Google Pixel 3a XL review: All Pixel without the extras

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Google Pixel 3a XL Android smartphone

The Pixel 3a XL is a fantastic choice for most users — especially since it comes with the same great camera as its more expensive counterparts.

9.6/10 rating

Smartphone prices these days are simply insane if you purchase the latest flagship outright. Sure, you can get one for free on a two-year contract with most telcos but then you’re tied into a contract. There are plenty of budget and mid-range smartphone options, but you’re usually sacrificing quite a few things for the sake of affordability.

Google’s Nexus phones used to be that sweet spot between quality, performance, and affordability. Sadly, when the Pixel smartphone lineup came along, the affordability feature went out the window. While Pixels have been great smartphones (the Google Pixel 3 earned an Editor’s Choice Award here at Techaeris), there hasn’t been an affordable Pixel option until now. Our Google Pixel 3a XL review takes a look at the mid-range Pixel smartphone that offers most Pixel features at a much more affordable cost. Read on to see how it compares to its more expensive siblings.

Specifications

The Google Pixel 3a XL has the following features and specifications:

  • Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 670, 2.0 GHz + 1.7 GHz, 64-bit Octa-Core, Adreno 615, Titan M security module
  • Display: Fullscreen 6.0” display, FHD+ (21260 x 1080) gOLED at 402 ppi, 18:9, Dragon Trail Glass, Always-on display, Now Playing, 100,000:1 super contrast ratio, Full 24-bit depth or 16 million colours, True black level
  • Memory: 4 GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • Storage: 64 GB storage
  • Rear camera
    • 12.2 MP dual-pixel
    • 1.4 μm pixel width
    • Autofocus + dual pixel phase detection
    • Optical + electronic image stabilisation
    • Spectral + flicker sensor
    • f/1.8 aperture
    • Field of view: 76°
  • Rear Camera Video
    • 1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
    • 720p @ 30fps, 60fps, 240fps
    • 4K @ 30fps
  • Dual front cameras
    • 8 MP camera
    • 1.12 μm pixel width
    • f/2.0 aperture
    • Fixed focus
    • Field of view: 84°
  • Front Camera Video
    • 1080p @ 30fps
    • 720p @ 30fps
    • 480p @ 30fps
  • Media & Audio: Stereo speakers, 2 mics, noise suppression
  • Battery: 23700 mAH battery, USB-C 18W adaptor with USB-PD 2.0, 18 W fast charging
  • Wireless & Location: Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2 x 2 MIMO, Bluetooth® 5.0 + LE, NFC, Google Cast, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
  • Sensors: Active Edge™, Back-mounted Pixel Imprint™ fingerprint sensor for fast unlocking, Proximity/Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer/Gyrometer, Magnetometer, Barometer, Android Sensor Hub, Haptics
  • Ports: USB-C USB 2.0, 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Materials: Polycarbonate body, Dragon Trail glass
  • Operating System: Android Pie (9.0) with Google Assistant
  • ColorsClearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish
  • Dimensions: 160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm (6.3 x 3.0 x 0.3 in)
  • Weight: 167 g

To make things a bit easier, here are the key differences between the Pixel 3 XL and the Pixel 3a XL (note: Pixel 3 XL spec first):

  • Processor: Snapdragon 845 vs Snapdragon 670
  • Display: 6.3″ QHD+ Super AMOLED QHD+ screen at 523ppi vs 6.0 FHD+ gOLED at 402 ppi
  • Display glass: Corning Gorilla Glass 5 vs Dragon Trail Glass
  • Storage: up to 128 GB vs 64 GB
  • Front Camera: Dual front camera (wide-angle/normal) vs single front camera
  • Audio: Dual front-firing speakers vs dual stereo speakers
  • Battery: 3430mAh vs 3700mAh
  • Materials: Aluminum frame with glass vs polycarbonate
  • Price: US$1129+ vs US$649

As for the rest, the Pixel 3a/3a XL does not have the following, which you’ll find in the Pixel 3 series:

  • Pixel Visual Core™
  • HDR support (UHDA certification)
  • 128 GB storage option
  • Front wide-angle/telephoto camera
  • Wireless charging
  • IP68 dust and water protection

However, the Pixel 3a XL does have a 3.5mm audio jack which is not found on the Pixel 3 series.

What’s in the box

  • Pixel 3a XL
  • 18W USB-C™ power adapter
  • 1M USB-C to USB-C cable (USB 2.0)
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Quick Switch Adapter
  • SIM tool
What's included with the Google Pixel 3a XL Android smartphone
What’s included with the Google Pixel 3a XL Android smartphone.

Design

At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Google’s Pixel 3a XL and it’s more expensive sibling, the Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel 3a XL has rounded corners and back edges. Our review unit came in the Clearly White colour scheme and the power button on the right edge is a fluorescent orange colour. Just beneath this is the volume rocker.

