There are plenty of smartphone fans who looked back with nostalgia to the time of the Nexus phones. Those times when you could get your hands on a device made by Google, with unmodified versions of Android, and without the need to re-mortgage. Now, Google revives that philosophy with the arrival of the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. They land at half the price of their older brothers but with the same camera. Well played!
The launch of the Pixel and Pixel XL in 2016 marked the end of the Nexus smartphone brand and the beginning of the Pixel line. Left behind were eight Nexus models, each produced by Google in collaboration with the best smartphone manufacturers out there. From that moment on, Mountain View was going to develop its devices itself, with two basic pillars: the best camera on the market and stock Android.
However, we got something extra: a higher price to match (or exceed) the rest of the flagships on the market. This is nothing like the price of devices like the Nexus 5, considered by many as one of the best Android in history, with high-end features and a launch price of only $350.
After many months of rumors about the arrival of a Pixel 3 Lite, Google has finally introduced its mid-range devices, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. These are the Pixels made to reach the general public, since the latest models, at a price getting up towards the $800 - $900 mark, have not exactly been a great sales success. Now it is possible to get a smartphone made by Google from $399. But it is not only the price that makes the Pixel 3a and 3a XL that stand out.
Lately, we are seeing how mid-range mobiles incorporate more and more features that were, until recently, reserved for flagship smartphones. With the Pixel 3a, Google goes one step further and does not focus on offering a model with stripped-back features. Why not incorporate the best camera on the market in a mid-range device?
Exactly the same camera as the Pixel 3
For a large number of Android users, the Pixel 3, presented in October 2018, has the best camera in the Android world. Or at least it was until a couple of months ago, before the arrival of the Huawei P30 Pro, with its incredible zoom and night mode. Still, the Pixel 3's camera results are excellent. That's why the big G has incorporated exactly the same photographic setup in this Pixel 3a and 3a XL: a single 12.2 MP Dual Pixel rear sensor, with f/1.8 aperture, and the famous Night Sight mode in the software.
Google continues with the strategy we already know: why incorporate three or more cameras if I can get the same result with just one? Thanks to post-processing, Pixel phones are able to obtain excellent results without the need for so many lenses.
If the camera is still the same, Google had to make cuts is some other areas to be able to offer this phone for that price, and it has done so mainly in two areas. The design changes slightly, since its back is made of plastic instead of glass, and its performance is inferior, as it does not incorporate a high-end processor such as the Snapdragon 845, but has a 670 chipset from the same manufacturer, which, of course, has eight cores.
Realistically, the average user doesn't care much if their smartphone's processor is the latest Snapdragon. What's more, many of them don't know which SoC their device has in it. On the other hand, the quality of the camera is becoming more important every year. At least the results are more tangible: it's relatively easy to analyze whether a camera takes good photos or not, you just have to shoot a couple of images. On the other hand, it is more difficult to check if your processor is efficient, and if the performance of the Snapdragon 670 is lower than that of the 845. Obviously, you'll notice if it's too slow, but only if you push your mobile to the max. For the sale of smartphones, the claim of "the best camera" is undoubtedly very appetizing.
Why it will be a success
The first mid-range Pixel phone - or should I say premium mid-range - has no rival like it. And by that, I don't mean it's better than the rest, but at least it offers something different. I'm starting to get a little tired of mid-range mobiles that look like copies of each other. It seems that everyone has to incorporate a notch (mostly dewdrop-shaped), a huge screen, a double or triple camera, or a back that's made of glass. Yes, it's very pretty, but it only serves to fill up with fingerprints and it makes it slippery. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL have none of these flaws, and they also come with a headphone jack and dual speaker, plus a stock Android experience and three years of guaranteed software updates. And well, I'm not going to talk about the camera again...
I consider Google's strategy with these Pixel 3a and 3a XL phones to be totally on the money. We must see if this new move is consolidated and if the future Pixel 4, which will be presented in autumn this year, will also arrive with a version 4a and 4a XL. The price of the latest Pixel smartphones was a considerable barrier to entry for many users, but paying $400 for a Pixel reminds us of those halcyon Nexus days. Time will tell!