What could be Apple and Samsung’s answer to the Pixel 3a?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
What could be Apple and Samsung’s answer to the Pixel 3a?
Google’s long-anticipated and much-leaked Pixel 3a is finally here with a unique twist on mid-range phones. While smartphones in the $400-500 price range (usually coming from Chinese manufacturers) brag with hardware specs and multiple cameras, Google went the opposite way. It offers humble hardware paired with the Android experience you get from its more expensive Pixel phones, including arguably the best camera software on any smartphone.

The 3a not only creates a new dynamic within the mid-range sector but also takes a jab at flagships as well. Some might find that hard to believe considering the chip that’s powering the new Pixel is quite far below the mighty Snapdragon 855 in terms of performance. However, the average user cares little about chips, cores and gigahertz. What they do care about is being able to take great-looking pictures. And the Pixel 3a does just that. With pictures basically identical to those of the regular Pixel phones, the 3a offers value that could have otherwise been achieved only by resorting to the second-hand market or by stumbling upon an amazing deal.

But we’re not here to talk about the qualities of the Pixel 3a. We’re here to look at two of Google’s biggest competitors on the US market, Apple and Samsung, and see if they’ll have an answer for this new type of smartphone that Google came up with. The two companies are in very different positions.

Apple’s hands are tied by its own philosophy

We all know Apple prides itself in being a premium brand. Some might even call it a luxury one. Either way, it doesn’t want to be associated with something “cheap” in any way, shape or form. So while a brand new iPhone with a $500 price tag (there has to still be an Apple premium) will sell like hot cakes, it’s unrealistic to think that Apple will release a device in this segment. Last year Apple did introduce a “budget” iPhone in the form of the XR, but with its starting price of $750, it’s almost two times more expensive than the Pixel 3a, which puts it in a whole other market segment. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing closer that Apple can offer!

As many of you probably know, Apple sells older iPhone models at reduced prices to fill lower segments of the price spectrum. Right now, the iPhone closest to the Pixel 3a price-wise is the iPhone 7, which goes for $449 at apple.com ($50 more than the Pixel).

When it comes to raw performance, the A10 Fusion chip on the iPhone 7 beats the Snapdragon 670 that powers Google’s new phone. But as we already said, that’s not what the Pixel is all about. What matters more is the photo quality. Now, we’re not going to delve too deep since that’s not a comprehensive camera comparison, but we did take a few shots with both phones to give you an idea of what each is capable of.

While the pictures of the butterfly are comparable in quality, in the other two scenes the Pixel 3A noticeably outperforms the iPhone 7. The photos from Google’s midranger contain a lot more details and the colors are nice and vivid. At night, the situation would be even worse for the iPhone 7. Even the latest Apple smartphones can’t stand toe-to-toe with Google’s Night Sight, which is on the 3a as well.

So, turns out, that’s not exactly the answer either. It seems Google went to a place where Apple can’t reach without the risk of cannibalizing the sales of its own flagship phones. Perhaps Apple isn’t interested in going there in the first place. After all, there’s nothing luxurious about a $400 phone, so why would its customers even want it, right? And while Apple is trying to preserve the elite status of its iPhone brand, over at Samsung, things couldn’t be more different.

Samsung has a lot to offer, at least in theory

This year Samsung decided to give its best on all fronts of the smartphone market. Apart from the four phones of the S line (the S10 5G has just arrived), the company has released nine new models part of the Galaxy A series, covering pretty much the entire spectrum apart from the ultra-budget segment, where its M series represents the brand.

If you live in the States and do not keep a close eye on Samsung’s releases, you might be surprised to learn that Samsung has so many cheaper phones out. That’s because few of them ever reach the US market and very few of them are offered by carriers. Luckily, some major retailers sell the Galaxy A50 (rumor has it Verizon will as well soon), which specs-wise is very similar to the Pixel 3a.
The A50 costs around $300 for the base version, which has the same amount of RAM and storage as the Pixel 3a. Despite the lower price, however, the A50 comes with a much larger screen, even compared to the Pixel 3a XL (also OLED), and has a wide-angle camera on the back as well, while the main one is 25MP compared to the Pixel’s 12MP.

As we already said, numbers on a spreadsheet are not what we’re here for. We’re looking for superior camera quality. Well, in short, the Galaxy A50 doesn’t have it. You can check the camera comparison tool below to see for yourself, but as we covered in our review of the Galaxy A50, the camera is pretty average.

Perhaps then we should look for an answer further up Samsung’s wide range of devices. Your best bet at finding a suitable competitor for the Pixel 3a camera-wise is probably the Galaxy S10e. While its original price is the same as the iPhone XR, Samsung phones tend to get bigger discounts as time goes by, and you can already get it for less than $600. That’s not exactly as cheap as the Pixel, but you’re also getting top-tier hardware with the S10e. 

