[First Cut] Google Pixel 3a XL: The affordable Pixel?

A cheaper chip off the Pixel block

by: - Last updated on: July 22nd, 2019

It came. It was seen. It was appreciated (its camera was raved about). But it did not quite set the market on fire. Which is why there has been the talk of Google coming out with a more affordable version of its Pixel 3 device for a while now. And now it is here, christened rather elaborately the Pixel 3a XL.

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And at first glance, you would not be able to guess that this is actually the lesser sibling of the Pixel 3 XL. Because it seems to be cut from the same phone-y cloth. Especially when it is switched off, because, at first sight, it seems to have the same design ethos – a front dominated by a display and a dual-textured back, with a shiny, glossy upper portion and a more plain lower one. Even the dimensions are somewhat similar – the Pixel 3 XL is 158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm, while its ‘a’ grade cousin is 160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2 mm. The new Pixel is slightly lighter at 167 grams as compared to 184 grams. But yes, place them next to each other with the displays switched off, front or back, and telling them apart would be a task – they even have the typical Pixel “volume rocker below power/display” button layout on the right-hand side.

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That changes when you switch the displays on, though. For even though the Pixel 3a XL is slightly taller, it actually has a slightly smaller, 6.0-inch OLED display (the 3 XL has a 6.3 inch pOLED one) which is full HD+ in resolution (the 3 XL was quad HD) and most noticeably, does not have a notch, which we would consider a positive, given the fact that the notch on the 3 XL was a prime eyesore (they are both always on displays, though). The reason for the lighter weight will also become obvious – the back is carbonate and not glass. The front of the Pixel 3a XL also comes with Dragon Tail protection, rather than Gorilla Glass as seen on the 3 XL. And while the volume and power/display arrangement might be similar, the presence of a 3.5 mm audio jack at the top of the Pixel 3a XL is not, and neither is its arrangement of one front firing speaker and one speaker at the base – the 3 XL had both speakers in front. We could also not see any mention of dust or water resistance (the 3 XL had an IP68 rating).

Update: Google Pixel 3a XL Review: How Much for that Camera?

But all said and done, does the Pixel 3a XL look like a cheap knock-off of the Pixel 3 XL? No, it does not. No, it might not appeal to everyone’s idea of good-looking especially in these days of glassy gradient finishes, but if you liked the look of the Pixel 3, you will like those of the 3a. That simple.

Where it DOES appear like a less expensive version of the original Pixel 3 is in the spec sheet. We have already remarked on the smaller, lower resolution display, but the biggest sign of the 3a being a Junior Pixel is the processor – it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 chip, which is a far cry from the Snapdragon 845 seen on the Pixel 3. It also comes with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage (still non-expandable, alas), which is par for the course, but not exceptional in these days of 6 GB RAM devices at sub-Rs 20,000 prices. But for many people, the biggest hardware asset of the Pixel 3a XL will be its 12.2-megapixel rear camera, which Google claims is the same one which made us call the Pixel 3 XL a camera disguised as a phone. And it comes with optical and electronic image stabilization and the portrait mode, night mode and super res zoom features that stunned many users. The selfie camera, however, is just a single 8.0-megapixel shooter, rather than the dual one seen on the Pixel 3 XL – abandoning the notch does have its disadvantages. Connectivity options include 4G, USB Type C, e-SIM (Airtel is supported in India), Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC. One department where the new Pixel beats the older one is in battery – it comes with a large 3700 mAh battery as compared to the 3430 mAh one on the Pixel 3 XL, and it too comes with an 18W charger and support for quick charging, although there is no mention of wireless charging.

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Of course, what makes the Pixel series really special is there in the Pixel 3a as well – pure Android with the assurance of getting updates regularly and generally before anyone else does. Of course, the phone runs on Android 9 (Pie), but it also comes with a truckload of Google features and zero bloatware. What’s more, this being a device that comes directly from Google, you can be assured it will get new features and apps from the Search giant well before anyone else does. You also get perks like unlimited high-quality photo storage space on Google Photos and three months of YouTube Music Premium free of cost.

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In sum, the 3a XL has the broad design, the highly acclaimed rear camera, and the software of the is ‘a-less’ predecessor. The big question is whether you think that these are worth the Rs 44,999 it charges users. Yes, it is considerably below below the Rs 83,000 that the Pixel 3 XL came for, but considering that this is the price point at and below which a number of budget flagships are available including the likes of the OnePlus 6T, the Honor View 20, the Vivo V15 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy A70, the Nokia 8.1, and the Poco F1, the Pixel 3a XL has its task cut out. There are many who will consider it to be too expensive, considering its processor (Realme and Redmi are offering better processors in devices at a third of the price), but then Google will be banking on camera magic and clean software to win the day for it, allied with what should be very good battery life. Whether these actually win the day for it will be revealed in our detailed review.

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