Google is betting that cheaper smartphones with less powerful features can help it make a mark in the mobile market, but stepping out from Apple’s shadow might prove to be the biggest challenge.
At its Google I/O developer confab Tuesday in Mountain View, Calif., Google unveiled its new Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL smartphones. The devices are in the midrange price in the smartphone market – typically hundreds of dollars cheaper and equipped with less-powerful components than premium smartphones, like Apple’s iPhone XS.
Google has been trying to boost its appeal in an extremely competitive smartphone market dominated by Apple, Samsung, and China-based smartphone maker Huawei. For the last several years, Google has released Pixel-branded smartphones that target the premium smartphone market. But Google CEO Ruth Porat told investors last month the company was facing “pressures” in the premium smartphone market that have hurt Pixel sales. Porat signaled a move to the midrange smartphone market might make sense.
While the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are decidedly midrange smartphones, they also come with some higher-end features, like a top-notch camera that works well in dark, nighttime settings. And at prices that don’t break the bank, the Pixel 3a lineup could deliver value to shoppers that don’t want to spend $1,000 or more on a new device.
But like every other Android-based device in the market, the Pixels will be compared to Apple’s iPhones—and specifically, Apple is still selling the iPhone 8. Google also will need to find a way to deliver more value to shoppers who are deciding whether an iPhone or a Pixel is the best choice.
Let’s see how the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL compare to low-cost iPhone 8 which ranges between $600 to $800.
Google’s Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL come with 5.6- and 6-inch screens, respectively. They each have chunky bezels around their screens, which fly in the face of a recent smartphone design trend that slims down the bezels and features a small black notch at the top of the display to house the front-facing camera and earpiece.
The smartphones come in several different colors, including white, black, and an iris. A single-lens camera and fingerprint sensor sit on the back.
Apple’s iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus designs have similarly chunky bezels around the screen and come in a variety of colors, like Silver, Space Gray, and Gold. On the rear, you’ll find the familiar Apple logo and the rear-facing camera. Apple’s iPhone 8 has a 4.7-inch screen, and the iPhone 8 Plus has a 5.5-inch display.
In this area, your choice comes down to personal taste. Neither device has a clear advantage.
Google’s new Pixels run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor and 4GB of RAM. That combination should be enough to power most apps without trouble, but they won’t run as quickly as they would on higher-end alternatives, like the Pixel 3 that ships with a more powerful Snapdragon processor. Their 3,000mAh battery delivers up to 30 hours of battery life.
Apple’s iPhone 8 lineup runs on the company’s A11 Bionic chip. In benchmark tests, which aim at determining a processor’s power, the A11 is far more potent than most Snapdragon chips—including the Snapdragon 670 in Google’s Pixel 3a lineup.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus won’t necessarily deliver the most power of any iPhone, but they will offer better performance than the Pixel 3as. Apple promises up to 14 hours and 21 hours of battery life in its iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, respectively.
If you’re seeking power, the iPhone 8 is still a better choice. But the Pixels clearly win on battery life.
Each year, Google releases Pixel devices that have industry-leading camera performance. And the Pixel 3as is no different. They have a Night Sight feature that will illuminate pictures you take at night or in the dark so they show far more detail than they otherwise might.
A Portrait Mode provides better detail on a subject’s face, and an unlimited storage feature means you can store all of your photos in Google’s cloud-storage service Cloud without running out of space.
Apple’s iPhones have excellent cameras, but nothing that can quite match Pixels. The iPhone 8 Plus has a dual-camera system that lets you take both wide-angle and telephoto pictures. Apple also tosses in a Portrait Mode like what you’d find in the Pixels.
According to tech critics who have reviewed the new Pixels, Google’s Pixel 3a lineup offers a superior camera experience that Apple’s iPhones can’t match.
Beating Pixel 3a pricing is hard. The Pixel 3a costs just $399, making it hundreds of dollars cheaper than premium smartphones, like the iPhone XS, that can start at $1,000. The larger Google Pixel 3a XL goes for $479.
Apple’s iPhone 8 starts at $599 and the iPhone 8 Plus starts at $699. If you bump their capacity to 256GB, it’ll tack on an additional $150 and bump their prices to $749 and $849, respectively.
If it’s savings you’re after, the Pixel 3a lineup is clearly the way to go.