Google Pixel 3A XL review: Everything you like about the Pixel 3, but bigger and cheaper
Starting at $399 and $479 (£399 and £469 in the UK, AU$649 and AU$799 in Australia), the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL are a more budget-friendly variant of Google's flagship phones from 2018, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL.
Update, July 17, 2020: Though Google has discontinued selling them to make way for the Pixel 4A, you can still get them from third-party retailers -- often at a cheaper price than when they first launched last year. Our original review follows.
With the Pixel 3A phones nearly 50% cheaper than past generations, the company hopes to attract more customers and ultimately increase sales. The Pixel 3A XL has the same camera as the Pixel 3 phones, but Google stripped down a few of its key hardware specs. (For a more in-depth look at the camera, check out CNET's Pixel 3 review.) The Pixel 3A XL is also essentially a larger version of the Pixel 3A, so if you want more detail on what's new with both phones, head to CNET's Pixel 3A review too.
In general, the Pixel 3A XL doesn't have as much of the high-end hardware the original Pixel 3s have, but Google still whipped up a great phone. Compared with the "budget" options of its competitors like the iPhone XR and the Galaxy S10E, the Pixel 3A XL doesn't have features like water resistance or wireless charging. But if you want a big screen and the latest software from Google and you want to take fantastic photos -- all at a few hundreds of dollars less than the other phones -- the Pixel 3A XL is the phone to get.
Read on for our main takeaways.
Pixel 3A and Pixel 3: Main differences
- The Pixel 3A comes in a new color, "purple-ish" (in addition to black and white)
- It has a 3.5mm headphone jack
- The Pixel 3A XL has a 3,700-mAh battery compared with the Pixel 3 XL's 3,430 mAh
- It's available through Verizon, T-Mobile , Sprint and US Cellular. It works on AT&T too, but you can't buy it directly from the carrier. Here's more info on how to get the Pixel 3A.
- It doesn't have wireless charging
- It's not water-resistant
- It doesn't have a second wide-angle front-facing camera
- It doesn't come bundled with Pixel Buds earbuds
- It has the less powerful Snapdragon 670 chipset
Pixel 3A XL has a familiar design
Apart from the Pixel 3A XL's polycarbonate body (instead of the original glass design) and lack of an onscreen notch, the phones look and feel nearly identical. But the Pixel 3A XL has a lower, 1080p resolution. I didn't see a difference to the naked eye when watching YouTube videos or reading news articles, though. You'll have to view both displays under a magnifying glass if you really want to hunt for, say, aliasing with text on the Pixel 3A XL.
The Pixel 3A XL's screen also uses a different type of OLED display that features glass as its base layer instead of plastic. At times, the Pixel 3A XL looks punchier. Reds, yellows and oranges are warmer and whites look brighter. In contrast, the Pixel 3 XL's screen is bluer and despite being the more high-end device, it has much more obvious color shift.
Like on the Pixel 3 XL, you can launch Google Assistant or silence an incoming call by squeezing the phone's sides. Note that you can't reprogram the squeeze to do anything else. In addition, the phone has stereo speakers, and the bottom audio speaker has been moved from the chin to the bottom edge of the phone.
Pixel 3A XL camera: Same killer low-light photos
Because the Pixel 3A XL has the same camera as the Pixel 3, photo quality is still excellent. (In fact, the Pixel 3 was our top Android phone of 2018 based on its camera prowess, though it's facing stiff competition now from the Huawei P30 Pro, which is top so far this year.) Images are clear, bright and vibrant, and you can still adjust the focus and blur of your bokeh portraits. The camera also has the dedicated low-light mode Night Sight, as well as Super High Res for zooming into objects and Top Shot, which suggests the best image out of a series.
One new feature is time-lapse video. You can set your frames to record at various time intervals and there's a useful indicator that denotes how long your video will be in real time. To save battery, the viewfinder will also dim after some time, while the phone is still recording. In general, time-lapse videos were clear and steady, but the quality isn't as good as videos taken with the iPhone XR. In one video I shot in a darkened cocktail party, footage on the Pixel 3A was muddier and grainier compared with iPhone XR footage. The time-lapse also looked jerkier or more "pulsating."
Google also changed its Google Photos storage policy with the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL. Unlike Pixel, Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 users who can save pictures to the cloud at the original resolution, Pixel 3A owners have unlimited storage only at high quality. This should be enough to satisfy most people, but if you take image quality seriously or want to back up all your 4K videos, the Pixel 3A has only 64GB of onboard memory with no option to expand.
For more about the phone's camera, check out the slideshow below, as well as CNET's numerous deep-dive camera comparisons.
- Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XR: Which phone has the best camera?
- Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XS: Which phone has the best camera and portrait mode?
- Pixel 3 vs. Galaxy S10: Which phone has the best camera?
Pixel 3A XL's software learns a couple of new tricks
Running Android Pie (with an upcoming update to Android Q coming this summer), the Pixel 3A XL has a nifty AR walking navigation tool in Google Maps right out of the box, which will come to other Android phones at a later date. I was able to test an early version of the feature, and I found it especially useful when I first started navigating and had to orient myself. After getting confirmation from Maps that I was indeed going the right way, I put the phone down until I got a buzz for the next step. The phone would also remind me to put it down if I held it up for too long.
The Pixel 3A XL has Call Screen, which screens calls from telemarketers and robocallers, as well as Digital Wellbeing. Digital Wellbeing helps limit phone usage, and you'll also get free YouTube Music subscription for three months.
