Google has made some headway in the premium category with the Pixel series in recent years, but the brand is now making its foray into the mid-range segment with the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. This is a category that OnePlus has dominated over the last three years, but this year the company is going after "true" flagships with the OnePlus 7 Pro. The Pixel 3a XL is available for $479, whereas the OnePlus 7 Pro is a couple of hundred dollars more at $669. Let's see how the Pixel 3a XL fares next to one of the fastest phones available today.
You could not find two phones that are more different
This is an interesting comparison because I don't often come across phones that are so dissimilar. Google has shown that it can absolutely deliver on the software front — making the most out of seemingly paltry hardware — while OnePlus is all about offering the absolute latest specs in the market.
The OnePlus 7 Pro has a much better design, but the Pixel 3a XL is easier to use.
That's immediately evident once you put both phones side-by-side. The Pixel 3a XL shares a similar design aesthetic as the Pixel 3 series, and it's starting to look stale. The back is made out of polycarbonate, though a textured window that covers the top third section breaks up the design somewhat. The Clearly White option gives the phone a clean and minimal look, but it isn't exciting.
On the other hand, the OnePlus 7 Pro in Nebula Blue is one of the most striking designs you'll see this year. The back has a matte finish, and it subtly changes hue based on light reflecting off its surface. It's a similar story up front as well — the Pixel 3a XL has huge bezels at the top and bottom, and the OnePlus 7 Pro has barely any.
That said, the Pixel 3a XL is easier to use on a day-to-day basis. The OnePlus 7 Pro is just too big and unwieldy, and the dual curved screen and lack of any bezels make it nigh on impossible to use the device one-handed. You'll have to use the phone with a case, and that adds even more weight to what is already the heaviest phone I've used this year. At 206g, the OnePlus 7 Pro is heavier even than the Galaxy Note 9, and you'll immediately notice that heft once you start using the device.
Both phones have clean software interfaces, and OnePlus has significantly raised its game in this area in the last three years. OxygenOS is my favorite third-party skin, and while it strikes a great balance between customizability and performance, it still isn't quite on par with what Google has to offer.
OnePlus 7 Pro absolutely dominates on the hardware front ...
OnePlus built its entire brand around performance, so it's no wonder that its 2019 flagship dominates in this area. The phone is powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 855 chipset, and is the first commercial device to sport UFS 3.0 flash storage.
With a 90Hz QHD+ display, Snapdragon 855 and UFS 3.0 storage, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a performance beast.
The display is buttery smooth, and it's easy to get addicted to that 90Hz refresh rate. Scrolling is noticeably smoother, and the sheer hardware on offer means everything loads instantly. Whether it's browsing long-form content on Chrome or going through Instagram posts, the display on the OnePlus 7 Pro is an absolute treat.
I'm not even going to try comparing it to the Pixel 3a XL because it's just not in the same league. The Pixel 3a XL has much more modest specs, and side-by-side, it isn't anywhere as smooth as the OnePlus 7 Pro.
|Category||Google Pixel 3a XL||OnePlus 7 Pro|
|Operating system||Android 9.0 Pie||Android 9.0 Pie|
Asahi Dragon Trail
|6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED
Gorilla Glass 6
2 x 2.20GHz Kryo 360 Gold
6 x 1.70GHz Kryo 360 Silver
1 x 2.84GHz Kryo 485
3 x 2.41GHz Kryo 485
4 x 1.78GHz Kryo 485
|Rear camera 1||12.2 MP, f/1.8
Dual Pixel PDAF
Dual Pixel PDAF
|Rear camera 2||No||8MP, f/2.4
|Rear camera 3||No||16MP, f/2.2
|Front camera 1||8MP, f/2.0
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX, NFC, A-GPS
|Wi-Fi ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX HD, LDAC, NFC, A-GPS
|Security||Fingerprint (capacitive)||In-display fingerprint|
|Dimensions||160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm
|162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8mm
|Colors||Just Black, Clearly White, Purple-ish||Mirror Gray, Nebula Blue, Almond|
The base variant of the OnePlus 7 Pro comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and there are also options that offer 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and a high-end model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Meanwhile, the Pixel 3a XL has only 4GB LPDDR4 RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, which I haven't seen outside the budget segment for a while now. It's safe to say that the Pixel 3a XL is thoroughly outclassed on the hardware front, but specs just tell one side of the story. I've been using the Pixel 3a XL for ten days now, and I haven't seen any slowdowns.
