On Halloween 2013, Google launched an iconic phone which was made by LG electronics. It was called the Nexus 5. Till today, Android enthusiasts swear by the Nexus 5. These phones were quintessential value for money products featuring cutting edge features by at an affordable price. But when Google killed the Nexus line of phones and launched its own Pixel phones, it lost the value for money quotient. Admittedly, the Pixel line wasn’t plagued by the type of compromises the Nexus line had — the average cameras, poor battery life and washed out screens. The Pixel line has been typified by industry standard cameras, great performance, and cutting edge AI functions. With the launch of the Pixel 3a Google has gone back to the drawing board by unveiling a phone that’s starting at Rs 39,999 which is significantly cheaper than the main Pixel 3. But it does so by using more mid-range components — like a mid tier Snapdragon processor, a plastic body, no water resistance etc. Those who view this as the Nexusisation of the Pixel line are wrong. This new Pixel 3a is actually the anti Nexus 5 — in more ways than one Google has made the correct trade offs to make this a great phone to use for the lowest common denominator.
- The Nexus 5 had the cutting edge Snapdragon 800 processor and its performance was superb for a long time. But also was one of the major components in the phone. Google this time around has swapped out a flagship processor for mid tier Snapdragon 670 chip which again is very capable but it isn’t focused on brute force performance. If you go back to 2013, in the first half of the year HTC (which ironically sold its smartphone engineering team to Google) launched the HTC One which was based on a Snapdragon 600 processor. Google has pretty much done the same thing. The Snapdragon 670 is Qualcomm’s best processor in the 600 line — it straddles the line between a Snapdragon 845 and Snapdragon 710 using.a similar core architecture with custom Kryo cores and a pretty powerful Adreno 616 GPU. It is also built on a 10nm manufacturing process. When coupled with stock Android this phone should remain chipper for minimum two years.
- The use of the Snapdragon 670 in concert with a 3,700mAh battery means that the longevity of this phone is badass. The Nexus 5 was notorious for poor battery life. Hell, Google’s battery woes have remained constant even till last year when they launched the Pixel 3. This Pixel 3a is an absolute road runner. This phone lasts more than 35 hours on a single charge with more than 7 hours of screen on time. And it can handle most tasks thrown at it. This again ratifies the right trade off being made — Google over indexed on battery life over performance.
- The Nexus 5 was the first time Google started using its HDR technology on smartphone cameras. But the Nexus 5 was notorious for having a pretty average low light camera. It was decent in daylight though. This problem would rear its ugly head even more when it came down to video — with shaky, noisy video coupled with horrid audio. The Pixel 3a basically transplants the killer Google Pixel 3 camera in a cheaper phone. Pictures looks stupendous, and the video is also not too bad even in noisy situations. The new timelapse mode is superb with Google’s software based stabilisation working its magic in the background. There is no smartphone currently at its price that can compete with the Pixel 3a camera and that’s saying a lot.
- The display was a problem with the Nexus 5. It was even a problem with the Pixel 2. On the Pixel 3 XL, the notch then became a problem because of its grotesque bathtub shape. This phone doesn’t have any of these problems. It is a no-nonsense 6-inch OLED screen which has great colours, decent brightness levels and superb viewing angles. Again, Google has made the right compromise. Sure, they are using DragonTrail as a cover-glass instead of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, but at least you’re getting a very good screen even though it may be more susceptible to damage. You can always slap tempered glass on it.
- The Nexus 5 felt like a cheap phone. It always did with its matte plastic back. For Pixel users, the Pixel 3a actually retains the design traits of the Pixel 3 — the combination of the glass and matte finish on the back. What’s clever for the sake of cost cutting here is that there isn’t any metal and glass on the back, instead it’s all plastic. Google has done a clever spoof job. This also makes the phone more durable as poly-carbonate doesn’t get damaged as fast as glass and metal and it makes the phone lighter.
At the end of it, a phone is about compromises and I believe Google’s team in Taiwan has made the right ones. Ironically this is the same HTC team that Google acquired which was behind the creation of the first Nexus One device that yielded Google phones Blade Runner like cult status.