Google Pixel 3a XL Review

Introduction

The Pixel 3a is Google’s attempt to return to the affordable premium smartphone category. After sunsetting the Nexus program, Google moved on to the ultra-high-end segment with the launch of the original Pixel back in 2016.

Specs:
Body: Unibody polycarbonate, Asahi Dragontrail glass, Black, White, Purple colors
Display: 6.0-inch, 2160 x 1080 resolution, 402PPI, 18:9, OLED, always-on display
Rear Camera: Sony IMX363, 12.2MP f1.8, dual-pixel autofocus, OIS, dual LED flash, 4K 30 video
Front Camera: 8MP f2.0, fixed focus, 1080p 30 video
Software: Android 9 Pie
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 670, 2.0GHz + 1.7GHz, Adreno 615, Titan M Security module
Memory: 64GB storage, 4GB LPDDR4X RAM
Battery: 3700mAh, 18W USB-PD fast charging
Connectivity: Single SIM/eSIM, LTE-A, 3xCA, DL 4×2/2×2 MIMO, CAT 11 600Mbps download, CAT 5 75MBps upload, Wi-Fi 2.4 + 5GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, USB-C 2.0, 3.5mm audio
Misc: Stereo speakers, capacitive fingerprint sensor, Active Edge pressure sensing, 3-month YouTube Music Premium subscription bundled

Unboxing Google Pixel 3a XL

Design

The Pixel 3a XL has the same design language as the Pixel 3 series of devices. Along the back, we see the two-tone finish and the lighter colored models also come with a colored power button on the side.

The Pixel 3a XL also has nearly the same dimensions as the Pixel 3 XL, although the latter is slightly shorter and thinner. The Pixel 3a XL is lighter by nearly 20g, and the reason for that is the polycarbonate body.

oreover, the Pixel 3a XL is also not water or dust resistant compared to its more expensive sibling, so that’s another knock against it in terms of durability. At least some form of splash resistance would have been welcome.

But by far the biggest issue with the design is right at the front. While it lacks the comically sized notch of its elder sibling, the Pixel 3a XL has massive bezels that are straight out of 2016. They are also mismatched, so the bottom bezel is thicker than the top one, and when you add the black navigation bar on top of that, it looks like the display starts almost a fifth of the way from the bottom of the phone.

Overall, the design does take a big step back compared to the more expensive Pixel 3 phones, which weren’t exactly cutting-edge in their own right. Google has seemingly not taken note of the time that has passed since their last Nexus release and the advancements that have happened since then but the competition certainly has, and no one is more aware of this than the consumer.

Display, Battery Life, Loudspeaker, Audio Quality

The Pixel 3a XL has a 6.0-inch, 2160x1080px resolution OLED display. The display is protected by the Asahi Dragontrail glass rather than Corning Gorilla Glass used on the more expensive Pixels.

Compared to the Pixel 3 XL display, the display on the Pixel 3a XL is a bit shorter but it also has a much lower resolution. It also lacks HDR10 video support and is suited only for regular videos.

Despite that, the display on the Pixel 3a XL is excellent. It gets reasonably bright outdoors and also sufficiently dim indoors. It has good viewing angles and does not exhibit any banding, black crush or dirty screen effect. The color accuracy in the standard sRGB mode is also right up there with the best in the industry, and there’s also support for DCI-P3 content due to the wide color support and OS-wide color management.

The lack of HDR is a minor complaint but there isn’t a ton of HDR content right now to take advantage of it, anyway. The YouTube app can emulate it in software but it looks no different than the SDR version.

Battery life
The Pixel 3a XL has a 3700mAh battery, a notable step-up from the 3430mAh on the Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel 3a XL also has a far more frugal processor, so we were expecting good things in terms of battery life from the device.

And our expectations were met. The Pixel 3a XL scored excellently in our battery tests. Standby, talk time and screen-on tests stand for stellar battery life. We really don’t have any complaints here. It appears that the energy-efficient OLED panel and the Snapdragon 670 make a great duo when it comes to energy efficiency.

The Pixel 3a XL supports fast charging using the USB-Power Delivery protocol. The phone ships with the same 18W fast charger as the Pixel 3 XL. Unfortunately, this isn’t the fastest charging solution on the market. Still, it’s reasonably quick and in two hours you can charge the phone completely.

Loudspeaker
The Pixel 3a XL also includes stereo speakers. They fire in different directions but most of the time that doesn’t affect the audio. For watching videos that are mostly voices or for games, the speakers sound fine. They sound best when kept under 80% volume, as beyond that the sound gets a bit thin and unpleasant.

But as far as loudness goes, the handset’s loudspeakers can go pretty high so you don’t have to worry about hearing them in loud environments. In fact, our tests show that they are one of the loudest we’ve tested so far.

Camera

The Pixel 3a XL has the same camera on the back as the more expensive Pixel 3 XL. It’s a 12.2MP sensor with f1.8 aperture, dual pixel phase detection autofocus and optical stabilization.

The front camera is different, though. For one, there’s only one of them now; the ultra-wide-angle camera has been done away with. Instead, there’s just a single camera now with 84° field of view that sits between the 75° main camera and 107° ultra-wide-angle on the Pixel 3 XL in terms of field of view. The sensor behind the lens is also different.

The camera app on the Pixel 3a XL is identical to that of the Pixel 3 XL. The app is generally well laid out and easy to operate while shooting. There are various modes at the bottom which you can tap or swipe through. A menu on the right hides more modes, including the popular Night Sight. Personally, we would have preferred the Night Sight option was placed outside of this menu so it was easier to access but on occasions when it’s too dark the phone will automatically present a direct shortcut to the feature from the main Camera mode.

Talking briefly about the front camera on the Pixel 3a XL, it’s a noticeable downgrade from the Pixel 3 XL. The field of view is wider than the standard camera on the Pixel 3 XL but the image is softer, has worse dynamic range and noisier. It’s so soft it often looks like it’s out of focus. Both the lens and the sensor used here seem to be significantly worse quality than what we see even on mid-range phones these days and aren’t worthy of the Pixel brand.

Now, moving over to the video, the Pixel 3a XL can do 4K video in 30fps, 1080p video in 30, 60 and 120fps and 720p video in 30, 60 and 240fps. There’s no 4K 60 mode here, but we aren’t surprised by that; the more powerful Pixel 3 XL doesn’t have it either and the Snapdragon 670 on the Pixel 3a XL isn’t even capable of 4K 60 videos.

Image quality in the 4K mode is good and the combination of optical and electronic stabilization works great. The only issue with the latter is that it comes at the cost of a heavy crop.

Alternatives, Pros and Cons, Verdict

Pros:
Excellent display
Great performance
Outstanding camera
Long-lasting battery
Clean UI with guaranteed updates

Cons:
Dated design with plastic construction
No dust and water-resistance
Only 4GB RAM and 64GB storage
No wireless charging
No wide or telephoto cameras

Verdict:
The Pixel 3a XL is not a phone that will win spec wars. It is not a phone that turns heads or starts conversations everywhere you go. But if you want a smartphone that will keep its head down and do its job, day in, day out, a phone that has the basics down pat and will get things done with minimum fuss without breaking the bank, this is it. It’s the Pixel camera and experience that you always wanted in a more sensible package. And for that, we like it more than the Pixel 3 XL.

Leave a Reply

Please leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *