Google Pixel 3a & XL: premium camera phone performance at mid-range prices

Google has officially confirmed two of the worst kept secrets in the history of smartphones, the Google Pixel 3a and Google Pixel 3a XL – mid-range versions of the company's flagship phones that are "designed to deliver premium features at a price people will love". 

While they are decided downgrades from the flagships when it comes to a number of features (and materials), in terms of the all-important cameras these are still cutting-edge phones that blow away everything else at their price points.

The Google Pixel 3a and XL are now available in a new color, Purple-ish

The Google Pixel 3a and XL are now available in a new color, Purple-ish

Sure to contenders for a place on our best camera phone list, the 3a and XL boast the same Sony IMX363 12.2MP f/1.8 rear and 8MP f/1.8 front cameras as their older brothers – though sadly they lose the secondary, wide angle 8MP camera on the selfie side. 

Similarly the new models lose the Pixel Visual Core processor, which does much of the computational work to make images really sing. Even without it, though, things like Portrait mode (on the front and rear cameras), Super Res Zoom with its computational photography, and the much-vaunted Night Sight mode are all present and correct. 

Google Pixel 3a and XL retain features like Portrait mode, which adds artificial depth of field

Google Pixel 3a and XL retain features like Portrait mode, which adds artificial depth of field

Google Pixel 3a specs

In terms of general specs, the 3a features a 5.6-inch OLED display with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, while the XL has a 6-inch OLED and an 18:9 ratio. The smaller phone measures 151.3 x 70.1 x 8.2mm and weighs in at 147g, while its big brother comes in at 160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm and 167g.

The 3a has a 3,000mAh battery with the XL packing a 3,700mAh, both of which come with an 18W charger to deliver up to 7 hours of battery life on just 15 minutes of charge. 

A closer look at the new Purple-ish colorway

A closer look at the new Purple-ish colorway

Google is also shouting from the rooftops about Adaptive Battery, which employs machine learning to optimize power depending on how you use the phone for up to 30 hours on a single charge.

Alas, wireless charging has (understandably) been dropped from the 3a and XL, as the all-glass design has been replaced by a more cost-effective polycarbonate chassis on both phones – which is now available in a new color, Purple-ish, in addition to the standard Clearly White and Just Black.  

Both phones boast a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 Octa-core processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage. As you'd expect they support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and Google Cast, and they possess a USB-C port. 

Google continues to shout about Night Sight – always an opportunity to take a cheap shot at Apple

Google continues to shout about Night Sight – always an opportunity to take a cheap shot at Apple

Google Pixel 3a: new (and old) tricks

The pleasant surprise, however, is that Google has reinstated the 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can once again go dongle-free when you want to listen to music or podcasts.

On the software side, Android 9 Pie is included with all the latest Google patches and security updates for three years – including Android Q this summer, if you really want to dive into the next generation.  

Google Pixel 3a and XL will feature the newly integrated AR functionality on Google Maps

Google Pixel 3a and XL will feature the newly integrated AR functionality on Google Maps

There's also the flashy new addition to Google Maps, which now employs augmented reality to project directional arrows onto your screen as you point the camera at the streets you're walking – literally superimposing map directions onto the real world.

The Google Pixel 3a is the ideal phone if you want an almost flagship-level phone at a midrange price, and is available now from £399 / $399, with the Google Pixel 3a XL starting at £469 / $479.

Read more:

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