Google Pixel 3Source: Android Central

Best answer: The Pixel 3 is still a compact, powerful phone with years of guaranteed software updates ahead of it — but it's hard to recommend it these days over the more powerful Pixel 4 or the cheaper, longer-lasting Pixel 4a.

The Pixel 4 is the more modern flagship

The Pixel 3 was a great phone for its time, but its successor has been out since October of last year in the form of the Pixel 4. With it comes the newer, more powerful Snapdragon 855 processor, along with plenty of hardware upgrades including a 90Hz display and a secondary telephoto camera. You also get Google's Soli sensor, which introduces Motion Sense gestures and a new Face Unlock system that replaces the Pixel 3's fingerprint sensor.

Unlike the previous generation, the Pixel 4 has a uniform design between its standard and XL variants, neither of which features a display notch. Despite a slightly smaller battery, the more power-efficient chipset means you get better battery life than on the Pixel 3 as well — though bear in mind, that still doesn't mean you'll get particularly good battery life, particularly with the smaller model.

Many of the Pixel 4's newer software features have been retroactively ported to the Pixel 3, including the jaw-dropping astrophotography camera mode and Live Captioning. This means that if you already have a Pixel 3, you aren't missing much on the software side. Both phones will also be updated to Android 11 later this year, and you can even install early beta builds on either generation of Pixel right now.

... And the Pixel 4a is the better value

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a is a new, more affordable alternative that offers a nearly identical experience to that of the regular Pixel 4. It has most of the Pixel 4's best features, including its remarkable camera and frequent software updates. In exchange, you give up the Pixel 4's glass back for a plastic one, and lose some niceties like water resistance, wireless charging, and Face Unlock. Interestingly, you regain the headphone jack, and the fingerprint sensor seems like a better unlocking option for the current times.

The Pixel 4a offers up-to-date software, an amazing camera, and a compellingly low price.

One of the ways Google cut costs with the Pixel 4a is by using a lower-end processor, the Snapdragon 730G, which translates to slightly longer load times when opening apps and scrolling through the software, but it's still reasonably snappy, especially when compared to similarly priced options from other manufacturers. One aspect where the Pixel 4a actually performs better than the Pixel 3 or 4 is in battery life, with the 4a able to make it through a full day of use with ease.

If photography is your sole priority, there's almost no reason to spend the extra money on the Pixel 3 or 4; the 4a has the same main sensor as its pricier counterparts (though it lacks the Pixel 4's telephoto camera), and even carries over features like Night Sight, allowing you to take photos far above its price point. You'll miss out on the wide front-facing camera of the Pixel 3 (this was also omitted in the Pixel 4), and the slower chipset and lack of a dedicated image processor means you'll need to wait a bit longer for your photos to process, but those are pretty minor tradeoffs for this level of camera performance.

In short, the Pixel 4a is the clear choice if you're after a pure Google experience with a limited budget, while the Pixel 4 wins out for those in need of flagship-tier performance. That doesn't leave much room for the Pixel 3 in the middle; while you can find the Pixel 3 used for around the same price as the 4a these days, the latter offers far better battery life and a more durable casing. The Pixel 4, on the other hand, is more powerful and features modern appointments. Skip on the Pixel 3 and buy either of these great options instead.

Powerful successor

Pixel 4

Computational photography taken to the next level

The Pixel 4 offers top-of-the-line specs and adds a telephoto camera to its already impressive photography experience. Its Soli sensor allows for Face Unlock and Motion Sense gestures, and the new astrophotography mode is stunning.

Lower price, same experience

Pixel 4a

The core Pixel experience — and camera — for hundreds less

The Pixel 4a has the same software, features, and camera experience as the Pixel 4, but at a more enticing price point. The processor might be a little slower, but otherwise it's largely the same phone, with better battery life to boot.

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