The back of the Pixel 3a XL looks very similar to the Pixel 3, even though it is constructed of plastic instead of the premium materials used in the more expensive version. The top fifth of the back is glossy and houses the camera and flash towards the left (when looking at the back). Just below the glossy region is the rear fingerprint scanner. Finally, the Google G icon is printed in grey near the bottom of the phone.

Back view of the Google Pixel 3a XL
Back view of the Google Pixel 3a XL.

The bottom edge of the phone is where you’ll find the USB Type-C charging port alongside two slots — one for the bottom-firing speaker, the other for (presumabely) the microphone. The top of the phone is where you’ll notice the first physical difference between the 3a and 3-series devices: there’s a 3.5mm audio jack on the top left corner of the 3a.

The front of the phone is, of course, where you’ll find the display. Unlike the Pixel 3/3 XL, the Pixel 3a/3a XL only has one front-facing camera. Beside this, centered at the top, is the earpiece/top speaker.

Even though it is constructed using plastic, the device still feels nice in hand and doesn’t feel cheap at all. More importantly, it looks almost identical to the more expensive Pixel 3 devices.

Display

The biggest thing you’ll notice about the display on the Pixel 3a XL when compared to the Pixel 3 XL is the lack of a notch. Instead, the 3a XL has fairly narrow side bezels with larger top and bottom bezels. The actual display area also features smaller rounded corners for a more fluid look.

While the Pixel 3 phones sport a Super AMOLED display, the Pixel 3a series utilize gOLED technology instead. Even so, when compared to the Pixel 3, I found the colours to be fairly similar when set to the same setting. On that note, you can set the display colours to Natural, Boosted, or Adaptive. You can also set the font and display size to be larger or smaller depending on your preference.

The OLED display on the Google Pixel 3a XL is still crisp and bright
The OLED display on the Google Pixel 3a XL is still crisp and bright.

In addition, the 3a has a lower resolution and while it’s nice to have a higher resolution screen on any device, given the screen size it’s more than adequate for user’s needs.

Other display features, which are pretty standard by now, are Adaptive Brightness and Night Light, which reduces blue light on a set schedule. In the case of the Pixel 3a XL, both worked as one would expect and I had no issues with either.

Software

As with any Google phone, you’re getting the latest version of Android, in this case, Android 9 Pie. There’s no extra launcher on top other so you’re getting stock Android here with all the Google extras including Google Assistant. Security updates are prompt and arrive within the first couple days of the month. In addition, when you purchase a Pixel phone, you’re guaranteed three years of Android security updates so you know you’ll be protected and current for a couple of years anyways.

If you wish, you can even opt in to the Android 10 beta on the 3a devices, although we didn’t for the purposes of our review.

Performance

Even though the Pixel 3a XL is powered by the mid-range Snapdragon 670, I honestly had no issues with performance on the device at all. In fact, when running alongside the Pixel 3, in some cases apps seemed to load slightly faster. Those that didn’t, loaded up a fraction of a second or a second later at most. Once loaded, apps and games ran smooth and fine. I was actually impressed that the device is able to run the new Call of Duty: Mobile on high settings without any hiccups or issues.

To be honest, while it’s great having an Android device with the latest Snapdragon 8xx series processor, for what most people use their smartphones these days, it really is overkill.

At any rate, as far as performance is concerned, I didn’t encounter any issues with it on the Pixel 3a XL during day to day use in both apps and gaming.

Sound Quality

Like the Pixel 3 series, the Pixel 3a XL features two stereo speakers, albeit one bottom-firing as opposed to both being front-firing speakers. While the audio when using the speakers is crisp and can get loud, as with most smartphones, there’s not much bass there. In addition, because one is bottom-firing, it is easy to cover it with your hand when holding the phone in landscape mode to watch a video, depending on how you hold your phone.

Regardless, the stereo speakers on the device are adequate enough for listening to music for a short time or watching a quick video, although, like almost every smartphone, you’ll want to plug in with a wired or wireless headset for better audio enjoyment.

Camera

Since I reviewed the Pixel 3, I’ve been using it for most of my daily photography, including review photos. Yes, the photos of the Pixel 3a XL in this review, as well as most other recent reviews I’ve posted, were taken with the Pixel 3. But wait, this is a Pixel 3a XL review, right? The thing is, the Pixel 3a devices come with the same rear-facing camera as the more expensive Pixel 3 smartphones — and that’s great for consumers. Let’s face it, most users use their smartphones for social media, checking email, texting, phone calls, and (hand-in-hand with social media), photography.

The rear-facing camera and fingerprint scanner on the Google  Pixel 3a XL
The Google Pixel 3a XL has the same great rear camera as the more expensive Pixel 3 series smartphones.

As such, I’m just going to re-iterate some of what I said about the camera in the Pixel 3 here:

The Pixel 3 HDR+ mode, which is enabled by default, does a great job of merging various exposures with no noticeable lag for great, colour balanced photos.

