Similar design with differentiated features
The Pixel 3a XL and 3 XL are incredibly similar from the back. In fact, I was only able to tell them apart from the color of the power button — the 3a XL has an orange power button whereas the 3 XL has a mint-colored button. Although the phones look similar, Google has used different materials.
The Pixel 3 XL has a higher-res display, but the 3a XL has a headphone jack and a bigger battery.
The Pixel 3 XL has a glass back that's coated with a polymer to give it that matte finish, and the 3a XL has a polycarbonate chassis. There's a more clear-cut difference up front, with the Pixel 3 XL sporting a huge cutout to house the dual cameras and a second speaker. The 3a XL, meanwhile, has sizeable bezels that cover the top and bottom of the phone.
The Pixel 3a XL is taller and thicker than the Pixel 3 XL, but because of the huge bezels at the top and bottom, you get a smaller display. But the phone itself is lighter at 167g because of the polycarbonate back, with the 3 XL coming in at 184g.
The Pixel 3 XL has a 6.3-inch display, whereas the 3a XL measures in at 6 inches. The resolution is also lower on the 3a XL at 1080p, but the panel itself is great for the asking price.
That said, the Pixel 3 XL has a flagship-level panel — albeit by 2018 standards — and you can stream HDR10 videos on the device. Both phones also have stereo speakers, but the Pixel 3 XL has them at the front and the 3a XL's speakers are located at the bottom. The Pixel 3 XL's higher-res screen combined with front-facing stereo speakers creates a much more immersive experience.
The Pixel 3a XL isn't without its advantages in this area. The phone includes a headphone jack at the top, a welcome move. There's also a larger 3700mAh battery on the 3a XL, versus the 3400mAh unit on the 3 XL. The Snapdragon 670 chipset is fabricated on the same 10nm process as the Snapdragon 845, and with the 3a XL sporting a lower-res screen and bigger battery, it offers better battery life than the 3 XL — battery longevity is easily the 3 XL's biggest shortcoming.
Pixel 3 XL has better hardware and wireless charging
Although both devices share the same camera at the back, the Pixel 3 XL has a beefier Snapdragon 845, which is better for gaming. I've been using the Snapdragon 670-powered Pixel 3a XL for just under a week, and while I haven't seen any performance slowdowns yet, the Adreno 615 GPU doesn't handle intensive titles like PUBG and Fortnite as well as the Adreno 630 on the Snapdragon 845.
If you don't care about gaming, you're not going to see a lot of difference in day-to-day performance between the Pixel 3a XL and the 3 XL.
Pixel 3 XL costs a premium, but you do get more features.
That said, the Pixel 3 XL does have a lot of extras: there are wireless charging and IP68 dust and water resistance, making it withstand the elements better. Google decided to not offer either of those features on the 3a XL as a way to save costs, and that makes sense.
The Pixel 3a XL also loses out on unlimited original quality photo and video uploads to Google Photos. Instead, you get the option to upload at high quality, just like every other Android phone. Google needed to make strategic decisions to ensure that the Pixel 3a XL doesn't make the 3 XL obsolete, and that's evident when you look at the features that are missing from the device.
|Category||Google Pixel 3a XL||Google Pixel 3 XL|
|Operating system||Android 10||Android 10|
Gorilla Glass 5
2 x 2.20GHz Kryo 360 Gold
6 x 1.70GHz Kryo 360 Silver
4 x 2.85GHz Kryo 385 Gold
4 x 1.60GHz Kryo 385 Silver
|Rear camera 1||12.2 MP, f/1.8
Dual Pixel PDAF
|12.2 MP, f/1.8
Dual Pixel PDAF
|Front camera 1||8MP, f/2.0
|Front camera 2||None||8MP, f/2.2
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX, NFC, A-GPS
|Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0
AptX, NFC, A-GPS
|Security||Fingerprint (capacitive)||Fingerprint (capacitive)|
|Dimensions||160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm
|158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm
Same phenomenal camera on both phones
The standout feature on the Pixel 3a XL is the 12.2MP camera at the back. It's the same sensor as the one on the Pixel 3 XL, and Google is leveraging its computational photography smarts to deliver a similar quality of photos. At first glance, it's hard to differentiate the photos taken from the Pixel 3a XL with those from the 3 XL.
You're basically getting the same camera as the Pixel 3 XL at half the price.
That's staggering when you consider the Pixel 3a XL is ostensibly a "lower-end" version of the 3 XL. Google has effectively killed off the competition in the mid-range segment with the 3a XL, at least when it comes to the camera side of things. There isn't a phone today that offers the same quality of photos as the 3a XL at this price point, and that's unlikely to change for some time.
The camera interface itself is unchanged from the Pixel 3 XL, and you get the same shooting modes and features. There's even Night Sight, Google's multi-frame capture mode that effectively lets your phone see in the dark.
Pixel 3a XL on the left, Pixel 3 XL to the right.
It doesn't take a lot of photos to realize that the camera on the Pixel 3a XL is just as good as the 3 XL, both in daylight as well as challenging shooting conditions. To think that you now get a camera of this caliber in the mid-range segment is astounding.
Both phones will get three years of updates
Google is thankfully not making any changes when it comes to the software side of things. Both the Pixel 3a XL and the Pixel 3 XL have the same set of software features, and both phones will get three years of software and platform updates.
That's a big deal when you consider most mid-range phones do not receive timely updates. It's clear that Google is differentiating the Pixel 3a XL with its camera and the promise of timely updates, and that makes the device one of the best in the mid-range segment.
Ultimately, the Pixel 3a XL offers more for less
I'm okay with the fact that the 3a XL does not have wireless charging or water resistance, but it would have been nice to get original quality media uploads. That said, I am glad that Google has retained the same 12.2MP camera at the back — ultimately, that's what matters more in day-to-day usage.
If I had to buy a phone with my own money, it would be the Pixel 3a XL.
Choosing between the two comes down to what you're looking for in a phone. If you want a mid-range phone that takes fabulous photos, then the Pixel 3a XL should be at the top of your list. It's unlikely we'll see any other manufacturer come close to the 3a XL in this regard. And at its year-on discounted price under $400, it's an incredible value.
But if you're looking for a device with a higher-res screen, wireless charging, water resistance, nicer overall hardware, and a better selfie camera, then the Pixel 3 XL is the phone to get. Yes it's a year older than the new Pixel 4 XL, but that's what makes it enticing in this comparison — it's only asking a small price premium over the Pixel 3a XL, yet it offers quite a bit more.
Great mid-range phone with a phenomenal camera
Google absolutely nailed the formula for a mid-range phone with the Pixel 3a XL. The hardware is decent enough for everyday tasks, but the camera is head and shoulders above anything else you'll find in this segment. Combine that with guaranteed security and platform updates for three years and you get one of the best mid-range phones of 2019.
All the extras
The best phone Google has ever made.
The Pixel 3 XL has an outstanding rear camera, but it also has dual cameras upfront that are the best you'll find on any phone today. Then there's the QHD+ display, unlimited original-quality uploads to Photos, wireless charging, water resistance, and a robust chipset that'll last well into 2020.
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