Google Pixel 3a XL unboxing & hands-on: A new benchmark

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Google’s back to making affordable smartphones with the introduction of its brand-new Pixel 3a line. Starting at $399 for the smaller, more hand-friendly Pixel 3a and $479 for its larger sibling in the Pixel 3a XL, these two smartphones are already making a ruckus in the space.

We just got in the latter, and looking at the packaging, it’s tough to discern that it’s the lower-cost new Pixel 3a XL, not the Pixel 3 XL from last year. Inside, we’re treated to the usual assortment of goodies consisting of the SIM eject tool, quick start guide, wall charger, USB Type-C cable, and some Pixel decals. Google is also including a USB Type-C to USB-A adapter for transferring data from another phone. What’s worth noting is that there isn’t a headphone dongle here like there is with the regular Pixels. That’s because both Pixel 3a phones feature a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which we’re happy to see.

A familiar design language but in plastic form

The thicker bezels and lack of a notch on the Google Pixel 3a XL are not the only visual differences setting it apart from the more expensive Pixel 3 XL. Another difference with the cheaper model is that the glass-meets-metal construction has been replaced with polycarbonate, blending a matte finish on the back with a polished frame. The phone is exceptionally lightweight so it handles well. However, it doesn’t receive the same water-resistant properties as its sibling – nor does it feature wireless charging.

While we're okay with Google sticking to its signature design, albeit using lower-quality materials, we’ve seen other phones at this price point with better designs. We’re talking about premium-looking things comprised out of metal and glass. But for most people, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, just because at the end of the day, it’s going to be the performance and experience of Google's phone that’ll set it apart.

Top-notch camera

Google made it a point to emphasize the cameras used by its new Pixel 3a line. They break down to a 12.2MP f/1.8 sensor in the rear with Night Sight, along with an 8MP f/2.0 one in the front. With the Pixel 3a XL, you don't get a dual front-facing camera for wide-angle selfies as you do on the Pixel 3 series. The main 12.2MP camera, however, is nearly identical in performance, making the Pixel 3a XL one of the best cameraphones at this price point. 

Naturally, it’s the AI image processing and tweaks that will propel the Pixel 3a XL to deliver the same great results we’ve seen put out by the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. We’re hoping that all the talk is true about the performance of the camera here, but we’re really eager to put it to the test with some real-world situations. 

The talk about its price

Starting at $479, the Pixel 3a is looking like a great phone at a great price, especially when stacked up against the Pixel 3 XL costing $899. And from what we've seen so far, we'd say that the user experience these two deliver is very similar. Of course, some corners had to be cut to get the price so low. However, even though the Snapdragon 670 and accompanying 4GB of RAM may not be all that imposing, the Pixel 3a XL still manages to deliver tight and instantaneous responses. 

All of this leads us to the inevitable thing about why should people even bother getting the Pixel 3 XL (or even the Pixel 3 over the Pixel 3a). That’s something we’ll surely investigate in detail as we put them through their paces. In the meantime, we can agree that it’s difficult to take the new Pixel 3a line out of the conversation when it comes to what the best smartphones are right now. If they can knock it out of the park, defying the odds in delivering all the goods we want in a smartphone, we may have a substantial shift in the industry going forward.

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