Google Pixel 3a to 3a XL: Differences, Hands-on Review

Pixel 3a XL

Last week, I reviewed the new Google Pixel 3a, concluding that it was a huge deal in terms of getting guaranteed updates and Google’s vision for Android (plus that excellent camera) to the true mainstream, at a price half or a third that of other top smartphones, many of which will be left high and dry in terms of support after a year or so. So here we have the Pixel 3a XL, the sister device and – obviously – larger. So what’s different and is there any more significance to the XL?

Google Pixel 3a vs Pixel 3a XL: What’s the Difference

First off, let’s make sure you’ve read the Pixel 3a review, since 95% of the Pixel 3a XL is identical – most of the internals, the camera. Secondly, here are the physical and specification differences:

  • The XL is 9mm taller, 8mm wider, and 20g heavier (167g, c.f. 147g on the 3a)
  • The XL has a larger screen at 6.0″ (c.f. 5.6″ on the 3a) and a slightly different aspect ratio, at 18:9 (rather than 18.5:9), though still 1080p and rated at 402ppi
  • The XL has a larger 3700mAh battery (c.f. 3000mAh on the 3a)
  • The XL has more room within the phone body for better resonance for the main bottom speaker, which sounds bassier.

8mm wider may not sound a lot but the feel is very different in the hand. While the 3a immediately feels comfortable to everyone, the 3a XL is definitely for fans of larger phones, used two-handed. Not least because it’s 2mm longer than even the giant Pixel 3 XL from late 2018, yet with a smaller screen, there being no notch and thus no ‘ears’ bringing status content either side of the top of the display.

Pixel 3a XL

The larger battery (than the 3a and – interestingly – last year’s 3 XL) is a big deal though – 3700mAh with this Snapdragon 670 chipset (and especially with more and more of Android going ‘dark’ to help AMOLED screens) equates to a day and a half, maybe even two days of life for regular users. Which is exactly who’s going to be buying this new, affordable Pixel range, stocked in High Street stores and on many networks/carriers across the world.

Pixel 3a XL

The louder speakers (relative to the smaller 3a) are very welcome, though it’s worth noting that the earpiece is definitely less capable than that on last year’s 3 XL. So on the 3a XL you get a decent sound output for watching YouTube and Netflix, but it’s lop-sided, with 90% of the audio produced on the right/bottom. While on the premium 3 XL the split is more 70%/30% (plus there’s the fact that the bottom speaker is ‘front facing’, which also helps).

Pixel 3a XL

As with the Pixel 3a before it, audio via the (new!) 3.5mm audio jack is… OK. It’s fine, the DAC in the Snapdragon 670 providing solid audio, just don’t expect anything too stunning. And after two generations of Pixels with no headphone jack, I and many other regular users welcome it with open arms as giving options (e.g. when losing one’s Type C dongle or running out of Bluetooth headphone charge!)

Pixel 3a XL

Imaging is exactly as on the Pixel 3/3 XL just as on the ‘3a’ – a very capable single shooter backed by fabulous multi-exposure combination algorithms. No need to go into detail here, you’ve seen test shots galore over the last 12 months – suffice it to say that if you don’t need zoom or wide angle then ‘as is’ shots on the Pixel range are world-beating.

Much of my Pixel 3a verdict applies here too, so I’ll quote some of it(!) almost verbatim: “it’s somewhat amazing how well the Pixel 3a (and 3a XL) have been received by the tech media, given that these two handsets have been massively leaked for many months now. Much of the praise – as here, with me – has to come down to the Nexus-era price points. This is where Pixels should be in order to get Google’s vision of Android and guaranteed updates out to as many people as possible. That Google hasn’t had to sacrifice too much in terms of hardware in order to get here is to its credit and everyone’s benefit.”

Which Pixel Should You Buy?

Android power users should still be tempted to still look for the original Pixel 3 XL at clearance or second-hand prices, because of the faster chipset, the possibility of 128GB storage, the more balanced speakers, the Qi charging and the official waterproofing, and damn the notch!

For the mainstream, to get Google’s software and updates along with that camera system at half the cost of many flagships, means that the Pixel 3a XL should do very well indeed. If you want a more compact feel in the hand and lower price then go for the smaller ‘3a’, but the 3a XL definitely has its own place in the Pixel Continuum.