The Pixel 3a is in a weird place. On one hand, it’s not the Pixel 3. (Or the Pixel 3a XL versus the Pixel 3 XL, if that’s how you roll. And, in fact, that’s how I’ve rolled.) It’s not as powerful, but it’s newer. It’s not as expensive, even though the Pixel 3 line has seen pretty deep discounts of late.
Here’s the thing, though: I’d be pretty hard pressed to tell anyone to buy a Pixel 3 over the 3a, especially right now.
Let’s stipulate that at the end of the day price is everything. Phones that retail at $399 or $479 should be an easier sell than phones that retail for twice as much. But let’s also stipulate that a Google phone sold in that price range is decidedly different than anyone else’s. (Save for maybe the Moto X line.)
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If you bounce between a lot of phones, you tend to know what you’re using, and how it’s meant to be used. But the thing about the Pixel 3a XL (which is the one Google sent my way) is that I pretty quickly forgot that it wasn’t the Pixel 3 XL I’d been using for months.
No, it’s not quite as snappy. That’s to be expected given the processor. But any real lagginess only tended to show during things like camera processing. In my normal day-to-day use, the Pixel 3a XL was just as competent as the Pixel 3 XL. On the other hand, that could be because bit rot hasn’t had the chance to set in like it had on my more powerful Pixel 3 XL. That’s just a reminder that maybe software can be more important than pure horsepower.
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But going back to the camera — it’s pretty obvious the 3a line has managed to work that Google magic, even without the Pixel Visual Core. (But that’s really going to affect third-party apps more than anything.) Photos are still great, and they’re still great for half the price.
What I keep thinking about, though, is my kid. My 12-year-old daughter who very much is looking to buy her first iPhone. And I’m very much trying to convince her that paying twice as much (for a lesser experience) is a bad idea. That status symbols (and blue iMessage boxes) aren’t worth an extra $400 or $500. Pre-teens need a little extra time for logic to set in, though.
And maybe so do I. Because the only thing about the Pixel 3a that’s really holding me back is because I know it’s a Pixel 3a. I know it’s not the best phone Google has. I know that there’s a better one out there. (I also know that a Pixel 4 almost certainly is on the way this fall, but that’s another thing altogether.)
And I know that for the most part, paying twice as much isn’t going to lessen the incredible experience you get with the Pixel 3a one bit.