions of this mid-range smartphone.

Dimensions151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2 mm
Weight147 grams
Display5.6-inch FHD+ (2220 x 1080) gOLED
ProcessorSnapdragon 670
Rear Camera12.2MP (f/1.8) Dual-Pixel Sony IMX363
Front Camera8MP (f/2.0)
Operating SystemAndroid 9 Pie
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Google Cast, USB-C
SensorsRear-mounted fingerprint sensor, Active Edge, Proximity, Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyrometer, Magnetometer, Barometer, Android Sensor Hub
ColorsJust Black, Clearly White

Pixel 3a: Design & Build

Starting off with the design, I know what you’re all thinking, it looks exactly like the smaller Pixel 3. It has the same two-tone finish on the back, the same bezel-full front, and the same color variants as well, but there are a few key differences. First of all, the Pixel 3a doesn’t boast a glass design and that’s understandable. Instead, Google has used polycarbonate, which is basically plastic, and the smartphone does not seem cheap to the touch. The rear panel is quite similar to the Pixel 3. This too has the matte finish on the bottom half of the back, which feels great and a glossy finish on the upper half.

To be honest, this definitely does not seem like a cheap phone and is pretty appealing

Google has done a great job to offer you a good-looking smartphone, unlike the slew of plastic phones out there which scratch super easily. Our Pixel 3a has no scratches until now, and I’d love it if the back panel stays the same. The rounded back panel also does make it comfortable to grip the device and use it single-handedly. Anyway, another key difference is the presence of the 3.5mm headphone jack onboard. Rejoice, the Pixel 3a has a headphone jack. This is the first Pixel smartphone since the original Pixel to feature the same and I appreciate Google’s thoughtfulness here. It only adds to the user experience instead of taking away from it. Apart from that, Pixel 3a design features the usual buttons (especially the colored power button), a USB-C port at the bottom, and a pretty fast fingerprint scanner on the back. I am disappointed with the lack of an IP rating on the Pixel 3a, in addition to the massive bezels. I mean, there’s no Pixel 3XL-esque hideous notch here, which is great, but the bezels make the device look outdated in 2019. It’s a little disappointing, to say the least, however, you’ll get the front firing speaker, along with a speaker at the bottom to offer users a stereo sound experience, so I have no complaints.

Pixel 3a: Display

The Pixel 3a comes with a 5.6-inch OLED display and it’s said to be a gOLED display, which the time of writing this story is not known to be any different than any other OLED displays available on the market, but I believe it should be Google’s fancy term for some technology that they’ve baked in to finally fix their display performance. The gOLED display on board delivers punchy colors, beautiful blacks, and yes, you get the always-on display feature, which I really like, in tow as well. In my brief usage, I feel that the OLED display on Pixel 3a is better than the display on the Pixel 3 XL. Not only are the colors better, but the viewing angles on the Pixel 3a’s display are also way better too. I mean, these photos look almost the same, colorwise, on both the phones, but if I slightly tilt both the phones, see how the color just dulls away on the Pixel 3 XL’s display. So, I guess, gOLED does bring a difference to the Pixel 3a lineup and you can check it out in our video attached towards the end.

Pixel 3a: Performance

Though the design here is pretty similar to the Pixel 3, the major difference between the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3 is the chipset on board. Pixel 3a is powered by the Snapdragon 670 SoC with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage (same are the specs of Pixel 3a XL, which was earlier rumored to feature the Snapdragon 710 chipset). Yes, pretty modest specs for a Pixel phone, but it is what it is, and well, it shows in the benchmark figures. The Snapdragon 670 is obviously no match to the flagship chipsets, and it lags behind even the Snapdragon 675 and Snapdragon 710 chipsets, which have been employed in more budget-friendly phones like the Redmi Note 7 Pro and the Realme 3 Pro. So yeah, it’s not the most powerful processor, but when it comes to real-world usage, I have no major qualms in the user experience department. The multi-tasking has been pretty decent, memory management has been okay too in my brief time, but few minor frame drops in UI here and there makes me a little wary of whether the device would be able to stand the test of time. As for gaming, PUBG Mobile by default runs on high graphics setting, which is definitely great and I like the fact that the gameplay on high settings has been good enough. It’s definitely playable, as well as quite enjoyable, at high settings. Look, the Pixel 3a won’t win the numbers game. There are smartphones such as the Poco F1, the Redmi Note 7 Pro, and the Realme 3 Pro, which have more powerful chipsets that boast of higher benchmark scores, but we all know what the Pixel 3a is offering: the Pixel software experience and the Pixel cameras. We’re going to focus on these two next.