Finally, since Google built this phone, expect it to be one of the first to receive software updates as they roll out from the company. If you bought your phone through a carrier, though, you may experience some delay seeing the newest features.
Pixel 3A XL performance and battery
The Pixel 3A XL has a Snapdragon 670 processor, and Google reoptimized the software to work with this chipset. I didn't feel any slowdown of speed or performance and day-to-day usage appeared similar between the Pixel 3A XL and Pixel 3 XL. Photos that required extra processing time, like HDR Plus Enhanced, Night Sight or making the screen flash for the front-facing camera, all felt like they took the same amount of time on both phones.
On paper, though, the Pixel 3A XL did score lower on benchmarks than the Pixel 3, as well as other "budget option" handsets from Google's competitors. During our testing, the only phone it consistently beat was the Moto G7, which has a Snapdragon 632 processor and costs $299.
Google bumped up the capacity in the new Pixels. Preliminary testing so far showed that the Pixel 3A XL had slightly longer battery life than the Pixel 3 XL. With continuous video playback in airplane mode, the Pixel 3A XL lasted 17 hours, 14 minutes, while the Pixel 3 XL clocked in at 16 hours, 49 minutes. Seventeen hours does put it at about the same as the Galaxy S10E and OnePlus 6T . But it doesn't beat out the iPhone XR, which lasted about 20 hours.
Pixel 3A XL vs. the competition
- Pixel 3 XL: While it doesn't have a headphone jack, the Pixel 3 XL is water-resistant and has wireless charging and a faster processor. Its current $899 retail price is steep, though, so if you can live without those features I mentioned, get the Pixel 3A XL instead. Look out for good deals because Google and other retailers discount the Pixel 3 XL often.
- Moto G7: At $299, the water-repellent Moto G7 is one of CNET's favorite budget phones. But it doesn't work as fast or take photos nearly as well as the Pixel 3A XL. Unless you're on a tight budget, I'd pay $180 more for the Pixel 3A XL.
- OnePlus 6T: Starting at $549, the OnePlus 6T offers twice the amount of built-in memory and a faster processor. You'll have to cough up $70 more and I still prefer the Pixel 3A XL's camera, but it's a great value. Keep in mind, however, that the next OnePlus 7 Pro will be revealed next week.
- Galaxy S10E: As Samsung's most affordable Galaxy phone, the Galaxy S10E is water-resistant, has wireless charging (and can charge other devices too), has a headphone jack and more onboard storage and looks beautiful. It also packs a camera that beats the Pixel 3A in some aspects. But at $750, it's still notably pricer than the Pixel 3A.
- iPhone XR: The iPhone XR shoots better video and,like the Galaxy S10E, has water resistance and wireless charging. But it doesn't have a headphone jack and you'll need to consider a totally different OS. Its $750 price tag is also steep compared with the Pixel 3A.
Pixel 3A XL spec comparison
|Google Pixel 3A XL||Google Pixel 3 XL||Samsung Galaxy S10E||OnePlus 6T||Apple iPhone XR|
|Display size, resolution||6-inch gOLED; 2,160x1,080 pixels||6.3-inch "flexible" OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels||5.8-inch AMOLED; 2,280x1,080-pixels||6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels||6.1-inch LCD Retina Display; 1,792x828 pixels|
|Pixel density||402 ppi||522 ppi||438 ppi||402 ppi||326 ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||6.3x3.0x0.3 in||6.2x3x.03 in||5.6x2.8x0.27 in||6.20x2.94x0.32 in||5.9x3.0x0.33 in|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||5.89 oz; 167g||6.5 oz; 184 g||5.3 oz; 150 g||6.5 oz; 185 g||6.8 oz; 194 g|
|Mobile software||Android 9.0||Android 9.0 Pie||Android 9.0 Pie with Samsung One UI||Android 9.0 Pie||iOS 12|
|Camera||12.2-megapixel||12.2-megapixel||12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultrawide-angle)||16-megapixel (standard), 20-megapixel (telephoto)||12-megapixel|
|Front-facing camera||8-megapixel||Dual 8-megapixel||10-megapixel||16-megapixel||7-megapixel with Face ID|
|Processor||2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 670||2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855||2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Apple A12 Bionic|
|Storage||64GB||64GB, 128GB||128GB, 256GB||128GB, 256GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB|
|RAM||4GB||4GB||6GB, 8GB||6GB, 8GB||Not disclosed|
|Expandable storage||None||None||Up to 512GB||None||None|
|Battery||3,700 mAh||3,430 mAh||3,100 mAh||3,700 mAh||2,942 mAh (not disclosed by Apple)|
|Fingerprint sensor||Back||Back||Power button||In-display||None (Face ID)|
|Special features||AR in Google Maps, Timelapse video shooting||Water-resistant (IPX8), wireless charging support, Pixel Buds USB-C headphones in the box||Wireless PowerShare, hole-punch screen notch, water-resistant (IP68), Fast Wireless Charging 2.0||In-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM, Dash Charging, notifications toggle||Water-resistant (IP67), dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM), wireless charging, Face ID, Memoji|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$479||$899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)||$750||$549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB)||$749 (64GB), $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£469||£869 (64GB), £969 (128GB)||£669||£499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB)||£749 (64GB), £799 (128GB), £899 (256GB)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$799||AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (128GB)||AU$1,199||Converted: AU$774 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$817 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$887 (8GB RAM/256GB)||AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,299 (128GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)|
First published on May 7, 2019.