review

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

For nothing else justifies that price tag

How much would you pay for a really good phone camera?

The answer to that question will perhaps end up determining whether you will invest in Google’s Pixel a series of devices. We have been using the larger of those, the Pixel 3a XL for a while now, and whenever someone has asked us if it was worth buying, we have replied with the very question at the beginning of this review.

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

For the camera is really the star of the Pixel 3a XL show. It pretty much IS the camera that we have seen in the Pixel 3 and 3 XL – a single 12.2 megapixel Sony IMX363 sensor. And even as other brands add multiple cameras to their devices, this single one on the Pixel 3a XL pretty much puts most of them to shame. Yes, the purists might find Google’s take on computation photography getting a little unreal when it comes to details and yes, sometimes the colors look a little washed out as compared to the bright ones we get on most phone cameras these days. But at the end of the day, if what you are looking for is great images, the Pixel 3a XL delivers those. In spadefuls. We got some stunning portraits, with bokeh being defined better than most multiple camera phones, landscape shots were fantastic thanks to the level of detail we got and even low light photography was very good (thank you, Night Sight), although we would take this opportunity to repeat our criticism of the cameras of the 3 XL – the results were good but often bordered on the unreal, because they seemed to show details that we did not know existed. And that applies to the selfie camera as well – a single 8-megapixel snapper that churned out excellent portrait style selfies as well as group shots.

(Click here for full resolution versions on Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have used our share of excellent camera phones this year including the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the Huawei P30 Pro. And well, while it would be untrue to say that the Pixel 3a XL beats those worthies every time, the fact that it comes very close most of the time and sometimes even pips them, tells a tale. In fact, the only place where we feel the camera gives ground to others is in video, where it is good but not really in the class of the devices from Samsung and Huawei. The Pixel 3a XL’s camera is as good as any on any phone out there and makes one doubt the wisdom of multiple cameras.

If all that does not convince to invest in a Pixel 3a XL…
Well then, perhaps nothing will.

Indeed, take away that magnificent rear snapper and the Pixel 3a XL starts looking increasingly vulnerable. No, it does not do too much wrong. For most of the time, it is actually a very smooth performer, thanks to the uncluttered pure Android running on it. And there are some beautiful typically Pixel touches on it as well – the always on display which lets you know about notifications without having to unlock the device, the Now Playing feature which identifies the songs playing in the vicinity, the Quick Search bar on the lower part of the home screen, and of course, the generally clean interface and assurance of updates from Google itself.

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

Things, however, start stuttering when you add to that stock Android experience. Games like PUBG and Asphalt do stretch that Snapdragon 670 processor and 4 GB RAM (storage stands at a non-expandable 64 GB), and you can see the odd lag creep in when you open too many Chrome tabs or applications. And while the 6.0 inch full HD OLED display and the stereo speakers are good (there is a 3.5 mm audio jack too, hooray), we have seen better ones on devices that cost around the same or even much lesser. Similarly, the 3700 mAh battery will see out a day of hefty use and comes with fast charging (and an 18 W charger in the box), but we have seen bigger (and faster charging) batteries again at much lower price points. Top that off with a design that is uniquely Pixel-ish but not exactly premium (even though it would take a really close look to discover that the back is carbonate), and suddenly all purchasing decisions about the Pixel boil down to that question:

How much would you pay for a really good phone camera?

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

That query is tinged in irony. Because the ‘a’ series of Pixel devices was actually released as more affordable variants of the “proper” Pixels. They ARE more affordable than the Pixels – the Pixel 3a XL is priced at Rs 44,999 as compared to the Pixel 3 XL which was launched at Rs 83,000 (Although it is now available for a much lower price). The problem, however, is that even at that price, it is closer to a premium category device than an affordable flagship. It has to contend with the likes of the OnePlus 7 Pro, the OnePlus 7, the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom, the Honor View 20, the recently released Black Shark 2 and even the Poco F1, all of whom boast far better chipsets and in some cases, even better design and overall hardware. Even those tempted by stock Android and assured updates would feel tempted by the likes of the Nokia 8.1, which again, is available at a much lower price.

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

All of which makes the Pixel 3a XL a very hard sell at Rs 44,999. Yes, its cameras outgun everyone else in that range (and a little above it as well) it is no match for the budget and lower-premium flagship segment which bring better processors, more RAM and storage, better displays, bigger batteries, in-display fingerprint scanners and a whole lot of fancy notch placements and designs to the party. Indeed, at the time of writing, some online retailers were selling the Pixel 3 XL for a price in the vicinity of Rs 55,000. It is not as if the Pixel 3a XL is a bad device. It isn’t. It just is a little out of place in the current market scenario.

Ouch!

So should you consider investing in a Pixel 3a XL? The answer to that is really another question:

How much would you pay for a really good phone camera?

Pros
  • Terrific cameras
  • Amazing cameras
  • Really really good cameras
  • (Oh, and stock Android with assured updates)
Cons
  • Expensive for the specs
  • Slightly laggy in the high-end gaming zone
Review Overview
3.70
Overall Score
Design
Software
Performance
Camera
Price