Monday, 30th October 2017

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Google Pixel 3A review

Smartphone at the right price

By Brian X. Chen/NYTNS
  • Published 26.05.19, 2:19 PM
  • Updated 26.05.19, 2:28 PM
  • 2 mins read
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Google is selling the Pixel 3A for about $400 (Rs 27,892) — or half the price of its high-end phones Damien Maloney/NYTNS

Sales of smartphones are slowing down worldwide, researchers say, partly because people are turned off by the escalating costs.

So this will probably come as good news. Google is selling the Pixel 3A, a new version of its popular Pixel smartphone, for about $400 (Rs 27,892) — or half the price of its high-end phones.

The Pixel 3A lacks some frills you may find in premium devices, like wireless charging and water resistance. But based on my tests, it is a great value. It’s fast and capable with a very good camera and a nice-looking screen — and, yes, especially for this price. In fact, the Pixel 3A is so satisfying that at this point, I might hesitate to recommend its $800 (Rs 55,972) counterpart, the Pixel 3, to people other than gear heads and tech enthusiasts.

Here were my impressions after a week of testing the Pixel 3A.

Smarts matter

The high-end Pixel 3 was widely lauded for its camera system, which has software features powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Fortunately, the most important camera features are baked into the Pixel 3A.

Among them is a software mode called Night Sight, which makes photos taken in low light look as if they had been shot in normal conditions. Google accomplishes this with some AI sorcery that involves taking a burst of photos with short exposures and reassembling them into an image. I was delighted to see that Night Sight worked well with the Pixel 3A. It was especially useful indoor, like in dimly lit restaurants or rooms. In one test, I dimmed my bedroom lamp to the lowest setting and took a photo of my dog as he slept. The image looked nicely lit up without seeming unnatural. 

In one test, I dimmed my bedroom lamp to the lowest setting and took a photo of my dog as he slept. The image looked nicely lit up without seeming unnatural
In one test, I dimmed my bedroom lamp to the lowest setting and took a photo of my dog as he slept. The image looked nicely lit up without seeming unnatural Brian X. Chen/The New York Times

On average, the Pixel 3A has a very good camera. In cheaper phones in years past, a low-quality camera was always the biggest downside, but the Pixel 3A’s camera isn’t much of a compromise.

Trade-offs

Other features missing from the Pixel 3A include support for wireless charging, a wide-angle lens on the front-facing camera and water resistance. These omissions are negligible.

Wireless charging is a neat innovation, but it’s a novelty. The technology relies on magnetic induction, which uses an electrical current to generate a magnetic field, creating voltage that powers the phone.

My problem with wireless charging? Wires are still involved. While you don’t have to plug a cable into the phone, the accessories themselves — like charging pads or stands — have to be hooked up to a power outlet. There are only a few times when charging with induction is more practical than charging wirelessly.

With no wide-angle lens for the front-facing camera, the framing won’t be as broad when you take a selfie that includes lots of people. As an older millennial with no interest in taking selfies, I can live without that feature.

The biggest downside is the lack of waterproofing. Many people’s gadgets have fallen victim to heavy rain or spilled beverages. Still, this isn’t a deal breaker. Plenty of accessory makers sell inexpensive cases and pouches that protect phones from water damage. Or you can just be extra careful around liquids.

Bottom line

The device works well with Google’s software and Internet services, which many already rely on. With the Pixel’s latest iteration, Google is making a statement that many will agree with: Communication devices should be a tool for everyone, not just the elite.