Motorola One Action vs Pixel 3a: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 3a XL
Google Pixel 3a XL (Image credit: Android Central)

Google Pixel 3a

Google Pixel 3a

The Pixel 3a will go down in history as one of the most impressive mid-range Android phones of 2019. Google's ability to offer a flagship-grade camera in such an affordable package is the main draw to the 3a, and when you add that together with the OLED display, guaranteed software updates, and more, it becomes a darn impressive package.

Google Pixel 3a

Mid-range champ

Unbeatable camera
Solid OLED display
Polycarbonate body feels sturdy
Clean user interface
First-in-line for software updates
Only 64GB of non-expandable storage

Motorola One Action

Motorola One Action

For a bit less money, you can pick up the Motorola One Action. The One Action's camera results aren't as impressive and you don't get the same level of software support, but those downgrades are made up for with a unique 21:9 display, a first-of-its-kind action camera for video recording, Alexa built right in, and Motorola's great software additions.

Motorola One Action

Great for video

Immersive 21:9 display
Unique action camera for video capture
Larger battery
Alexa built-in
Great Motorola software
Bleak future for software updates
Camera quality is just OK

Overall, the Pixel 3a is the phone we'd recommend most people get. The retail price is a bit higher than the Motorola One Action, but its the phone that'll hold up better as time goes on. Pictures taken with its single rear camera look incredible, the OLED display is a joy, and the top-notch Android 10 experience you have right now will only get better as time goes on. You can save a bit of cash with the Motorola One Action and get access to a few features not found on the 3a, but the uncertain future for software updates is worth considering.

The Pixel 3a is the phone we recommend

Google's Pixel 3a has stood out as our go-to mid-range Android recommendation since it was first released in May 2019, and that unwavering recommendation still holds true today. Plenty of other competitors have been released since then, but the Pixel 3a continues to stand out as something special.

As we've already mentioned, one of the big draws the Pixel 3a is its camera. The single 12.2-megapixel rear camera may not sound impressive compared to the triple camera array found on the Motorola One Action, but when it comes to the quality of photos taken with these phones, there's no competing with the 3a.

Plenty of other competitors have been released since then, but the Pixel 3a continues to stand out as something special.

The 12.2-megapixel sensor is almost identical to the primary camera on the Pixel 4, and as such, the Pixel 3a churns out gorgeous shots. They're detailed and colorful while staying true-to-life, and handle various shooting conditions with ease. The Pixel 3a especially stands out when it comes to low-light photography, and thanks to the Astrophotography mode that was added, you can take stunning photos of the stars in the night sky.

Outside of the incredible camera, another big win for the Pixel 3a is its software experience. Android 10 is already available on the phone, giving you a clean and uncluttered user interface that's snappy and easy to navigate. As time goes on, the Pixel 3a will be first-in-line for any future updates, and through May 2022, it's guaranteed to get those major updates and monthly security patches.

Elsewhere, the Pixel 3a also impresses with its OLED display, trusty battery life, and NFC for Google Pay. The polycarbonate body is another highlight, giving the phone a sturdy and premium feel that you wouldn't expect at this price.

If there's one thing we have to complain about with the Pixel 3a, it's the limited storage. You can only get the phone with 64GB of storage space, and while that should be fine for most people, not having any higher storage options or the ability to expand it with a microSD card is a bummer.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Google Pixel 3aMotorola One Action
Operating SystemAndroid 10Android 9 Pie
Display5.6-inch2220 x 1080OLED18.5:9 aspect ratio6.3-inch2520 x 1080LCD21:9 aspect ratio
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 670Samsung Exynos 9609
Storage64GB128GBExpandable up to 512GB
Rear Camera 112.2MP main cameraf/1.8 aperture12MP main cameraf/1.8 aperture
Rear Camera 216MP action cameraf/2.2 aperture
Rear Camera 35MP depth camera
Front Camera8MPf/2.0 aperture12MPf/2.0 aperture
Battery3,000 mAh18W fast charging3,500 mAh10W wired charging
WaterproofingSplash resistant

An argument for (and against) the One Action

Motorola One Action

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Before we delve into the Motorola One Action's shortcomings, there are quite a few strong suits that are certainly worth talking about.

First thing's first, let's discuss why the phone carries "Action" in its name. There are three cameras on the back, including a 12-megapixel primary camera, 5-megapixel depth camera for great-looking portrait shots, and a 16-megapixel camera that's dedicated for video capture. The 16-megapixel sensor is positioned sideways, meaning that when you hold the phone upright/vertically, it actually records horizontal video. The idea here is that you can hold the One Action however you'd like, vertically or horizontally, and you'll never end up recording nasty vertical video with huge black bars on the side. The One Action is the first-ever phone to offer such a feature, and for anyone that plans on recording a lot of video with their phone, makes the Action worth a good, hard look.

The One Action's unique camera and display help it stand out in the crowded mid-range segment.

Something else unique about the phone is its 21:9 display. This is quite a bit taller and narrower than most other phones, and as such, watching movies (or other videos that have been formatted for this ratio) look incredible. It does make the One Action a bit awkward to hold at first, but it's a pretty enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it.

As for more fundamental features, the Motorola One Action further benefits from a larger battery than the Pixel 3a (3,500 mAh compared to 3,000 mAh) and double the internal storage at 128GB with the option to expand it up to 512GB (something you don't get on the 3a). Alexa fans will also be drawn to the One Action, as you can double-press the power button at any time to talk to the virtual helper.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of big downsides to the One Action. As cool as the action camera is for video capture, photos taken with the phone don't look nearly as good as what you'll get with the Pixel 3a. They're fine, but the 3a is on a completely different level. If you care about photography at all, going the Pixel route just makes sense.

Even more important, while the out-of-the-box software on the Motorola One Action is good (offering things like Moto Display and Moto Actions), its future for software updates doesn't look bright. Motorola has confirmed that an update to Android 10 is coming, but beyond that, don't expect much of anything. Motorola's track record for updates is quite poor, and we wouldn't be surprised if Android 10 is the last update the One Action receives.

Timely updates ensure not only access to new features, but the latest security patches. If that's at all important to you (which it should be), think long and hard about this before scooping up the One Action.

Buy the phone that suits your needs best

All things considered, we think the Pixel 3a is the better of these two phones. The vastly superior camera is a big deal, and the three years of guaranteed software updates are even more so. Other aspects of the phone are strong, too, including its OLED display, great design, and solid battery life.

Then again, if the Motorola One Action is calling your name more, that's perfectly fine. As long as you're aware of its lower points compared to the 3a, it has a lot to offer. The 21:9 display and action camera are certainly unique, and with a larger battery and more internal storage that's also expandable, it certainly has its perks.

Understand the pros and cons of each phone, think about what you value the most, and make your decision from there.

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.