Google's cheaper Pixel 4 alternative with a great camera – CNET

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Despite an extraordinary camera and a handful of useful software tricks, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL didn't blow us away this year. That's because the phone has an average battery life that is slightly outdated, has limited storage capacity, and other phones have great cameras with impressive low-light modes (like that iPhone 11 and OnePlus 7T).

But above all, the phones are expensive. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL start at $ 799 and $ 899, respectively. Luckily, if you want a Google phone that has a great camera and gets software updates right away, the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL are much cheaper options. These mid-tier handsets cost $ 399 and $ 479 ($ 399 and $ 469 in the UK and AU $ 649 and AU $ 799 in Australia) and are essentially revised 2018 Pixel 3 phones. The Pixel 3A has none second telephoto camera like the Pixel 4, but it's these few hardware downgrades that result in a lower price.

This lower price, coupled with solid performance and a great camera, has given the Pixel 3A the choice of the CNET editorial team. While the phone doesn't offer as many features as its competitors' other "budget" options, like the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10E, the Pixel 3A is still at least $ 300 cheaper.

Read: Pixel 3A vs. Moto G7: what is the best budget phone?

Editor's note, October 28: Updated compared to the new Pixel phones. The original review, released on May 7, follows below.

Pixel 3A and Pixel 3: what's different?

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Pixel 3A (left) and Pixel 3.

Angela Lang / CNET

Pixel 3A looks almost identical to Pixel 3

Both the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3 have a light unibody design, a matte surface with a glossy color on the back and a fingerprint reader on the back. If I came across both phones for the first time, I wouldn't know which one is more expensive.

However, there are some differences. Pixel 3A is larger and, like Pixel 3, is made of polycarbonate instead of glass. The lower bezel is thicker and the display a little larger. The phone also uses another type of OLED display, which has glass as the base layer instead of plastic. Even if both screens are in the same color mode (which you can change in the settings), the Pixel 3A sometimes looks a bit more punchy. Red, yellow and orange colors are warmer and whites appear lighter and purer. In contrast, the screen of the Pixel 3 is bluer and although it is the higher quality device, it has a clearer color shift.

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The Pixel 3A has a new purple hue and a light green power button.

Angela Lang / CNET

Other design takeaways

  • It's a problem that the Pixel 3A is not water-resistant, so I can't worry if I have my phone near a pool or sink. But I like that the Pixel 3A has a headphone jack. Co-users of wired headphones are happy!
  • Like Not Pink, Purple-ish is a very subtle shade of purple. Depending on the light, it sometimes looks obviously purple and sometimes it can be washed out to white. In any case, the neon green power button is a cool thing.
  • You can still start Google Assistant or mute an incoming call by pressing the phone pages. Google calls this Active Edge. Unlike other phones with the same function (like the HTC U11), you can't reprogram the print to do something different. Too bad.
  • The phone has stereo speakers and the bottom speaker has been moved from the chin to the bottom edge of the phone.

Pixel 3A camera: same camera, but with time-lapse

A new feature is the time-lapse video. You can set your images to take at different time intervals. For example, you can compress between 50 seconds and 20 minutes of recorded material in 10 seconds. There is also a useful display that shows how long your video stays in real time. To conserve the battery, the viewfinder is dimmed after a while, while the phone is still recording.

In general, time-lapse videos were clear and smooth, and I love that I can see how long my video will last. But the quality isn't as good as the iPhone XR. In a video I shot at a darkened cocktail party, the footage on the Pixel 3A was mushier and grainy than that of the iPhone XR. The time-lapse also looked jerky or "pulsating" than on the iPhone. Despite the fact that the iPhone XR's camera interface is bare and doesn't have different timeframe options, it delivers better video.