Google Pixel 3a Review: Retains the best AI features, and adds a few new ones at half the price

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Updated: May 16, 2019 11:39:47 AM

The 3a series offers users the facility of an e-SIM. This means users can, theoretically, have two numbers on the Pixel, though the current software doesn’t allow both to be operated at the same time.

The 3a series retains the best Artificial Intelligence features, and adds a few new ones at half the priceThe 3a series retains the best Artificial Intelligence features, and adds a few new ones at half the price

The Pixel range of phones, even when stripped down a bit as has been done in the 3a series, keeps getting better. So, like its predecessor, the Pixel 3, the Pixel 3a retains the Artificial Intelligence (AI) edge that Google provides all Androids; being a Pixel, the software upgrades come faster, and the security patches every month; the custom-built Titan M chip, that other Androids do not have since it is a hardware feature and was first seen in the Pixel 3, also makes the 3a more hack-proof.

When any phone costs roughly half what its predecessor does, the first thing you want to know is what has been removed, and how much of a difference does this make to the new product, more so since so many other manufacturers are offering premium phones that are considerably cheaper than the Pixel 3 series. The metal body in the Pixel 2 was upgraded to an all-glass one in the Pixel 3—this made wireless charging possible—but the 3a has a distinctly less-classy polycarbonate body even though its finishing is good for a plastic body. While this rules out wireless charging—how many people use this?— the flipside is that the plastic makes it easier to grip, so there is less of a need to buy a protective cover that, in any case, makes even slick phones look clunky. It remains to be seen if the plastic scratches easily, for if it does, that will take away from its looks.

The plastic body also reduces body weight, from 184 grams for the Pixel 3 to 167 for the 3a (both for the XL variant). A mid-range processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 670 instead of the Snapdragon 845—and the 835 in the Pixel 2—also helped cut costs, but the good news is that for most functions, it doesn’t seem to make any perceptible difference—like the speed at which you can surf, or switch between various apps. It probably matters most for heavy-duty gaming and photo/video editing.

Despite a lower screen resolution as compared to either the Pixel 3 or 2—the 3 was superior to the 2—the screen retains the vibrancy of the earlier series, thanks to the OLED screen. Combined with a slower processor, this means a better battery life—the ‘adaptive battery’ obviously helps —and Google promises 30 hours on a single charge provided the ‘always on’ display is kept off.

The dual front cameras in the Pixel 3 gave you a great wide-angled Group Selfie but that, sadly, is not available in the 3a series since there is only one camera now. The flipside is the ugly notch in the Pixel 3 is no longer there. As with all Pixels, AI remains the phone’s USP, whether in the camera operations or elsewhere.

The Night Sight feature, for instance, uses AI to get you photographs in a dark room—with just a candle for light, for instance—that, often enough, even the eye cannot see with great clarity. The phone will take a burst of high-definition pictures and the AI will stitch them together to create a well-lit image. Take a picture in low light with and without the Night Sight to know the difference. The Call Screening feature, that allows Google Assistant to answer calls from unknown numbers, sadly, is not available in India right now; nor is the Augmented Reality in maps. A Time Lapse feature, though, allows you to compress a long video—of a sunset, perhaps—into a few seconds; just enough to let you see all the changes in the sunset without having to go through a long video. Top Shot ensures the phone shoots a burst of pictures, while the AI helps figure out which is the best.

Google Lens remains as much the hit it was in even earlier versions of the Pixel. A long-press of the home button on Twitter, say, allows you to choose “what’s on my screen?” and you can get a lot of information on, say, the person who has tweeted; in response to a “let’s have lunch at Turquoise Cottage tomorrow” SMS, Lens will give you the web address, the Twitter handle and a phone number to call.

While several features will, over time, be available on other Androids since these will be part of newer versions of each OS, the camera properties will not be available since they are essentially powered by an extra chip—Pixel Visual Core—that is aimed at enhancing image processing facilities.

As in the Apple watch that first saw this, the 3a series offers users the facility of an e-SIM. This means users can, theoretically, have two numbers on the Pixel, though the current software doesn’t allow both to be operated at the same time, in the manner Samsung and other phones do. Perhaps that’s for another version of the software or in the periodic upgrades.

Other great features include Flip to Shhh—just place your phone with the screen facing down to enable do-not-disturb—and a Quick Switch Adapter cable that makes transferring data from one phone to another much easier. At the price, this is definitely worth it.

Estimated street price: Rs 39,999 (Pixel 3a); Rs 44,999 (Pixel 3a XL)

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