Google Pixel 3a XL review: A mid-range phone worth considering

This is a good option for about half the money of top-of-the-range flagships

The Google Pixel 3a XL. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Product name: Google Pixel 3a XL

Price: €479.0

Where to buy: store.google.com

Website: google.com

Thu, May 16, 2019, 07:50

   

From €479 sim-free
Smartphones are getting pricier. At one point, paying €800 for a phone was considered to be on the expensive side. When things crept up towards €1,000, we thought that was pushing it. This year’s crop of flagship smartphones are somewhere north of €1,200, and if foldable phones take off, you can double that price tag.

What do you really get for your money, though? Usually it’s a fantastic camera with a dual or triple lens, artificial intelligence helping you with everything from preserving your battery life to taking great photographs, and a top-of-the-range chip to process everything as quickly as possible.

But what if you’re happy with a great camera, a little bit less AI and a chip that’s fast but not necessarily the fastest on the market? The incredibly expensive phone will then be overkill, and overpriced for your needs.

You have options, however. In the past few years there has been a growing number of manufacturers offering smartphones that don’t cost most of a mortgage payment to buy but at the same time don’t scrimp on features. It has been driven in part by the entrance of Chinese companies to the smartphone market – OnePlus and the hype surrounding its launches, the steady march of Huawei into Europe and Motorola’s G series phones – that has helped raise the bar for the more affordable smartphone market.

And it’s into this hotly contested mid-range market that Google unveiled its Pixel 3a XL – a more affordable version of last year’s Pixel 3XL – which has plenty going for it.

It has a similar look to the 3 XL, a 6in OLED display, and a camera that while not as good as the 3 XL, still puts in a good performance.

In fact, when you take into account the price tag, you might find any sacrifices are worth it.

Because the Pixel 3a does a lot of things very well, and some things moderately well.

Take the camera set-up. The Pixel 3a XL doesn’t have the same dual front camera that the Pixel 3 XL has, but you might not miss it. It’s mostly for taking wide-angle selfies, which has never been top of my list of must-haves. Instead, the 3a XL stuck with the useful features: for example, Night Sight, the Pixel’s low-light mode, which produces some great results even when the lighting is less than optimal; and portrait mode, which lets you play with the depth of field. The 12.1 megapixel resolution on the rear camera is more than good enough, with vivid colours. Fast-moving subjects did cause a bit of blur, but that’s something that even the more expensive phones can occasionally struggle with.

Google has opted not to make the 3a XL’s display bezel-less. That also means there’s no notch to rage over, though, if that kind of thing bothers you. Dual stereo speakers on the bottom of the device take care of audio, along with the USB C audio port. Once more, you may be forced to choose between charging your phone and listening to your music on wired headphones, because there’s no wireless charging either. That is not altogether surprising, given the price, but it’s a shame.

Another point of issue with smartphones is often the battery. The 3a XL has a 3700 mAh battery. According to Google, that’s enough to get you through the day and then some, but the real test of that adaptive battery won’t come until you are six months in and overloading the phone with app after app.

Speaking of which, the 3a XL doesn’t give you the option of expanding your storage, so you are stuck with the 64GB you get when you buy it.

But one thing it does give you is the headphone jack. 

The good
For its price, the Pixel 3a XL really delivers. The camera stands up to scrutiny, the phone itself is speedy, and it’s all wrapped up in a decent-looking package. Plus you have the option to use biometrics, with a fingerprint reader included on the rear.

The not so good
No option for adding an external memory card puts the Pixel 3aXL at a disadvantage to other phones in this category. On the other hand, you have Google Photos to back up your images, so you can always clear some space if needed.

The rest
The Pixel 3a XL is available exclusively to Vodafone in Ireland, offering the phone in black and white. If you want it sim-free or in the “purple-ish” colour, you’ll have to get it from the Google Store.

The verdict
A mid-price smartphone that’s a worthy contender among the current crop.
★★★★☆