Last night, Google announced two new additions to its Pixel lineup - you know - the phones with the adverts throwing shade at other smartphone cameras. There is now, in addition to the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL, the 3a and 3a XL, and they're most inexpensive offerings in the Pixel family thus far. They come in black, white, and just about the cutest lilac colour I have ever seen called Purple-ish.
The 3a's main difference from the Pixel 3 is that it's made of polycarbonate instead of aluminium, which is why it costs nearly half the price of its predecessor. This also means it can't charge wirelessly. (So no more Pixel Stand, which allows for such delights as the Sunrise Alarm that mimics the sun and helps you wake up more naturally.) It's also not waterproof, though it is splash- and dust-resistant. And as far as the camera, the 3a and 3a XL don't have dual front-facing cameras, so you can't take the wide selfie that you can with a Pixel 3. (But you basically can do everything else.) Ahead, here's how the Pixel 3a stacks up.
It's light, fits in my hand easily (the XL too, and I don't have huge hands), and unlocks when I place my index finger on the back of the phone. Because of the fingerprint sensor on the back, there's no swiping up necessary, which is handy if you, like me, have small hands that often drop phones. Also, the green power button looks very chic with the purple body. All other phones should hereby step up their fashion game.
And the battery life is very impressive. Charging for just 15 minutes gives you a seven-hour charge, and a full charge give you up to 30 hours of usage. As a person whose phone is chronically dead, this is important. Its adaptive battery also uses machine learning to optimise your battery life by prioritising the apps you use most. Plus, there are headphone jacks again! Meaning that if you have yet to go fully Bluetooth, you can enjoy the luxury (lol) or charging your phone and listening to music. 2016; how I missed you.
The Pixel's main claim to fame (and one that Google enlists the help of many A-list celebs to endorse) is its camera. And the 3a, like its predecessors, has an excellent one. Even without the dual-facing camera, its selfie game is strong. With Photobooth, you can set the phone to snap a photo whenever its subjects are smiling — which is super convenient for group shots. And now, Photobooth also has the ability to capture kisses as well which means if you can't quite reach the buttons to capture your selfie (some selfie positions are very complicated) you can trigger the capture just by kissing at the camera (other gestures are available if you're not really a kissy kinda person).
The 3a's camera also introduces a new feature: Time Lapse, which records videos by capturing between six frames per second and one frame every four seconds, perfect for shooting cityscapes, music festivals, or starry nights. And like the 3, it has the other most important thing — Night Sight, which is so good, my pictures from fireworks in a park at midnight New Years Eve looked almost faked because of how bright and light they were. There's also still Lens, which lets you take a picture of someone's outfit and shop their look right then and there, and Playground, which will suck hours of your time if you let it, because it lets you dance with Childish Gambino among other very cute stickers.
Google Assistant & Digital Wellbeing
Just like on the Pixel 3, the 3a has Active Edge, which means you can squeeze on the bottom half of the phone to engage the Assistant. (You can also do this by saying “Hey Google” or “Okay Google,” pressing on the Home button, or clicking on the Assistant image on home screen, but squeezing the phone is the easiest and most fun method.)
The Assistant then prompts you to provide a command — which can be everything from "Tell me what the weather is like today" to "Wind down." The latter will initiate the Pixel's bedtime mode, part of the Digital Wellbeing feature, which fades your screen to Grayscale and turns on Do Not Disturb. Also, the 3a introduces another cool way of turning off notifications: Shh mode, which lets you automatically enact Do Not Disturb by flipping your phone facedown. Simple and yet genius and no more accidental vibrations in important meetings.
Google Assistant is also integrated with Call Screen, a feature that screens calls from unknown numbers (which I seem to get more of every day). The Assistant gives the caller an automated message asking for more information and the discussion is displayed in text, which you can use to decide if you'd like to take the call rather than having to pick up every time for fear of missing an actually important call.
Maps & Music
My friends have made fun of me on many occasions for Shazam-ing music at bars — but I can't help it, I like to know what I'm listening to! Now Playing is a really cool new feature on the Pixel 3a that doesn't require opening up an app to identify music. Once enabled, the Pixel will detect the song and artist of any ambient music playing near your phone and display it right on your home screen (a feature that came quite in handy for me the other day when I wanted to identify what Billie Eilish song I was hearing). You can then open and play the song via the music service of your choice — but with purchase of a Pixel 3a, Google is giving users three months of YouTube Music Premium for free.
The new phone also comes with a new and improved Google Maps, which is getting the AR treatment. Soon when you open your Maps, you'll see AR-powered visuals directly overlaid on the map with signs and arrows to give you real-life directions. It's like in Friends, when Joey steps into the map of London in order to get his bearings, but IRL - and very helpful if you spend much of your time spinning around with the little blue arrow trying to figure out which way is which.
As far as pricing, the Pixel 3a (5.6") starts at £399, and the Pixel 3a XL (6") starts at £469, compared to the 3 and 3 XL, which sell for £739 and £869 respectively. For half the price, with the 3a you still get the essentials of the Pixel 3 without shelling out nearly one grand. It's also already available for free or cheap (£29-ish) up front from a number of mobile carriers already with decent looking monthly bills too. For those of us who don't care about wireless charging and glass finishes, the 3a is definitely the way to go — and might convert some of the iPhone diehards among us looking for a more affordable price point.