This content has not been updated since 2019. For more recent tech advice for your business, take a look at the best phones of 2021.
To get a phone with a knockout camera, speedy performance, premium looks, and a decent screen, you used to have to spend close to $1,000. But with the Google Pixel 3a XL, that’s no longer the case. That’s right – Google’s new cheap phone costs just $479, and it’s very, very impressive.
The Google Pixel 3a XL is the largest version of Google’s cheap new phones. Rumors had circulated for a while that Google would be launching a cut-price version of its already good Pixel 3 handsets, but we always thought it might be a bit too-good-to-be-true.
However, when the Pixel 3a XL (and Pixel 3a) launched at Google’s I/O conference, we were very pleasantly surprised. Android buffs will know, of course, that this isn’t Google’s first rodeo when it comes to cheap phones. Back in the day, its Nexus phones – which were manufactured by companies including LG and Huawei – regularly punched above their price tag.
You’ll be pleased to hear that the cheap Google phones are, once again, punching way above their price tag.
In this review:
- Google Pixel 3a XL camera – Easily matches many of the best on the market
- Google Pixel 3a XL design and screen – Google has pinched pennies on materials, but it’s still pretty nice
- Google Pixel 3a XL battery life – Should easily be good enough for most
- Google Pixel 3a XL performance – Pretty nippy, but won’t match the latest flagships
- Google Pixel 3a XL cost and value for money – Exceptional value, no matter how you look at it
- Google Pixel 3a XL vs Google Pixel 3 XL – Whisper it, but the cheaper one might be the one to get
- Google Pixel 3a XL – The verdict
Google Pixel 3a XL camera
The more expensive Pixel 3 XL has one of the best cameras on the market, so is the cheaper Pixel 3a XL as sharp a snapper as its more expensive brother?
In a word – yes. The Pixel 3a XL has very similar camera hardware to the Pixel 3 XL – in fact, the rear 12Mp cameras are almost identical. The cheaper phone does lose the wide angle front-facing camera, though, so group selfies won’t be quite as cool as they are on the more expensive phone.
The only real differences between the rear cameras, however, are found under the skin. The 3a XL doesn’t have the Pixel Visual Core processing chip found on the more expensive phones. This means that the 3a XL isn’t quite as smart as the 3 XL in the way it processes images. It’s a small change, but it’s noticeable – image processing takes a bit longer, colors are slightly less pronounced, and details aren’t quite as sharp.
However, the difference is only really noticeable on a big, sharp screen, where you can get into real detail with the images. On a regular phone screen, you’ll be hard-pressed to discern any drop in image quality.
All told, though, there is no phone that takes pictures as well as the Pixel 3a XL for a similar price – whether with the front or rear camera. In fact, for our money, it takes pictures as well as many phones that cost twice as much.
Google Pixel 3a XL design and screen
The Pixel 3a XL uses a 6-inch OLED display with a 1080×2160 resolution. It’s a pretty impressive screen, too – it’s pretty sharp and, thanks to its OLED tech, it’s impressively bright for a phone in its price range.
It’s not all perfect, though. Colors on the screen can look a little muted. Fortunately, if you dive into the settings menu, you can change the color balance to rectify things.
The actual screen design is refreshingly orthodox for a phone launched in 2019. There’s no notch, and it actually has some slim bezels at either end of the phone. The screen also has an 18:9 aspect ratio – no crazy 21:9 screens here – and makes for a very easy-to-use package.
The Pixel 3a XL’s overall design, though, is very reminiscent of the more expensive Google phones. It features the same two-tone rear case, but is sadly made out of plastic, rather than the textured glass of the Pixel 3 XL. This is purely to save cost, however, and for a phone in this price range, it doesn’t look or feel bad at all.
The most exciting aspect of the Pixel 3a XL’s design, however, is its headphone jack. That’s right – a new phone, from a top-tier manufacturer has a little slot for your old, analog headphones. How quaint.
It’s also fortunate that the Pixel 3a XL has space for a headphone jack, because there aren’t any bundled USB-C headphones in the box (as there are for the more expensive Pixel phones).
Google Pixel 3a XL performance
The Pixel 3a XL uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor and 4GB of Ram – not particularly impressive specs, but they perform surprisingly well.
There’s enough power for a bit of high-end gaming, whether it’s PUBG Mobile or Asphalt 9, and the phone can multitask decently enough as well. However, we wouldn’t recommend this phone for extended gaming sessions – it’s fine for a bit here and there, but it gets hot under high workloads.
Some users have reported unexpected shutdowns on the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, but we didn’t experience these while using the phone. Said shutdowns are likely the result of a software bug, rather than a lack of processing power.
In short, the Pixel 3a XL definitely has the requisite oomph for most people. It isn’t the fastest phone on the market, but is unlikely to leave you staring at juddery apps and games.
Google Pixel 3a XL battery life
The Pixel 3a XL uses a 3,700 mAh battery – that’s loads bigger than most iPhones, and larger than the similarly priced Sony Xperia 10 Plus.
We got around two days of standby battery life from the Pixel 3a XL, which is decent enough. Regular use, however, was closer to just a single day. That’s still fine for most people, and we can’t really complain too much.
Google Pixel 3a XL cost and value for money
The Pixel 3a XL is fantastic value for money. As far as we’re concerned, for $479, there isn’t a more complete phone on the market.
It only really loses out to more expensive phones when it comes to outright power. The screen is perfectly good enough – once you’ve adjusted the color balance, mind – while the design is nice and the build quality is solid. The camera, meanwhile, is genuinely top-drawer – nothing comes close at this price.
In fact, its only real rival is the small Pixel 3a. It’s $70 cheaper, but we’d probably still opt for the 3a XL, just for the bigger screen.
Google Pixel 3a XL vs Google Pixel 3 XL
So, is the Pixel 3a XL a genuine Pixel 3 XL competitor?
Sort of. The cameras are almost indistinguishably good. It isn’t quite as fast, and the screen isn’t quite as sharp. But you get the same clean Android experience on both phones, the same speedy software updates, and almost the same design.
There are only two real questions to bear in mind: Do you have an extra $400 burning a hole in your pocket? And do you like notches? If so, get the Pixel 3 XL. If not, we’d probably recommend you get the 3a XL, and spend your remaining cash on a nice vacation – your friends on Instagram will be none the wiser thanks to your A-grade snaps.
Tech.co is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps Tech.co to provide free advice and reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews. Click to return to top of page