Google puts a Pixel camera in your pocket for under $500

To date, Google's Pixel phone sales have not exactly set the world on fire. The Android maker's phones have long offered great cameras and excellent software support at flagship prices, but competition is fierce. Yesterday at IO 2019, Google announced the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, which will purportedly bring those features to a mid-range price point.

Arguably the most important question is that of price. Let's get that out in front for context. The Pixel 3a retails for $399 and the Pixel 3a XL will set you back $479. That puts the Pixel 3a family at a price point somewhat below even the cheapest $549 OnePlus 6T. According to The Verge's liveblog of the IO keynote, Google's SVP of Hardware Rick Osterloh told the gathered crowd that there's a "troubling trend" in the price of phones, which was no doubt a shot at both Apple and Samsung's latest. The question that remains, then, is "what do you give up to hit that price point?"

To try to answer that question, we can look at a spec sheet. The Pixel 3a devices are both driven by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 SoC with eight Kryo 360 CPU cores that run between 1.7 and 2.0 GHz and Adreno 615 graphics. 4 GB of LPDDR4x RAM and 64 GB of flash storage fill the memory loadout. The smaller Pixel 3a has a 5.6" 2220x1080 OLED display and a 3,000 mAh battery while the larger Pixel 3a XL has a 6" 2160x1080 OLED panel and a 3700 mAh juice pack. Colors include black, white, and "Purple-ish."

The big selling point of the Pixel 3 family is its camera system. All of the tricks that the more expensive Pixels can do, the Pixel 3a can do, too. That includes AI-assisted Night Sight and portrait modes. Osterloh says that the exact same camera hardware from the Pixel 3 is in the new devices. Google's spec sheet says that camera has a 12.2-megapixel count. The front snapper has a lower 8-megapixel sensor which should be plenty for video chats and Instagram selfies.

Software support doesn't seem to have suffered in these devices, either. Google advertises that three years of core OS upgrades and another year of security updates come standard with the Pixel 3a family. It probably comes as no surprise to anybody using an Android phone that this is a longer support life than even most flagship devices, though it may still pale in comparison somewhat to Apple's iOS update lifespan (2013's iPhone 5s is still supported on iOS 12, the most recent version).

One last change worth mentioning is the addition of a 3.5-millimeter (1/8-inch) hole at the top of the Pixel 3a. This brand new port can connect a pair of revolutionary devices called "headphones" to deliver stereo analog audio and capture monophonic sound without the need for Bluetooth or a dongle.

Sarcasm aside, astute readers will remember when ads for the original Pixel poked fun at Apple's "courageous" effort to kill the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. Google then bore the brunt of its own jokes when the Pixel 2 launched without said port. The jack is back, baby!

In the US, the Pixel 3 was a carrier exclusive for Verizon, but that's not true of the Pixel 3a. The Pixel 3a will be available at Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Unlocked versions of the phones can be purchased directly from Google or at Best Buy. Best Buy is also offering a $100 gift card with activation on Verizon and Sprint. If you don't mind the gift card, that can bring the total price down to a cool $299.

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