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Google’s Pixel 3a is Boringly Good, Which is Fine

Pixel 3 vs Pixel 3a

Tim said that I need to bring some fire takes on the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, since I haven’t really mentioned the phone on the site after unboxing it. Ummm, I don’t have any. This phone is boring, but that’s probably good or fine. There, that’s my take.

OK, let me try to break that down some.

At $400 and all sorts of plastic, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are not here to pull you away from the Pixel 3 or Galaxy S10 or soon-to-be-released OnePlus 7 Pro. They just aren’t. Those phones are better on multiple levels, which is why they cost hundreds of dollars more. In other words, if your budget is $900, you’ll get a better overall experience with those phones. You will.

With that said, at $400, the Pixel 3a is kind of nice! I don’t have final thoughts to share right now because I’m only two days into reviewing the 3a, but there are some specific things to point out that might grab your attention.

Pixel 3 vs Pixel 3a

First off, this phone is hella-plastic. It feels like a plastic phone from 4 years ago that won’t even attempt to trick you into believing it is a premium phone.┬áThe phone is so boring. It looks and feels exactly like you would imagine a cheap Pixel 3 looking and feeling. When you hold a Galaxy S10 or newer Huawei phone or iPhone, they are interesting because you can appreciate the design and manufacturing miracles these companies put together into a working piece of technological art. The Pixel 3a offers none of that. It’s unapologetically plastic.

Now, I’m cool with the plastic because unlike glass, this shit doesn’t just break when something harder than a feather brushes past it. I’m actually enjoying it in pocket, at the bar, or with my kid around, since I don’t feel the need to case-it-up or wonder which semi-hard surface might shatter it into 8,000 pieces. Plastic isn’t always bad, as long you don’t need your phone to feel like jewelry.

The software experience is also worth mentioning here. Google is giving you the Pixel 3 experience at $400 without any real omissions from what I can tell. You get squeezy sides for Assistant, Now Playing, an always-on display, Digital Wellbeing, all the gestures from the Pixel 3, etc. It really is all there, including the (eventual) software updates.

The hardware package is pretty much there too. Outside of the Snapdragon 670 processor downgrade from the regular Pixel 3’s Snapdragon 845, you get 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, stereo speakers, a freakin’ headphone jack, fingerprint reader, fast charging, and a decent-sized battery.

The only thing to worry about is performance with that Snapdragon 670. Will you notice hiccups and stutters and slow processing as you use this phone? I haven’t noticed anything significant, only what appears to be slower HDR and portrait processing.

Pixel 3 vs Pixel 3a

I’ve had people ask about the display quality, because somewhere deep in the internet they heard that the display is trash. I’ll say this – these are 1080p OLED displays in the 3a line and they look fine to me. My 3a doesn’t get quite as bright as my Pixel 3, the colors aren’t as vibrant, and the viewing angles are slightly worse, but I’m not sure I’d call it awful. It’s also a 1080p OLED in a $400 phone – I don’t expect it to be as good as the display in a phone that costs $800 or $900 or $1,000. If someone you know expected it to be, they are a moron.

Alright, so what else…oh yeah, the camera!

It’s the same 12.2MP f/1.8 camera that you’ll find in the Pixel 3, the same camera that a good bunch of us believe to be the best mobile camera around. It has Night Sight and HDR+ and portrait mode and all that jazz. It’s mostly quick to launch and shoot, plus the entire experience will remind you of the one found in the top tier Pixel 3.

Does it take great photos? They look good to me. But here, you tell me what you think of some photos taken with the Pixel 3a sitting next to the same shots taken with the Pixel 3.

Pixel 3a vs. Pixel 3

The only big difference that I’m sure you noticed is the crop or zoom on the portrait shot. I don’t know why, but the Pixel 3a zooms when portrait mode is activated, while the Pixel 3 does not. Maybe that’s because of processing or that Google didn’t think the Snapdragon 670 could handle it, but it happens. While not some dealbreaker tweak, it does make framing up a portrait shot tougher, since you need the space to adjust for that zoom.

So back to my opening point – the Pixel 3a is totally solid for $400. Nothing about it is blowing my mind and nothing is pissing me off either. It’s a $400 phone that should be judged as a $400 phone. What it does for $400 is quite good, particularly in the camera department. If you don’t have more than $400 to spend on a phone, yeah brother, go for it.

Sorry that I’m not more excited. Also, sometimes boring is good and fine. Not everything needs to be fire.

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