ASUS is on the rise again. After a strong showing last year with the ZenFone 5z, the Taiwanese manufacturer has rolled out its most ambitious device in the ZenFone 6. Google, meanwhile, is making its standout camera more accessible with the Pixel 3a XL. Both are great options in the value category, but they're two very different phones.
Same great value, two entirely different philosophies
You won't find two phones that are more different in this segment. The ZenFone 6 is the traditional value flagship: you get the latest hardware available, but with a few tradeoffs to bring the phone down to that $600 price point. The Pixel 3a XL, meanwhile, has average hardware for its $480 asking price, but its main selling point is the camera: you're not going to find a camera of this caliber for under $1,000.
The ZenFone 6 has great hardware and an average camera; the Pixel 3a XL has average hardware and a great camera.
That's evident once you start using either device. The ZenFone 6 has a metal-and-glass design with a notchless display and ultra-thin bezels, whereas the Pixel 3a XL has a polycarbonate chassis with bezels straight out of 2017. That said, the Pixel 3a XL feels fantastic to hold and use, with the ZenFone 6 bulkier on account of the massive 5000mAh battery.
Both phones have stereo sound and 3.5mm jacks, but the Pixel 3a XL has just 4GB of RAM, which means you'll run into problems with background memory management. The Pixel 3a XL is also limited on the storage front, with just 64GB of storage and no MicroSD card slot. The ZenFone 6, meanwhile, comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as standard.
Coming to the display, both phones are roughly the same height (the 3a XL is marginally taller) but the ZenFone 6 has a 6.4-inch display versus the 6.0-inch panel on the 3a XL. That's because of the huge bezels on the 3a XL, but when it comes to the panel itself the 3a XL fares better. You get an OLED display on the 3a XL with excellent contrast levels and great color accuracy, and the ZenFone 6 is rocking an LCD. Colors weren't as vibrant on the ZenFone 6, and I could never get the color balance sorted out to my preferences.
When it comes to the internal hardware, however, the ZenFone 6 is the clear winner. The phone is powered by the Snapdragon 855, which outshines the Snapdragon 670 on the 3a XL by some margin. It's not that the Pixel 3a XL is slow — it's plenty capable at everyday tasks — but it just lacks that grunt on offer with the Snapdragon 855. If you play any intensive games at all on your phone, the ZenFone 6 is a better bet.
The ZenFone 6 also dominates the Pixel 3a XL when it comes to battery life. With a 5000mAh battery under the hood, you're guaranteed two days' worth of usage out of a full charge. The 3a XL is adequate in this area — it delivers a day's worth of battery life — but it isn't on the same level as the ZenFone 6.
ASUS made a lot of changes to its ZenUI software over the last 12 months, and the result is that it is no longer bloated. The user interface is akin to any Android One device, and is just as fluid. ASUS has also gotten much better at delivering software updates, but if you care about fast updates, you'll want to get the Pixel 3a XL.
|Category||ASUS ZenFone 6||Pixel 3a XL|
|Operating system||Android 9.0 Pie
|Android 9.0 Pie|
|Display||6.4-inch IPS LCD, 2340x1080 (19.5:9)
HDR10, Gorilla Glass 6
|6.0-inch OLED, 2160x1080 (18:9)
Gorilla Glass 3
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
1 x 2.84GHz Kryo 485
3 x 2.41GHz Kryo 485
4 x 1.78GHz Kryo 485
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 670
2 x 2.0GHz Kryo 360 Gold
6 x 1.70GHz Kryo 360
|MicroSD slot||Yes (Up to 1TB)||No|
|Rear camera 1||48 MP, f/1.8
Dual Pixel PDAF
Dual Pixel PDAF
|Rear camera 2||13MP, f/2.4||No|
|Front camera||Same as rear camera||8MP, f/2.0|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX HD, NFC, A-GPS
|Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX HD, NFC, A-GPS
|Charging||USB-C at 18W
10W reverse charging
|USB-C at 18W|
|Security||Rear fingerprint||Rear fingerprint|
|Dimensions||159.1 x 75.4 x 9.2 mm
|160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm
|Colors||Midnight Black, Twilight Silver||Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish|
The Pixel 3a XL is all about that camera
The camera is the defining feature on the Pixel 3a XL, with the phone featuring the same great shooter as the Pixel 3 series. That's a big deal when you consider the 3a XL costs half as much as the Pixel 3. It's astonishing to see what Google is able to deliver with the same 12.2MP sensor from 2017, but if you're looking for a mid-range phone that takes excellent photos, the 3a XL is the device to get.
ZenFone 6 on the left, Pixel 3a XL on the right
Shots from the Pixel 3a XL are more vibrant and have better dynamic range, and less noise in low-light conditions. Google's signature contrast look shows up in the photos, but overall the 3a XL does a fantastic job in any lighting condition.
Both are great options — it's all down to you
Picking a phone between these two is down to personal preference more than anything else. I particularly like the simplicity of the Pixel 3a XL — Google isn't playing the specs game like everyone else, instead focusing on one differentiating feature. That feature is the camera, and if you're looking for a phone for under $500 range that takes the best photos, the Pixel 3a XL should be your go-to device.
Sure, the hardware on offer isn't really the fastest available today, but it runs lag-free in day-to-day usage and plays most games just fine. Same goes for the rest of the phone: there really isn't any other area where it stands out, but that camera is just absolutely fantastic.
If you need a phone that's more future-proof, the ZenFone 6 is the obvious pick. You're getting Qualcomm's latest silicon backed by outstanding battery life, a notchless design, and a unique rotating camera module. But in return, you lose out on overall image quality: as good as the IMX 586 sensor is on the ZenFone 6, it just doesn't hold up to the Pixel 3a XL.
If you're okay with the tradeoff in camera quality, then the ZenFone 6 is a great choice. The hardware is just about the fastest you'll find, and ASUS has made a lot of great strides in getting rid of the bloatware in ZenUI. If you take a lot of photos and want to save $150, then get the Pixel 3a XL.
Fantastic value backed by robust hardware.
With the ZenFone 6, you're getting the latest hardware at less than half the cost of true flagships. Combine that with an innovative rotating camera module and an outstanding 5000mAh battery and you get one of the best value flagships in the market today.
A great mid-range phone with an exquisite camera.
The main draw with the Pixel 3a XL is that camera at the back, which holds its own against $1,000 flagships. The rest of the device is pretty standard fare, but you're still getting great value for your money. If you're in the market for a phone with a flagship camera, you cannot go wrong with the Pixel 3a XL.
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