Pixel 3a. Credit: Google Google has become its own best competition by pretty much killing off the $799 Pixel 3.
I mistakenly believed (despite reports to the contrary) that the $399 Pixel 3a would have an LCD (like the iPhone XR) because I didn’t think it was possible to put an OLED* display on a cheap phone.
But Google managed to not only equip it with an OLED display but squeeze in a lot of stuff from its flagship Pixel 3.
Pixel 3 killer: Pixel 3a (5.6-inch) Pro/Con: Pro: $399 price (with deals already popping up), OLED display, excellent rear camera, headphone jack, same kick-ass software and AI, better battery life than Pixel 3
Con: no rated water resistance (no ingress protection rating ), no wide-angle selfie camera, no wireless charging, slightly slower processor ( but not typically noticeable say reviews ), 64GB model only
And, by the way, I wish I had a headphone jack on my Pixel 3 XL. (iFixit, in its teardown commentary , said the 3.5mm headphone jack "weirdly feels like a luxury feature.")
Best-Value Android phone — and deals already
The Pixel 3a/3a XL is probably the best-value Android phone from a top global tech company as of spring 2019.
"The Pixel 3a has a lot to offer…its experience and features are largely indistinguishable from the flagship Pixel 3," Jitesh Ubrani, an analyst at market researcher IDC, told me.
And keep your eyes peeled for deals. The Google Store and others like Best Buy and B&H Photo are already offering $100 gift cards with the Pixel 3a. And trade-in deals — also from the Google Store — can knock of hundreds of dollars.
"At launch, there are many offers for consumers which provide additional discounts on the 3a that further drives home the message of great value," Ubrani said.
OLED on a $399 top-tier phone is groundbreaking
I asked Google about how they managed to get an OLED on such an inexpensive phone.
"The main differences in the OLEDs in Pixel 3 vs. Pixel 3a are the display thickness and weights," a Google spokesperson told me. "In Pixel 3, we use a more flexible pOLED and in Pixel 3a we use a glass gOLED which is a bit more rigid and therefore has limited flexibility for use in varying industrial designs. The glass OLED panel we use in Pixel 3a is made of a material called Dragontrail glass," the spokesperson said.
Ubrani agrees about the OLED on the Pixel 3a.
"In terms of OLEDs…it has been mostly reserved for more expensive phones…Google has found a way to further cut costs by not offering Gorilla Glass and that’s probably one of the reasons the 3a has an OLED," he told me.
And display expert Raymond Raymond Soneira told me this:
"Rigid glass gOLED panels provide excellent performance at a much lower price point (comparable to high-end LCDs), but they are thicker and heavier than flexible pOLEDs. I believe that Samsung still uses gOLEDs in some of their non-flagship models," he said.
Pixel 3a XL:
A strong argument can also be made for the $479 6-inch Pixel 3a XL. It’s significantly cheaper than the $750 Samsung Galaxy S10e and the $750 iPhone XR. And even less than the erstwhile flagship-killer, the $549 OnePlus 6T.
We’re talking about a $400 gap between the flagship Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a. And Pixel 3 sales weren’t going gangbusters anyway. So, unless Google cuts the price of the Pixel 3 permanently** to, let’s say, $599, it’s not a phone that consumers will buy in any significant volume when offered a $399 alternative.
*The OLED display on the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL that iFixit tore down is made by Samsung.
**Google has frequent sales that typically knock off $100 to $200 off the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
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