Now, it’s worth noting that all those models came out before the Pixel 3a. Samsung has the resources to make yet another phone, this time specifically made to go up against Google’s latest offering. But what becomes apparent by looking at the closest alternatives is how ahead Google is when it comes to camera software. Even with middle-of-the-pack hardware and without its custom ISP, it can deliver amazing results by harnessing the CPU’s processing power and running its complex algorithms on it instead. Which means the answer shouldn’t come from the manufacturing plants or parts suppliers but instead from the programmers and developers working at Apple and Samsung. However, there’s another question to be asked:

Is having an answer to the Pixel 3a in the best interest of Google’s competitors?

In the last few years, as hardware has been progressing, the difference in user experience between mid-range phones and flagships has been quickly diminishing. Today, cameras and a few “premium” features are the main separators between the top tier and the rest. And as we’ve already established, the camera is the main thing an average consumer cares about now that most other aspects of smartphones are close enough.

To further worsen the situation (from the manufacturers’ point of view), smartphone shipments have been going down globally for well over a year now. So releasing a cheap product that delivers mostly the same experience as your expensive alternative equals shooting yourself in the foot.

Does that mean Google made a mistake by releasing the Pixel 3a? Well, not really. One of my colleagues argued some time ago that Google isn’t really a hardware company, and I think he has a point. Albeit we compare it to Samsung and Apple, both of which are among the top 3 biggest manufacturers, Google is so far behind in sales that it doesn’t even make most lists. So even if the Pixel 3a is Google’s best-selling phone, it will hardly make a dent into its competitors’ numbers.
Google’s main goal is to put its latest software developments in the most hands possible while still have it associated with Google and not just license it to another manufacturer only to have it reskinned or otherwise altered.

So, in a way, everyone wins. Users get a good camera on a budget phone, Google expands what is basically a marketing campaign for Android, and Apple and Samsung… well they’re not exactly winning, but also not losing much, which is kind of a win of its own, right? Still, time will tell exactly how successful the Pixel 3a will be. If it gets traction, maybe the hardware giants will get tickled the wrong way and the status quo will start changing. What’s left for us is to sit back and observe.



1. Phonehex

Posts: 754; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

Samsung and Apple are hugely established . Google's pixels... not so much. I don't think they're bothered about Pixels at all at the moment.

4. sgodsell

Posts: 7029; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

First of all Apples hands are far from being tied. Apple choose to put a crappy Low resolution LCD display on their iPhone XR and put thé XR price at $750 USD, or $1030 CAD. The XR or 7 don't support HDR like the higher resolution Full HD+ AMOLED displays found on the new inexpensive Pixels (3a). So you can't watch any HDR movies or videos, and you can't even see any HDR results from any XR or iPhone 7 pictures. That's a joke in 2019. No wonder why Apples iPhone sales tanked. Samsung already has a number of mid range devices which are priced already at mid range prices. Not to mention you can find their previous flagship devices at or close to the new Pixel 3a smartphones. Plus Google has stated that these new Pixels get 3 major updates, plus all the security patches. So that works out to almost 4 years of updates.

17. TBomb

Posts: 1276; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

While Apple's hands aren't "tied" they are definitely restricted by their long term game plan. They are self-restricting, but still restricted.

18. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

XR display has a pixel density higher than s10e's. XR is not designed to be a media dedicated device ( you have the Max for that), it is a powerful office device (the most powerful in Apple's portfolio and maybe in smartphone world). XR is the best selling SMARTPHONE (compared to any model from any brand) of 2018-2019. Considering Apple's business model, it's safe to say there is not going to be any new iPhone in that price range, at least for a while.

27. Whitedot

Posts: 740; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

a) How come? b)I don't see a single reason not to be. "XR is not designed to be a media dedicated device ( you have the Max for that), it is a powerful office device (the most powerful in Apple's portfolio and maybe in smartphone world)." c) It was obvious from the start

45. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

a) s10e uses AMOLED (research how many red and blue light sources this technology has). b) it can be used to consume media, it is not designed for that.

52. Whitedot

Posts: 740; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

a) Indeed. b) Designed to be is subjective language. This phone has all it takes to be perfect media consumption device even though I do exclusively use android.

66. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

b) I'm not saying one can't consume media on XR, I'm just saying that there are better options.

67. Whitedot

Posts: 740; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

b) maybe

81. Marcwand3l

Posts: 426; Member since: May 08, 2017

He is trying to suggest that because OLED's perceived sharpness is lower than LCD's at the same ppi that the XR actually has a higher ppi but that is WRONG. First the 10Se uses the latest Amoled technology so assessments made 5-8 years ago don't hold much value in present day. But anyway even Galaxy S5's Amoled screen was much sharper and more detailed when reading text in comparison to iphone 6's LCD screen which has the same ppi the XR has. And thta's the worst case scenarios for an Amoled screen. So the S10e does have a much sharper display than the iphone XR.

83. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Nope, s10e doesn't have a sharper display than XR; it's still 306 sppi vs 326. s10e is able to lit more green pixels, but that doesn't help with the sharpness.

28. TBomb

Posts: 1276; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

The s10e has PPI of 438 (Samsung.com). Hope this helps your research!

47. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

But only 306 red and blue sppi.

32. true1984

Posts: 864; Member since: May 23, 2012

the xr has a lower resolution and a larger screen. how is the pixel density higher?

48. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Because it uses a different technology which has all the pixels fully lit.

37. kumicho

Posts: 3; Member since: May 20, 2019

XR - 326ppi 10e - 438ppi 3a - 440ppi As for Apple's strategy, they themselves are admitting falling iPhone sales. They're refusing to list numbers, but the revenue from selling iPhones plummeted 17% year over year last quarter. That's what's called "not good" in the business world.

49. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

XR - 326 sppi s10e - 306 sppi 3a - 310 sppi

59. Vancetastic

Posts: 951; Member since: May 17, 2017

You can play this game as long as you wish, but there’s no excuse for Apple to have not given the XR a pixel density at least equal to the old plus series. Ok, maybe the money and profit excuses...

68. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I can explain why the fhd resolution of the Plus iPhones introduces a new level of complexity for the developers, but this is a user's site, so you are right: even though the display of XR is one of the best LCD there is, Apple has no excuse not to have fit a fhd display.

63. tedkord

Posts: 17198; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Don't bother. He also claims the iPhone X doesn't have a notch. You're arguing with one of the true believers.

69. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I will say it again: iPhones do not have notches, they have some "ears" where Apple managed to extend the display around the FID system and ff camera (just like the first LG V phones or HTC something).

75. srgonu

Posts: 522; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

Good to know people like you exist. :)

34. oldskool50

Posts: 962; Member since: Mar 29, 2019

That an all their phones now cost $1000 outside the US. I think that really the top main reason. Apple fans don't care about resolution liek they use too, because they no longer have the higheest resolutions and havent since the iPhone 4. But when the 4 first came out, that's all they use to talk about was the high PPI for the iPhone display and how Android phones all had crappy displays. Then the S2 came out and that has solenced them since. Now they've moved on from resolutions because they don't argue facts they know they are gonna lose. They only argue facts they can debate. Right now they are applauding the lower resolution of the XR for the increased battery life. And yet phones with 1440p displays are still lasting longer than ever the XR. They are flip-flops just like Trump. Apple sales are tanking, because they priced themselves out of 98% of the world's market. Once sales start falling in the US at significant pace, which will happen starting with the iPhone 11, we will see what the fans will try to cling on for life to then.

64. User123456789

Posts: 668; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

HDR for photos is just for better exposure. You dont need HDR screen to see results. Does not change anything. It matter for HDR videos..

73. sgodsell

Posts: 7029; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Your just as bad as Leo_MC with his lies about how the XR has a higher pixel resolution than the Pixel 3's. If you take HDR pictures with the iPhones camera, and your display doesn't support HDR, then you are seeing any HDR images, period. What you are seeing is a display that cannot display HDR, but tries to display it the best that it can do, which is NOT HDR. Try to think, HDR stands for high dynamic range, yet the only iPhones that can display any HDR content is the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max. That's it. All the other iPhones CANNOT display HDR content, period.

84. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

It's just how the technology works, dumb ass.

2. monkeyb

Posts: 404; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

Did Apple call the XR a budget phone? Also, the only thing every tech site is reporting is about the camera. Nothing else. Everyone else needs to respond because of the camera. Nothing else is important. Its only and all about a camera. Lol.

6. sgodsell

Posts: 7029; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Tim Crook used words like great value, which is a complete joke. It's far from great value. That low resolution HD LCD display is crap in comparison to the AMOLED display on the new Pixel 3a. Especially since the Pixel 3a has a higher resolution Full HD+ resolution that can also display HDR content. The XR and iPhone 7 have a much lower resolution HD+ and HD resolution LCD displays that do not support or show any HDR content. With Apple customers always have to settle with less, because Apple needs to give more money to its investors. Because ultimately that is what everyone wants, right?

10. monkeyb

Posts: 404; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

I asked, when did Apple say its a budget phone. The fact you just spewed hatred on Apple rather than discussing a question shows everything. And of course Apple needs to give more money to its investors. That is the most important job of any CEO. If you cannot understand something as simple, its sad.

19. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Pixel 3a has 310 full lit pixels per inch, 3a XL has 282; XR has 326, which means its display is sharper than both pixels. Would you care to explain how 282 is better than 326?

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