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.

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40 Comments

1. Phonehex

Posts: 768; 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: 7581; 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: 1666; 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.

34. oldskool50 unregistered

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: 1160; 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: 7581; 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.

2. monkeyb

Posts: 414; 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: 7581; 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: 414; 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.

36. oldskool50 unregistered

The XR is not a budget phone. It is an "entry-level" flagship. Just like the Galaxy S10e.

3. notfair

Posts: 766; Member since: Jan 30, 2017

Apple does not have an answer and never will, the XR by definition it's expensive and crap, however, sammy has the new M series which are even better then the new pixel 3a's.

8. OneLove123

Posts: 1261; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

But, will the camera beat the pixel 3a?

12. cmdacos

Posts: 4325; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

No chance.

43. oldskool50 unregistered

The camera is the ONLY good feature on the Pixel, while the M series from Samsung has everythign else. One great feature doesn't make a phone the top dog. That is why the Pixel will never be top dog. cameras are so good on all smart phone on some level that the Pixel having such a great camera, in all honesty is not a top selling point. Even Samsung top flagships cameras are slightly not as good as the pixel, but they are more than good enough for the majority which is why Samsung gets the majority of all the sales with android and everyone else doesn't. You need more than juts a good camera. You need other features too. Samsung has those other features. They have a Excellent camera, they have more storage, better and bigger displays, bigger and better batteries, and you can get a galaxy A and M with all that for less price vs the Pixel. You also get fast charger, headphone jack, IP67/68 certification, expandible storage and a wider range of availability. The Google Pixel is Google attempt to create an iPhone knock-off, that is at the price that the iPhone actually should be at. At $400, this shows that the iPhone 5C was even more of an overpriced piece of crap, much like the XR is right now.

5. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1473; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

Samsung's A series (A50 & A70) are solid performers, they're good enough to compete with the Pixel 3a's. The cameras aren't as good, but they have advantages that the Pixels are lacking, like dual SIM, larger base storage, expandable storage, bigger batteries and they're cheaper.

44. oldskool50 unregistered

Same for the Galaxy M series.

7. OneLove123

Posts: 1261; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

You can't have an answer for a $400 phone with the best camera in the business. It's already better than your $1k phone in that category. How are they going to beat that?

9. iloveapps

Posts: 909; Member since: Mar 21, 2019

Apple will never make a flagship so cheap.

13. cmdacos

Posts: 4325; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

They make cheap phones all the time. They just charge a premium for them.

11. pimpin83z

Posts: 597; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

According to your rating system, the XR is a 9.0 & the S10e is a 9.2. So since you didn't rate the 3a a 9.3 or higher the point of this article was nothing more than click bait, meaning Samsung answered the 3a before it even came it & Apple will answer it in 4 months.

14. LawnBoy

Posts: 203; Member since: Feb 23, 2019

Apple can't compete. Overpriced junk. Sammy needs to juice the cam a bit on the 10e and its game on.

15. MrMalignance

Posts: 331; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

I'm not saying the following to start a fight. Honest question following my opinion. My opinion: I admit Apple has a certain level of quality they maintain, but I've never viewed them (even remotely) as a luxury brand. I've held the phones and never felt like they are way better or above most other brands. The looks definitely don't have me feeling luxury. Ok, with that opinion out of the way, the question: Has anyone, not a current apple user, felt that apple is a luxury brand? I ask in this way, because some current Apple fans are a bit biased or perhaps fanboyish. I would love to get the opinion of open minded people who perhaps have used a variety of phones, or has experience with multiple brands

16. Vancetastic

Posts: 1761; Member since: May 17, 2017

I use Apple stuff. I think of their products as generally high-quality, but certainly not luxury. I don’t feel that they are better or worse than anything else out there. I do feel, however, that they are becoming rather overpriced for what I am getting for the investment now. Perhaps it’s time for a change, eh?

