Google Pixel 3a XL Review: Full-Featured, Affordable Pure Android

Pixel 3a XL - Google's Pure Android Experience, Fully-Enabled For Less

pixel 3a xl front in hand

When's the last time you saw a full-featured smartphone launch for well under $500? There have been a few to hit the market in this price range recently, usually with significant caveats, but in general the trend is towards more expensive flagship devices that are commanding upwards of $1000 quite often. Google's new Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, however, buck this trend with HD OLED displays, big batteries, and the same great camera configuration that made Google's higher-end Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL the Android phones to beat, when it comes to smartphone photography. The new Pixel 3a is a 5.6-inch device, for folks who prefer their phone be a bit more pocketable, but the Pixel 3a XL sports a 6-inch display, for those like us who want more screen real estate.

What's interesting about these new Google Pixel devices, and the Pixel 3 XL we're looking at here today, is that you really don't have to sacrifice much of anything in terms of features to get into their much more palatable $399 (Pixel 3a) and $479 (Pixel 3a XL) price points. With that said, we've been living with the Pixel 3a XL for a couple of weeks now and when it comes to bang for your buck, this new Google Pixel paints a fairly rosy picture.

Google Pixel 3a XL With Box
Google Pixel 3a XL on box purplish

In terms of color options, there are three to choose from, Clearly White, Just Black, and Purple-ish. What you're looking at here is Purple-ish, as you might surmise, and its finish, though fully plastic with the exception of its glass-strapped OLED display, is both pleasing to the eye and feels like quality in the hand. The Pixel 3a XL has a fingerprint resistant matte finish comprising much of its rear casing and a small strip of gloss plastic around the camera array that can pick up some smudging. Side note, we do happen to like the Purple-ish color best. It's clean and bright but with a cool, understated tint.

Regardless, beauty is in the eye as they say, and only skin deep, so let's look at the Pixel 3a XL's specs a bit and digest it all...

Google Pixel 3a XL
Specifications & Features
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 670
Display 6-inch 18:9 (2160x1080) FHD+ OLED Display, 402ppi
Memory 4GB LPDDR4X
Storage 64GB UFS 2.1
Rear-Facing Cameras 12.2MP Dual-Pixel  f/1.8, 76º Standard Angle, Autofocus, OIS and EIS
Front-Facing Cameras 8MP f/2.0 84º FoV, Fixed Focus
Video Recording 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30/60/120 fps, 720p at 30/60/240 fps
Battery 3,700 mAh Li-Po, non-removable
OS Android 9.0 Pie
Dimensions 6.3 x 0.3 x 3.0 Inches (160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2 mm)
Weight 5.89 ounces (167 grams)
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, Radio, NFC, USB-C, 3.5mm Audio
Colors Clearly White, Just Black, Purple-ish
Pricing $479 - Find It @ Amazon

Built Clean, Lean And Cost-Efficient

As you can see above, there's a fair amount of top and bottom bezel on the Pixel 3a XL and at 6.3 inches tall it's a fairly large device. As such, under the hood is a 3700 mAh battery that powers Qualcomm's Snapdragon 670 Mobile Platform. This is a mid-range SoC designed to offer competent performance and 4G LTE connectivity, along with AI engines and support for the latest dual camera features with Qualcomm's Spectra 250. In addition, on-board is Qualcomm's Adreno 630 graphics engine which, as you might surmise, is a step down from Adreno 640 that's found in Qualcomm's current top-end Snapdragon 855 chip, though it is at least a current-gen derivative. More on this later. 
Google Pixel 3a XL bottom edge
Google Pixel 3a XL top power button
Also on board is 4GB of LPDDR4X DRAM and 64GB of Flash storage, along with Google's Android 9 (Pie) OS.  And yes, boys and girls, that's a 3.5mm headphone jack you're looking at there. Huzzah! On the downside, however, Google doesn't specify an IP water resistance rating for their new Pixel 3a devices, so don't expect to go for an accidental dip with one. It may survive, but you're on your own here. Also, I don't know about you, but I personally appreciate the almost lime-green/yellow power and screen lock button on the side of the Purple-ish color of the Pixel 3 series. It makes finding that button all that much easier, whether in dimly lit situations or perhaps slightly happy hour impaired?

Finally, with the Pixel 3a XL we get both a bottom-firing speaker and a top-firing speaker from the earpiece area. This stereo speaker setup offers surprising volume and decent fullness for a smartphone. We still get a faint bit of break-up at high volumes, but all in all, the Pixel 3a XL sounds better than the average smartphone on the market, whether it be in speakerphone mode or piping some music in a pinch, without a set of buds at your disposal.

Pixel 3a xl kit with case
With the new Pixel 3a XL we received the standard assortment of accouterments; a lit pack and SIM slot key tool, along with an AC fast charge adapter and USB-A to USB-C sync and charge cable. We also received an optional fabric-clad case for the Pixel 3a XL, which we must say certainly helps with "gripability" and looks snazzy too.

And Yes, Google's Killer Smartphone Camera Technology Returns

pixel 3a xl in hand
pixel 3a xl in case in hand

On the back side of the Pixel 3a and 3a XL you'll find its very convenient fingerprint scanner that has fast response times and good accuracy. To be honest, we still aren't enamored by front mounted or in-glass display mounted scanners. Pointing our index finger back in this little circular indentation just feels more ergonomic and natural when you pick up a phone. Also, on the back side is the exact same rear-facing camera of the higher-end Pixel 3 XL flagship with its Sony IMX363 sensor. You get a wide F1.8 aperture here, as well as both electronic and optical image stabilization and Google's famed Night Sight mode for low light photography. Google's camera technology since the original Pixel series has received copious praise and we found the Pixel 3a XL to offer image reproduction that is best of breed on the market still. We'll dive into performance here shortly but suffice it to say that shutterbugs will not be disappointed.

Pixel 3a XL Display - 6-Inches, OLED, Bezels And No Notch

Pixel 3a XL display

The last, but certainly not the least primary feature of the Pixel 3a XL is its display. After all, this is what you're going to be staring at for probably far too many interruptions during the course of a busy day. Here we'd offer that Google's selection of OLED panels was fairly spot-on for its price point. It's not a particularly bright display. In fact, we had to turn it up a bit to hit expected output for our battery test which you'll see later in this review, but it does get the job done in daylight and with good color accuracy and vibrancy. Also, you'll note the traditional deep, clean blacks and inky saturation associated with OLED technology. This display may not be up to par with Samsung's AMOLED technology of the Galaxy S10 series, or the 90Hz OLED nirvana of the OnePlus 7 Pro (review inbound) but for the price especially, we're more than happy with its performance and we think most mainstream consumers will be as well. 

So that's the Pixel 3a XL's hardware setup, let's look at some software and camera action...

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