The Pixel 3a and 3a XL are now official, and the main talking point is the camera — both phones share the same 12.2MP camera at the back as the Pixel 3 series. That's exciting for a few reasons, as the Pixel 3 series has arguably one of the best cameras on Android today.
With the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, Google is essentially making that great camera accessible to a wider audience. The 3a starts off at just $399, while the larger 3a XL is available for $479. That's half the price of the Pixel 3 series, and while the 3a and 3a XL are missing some of the more extraneous features — like water resistance and wireless charging — in day-to-day usage they're near-identical to the Pixel 3 and 3 XL.
I took the Pixel 3a XL to a work-related event in Goa, and shot the following images over the course of two days. As you shall see below, the Pixel 3a XL is a paradigm shift for affordable flagships, at least when it comes to the camera side of things.
As you'd imagine, the Pixel 3a XL takes outstanding photos in daylight conditions, with the images coming out sharp, vibrant, and full of detail. Google has shown just what it can do with computational photography in recent years, and it's using the same techniques on the Pixel 3a XL.
There were a few instances where parts of a photo came out underexposed, but this was the case on the Pixel 3 series as well.
It's in low or artificial lighting conditions where the Pixel 3a XL outshines every other phone at this price point. Like the standard Pixel 3 series, the Pixel 3a XL takes gorgeous photos in low-light conditions, and I was blown away at just how consistent the phone was at taking great shots in challenging scenarios.
You do get some noise at the edges, but overall the quality of images is pretty incredible when you consider the Pixel 3a XL costs $479.
Night Sight is an exciting new addition to the Pixel series, and it uses multi-frame capture with varying exposure levels to take in more light. Google also has algorithms that automatically adjust white balance to preserve more detail.
The difference is pretty staggering, as you can see above. Night Sight does a great job illuminating dark areas, and you get a similar level of detail.
Much more to come
We're just scratching the surface with the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, but I can already say that this is the best camera I've used on a sub-$500 phone to date. I use dozens of affordable flagships over the course of a year, and while they all offer top-notch hardware, the one complaint has always been the camera quality.
The Pixel 3a XL changes all that. The camera on offer is just as great as what you'd find on the Pixel 3, and that makes the Pixel 3a XL the default option for those in the market for an affordable flagship in 2019.
Take this camera on a field trip
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.