21. TBomb

Posts: 1666; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Good question. I'll agree with your opinion and answer your question with a personal theory that I may or may not completely agree with a week from now... Theory: Apple products have always been "niche". They had a vibe for being for the artists, the creatives, while the competition (Windows) had more of a focus on productivity and being in the workplace. iPhone took off like wildfire and became mainstream, bumping Apple into a interesting position: the niche products turned mainstream, but were still niche. Kinda conflicting, right? On a subliminal level, customers became confused about it and through smart marketing, Apple moved the niche to "premium". Consumers "grew up" (for lack of a better word) knowing the iPhone was mainstream, but also believed it to be in the premium niche. Nowadays, there isn't much difference between flagships in term of build quality and software quality to argue one is better than the other. It really comes down to preference as you can argue any OEM's flagship is better than the other, but because of the historical belief that Apple is a premium brand, it keeps that reputation.

29. MrMalignance

Posts: 331; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

I can agree with that assessment mostly. I do agree that a lot of apple users grew into loyal customers, but I'm not really feeling the premium part. I remember my first iPod. I remember the advertisements. They spent a ton of money telling us that Apple products are for all the people you listed above and that only those people "get it". That was the beginning of apple culture. Once people became loyal to the culture, it became easy for them to transition to the iPhone. Additionally, it became "cool" to get an iPhone and join the culture. I remember debating about getting an iPhone when they first came out (just dated myself a bit there lol) and feeling that I ultimately didn't need an iPod I could make calls on. There is still a ton of ad money being poured into apple culture, and I don't believe that the apple vs Android vs whatever will ever go away, unless one of the OS goes under. I do agree that most build quality is very similar now, and definitely agree that personal preference is King

35. TBomb

Posts: 1666; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I appreciate that feeback @Leo_MC and Mr.Malignance

60. oldskool50 unregistered

Apple does not make niche products. They never have. They made products that in the past, were higher and better than what was trending at the time. Like music players were not new. apple simply made a cooler more trendier music player that got more attention. Apple's laptops even with Sega Chips or PPC were never better than x86. X86 is lower in cost which would allow Apple to make even more cash. But they price their laptops so high, that they sell onlya couple million per quarter, while HP and dell still sell over 10M computers per quarter. Yet its the EXACT SAME platform.

41. OneLove123

Posts: 1261; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

Nope, never thought they were a luxury brand. They almost went out of business 12 hrs ago. If it wasn’t for Bill Gates they would’ve been long gone. The sheep seems to think that “Apple” brand is God to them.

57. oldskool50 unregistered

Apple has never been a luxury brand. They are a company that sellls in most cases, highend mid-range spec'd products at premium prices. People especially poor people, associate high price with luxury. When in fact high price, could simply mean its higher priced vs a competing product. When you pay more, or if you are pawning off your products as "luxury", you are suppose to get MORE at a higher price vs less. apple continues to charge more and give less. If anyone considers Apple pro ducts as luxury, they are stupid and I don't pity them and that is why Apple is where they are now. because ignorance is obviously more bliss than reality. I recently watched this where this authorized Apple tech, shares over the years how apple engineers have made flawed decisions in hardware and where customers ended up paying, even in some cases after apple was sued after even being found out, apple knew about the flaws.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUaJ8pDlxi8 Apple harms its customers by overcharging them for products and repairs, and even when its Apple fault, they still try to scam you of more money and even when the customer was right, the courts many times still sided with Apple.

20. Knownhost

Posts: 112; Member since: Nov 13, 2017

"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." The average consumer cares about VALUE for their money, not geewhiz great camera nonsense. A good, even great, camera might be a selling point, but most people care more about battery life, screen quality, storage, etc, than camera quality because most phones already have decent, sometimes very good, cameras. Without the geewhiz camera, the Pixel 3a series is a budget series with a mid-range price. It is not surprising, though. The Pixel 3 series is a mid-range series with a flagship price.

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