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Why Google’s Pixel 3a is its best phone, yet a paradox

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The new Pixel 3a is a paradox and I can say that with some sense of confidence as I’ve been using it for a couple of days. On one hand, it is inferior to the Pixel 3 in a couple of ways, but then it brings all the best aspects of the senior Pixel smartphone at a more affordable price while also being a more refined & polished phone which the previous two Pixel smartphones weren’t. This makes it Google’s best smartphone yet. But again, its specs are crippled compared to inbound competition which gives it a marketing handicap but it throws a spanner into the equation by incorporating the same award winning camera capabilities of the Pixel 3. In other words, at its price there is no phone that takes better pictures and has cleaner software. Let’s explain why.

What makes it Google’s best phone yet

  • As one may imagine, this phone runs stock Android with updates coming directly from Google, which means it is fast, it’s secure (it even gets Google’s Titan M security chip) and it will get the latest innovations from Google faster than any other phone.
  • The Pixel 3a XL at 6-inches has a large OLED screen which is bright and vivid. Its 1080p resolution is good enough for most people if not great. While doing so, it doesn’t come with a grotesque looking bathtub notch that became the design highlight of the Pixel 3. This is a better looking phone.
  • It is also a lighter phone than the Pixel 3, despite it having almost an identical feel, a larger battery and a 3.5mm jack. This makes it a more portable phone to carry about, while also being more practical. Amazingly, Google manages to retain the same look and feel of the more expensive Pixel 3 despite using plastic instead of glass and aluminum.
  • It has the same Pixel 3 camera system. It performs more or less then same, even though it lacks the Pixel Visual Core chip — which means it has basically the best low light camera performance for a sub Rs 50,000 smartphone. Hell, it’s a better camera than the Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone XS. And you get all the camera features like Super Zoom, Night Sight, Time Lapse etc, so you’re getting the real deal here.
  • It has incredible battery life thanks to its 3,700mAh battery. I have been clocking around 40 hours on a single charge with medium to heavy usage. Outside of Xiaomi’s Redmi Note phones and the Huawei’s P30 Pro, this is incredible performance. It also has fast charging to boot. So overall, a giant leap in battery life over the Pixel 3.
  • Day to day performance for normal tasks like web browsing, communication, multimedia is on par with the Pixel 3 which is great. It is one of the smoothest phones around irrespective of the specs. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 670 is a gem balancing performance and power consumption to the t.
  • This phone also has niceties that you’ll only associate with premium phones. For instance, it has one of the nicest vibration motors that I’ve ever used on a smartphone which makes the entire experience supremely pleasant. In addition, even for video, the quality of the audio is stellar something which most phones at its price can’t come close to.

What makes it a paradox

  • At a starting price of Rs 39,999 and 44,999 for the the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL — it competes with phones like the OnePlus 6T and in-bound OnePlus 7 Pro which have more memory, RAM, faster processors, and snazzier designs. For a market like India, it’s still kind of overpriced, especially when phones like the OnePlus 7 and Nokia 9 are inbound.
  • The build quality which wasn’t Google’s strongest suit is even weaker on the Pixel 3a. This time around, the frame is made out of polycarbonate which is what makes it lighter. It even forgoes IP67 water resistance which is perhaps the biggest bummer.
  • Stock Android isn’t always a blessing. The navigation system on Google’s take of Android Pie isn’t great at all. With stock Android you’ll be stuck with Google’s gesture system, though Android Q could improve things. People who have used the older Android buttons or are accustomed to iPhone style gestures will feel uncomfortable at the beginning. Adapting over time isn’t also straight forward.
  • Google says this is the same Pixel camera, however, it lacks the visual core and it has a weaker ISP as the Snapdragon 845 on the Pixel 3 has a superior one to Snapdragon 670 on the Pixel 3a. This means, the camera is a wee bit slower which isn’t the best news as the Pixel cameras weren’t the fastest around from the get go. This also means, third party apps may not be able to leverage Google’s software processing something which Pixel 3 users can experience.
  • The slower processor also means that the Pixel 3a struggles to process RAW photos in Snapseed and for gaming it’s a weaker phone graphically especially for games like PUBG and Fortnight. The focus isn’t on brute force performance which will be a bummer for power users who stress their phones to the hilt.
  • One of the greatest things about the Pixel 3 was its front facing wide-angle camera — it’s now gone on the Pixel 3a. That’s disappointing though it remains a great selfie shooter. However, it’s not as dynamic as its more expensive sibling.

But the great news is that this is the Pixel phone for the masses. If one wants a great phone from a great brand which takes great photos while not crossing the Rs 50,000 threshold, then this is a great option. After all, that’s the reason hordes of people still buy older iPhones and OnePlus phones. They perhaps have a better option now with the Pixel 3a, particularly, if the camera is the overwriting factor. More so, its overall user experience is that of a premium phone typified by the software, the vibration motor, the audio recording, the quality of accessories bundled and of course, the magic of Google’s camera tech.

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