Pixel 3A review: The cheap phone Google always needed – CNET

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Pixel 3A review: The cheap phone Google always needed


Despite an exceptional camera and a handful of useful software tricks, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL didn’t blow us away this year. That’s because the phone has an average battery life that rivals easily outlast, it has limited storage, and other phones have excellent cameras with their own impressive low-light modes (like the iPhone 11 and OnePlus 7T).

But most of all, the phones are expensive. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL start at $799 and $899, respectively. Fortunately, if you want a Google phone that has a great camera and receives prompt software updates, the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL are much more affordable options. These midtier handsets cost $399 and $479 (£399 and £469 in the UK, and AU$649 and AU$799 in Australia), and are essentially reworked Pixel 3 phones from 2018. The Pixel 3A doesn’t have a second telephoto camera like the Pixel 4, but it’s these few hardware downgrades that result in the lower price.

This lower price, coupled with solid performance and a great camera is what has earned the Pixel 3A a CNET Editors’ Choice. While the phone doesn’t have as many features as the other “budget” options of its competitors, such as the iPhone 11 and the Galaxy S10E, the Pixel 3A is still at least $300 cheaper.

Read: Pixel 3A vs. Moto G7: What’s the best budget phone?

Editor’s note, Oct. 28: Updated with comparison to the new Pixel phones. The original review, published on May 7, follows below.

Pixel 3A and Pixel 3: What’s different?

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The Pixel 3A (left) and the Pixel 3.


Angela Lang/CNET

Pixel 3A looks nearly identical to Pixel 3

Both the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3 have a lightweight, unibody design, a matte finish with a glossy shade on the back and a rear fingerprint reader. If I came across both phones for the first time, I wouldn’t know off the bat which one was more expensive.

But there are some differences. The Pixel 3A is bigger and made out of polycarbonate instead of glass like the Pixel 3. Its bottom bezel is thicker and the display is a tad larger. The phone also uses a different type of OLED display that features glass as its base layer instead of plastic. Even when both displays are in the same color mode (which you can change in Settings), the Pixel 3A looks a bit punchier at times. Reds, yellows and oranges are warmer and whites look brighter, purer. In contrast, the Pixel 3’s screen is bluer and despite being the more high-end device, it has a much more obvious color shift.

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The Pixel 3A sports a new purple shade and a highlighter-green power button.


Angela Lang/CNET

Other design takeaways

  • It’s a drag that the Pixel 3A isn’t water-resistant, so I don’t have that extra peace of mind when I have my phone around a pool or sink. But I do like that the Pixel 3A has a headphone jack. Fellow wired headphone users rejoice!
  • Like Not Pink, Purple-ish is a very subtle shade of purple. Depending on the light, it sometimes looks obviously purple and other times it can be washed out to white. Either way though, the neon green power button is a cool touch.
  • You can still launch Google Assistant or silence an incoming call by squeezing the phone’s sides. Google calls this Active Edge. Unlike other phones that have the same feature (like the HTC U11), you can’t reprogram the squeeze to do anything else. Bummer.
  • The phone has stereo speakers and the bottom audio speaker moved from the chin to the bottom edge of the phone.

Pixel 3A camera: Same camera but with time-lapse

One new feature is time-lapse video. You can set your frames to record at various time intervals — for example, you can condense between 50 seconds or 20 minutes of recorded footage into 10 seconds — and there’s a useful indicator that denotes how long your video will be in real time. To save battery, the viewfinder will also dim after some time, while the phone is still recording.

In general, time-lapse videos were clear and steady, and I love that I can see how long my video will be in the end. But the quality isn’t as good as the iPhone XR. In one video I shot at a darkened cocktail party, footage on the Pixel 3A was muddier and grainier than that captured by the iPhone XR. The time-lapse also looked jerkier or more “pulsating” than on the iPhone. Despite the fact that the interface for the iPhone XR’s camera is bare and doesn’t have different time frame options, it churns out better video.



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