It's easy to get excited by the Pixel 3a XL when you see that it costs less than $500 brand new — and you should be excited! Google's new midrange offering packs a ton of value, especially if photography is a high priority for you. But there's probably not much reason to upgrade if you're already coming from a Pixel 2 XL; the camera experience is virtually identical, and some compromises have been made to achieve the 3a XL's lower price.
Both have benefits and drawbacks
Despite being based on the newer Pixel 3 series, the Pixel 3a XL actually looks remarkably similar to last year's Pixel 2 XL, since it lacks the successor's massive display notch. Instead, both phones have 6-inch displays and fairly large bezels by today's standards. The Pixel 2 XL's display looks better on paper, with a considerably higher resolution and pixel density, but the P-OLED technology was riddled with problems at launch, and though they've mostly been resolved since then, we're much more confident recommending the Pixel 3a XL's screen, which still looks fantastic despite a lower resolution.
The Pixel 3a XL has a plastic body, but many will appreciate its larger battery and headphone jack.
That lower resolution also contributes to fantastic battery life on the 3a XL's part. The Pixel 2 XL has great endurance in its own right, but the combination of fewer pixels to drive, a less power-hungry processor, and a higher battery capacity allows the Pixel 3a XL to outlast any other phone Google has ever put out.
Physically, both phones share a similar design language, with a quick and convenient fingerprint sensor sitting around the back, underneath a single rear camera. The Pixel 2 XL has a texturized metal body, however, while the Pixel 3a XL opts for a cheaper plastic construction. Both feel nice in-hand, but only the Pixel 2 XL has IP67 water resistance — sadly, neither phone features wireless charging like the Pixel 3.
And while both phones feature stereo speakers, only the Pixel 2 XL positions both towards the user on the front of the display. The Pixel 3a XL still makes use of the earpiece as a speaker, but moves the second speaker to the bottom of the phone, making it easy to accidentally cover up during regular use. On the bright side, the Pixel 3a XL is the only phone of the two with a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack.
|Category||Pixel 3a XL||Pixel 2 XL|
|Operating System||Android 9 Pie||Android 9 Pie|
|Display||6 inches, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2160x1080 (402 ppi) resolution, OLED||6 inches, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2880x1440 (538 ppi) resolution, P-OLED|
|Processor||Snapdragon 670, octa-core, 2GHz + 1.7GHz||Snapdragon 835, octa-core, 2.35GHz + 1.9GHz|
|Graphics||Adreno 615||Adreno 540|
|Rear Camera||12.2MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.4µm, OIS + EIS||12.2MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.4µm, OIS + EIS|
|Front Camera||8MP, ƒ/2.0||8MP, ƒ/2.4|
|Security||Rear fingerprint sensor||Rear fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm||157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9mm|
|Colors||Just Black, Purple-ish, Clearly White||Just Black, Clearly White, Black and White|
Internally, both phones offer 64GB of base storage along with a modest 4GB of RAM, but the Pixel 2 XL is also available in a 128GB configuration. The Snapdragon 835 in the 2XL is noticeably snappier than the 3a XL's Snapdragon 670, and perhaps more importantly, the Pixel 2 XL has Google's Pixel Visual Core, which makes image processing much faster — HDR+ processing on the Pixel 3a XL takes roughly twice as long, though that's more a testament to how quick the Pixel 2 XL is than how slow the 3a XL is.
The Pixel Visual Core and unlimited Google Photos uploads are major wins for the Pixel 2 XL.
Speaking of cameras, they're almost identical between phones. The Pixel 2 XL uses the Sony IMX380 sensor around back, while the 3a XL shares the same IMX363 as the Pixel 3 XL, but the results are hard to tell apart; both take some of the best photos we've ever seen from a phone, with add-on features like HDR+, Portrait Mode, and Night Sight. The one major advantage the Pixel 2 XL has is its unlimited storage for full-res photo backups in Google Photos — at least until 2021. With the Pixel 3a XL, you'll need to upload at reduced quality instead, or use up some of your Google Drive storage for full-res backups.
By now, it should be obvious that both phones have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. At the end of the day, most owners of a Pixel 2 XL probably don't need to rush to buy the Pixel 3a XL; while it has longer battery life and a headphone jack, you'll probably end up missing features like water resistance, unlimited photo backups, and dual front-facing speakers.
On the other hand, if you've been shopping around and considering either device … well, the decision is already made for you, since most online stores (including Google) have stopped carrying the Pixel 2 XL. You can still buy one from Verizon at an astronomical price, but you're probably better off finding a used 2 XL for cheap, or living with the trade-offs and buying the Pixel 3a XL instead.
Midrange is back
The best mobile camera at an affordable price.
The Pixel 3a XL is a fantastic phone at an aggressive price that works on virtually any U.S. carrier and takes just as good of photos as the more expensive Pixel 3 XL. It's isn't a necessary upgrade for most Pixel 2 XL owners, but you certainly won't be disappointed if you buy it.
Still going strong
Last year's flagship still has a long life ahead of it.
The Pixel 2 XL is still a fantastic phone in 2019. Serving as last year's flagship, it's still receiving regular software updates, and has premium features like high quality materials and water resistance. It also has the Pixel Visual Core, which helps process photos quicker.
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