We re­view Google’s cut-price smart­phone, the Pixel 3a, and find that it holds its own against much more ex­pen­sive hand­sets

Gloucestershire Echo - - TECH NOW - With Justin Con­nolly

DE­SPITE mak­ing the world’s most pop­u­lar smart­phone op­er­at­ing sys­tem, Google re­ally has strug­gled to make an im­pact with its de­vices. Google Home was beaten to the punch by Ama­zon, and the Pixel phones didn’t seem to of­fer any­thing you couldn’t get bet­ter and cheaper else­where.

It must be galling for Google’s engi­neers to see phones pow­ered by their soft­ware, like the Sam­sung Galaxy se­ries and the Huawei phones, beat the Pixel in the mar­ket­place.

In the world of mak­ing smart­phones, Google is a bit-part player.

The Google Pixel 3 is a fan­tas­tic phone, though, and it’s the one I would rec­om­mend every time to any­one in­ter­ested in an An­droid smart­phone… un­til now that is.

In an ef­fort to kick-start success in this game, Google has done some­thing not many of the best smart­phones mak­ers have been will­ing to do. It’s made a cheap ver­sion of its phone that might well put peo­ple off buy­ing the high-end ver­sion.

The Pixel 3a, new this month, is a phone that does 90% of what its big brother can do for al­most half the price.

Yes, you can now bag a phone ca­pa­ble of us­ing Google’s in­cred­i­ble Night Sight photo mode for a pound less than £400.

Of course, give­aways and low prices are point­less if the de­vice isn’t up to the job. What we’re look­ing for is value for money – and

the 3a hits the jack­pot there with­out a doubt.

In my test I found it to be a thor­oughly ca­pa­ble de­vice, able to do all the things I would nor­mally use a smart­phone for, with no re­ally no­tice­able lag. This is a fast phone.

There are some things that you don’t get, so let’s get those out of the way. I don’t be­lieve they will be a mas­sive deal-breaker for any­one.

The 3a is not water­proof, so you’ll have to be more care­ful with it.

And it lacks facial recog­ni­tion – there are no dual cam­eras on the front and no notch, so there are still bezels at the top and bot­tom of the screen. This gives it a kind of old­fash­ioned look (if smart­phones can be old fash­ioned), which is not un­ap­peal­ing. There’s also no wire­less charg­ing, so you’ll still be plug­ging it in. Again, no big deal.

An­other blast from the past will ac­tu­ally de­light some peo­ple – the 3a has one of those an­ti­quated head­phone jacks peo­ple get so worked up about.

The only other down­side of note is the fact it’s made en­tirely out of plas­tic, so it’s not quite as durable as a phone en­cased in metal.

But it cer­tainly does not feel cheap. The de­sign is com­pelling and the de­vice is very nice to hold, though it does hold on to the fin­ger­print smudges a lit­tle eas­ier than I’d like.

So, what are the up­sides? Well, aside from the price, you have a nice screen, a fine cam­era, and a ver­sion of An­droid that is to­tally unadul­ter­ated by a third-party hard­ware maker.

All the other hand­set mak­ers that use An­droid feel the need to mod­ify it for their de­vices

– adding a layer of com­plex­ity that at best slows things down and at worst can ruin the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.

Not so here – Google makes the soft­ware, Google makes the hard­ware, and those two el­e­ments work­ing as tightly to­gether as they can make for a far more co­her­ent An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence that you might find else­where. Then there’s the cam­era. Google is right on the edge with its ma­chine learn­ing and AI as­sisted pho­tog­ra­phy, and they have re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to re­move it from this cheaper de­vice – it’s all there, and it works great. Es­pe­cially the afore­men­tioned Night Sight, which seems in­ex­pli­ca­bly ca­pa­ble of tak­ing pho­tos in the dark. Ob­vi­ously the Google As­sis­tant is built-in, and yes, you can in­voke it by just squeez­ing the phone. And bat­tery life is ex­cel­lent, too. Google claims 30 hours once the phone gets used to how you use it and can max­imise per­for­mance. Easy charg­ing means you can get seven hours of use out of a 15-minute charge. So there you have it, a whole lot of phone for a whole lot less cash.

I wouldn’t hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend this at this price – it does ev­ery­thing the av­er­age smart­phone user could ever want, and it does it with more than a lit­tle style.

■ The Pixel 3a comes in two sizes – one with a 5.6in dis­play, and one with a 6in dis­play. The smaller ver­sion costs £399. The XL ver­sion costs £469. Both come with 64GB of stor­age. See store.google.com for more.

No wire­less charg­ing here but that’s not a deal-breaker for most

The Pixel 3a is made of plas­tic which is cheaper, but less durable than metal

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