Prices of smartphones continue to soar and you can now easily spend over $1000 to get the best smartphone, but as this Google Pixel 3a review will showcase, you can still get an excellent smartphone on a budget, without sacrificing too many features.
The Google Pixel 3a is Google’s budget smartphone to go alongside it’s flagship, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL models. The idea is to cram as much of the fancy tech from the previous model, the Google Pixel 3, into a cheaper redesigned frame. As a result, the Google Pixel 3a comes equipped with a 12.2 megapixel rear camera, an OLED screen and all of the standout features that the Google 3 touted - we’re talking Night Sight mode, Super Res Zoom, fingerprint scanner. And all of this can be yours for $399, or on a cheap cell plan if you go with one of the best cell phone providers. So, what’s the catch? Short answer: there isn't really a catch, and this is the one of the best smartphones you can buy right now.
Google Pixel 3a review: Design and styling
- Available in Black, White, and Purple-ish
- Plastic shell, but sleek design
The Google Pixel 3a has three color options for you to choose from - Just Black, Clearly White and Purple-ish. The first two are classic color options for a smartphone, while Purple-ish is a pastel shade of lavender. Google always has one off-kilter color option thrown into the mix and we’re a big fan of this approach. Our review model of the Google Pixel 3a came in white and it looks fabulous, but really it’s down to your personal preference.
Measuring 6-inches long, 2.8-inches wide, and 0.3-inches deep, the Google Pixel 3a is on the smaller end of the smartphone size spectrum. It only weighs 5.19 ounces too, making the Google Pixel 3a is one of the lightest smartphones on the market, especially compared to some of the chunkier XL models like the Pixel 4 XL and iPhone 11 Pro Max. This means that the Google Pixel 3a will comfortably fit into even the most impractically small pockets or handbags.
It’s a stylish little handset too, with the black bevel around the screen offsetting strikingly against the colored shell of the phone, complete with an accent colored to give a little more visual interest. And if you don’t want any of that nonsense, you can just get the Google Pixel 3a in black for a sleek, sophisticated style that would work perfectly for a businessperson on the go.
Our only major complaint about the design of the Pixel 3a is that the plastic shell feels cheap. Obviously it is cheap, so cutting back on premium materials is to be expected, but it feels tacky compared with something like the Huawei P30 or even the Google Pixel 4 XL.
Google Pixel 3a review: Battery
- Fast charging gives 7 hours of battery after 15 minutes
- Long battery life, even under heavy use
Google has made some pretty bold claims about the battery life of the Pixel 3a. The tech giant claims that you can get seven hours of battery life from the Google Pixel 3a after just 15 minutes of charging thanks to the wired fast charger that comes with the handset as standard. Our charging tests confirmed these claims. This means that the Google Pixel 3a is an ideal phone for people with heavy travel schedules, who don’t have the time or capacity to charge their phones during the day.
During their test, Tom’s Guide found that the Google Pixel 3a could handle nearly 12 hours of continuous use before it ran out of juice, which puts it far ahead of the competition. This makes it the perfect handset for anyone who has their eyes glued to their screen for most of the day.
Google Pixel 3a review: Screen and audio
- Full HD resolution
- The OLED display kicks out vibrant colors
- Speakers are decent, but distortion kicks in at high volume
In keeping with the cheap and cheerful nature of the Google Pixel 3A, it only has a FHD screen with a resolution of 2220 x 1080 pixels. That’s to be expected for a smartphone at the lower end of the price range. In all honesty, with the Google Pixel 3a’s 5.6-inch screen, you’ll struggle to notice much difference in image quality when viewed side-by-side with a QHD or 4K screen. FHD is more than enough for a smartphone screen, especially if you’re looking to buy on a budget.
What we wouldn’t normally expect to see is an OLED screen, which is what the Google Pixel 3a features. OLED screens are more expensive, but also much more vibrant than typical LED screens. This means that you’ll have much more vibrant colors and sharper contrast when watching movies and TV on your Google Pixel 3a compared to other budget smartphones.
Things aren’t quite as rosy on the audio front though. Google has stopped including headphones with their smart[phones as standard, so you’ll need to buy your own separate pair of headphones. There is both an audio jack and USB-C port though, so you can use both kinds of wired headphones, as well as Bluetooth wireless headphones.
The Google Pixel 3a's speakers are decent, and kick out impressive sound for a smartphone, but they can sound a little tinny and distorted when playing music on full blast.
Google Pixel 3a review: Camera
- Excellent camera for a budget smartphone
- Night Sight mode and Super Res Zoom
Average price: $399
Operating system: Android
Screen size: 5.6-inch
5G ready? No
Headphone jack? Yes
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider... Samsung Galaxy S9
On the camera front, the Google Pixel 3a again offers a great balance of features and value. You don’t get multiple rear-facing lens like you would on a Google Pixel 4 XL, but the single rear camera takes photos at a respectable 12.2 megapixels. You’ll struggle to find a better camera without spending significantly more than the Pixel 3a's $400 entry cost, so the Pixel 3a is an ideal choice for budding photographers who don’t want to break the bank. Tom’s Guide found that the Pixel 3a’s rear camera outperformed the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, a phone that costs over twice as much.
Most impressively, all of the fancy tech and features from the original Google Pixel 3 made it over into this budget handset. There’s night sight mode for taking images in low light, as well as portrait mode and Super Res Zoom, which improves the image quality of images taken at high zoom. If you need clean and crisp images of distant objects, the Google Pixel 3a won’t disappoint. There’s also an eight megapixel front-facing camera for taking selfies with, so you can get yourself into your holiday snaps.
Google Pixel 3a review: Software and assistant features
- Google Assistant integration
- The best Android AI assistant out there
Like all of Google’s smartphones, the Pixel 3a comes with Google Assistant built-in. Google Assistant is, for our money, the best android-based smart assistant out there. Like Alexa and other smart gadgets, how useful a smart assistant is depends on your level of interaction.
Much like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant can be used to set alarms and calendar reminders, give you a weather forecast, or just answer some burning trivia question that’s bothering you. It’s simple to use too - just say “Hey Google”, followed by your query and she’ll respond to you. We say she, but Google Assistant can be set to either a male or female voice to suit your preference.
During our time with the Google Pixel 3a, we had no trouble with the assistant understanding us - it followed our instructions to the letter, though it was a bit cagey when we asked what it thought of Siri.
Google Pixel 3a review: Security
- Fingerprint scanner on back of device
- Passed all our security tests
The most obvious security feature that the Google Pixel 3a sports is the fingerprint reader, which is conveniently located on the back of the handset, exactly where your finger would naturally rest when holding the smartphone. Why most other smartphones keep putting them in awkward locations on the front of the device, we have no idea, but we’re fully on-board with Google’s choice here.
In our tests, the fingerprint scanner reliably unlocked for our reviewer and wouldn’t unlock for anyone else. If you need security but also value convenience and don’t want to mess around entering passwords every time you need to unlock the phone, the fingerprint scanner is a great addition.
Should you buy the Google Pixel 3a?
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, the Google Pixel 3a offers phenomenal value. The camera is on par with phones that cost over twice as much, and it’s the cheapest phone on the market to feature an OLED screen. You do have to accept some sacrifices when paying $400 for a smartphone though. The plastic shell and tinny speakers give away the Pixel 3a's budget nature. Still, for our money this is the best cheap smartphone on the market.