Pixel 3 versus Pixel 3a: Which is right for you?

Now that Google has officially released its Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL consumers are likely going to have questions. What is the difference between these and their counterparts which came out roughly six months ago?

It’s easy to throw the word flagship at a phone maker’s annual device, particularly when it might offer multiple products throughout the year. For Samsung, it’s the Galaxy S series. For LG, it’s the G series.

Google, up until today, only offered one model per year. Yes, we know there’s technically two now, but that doesn’t change this particular argument. Bigger screens and batteries don’t qualify as being separate models in our book.

To call the Nexus or Pixel phone a “flagship” is only half accurate. It’s more of a benchmark device than anything. It’s what Google sees as being where phones should be in terms of hardware and software.

Things have changed for 2019. Now we have a high-end and a mid-range take on phones from Google. Let’s break down the differences between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a. What makes one more expensive than the other? More importantly, does that make it a better phone for your needs?

Price

Price is perhaps one of the first things consumers use when determining whether they will buy something. No matter how much we like something, we’ll pass if we cannot afford to pay for it. To that end, there’s a huge difference between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a price.

As of today, the Pixel 3 has a starting retail price of $800 for the 64GB model. Contrast that with the Pixel 3a and its $400 sticker. That’s literally half the price and something that opens the door to a much wider audience. Split up over two years we’re looking at about $33/mo. and $16.50/mo., respectively.

Availability

Currently, there are but a few ways to pick up the Pixel 3. You can purchase it unlocked or buy through Verizon. In addition to buying directly from Google, you’ll also see it sold through retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H Photo Video. Consumers can choose from Clearly White, Just Black, and Not Pink color options.

When it comes to the Pixel 3a, things get a little different. In short, it’s even easier to find one of these. Not only can you buy it unlocked in all the normal outlets, you will see it sold with more carriers. Indeed, the Pixel 3a is offered with Verizon as well as T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. Moreover, it’s coming to carriers like Visible in June, too.

In addition to different carriers, you’ll also find these in a new color, too. Instead of the Not Pink, the Pixel 3a comes in Purple-ish. Dare we say it’s our favorite color scheme yet?

Hardware

We’re surprised by how similar these two devices stack up to each other given the vast difference in price. Both run Android 9 Pie and come with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. And, for the most part, where they differ, it’s not all that much.

The screen sizes and resolution are nearly identical at 5.5-inches (Pixel 3) and 5.6-inches (Pixel 3a). Batteries are also very close at 2,915mAh and 3,000mAh, respectively.

The processor is one area where things are notably different. The Pixel 3a comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor (and Adreno 615 GPU) while the Pixel 3 still has the Snapdragon 845 (and Adreno 630) under the hood.

For most consumers this isn’t going to matter one bit. For heavy users and enthusiasts, however, they’ll want that faster and more powerful CPU/GPU combination. Games, VR, AR, and demanding apps will appreciate the performance and so will users.

Don’t know, or care about what CPU and GPU means on a phone? Go with the Pixel 3a as its hardware is more than enough to power your social media, messaging, casual gaming, and daily tasks.

When it comes to having water resistance or protection against splashes and dunks, you won’t get that in the Pixel 3a. That may or may not be a deal breaker for some. We’ve come to expect it in pretty much all major releases in 2019 but it’s absent here. Gotta cut corners, right?

Speaking of exteriors, the Pixel 3a XL is made entirely from polycarbonate and not the glass and aluminum of the Pixel 3. It’s certainly not as glamorous but it’s got the same design language and looks every bit Pixel.

The camera situation is also an area where the two phones are similar… but they are also different. Sounds confusing, right? It’s not.

The Pixel 3, which is highly praised and respected for its camera, offers a 12-megapixel dual-pixel camera on the back. Around front it has two 8-megapixel cameras, with one of them being wide-angle. Google ran a number of ad campaigns around this feature as it allows for group shots using the front camera.

The Pixel 3a still has the 12-megapixel dual-pixel camera on the back, which is a huge win at this price. The front-facing camera is just one 8-megapixel sensor and it’s not a wide-angle one. The aperture, field of view, microns, and other specs are only slightly different between the two.

Truth be told, we still need to wait for the real world results and examples before we can say more about the camera situation. From what we can tell, though, the Pixel 3a has a really quite a compelling camera experience.

One feature that really sells the Pixel 3a is the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, the cheaper phone has it while the more expensive models do not. We don’t need to tell you how awesome this is.

Software

Both of these phones run Android 9 Pie, the latest version of Google’s software to be released to the public. To that end, each will see updates to Android Q later this year and will pick up timely, consistent patches and bug fixes.

We’re really fond of the cohesive experience that is modern Android on a Pixel phone. It’s the best of what Google has and it rivals what other carriers do even when they try to improve upon it with extras.

Which is Right for You?

Our hot take, immediately after the announcement and release of the Pixel 3a is that it’s the first one we’ll recommend to consumers. Not that it necessarily takes anything away from the Pixel 3, mind you. There’s definitely more bang behind the buck with the standard bearer.

For just $400 Google’s latest phone plays on a different field and puts itself in the place where most consumers reside. For all of the commercials, hype, and fanfare around flagships, the stats are starting to show that buyers don’t flock to the expensive stuff in droves. They’re content to buy last year’s models when they go on sale and hold onto them longer.

We live in a time where phone hardware outpaces our needs and demands. There’s more than enough under the hood for the Pixel 3a to fast track it to the top of our recommendation list.

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