Google’s range of Pixel smartphones, so-named because they are aimed at photographers, have long been a firm-favourite for those who consider the camera to be the most important part of a smartphone.
Keeping things simple, the Pixel phones are fairly unusual in the sense that they use just a single lens on the rear. Relying on machine learning for functions such as (digital) zoom and portrait modes, for now at least, the company has resisted temptation to give photographers different focal lengths to choose from.
It also keeps things fairly simple in terms of the inbuilt native camera app, which doesn’t boast options such as a “pro” mode, but does give you the fantastic Night Sight mode which enables shooting in virtual darkness.
The Pixel 3, and the Pixel 3 XL, were launched in October 2018. Both models feature the same camera, and act as the flagship models for the Google brand. However, keen to expand into another area of the market, Google introduced the Pixel 3a and 3a XL at a cheaper price point back in May 2019.
Interestingly for photographers, the new models offer the same camera on the rear of the phone, so you could argue that it’s the obvious choice for those looking to save a healthy chunk of change while still getting their hands on some of the best camera tech in the current smartphone market.
In this Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a comparison we look at some of the key differences – and similarities – to help you choose between the two models.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Camera
One of the best things about the cheaper model, the Pixel 3a, is that it uses the same camera hardware on the rear as its more expensive sibling, the Pixel 3.
So that means you get a 12 megapixel sensor with a 28mm (equivalent) f/1.8 lens. The camera scored very highly with independent analysts DxOMark, and we praised it highly in our own review too. It’s great to see it on the cheaper model, bringing along with it modes such as Night Sight and Portrait which put in an excellent performance too.
On the front of the camera, the cheaper Pixel 3a has just one selfie camera (8 megapixels, f/2.0), compared to the dual selfie set-up on the Pixel 3 – one of which is wider and is designed for helping to capture group selfie shots.
I’ve shot lots of photos with both in a variety of scenarios, and without looking at the EXIF data, I would definitely struggle to tell the difference between the two. I’m left with no doubt that performance is pretty much the same no matter which one you go for.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Screen
Here’s where we see the biggest difference between the more expensive and the cheaper model(s).
Both the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3a come in two different sizes – with a larger “XL” version available for both. If you go for the standard Pixel 3, the screen size is 5.5-inches, while the Pixel 3XL is 6.3-inches. In the meantime, the Pixel 3a has a slightly larger screen size of 5.6-inches, but the Pixel 3aXL has a smaller screen size of 6-inches. All models use an OLED screen for bright and detailed images.
Further differences come in the shape of the body holding these screens. The cheaper 3a models are bigger overall, and include a larger bezel. You’ll also find no notches on either of the Pixel 3a models, whereas there is one on the Pixel 3 XL.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Processor and Memory
Another cost saving comes in the form of the slightly slower processor found in the Pixel 3A models. It uses a Snapdragon 670, while the Pixel 3 models use a faster Snapdragon 845. For many users, the difference will be minimal, but it’s something to think about if you think you’re likely to do a lot of power-intensive operation, such as gaming – or perhaps even lots of 4K video recording. All of the Pixel 3 models have 4GB of RAM.
As for inbuilt memory, the Pixel 3 gives you two options – either 64GB or 128GB. By contrast, the Pixel 3a only offers one option – 64GB. This could be problematic if you’re somebody that likes to take a lot of pictures – especially if shooting in raw format – or videos, but you could always clear space on the phone by backing up images and videos to your computer, or to the cloud.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Battery Life
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a range have decent battery ratings. The Pixel 3 offers up a 2915 mAH, with an ever so slightly better offering from the Pixel 3a, which gives you a 3000 mAH battery. The Pixel 3 XL has a 3430 mAH battery, while the Pixel 3a XL battery is 3700 mAH.
This suggests that battery life will actually be slightly better with the cheaper models.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Build Quality
I’ve already mentioned the difference in screen size to body ratio between the two models, but it’s also worth mentioning the construction of the devices.
The more expensive Pixel 3 uses a glass back with a metal frame. The screen uses strong and sturdy Gorilla Glass which is less prone to scratches, too. It’s also water resistant, making it great for shooting in the rain, or for the occasional drop in a puddle, bath or toilet bowl.
By contrast, the Pixel 3a is a budget option and as such uses an all-plastic construction, as well as Dragontail glass which is more prone to scratches. If you’re somebody who is pretty careful with their phone and/or keeps it in a case, you might not notice the difference too markedly.
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Image Comparison
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Price
Here’s where things get nice and interesting. Opting for the Pixel 3a, over the standard Pixel 3, represents a good price saving. At the time of writing, the Pixel 3 retails for £749 (64GB) or £839 (128GB). The larger Pixel 3XL can be picked up for £869 (64GB), or £969 (128GB).
By contrast, the Pixel 3a retails for almost half the price at £399. The Pixel 3a XL costs £469 (there is only one memory size available).
Google Pixel 3 vs Google Pixel 3a: Conclusion
There’s a lot to like about both strands of the Pixel 3 devices. As the (rear) camera is the same in both, going for the Pixel 3a makes a lot of sense if you’re on a budget, but still want some of the best smartphone camera tech currently available to buy.
In terms of image quality, we can’t find any noticeable differences between the two models, with both putting in an excellent performance – particularly in low light with the fantastic “Night Sight” mode.
If you’re generally quite a careful person, and don’t mind the slightly less sleek appearance of the Pixel 3a – and perhaps you’re not somebody who wants to use the phone for other intensive applications, such as games – then we’d likely opt for the Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL.
Which would you go for?