I have to say, when I first heard the Google Pixel 3A announcement, I was intrigued. Google has shipped a lot in that $399 package. Was this the phone that was going to tempt people to cross the line from Apple’s walled garden into Google’s data collecting machine?
The Pixel 3A lacks some frills you may find in premium devices, like wireless charging and water resistance. But based on my tests, it is a great value. It’s fast and capable with a very good camera and a nice-looking screen — and, yes, especially for this price.
Among the clever camera features is a software mode called Night Sight, which makes photos taken in low light look as if they had been shot in normal conditions, without a flash. Google accomplishes this with some A.I. sorcery that involves taking a burst of photos with short exposures and reassembling them into an image.
I was delighted to see that Night Sight worked well with the Pixel 3A.
The Pixel 3A can also shoot images with portrait mode, also known as the bokeh effect, which puts the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. Portrait mode was effective at producing artsy-looking pictures of red flowers in a garden and of my dogs in a field.
Anecdotally, I’ve had better results with portrait mode on the pricier Pixel 3 and iPhones.
Otherwise, normal shots in good lighting consistently looked crisp and clear, with nice shadow detail.
Other features missing from the Pixel 3A include support for wireless charging, a wide-angle lens on its front-facing camera and water resistance. Most of these omissions are negligible.
The way I read this is, the Pixel 3A is a good enough camera. A bit slower than it’s twice-the-price sibling, but good enough for most people.
And the Pixel 3A will be getting far bigger distribution. From Reuters:
The phone will sell in the same 13 countries as the Pixel 3.
And while Pixel devices currently work on T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular networks, those U.S. wireless carriers will also begin to sell the phones starting Wednesday, along with Verizon.
Google had discussions with AT&T, another major U.S. carrier, but could not overcome some differences, according to people familiar with the matter. But Google and AT&T continue to discuss the possibility of stocking smartphones in the future, one of the people said.
And from this Verge review:
On the Pixel 3, you get free unlimited backups of the original resolution photos you’ve taken with the phone. The Pixel 3A is limited to free “high quality” backups, and it makes you pay for more storage if you upload too many original quality photos, just like any other phone. I suppose that’s one way to help get to that $399 price, but I think it’s a cheap move.
And this brings us to privacy. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Sundar Pichai pitched Google as the privacy loving company, here to make sure privacy is available to all, not just those who can afford high priced phones from their competitors.
I posted the question on Twitter, asking if people bought Sundar’s pitch. And the universal response was no. Even from Android folks. Google’s business model is based on collecting data to fuel their ad business. Hard to reframe that as “serving the people”.
I see the Pixel 3A as a great little phone. But I see it as the low priced razor. For the razor, the money is in razor blade sales. With the low priced Pixel 3A, the money is in ad sales.
An interesting strategy, Google.