Google has unveiled the latest entry into its popular Pixel smartphone range during the opening keynote of its annual developer conference Google IO. Dubbed Pixel 3a, the new handset sports the same industrial design as the Pixel 3, but costs £340 less.
- Google Pixel 3a review (early verdict)
- Google Pixel 3a XL review (early verdict)
- Google Pixel 3a XL release date, price, specs
Google has managed to achieve that price drop in a number of ways, including swapping the Gorilla Glass 5 rear case for plastic, ditching the IP68 water and dust resistance rating, and trading the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 for a mid-range Snapdragon 670.
The Pixel Visual Core chip, designed by the teams at Google specifically for the Pixel to boost photography performance, has also been dropped from the Pixel 3a. You also won’t find any Qi wireless charging or ultra-wide selfie cameras here.
So, what are you getting with the Google Pixel 3a?
For a start, the 3.5mm headphone port makes a very welcome return after being dropped from the Pixel smartphone line since the introduction of the Pixel 2 in October 2017. But let’s be honest, the biggest selling point for the Pixel 3a is the camera.
That makes sense: after all, it’s the single feature that has come to epitomise the Pixel smartphone brand. Each year, Google Pixel becomes the benchmark that other flagship smartphones are pitted against – and Google Pixel 3 was no different. Amongst other things, the £739 smartphone introduced Night Sight, which manages to eke-out bright, accurate colours from even the toughest low-light conditions where the human eye struggles to make out more than rough shapes.
With the Pixel 3a, Google has strived to bring the same camera performance to a more affordable price point. Launching the camera app on the Pixel 3a, it’s almost impossible to tell that you’re using a lower-cost handset to the Pixel 3: Night Sight, Portrait Mode, Panoramas, Motion Shots are all present and correct.
According to Google, it has managed to wrestle close to the same performance from the Snapdragon 670 sans Pixel Visual Core using a mixture of Artificial Intelligence and software as the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL achieves using the flagship Qualcomm silicon. That’s a bold claim for any manufacturer debuting a new mid-range handset, but given the photography chops of the Pixel 3, it seems especially bold here.
We’ll have to spend some time with the Pixel 3a to see whether there is any truth to those claims, but the sample photographs taken by Google are pretty incredible. But then again, when was the last time you saw a multi-national company touting its new smartphone range with a truckload of blurry, over-exposed family snaps?
While the Pixel 3a might look indistinguishable from the Pixel 3 at a distance – it has the same dual-tone case design and garishly coloured power button – there are some subtle differences in the design.
First off, the Pixel 3a has a slightly bigger 5.6-inch HD OLED display, compared to the 5.5-inch HD OLED on the Pixel 3. Google stayed tight-lipped about exactly why it chose to increase the screen size by such a negligible amount.
As with the other smartphones in the Pixel range, Google guarantees you at least three years of operating system and security updates – a little more of a rarity in Android handsets at this price range.
You’ll also enjoy much faster access to new Android OS features, since they’re all rolled-out directly from Google itself. Pixel 3a comes with the same unlimited photo and video storage in Google Photos, too. So you can happily snap away on your shiny new Pixel camera without worrying about getting a pop-up asking you to cough-up for more cloud storage, or start deleting treasured memories.
The squeezable sides, officially branded as “Active Edge”, that quickly summon Google Assistant by pressing the frame of the phone makes the transition from the Pixel 3 to the Pixel 3a, too.
As does Now Playing – an always-on Shazam-like feature that displays the name and artist of any track the Pixel can detect playing on the always-on display, so you don’t have to seek-out a specific app and wave your device in the air like you’re struggling to find signal. In the box, you'll find an 18-watt charger that provides seven hours of battery life on a 15-minute charge and up to 30 hours on a full charge, Google says.
Google Pixel 3a price, release date
Google Pixel 3a is available to order online now, and will start to appear on high street shelves from tomorrow, May 8, 2019.
Pixel 3a starts from £399 for 64GB of storage, while a beefier 128GB configuration is available, too. Google Pixel 3a ships in three colours – Just Black, Clearly White, and Purple-ish, with the latter exclusive to the range.