Google Pixel 3a XL review

GSMArena team, 07 May 2019.

Software

The Pixel 3a XL runs on Android 9.0. Our review unit is still on the March security update as of this writing, while the Pixel 3 XL has the April patch. It's likely that Google will patch the phone directly with the May update in a few days.

Google Pixel 3a Xl review

Speaking about the software experience, the Pixel 3a XL is close to being identical to the more expensive Pixel 3 XL. First of all, you get the same stock Android experience with a few of Google's services and features added on top.

One of these features is Active Edge, which lets you squeeze the phone to activate Google Assistant. You also get Call Screen, the revolutionary new feature that can answer calls on your behalf (only available in the US and Canada). Digital Wellbeing keeps track of your phone usage and helps you bring it down. Wind Down will automatically enable Do Not Disturb mode at night and turn the screen grayscale so you don't overuse your phone before bed. Lastly, there's the remarkably named Flip to Shhh, which lets you enable DND mode by simply turning the phone over and keeping it face down.

Pixel launcher and Settings - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Pixel launcher and Settings - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Pixel launcher and Settings - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Pixel launcher and Settings - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Pixel launcher and Settings - Google Pixel 3a Xl review
Pixel launcher and Settings

While Google does have several clever features in the OS, it prevents overwhelming the user by cramming dozens upon dozens of gimmicks into every nook and cranny of the settings app. The basics are all here, along with a few extras, and if you want more, there's always an app for that. This lets you have more control of the apps and features that are on your device and only have things that you actually want or need.

Needless to say, this wouldn't appeal to everyone but it does result in clean, clutter-free user experience and it's always easier to add more stuff than to remove it.

Gestures - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Gestures - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Gestures - Google Pixel 3a Xl review Gestures - Google Pixel 3a Xl review
Gestures

Google has made some minor cutbacks with the Pixel 3a XL. For one, you no longer get the unlimited, uncompressed backup of photos and videos on Google Photos. It's still unlimited, but it's no longer uncompressed. Secondly, the Pixel 3a XL also does not support Duplex, the Google Assistant feature that can make voice calls on your behalf to make appointments or reservations.

Also, and this is more of a hardware issue, the excellent haptic feedback that was introduced with the Pixel 3 devices has also been downgraded a bit. It works similarly to that on the Pixel 3 devices but the feedback itself is no longer the gentle tap but more of a crude jolt every time you press a button. It's obvious the vibration motor on the Pixel 3a XL isn't as sophisticated as on the Pixel 3 XL.

All things considered, however, the software experience on the Pixel 3a XL is still one of the best on any Android smartphone.

Performance

The Pixel 3a XL runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 with only 64GB storage and 4GB of memory. This is the first time we have seen a mid-range chipset on a Google smartphone, as the company has always used the best that was available at the time for all its previous Pixel as well as the Nexus phones.

When it comes to synthetic benchmarks, the Pixel 3a XL performs predictably for a phone with a mid-range chipset. They are mediocre numbers, but we didn't expect any better from a 600-series chipset.

However, if ever there was a prime example of how misleading benchmark figures can be, the Google Pixel 3a XL is it. We have known for many years for now that when it comes to software optimization, Google's engineers are possibly second to none in the world of Android smartphones. However, we never really had an opportunity to truly appreciate it due to the phones always running flagship processors.

With the Pixel 3a XL, the software optimization really gets to shine with the engineers working with decidedly mid-range hardware. We weren't sure what to expect when we first got the phone but now, after several days of using it, we can confidently say that in day to day use, the Pixel 3a XL feels indistinguishable from the more expensive Pixel 3 XL running a significantly more powerful processor.

Google Pixel 3a Xl review

The level of optimization here is tremendous; it seems Google's engineers have managed to eke out every last bit of power that the Snapdragon 670 is capable of and delivered an experience that at times even outstrips some of the more powerful Android phones out there. Launching apps, scrolling, and multitasking are practically flawless, with the phone flying through every task with ease. There were several times where we totally forgot about the fact that we were using the Pixel 3a XL and not the more powerful Pixel 3 XL.

Even in the Camera app - and we will discuss the image quality later - the Pixel 3a XL is snapping at the heels of the more powerful Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel 3a XL took about half a second longer to process and save the final HDR+ image compared to our Pixel 3 XL. This is despite the fact that the Pixel 3a XL lacks the Pixel Visual Core image processor found on the Pixel 3 XL.

Gaming performance was good too. We tried a few popular titles and the Pixel 3a XL worked as good as any flagship. Most Android games are optimized for mid to low-end devices and as such don't really benefit from additional GPU horsepower as the frame rate is usually capped. The Pixel 3a XL had no problem with these games and the large display and stereo speakers meant it was quite fun to play on.

The only real bottleneck with the performance is the memory. As with the more expensive model, Google has once again outfitted the Pixel 3a XL with 4GB of RAM. With a handful of apps, the phone manages just fine but when you start opening a few more then you'll notice the phone struggling to keep the previously opened apps in memory.

That aside, we were genuinely impressed with how good the Pixel 3a XL felt to use during everyday tasks. We just hope the device will be able to maintain this performance for at least a couple of years from now.

GeekBench 4.1 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    8088
  • vivo V15 Pro
    6527
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    6055
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    5944
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    5549
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    5411
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    5176
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    4927
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    4780

GeekBench 4.1 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • vivo V15 Pro
    2386
  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    2363
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    1835
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    1807
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    1650
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    1615
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    1576
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    1340
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    1334

AnTuTu 7

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    258244
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    206711
  • vivo V15 Pro
    180774
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    159110
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    154861
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    141600
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    139075
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    120573
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    117829

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    44
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    30
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    23
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    20
  • vivo V15 Pro
    17
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    15
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    14
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    10
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    10

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    24
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    19
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    19
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    15
  • vivo V15 Pro
    14
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    13
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    13
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    9.7
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    8.4

GFX 3.1 Car scene (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    28
  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    24
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    13
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    11
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    9
  • vivo V15 Pro
    8.8
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    7.7
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    6.3
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    6.3

GFX 3.1 Car scene (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    13
  • Google Pixel 3 XL
    12
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    11
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    11
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    7.7
  • vivo V15 Pro
    7.1
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    6.9
  • Motorola Moto G7 Plus
    5.9
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    5

3DMark SSE 3.1 Unlimited

Higher is better

  • Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 9)
    3237
  • Oppo RX17 Pro
    1976
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
    1748
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
    1409
  • vivo V15 Pro
    1206
  • Sony Xperia 10 Plus
    1002
  • Huawei P30 Lite (perf. mode)
    988

Reader comments

A great example of "hardware and price but lacks of knowledge" Pixel 3a and XL model is not for you. This phone is designed for people who just want good balanced phone, decent camera, with great software, and not hardware perfectionist like gee...

  • Fiq

Hi mate, first pixel / pixel OG will receive Android Q and its entering it's 3rd year. Definitely google will continue support this phone. Hope at least until Android R. Sub-par performance? Yup, it's mid-range phone after all. Although its a b...

  • Mike B

Just bought it, and heard some very good things from just about everyone who reviewed it on YouTube. The issues pointed out here have very little effect on me, as I spend most of my time on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc, and the few games I play ...