Top Shot is another feature which you’ll definitely want to enable as it allows the camera to take a series of shots and based on blur, gaze, and focus, will recommend the best shot from a series of shots taken at any particular time. Like the default HDR+ mode, Top Shot appears to only take a single photo and recommends the best shot. You can also select a different frame to save as the best shot and delete the other frames if you wish.

The camera also comes with other features like Playground AR mode, RAW (DNG) mode, Google Lens, Motion Auto Focus, and Super Res Zoom. Motion Auto Focus is a fantastic feature as you can focus on, for example, someone’s head and the camera will track it as they move and keep your focus spot while you take the image. It also works for stationary objects as well to alleviate the inevitable human hand motion while taking images. Super Res Zoom adds extra detail when using the zoom function and it works quite well.

Rest assured, the Pixel 3a XL camera is identical, as can be seen by my favourite shot taken with it. Of note, this shot was taken through a vehicle window while travelling down the freeway at 100km/h. This was also a one-off, not a burst mode shot, and I have to admit, I am seriously impressed with it.

Photo taken with Google Pixel 3a XL, unedited except resizing
Photo taken with Google Pixel 3a XL, unedited except resizing.
100% crop of unedited photo taken with Google Pixel 3a XL
100% crop of unedited photo taken with Google Pixel 3a XL.

One of the best features is still Night Sight. Simply put, Night Sight really is a game changer when it comes to low light mobile photography. All those ads and commercials featuring the low light capabilities of the Pixel 3/3a series without the use of a flash are pretty bang on with what you can do with it.

As mentioned, the Pixel 3a series only has one front-facing camera so the one feature you are missing here is the Groupe Selfies wider angle camera. Personally, I could take or leave that feature, but it should be noted if you’re one for taking plenty of selfies with larger groups. That being said, the front-facing camera is a little wider than the Pixel 3 standard front-facing camera, just not as wide as the wider angle feature.

As far as cameras in mid-range devices, I don’t think you’re going to beat the one in the Pixel 3a/3a XL, giving it an obvious advantage over similarly priced phones. Even though we rated the Pixel 3 camera 10/10 and this one 9.5/10 given its the same camera, the fact that its front-facing camera is missing the wide-angle feature weighs into the equation.

Reception/Call Quality

Reception and call quality were both fine given the area’s LTE networks. I never had issues with poor reception and when on a call, I could not only hear the other party fine but they didn’t ask me to speak up or repeat myself.

Battery Life

With a slightly larger battery and a lower-tier processor, the Pixel 3a XL easily gets a couple of days of battery with normal usage. My normal usage includes checking emails, plenty of texting/messaging, web browsing, the odd YouTube video, and an hour or two of mobile gaming a day. Even on days with heavier usage, I was able to get 5 or 6 hours of screen on time and still have 40% or more battery life depending on what I was doing.

With the included 18W adapter, you can get an extra 7 hours of battery life on a quick 15-minute charge. So, if you’re a heavy user, you can go longer with just a short charge, minimizing down time.

Price/Value

Here’s the best part. The Google Pixel 3a XL is only US$479, compared to $899+ for the Pixel 3 XL. Even better, if you prefer the smaller size, you can snag the Google Pixel 3a for only $399 instead of the $799+ price tag of the Pixel 3.

Any way you break it down, even with the cheaper materials used in the construction, lower screen resolution, lack of wireless charging, and lack of water resistance, the Pixel 3a XL and Pixel 3a offer fantastic value for the price. Especially considering they both come with the same rear camera as the more expensive Pixel 3s.

Wrap-up

While it’s nice to have the latest flagship device, it isn’t necessarily necessary. For what most people use a smartphone for, the Pixel 3a XL is a fantastic choice — especially considering it comes with the same great camera as its more expensive counterparts. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you should definitely check out the Pixel 3a XL or the slightly smaller Pixel 3a and save yourself more than a few dollars. There’s no doubt it is deserving of a Top Pick of 2019 Award here at Techaeris.

*We were sent a sample of the Google Pixel 3a XL for the purposes of this review. In some of our articles and especially in our reviews, you will find Amazon or other affiliate links. Running a website does take money, along with time. Any purchases you make through these links often result in a small amount being earned for the site and/or our writers.

Google Pixel 3a XL

US$479
9.6

Design

9.5/10

Display

9.5/10

Software

10.0/10

Performance

9.5/10

Sound Quality

8.5/10

Camera

9.5/10

Reception/Call Quality

10.0/10

Battery Life

10.0/10

Price/Value

10.0/10

Nailed it

  • Solid build quality
  • Decent performance
  • Fantastic camera
  • Great battery life
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • Stock Android
  • Great price point

Needs work

  • No wireless charging
  • No water-resistance
  • One speaker is down-firing, easy to cover
  • No microSD card slot
  • Only comes with 64GB storage option

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