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