... But the Pixel 3a XL has a much better camera
The standout feature on the Pixel 3a XL is the camera. Google retained the same camera and software algorithms from the costlier Pixel 3 series, and the result is that the 3a XL trounces other phones in this category, and several that cost significantly more.
There isn't a phone under $800 that beats the camera on the Pixel 3a XL.
The Pixel 3a XL has a single 12.2MP camera at the back, whereas the OnePlus 7 Pro has three sensors: a primary 48MP camera that uses pixel binning to produce 12MP photos, an 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, and a 16MP ultra-wide lens with 117-degree field of view.
Google relies heavily on computational photography to deliver outstanding photos on the Pixel 3a XL, and OnePlus is instead using a larger sensor that can take in more light. Both phones have a similar camera interface with plenty of toggles and modes, and the OnePlus 7 Pro also has a retractable motor for the front camera.
Pixel 3a XL to the left, OnePlus 7 Pro to the right.
Just a few photos taken in daylight are enough to show that the 3a XL does a much better job. There's better dynamic range, and colors aren't overly saturated like the OnePlus 7 Pro. The Pixel 3a XL was also able to focus in on objects better, and it also did a much better job with portrait shots. There's a decent amount of noise from both devices in the low-light photo, but details are preserved much better on the Pixel 3a XL. The photo taken with the OnePlus 7 Pro is soft and muddy by comparison.
Furthermore, the wide-angle and telephoto lenses on the OnePlus 7 Pro aren't quite up to scratch, and it would've been better had OnePlus focused its attention on improving the quality of its primary sensor instead of bolting on more cameras at the back.
Another area where the Pixel 3a XL wins out is battery life. The OnePlus 7 Pro has a larger 4000mAh battery, but I haven't been able to get a day's worth of use out of it. The 90Hz display kills battery life, and in this regard the Pixel 3a XL with its 3700mAh battery fares better. I didn't think I'd come across a phone with worse battery life than the Exynos-based Galaxy S10+, but the OnePlus 7 Pro has that device beat. Switching to 60Hz makes a huge difference, but then you lose out on that buttery-smooth scrolling.
The OnePlus 7 Pro is also missing a headphone jack, and there's no wireless charging or water resistance. The 3a XL has a 3.5mm jack, but it is also missing out on the latter features. That said, OnePlus' device costs nearly $200 more, and it is going up against the best that Samsung, Google, and Huawei have to offer.
Here's why I'm picking the Pixel 3a XL
OnePlus' decision to go after Samsung, Google, and Huawei in the flagship space is commendable, but the final effort is lacking in a few areas. Don't get me wrong, that 90Hz screen is an absolute delight to use, and the design and specs on offer are top-notch. But the display is too tall — making the phone unwieldy — and it is too heavy. And I don't know about you, but if I'm paying $700 for a phone in 2019, I'd want a much better camera and a battery that lasts all day.
OnePlus got a lot of things right, but I want a much better camera if I'm paying $700 for a phone in 2019.
I don't generally pick the slower phone, but the Pixel 3a XL is not your average phone. I'm absolutely willing to sacrifice some of that performance for the outstanding camera on the 3a XL. If you're okay with that tradeoff, the Pixel 3a XL may just be the phone for you. The RAM isn't adequate and multitasking is frustrating, but that camera is a true gem.
That said, if you want a cutting-edge display and robust hardware that will easily last three years, the OnePlus 7 Pro is the phone to get. OnePlus has absolutely nailed the performance side of things, and the phone will not be lacking in this area for the foreseeable future.
Finally, the Pixel 3a XL is available at Sprint and T-Mobile in addition to Verizon, whereas the OnePlus 7 Pro is exclusive to T-Mobile. Carrier availability wasn't an issue with previous OnePlus devices, but with the phone now retailing for $700, carrier subsidies will absolutely start to make a difference.
Phenomenal camera at an affordable price.
The Pixel 3a XL does one thing, but it does it better than any other phone under $800. The camera is an absolute delight to use, and while the hardware on offer doesn't quite match up to other phones in this segment, the phone is pretty great overall.
The ultimate phone for spec nerds.
OnePlus made its name as the phone for power users, and the company kicked things up a notch with the OnePlus 7 Pro. The phone is one of the fastest in the market today, and that 90Hz display is magnificent. But it isn't without its downsides: the phone is too big and unwieldy, the battery life is woeful, and the camera just doesn't cut it in 2019.
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