Pixel 3a: User Experience

The Pixel 3a comes with Android 9 Pie on board and it’s the Pixel experience we all love. There’s the Pixel launcher, which is nice and clean. There’s the gesture navigation from Android Pie, which grows on you once you start using it regularly. There are other Android Pie features like Adaptive Battery, Digital Wellbeing, and more on board as well. In addition, there are obviously some Pixel-exclusive features too, like the Active Edge, which lets you squeeze the phone to launch Google Assistant, an unlimited high-quality storage option in Google Photos, Now Playing (which displays songs playing around you right on the lock screen), and more, but the problem is that the more exciting features such as call screening, Google Maps AR, they are all not available in India. Putting that aside, the software experience here is great and I prefer it because I’m a sucker for new features. Pixel 3a will be among the first phones to get the latest and greatest of Google features, the latest Android Q updates and security patches too, so that’s something noteworthy. Not a whole lot of phone makers can boast of the same.

Pixel 3a: Flagship-worthy Cameras

Moving on, the one thing that I like the most about the Pixel 3a is that it doesn’t skip on camera features. It has all the camera features you see on the flagship Pixel series. Now, before I talk about them, let me get the specs out of the way. The Pixel 3a has a 12.2MP (f/1.8) rear camera, and it’s the same Sony IMX 363 sensor that the Pixel 3 features. There’s no dual selfie lenses onboard here but instead, a single 8MP (f/2.0) sensor in tow. As I said, Pixel 3a has all the goodness of the Pixel 3’s camera app too, but there’s a new Time Lapse feature, which will go live soon and lets you capture some beautiful timelapse videos. There are also other camera features, like Night Sight, so you can take well-lit photos in the dark. There’s Photobooth that lets you take photos with a smile or a kiss. Playground, where you can try out various Playmojis, like the Avengers Playmojis. Yeah, it’s all pretty cool. But, I know what you’re wondering- how is the camera performance of the Pixel 3a? Well, in short, it’s fantastic. Photos from the Pixel 3a are sharp and detailed, be it in good or low-light conditions. Even the portrait mode photos are brilliant. Well, let me just put it this way as it would be simpler. Pixel 3a brings the same great camera performance from the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. Yes, check out these camera samples:

The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3XL that we’ve been testing take very similar photos and at times almost identical photos. We’ve compiled a detailed camera review of the Pixel 3a and we have even compared it to the Pixel 3 XL and S10e, Samsung’s budget flagship, so don’t forget to check it out right here. Now, it’s not only photos. The Pixel 3a also captures great videos just like the Pixel 3. So, there’s 4K at 30FPS support with OIS and EIS, and results have been great so far. There’s EIS on videos taken from the front camera too and we’ve talked more about it in our in-depth camera review. The Pixel 3a brings the same flagship camera performance from the Pixel 3, and well, it’s just amazing. This is something I was hoping for in the camera department, and the Pixel 3a delivers.

Pixel 3a: Battery

Lastly, there’s the battery and the Pixel 3a comes with a modest 3,000 mAh battery on board along with an 18W fast charger. Now, I had my doubts on the battery, but in our usage so far, we got a screen on time of more than 5 hours from the phone. The battery life has been pretty decent so far, but we will add more on the same in our complete review of the Pixel 3a. Also, since there’s an 18W USB PD 2.0 charger offered within the box, the Pixel 3a should charge fairly fast too. 

Pixel 3a: Pricing Misses the Mark for Indian Market

Now that we’ve talked about how I feel about the Pixel 3a, let’s turn our attention to the one major thing that’s holding me back from recommending this device right off the bat. The pricing of the Pixel 3a is nothing to close what I expected. Pixel 3a has been priced at Rs 39,999 in India, whereas its elder sibling will retail at Rs 44,999. I’m really disappointed with the Indian pricing of the Pixel 3a and don’t want to delve too much into it. I feel the Pixel 3a could be a good buy internationally, but not in India. Look, I know the Pixel 3a has got a lot of things going for it. It brings a flagship camera, the much-loved Pixel software experience and an OLED display in a compact form factor. So, this is not a bad phone, per se, but the problem is India’s competitive phone market. There are phones out there with way powerful processors, more modern designs, and a larger battery, at half the price of the Pixel 3a. To be honest, I would’ve loved the phone had it been priced around the Rs 30,000 mark, even recommended it to users looking to get the best camera experience out of their phones, but at its current price, the Pixel 3a seems like another Pixel phone that could’ve been a lot more. This is my first impression of the Pixel 3a and it’s enough to tell me that I would only be recommending this phone if there’s a price cut in the coming months. What do you think about the Pixel 3a? Does it look like the mid-range you’d be willing to buy at the price it’s debuted at? Leave us with your opinions in the comments below.

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