A couple of days ago, my wife's phone just keeled over and died... it had run it's course and served for quite a decent amount of time (OnePlus 3)... and we were considering changing her to a new phone anyway. However, sometimes you just put these things off until you are forced to (actually, my wife does... if I could I would update every generation!)... However, this time it was a right pain in the arse, as my wife had WhatsApp messages and other things on the phone that she really needed to get to... and there wasn't enough time (I'm travelling around Netherlands... late nights and passing ships in the night sort of thing..) to bring the replacement phone (an old OnePlus One that was still kicking around in my drawers... being earmarked for something else... but having not quite had the time to tinker with it...) up to speed... so, only a SIM and a jump back to the most minimal of minimal internet experience, being locked out of most services...
Anyway, it was a nice chance for me to quickly browse the phone options again... I already had a couple of phones in mind for her (either the Pixel 3a or the OnePlus 7... with a few other outside runners like the Redmi Notes). So, we did a quick order... with a next day shipping estimate... so, my wife would only have to deal with an incomplete phone experience for only a day longer. It's funny, but even she (as a non-nerd) mentioned how much we've come to rely on the phone as a central point for communication and information.... she was getting quite frustrated at not being able to reply and act upon things that needed a quick action from her...
Of course, (just like when my mother upgraded her phone earlier in the year...) I think I was the most excited about having a new shiny to play around with... after all, I get to do the set-up and all the boring stuff...but whilst I'm doing that I get to toy around with the toy... however, my wife did make it quite clear that we weren't doing a phone swap (not that I would want to .... I want a different one for myself!).
In the end we settled on the Pixel 3a... mostly because my wife isn't a really big power user... just your average normal non-nerd person.... and the big draw of the Pixel 3a is that it has the same rear-facing camera and software as the flagship Pixel, which is known for some pretty decent quality photo imagery! We are used to large phones, and so we went with the XL variant of the phone... battery capacity is pretty important to us, as we are often travelling, out of the house or relying on a great deal of endurance from our phones.
One minor quibble is that the 64GB onboard storage is less than the baseline 128GB from the OnePlus 7... which is a little annoying in this day and age... but then, she won't be using that much space... most of it will be from photos and videos, and they can be very easily shunted to the cloud or some sort of hardware storage. It used to be much more of a pain in the arse, but nowadays it's really a cinch to get data on and off of phones.
Weirdly enough, the white variant was cheaper than the black variant... strange, but who knows why the market behaves as it does... so, we just picked up the white one as it will be living inside a folding flip cover anyway.
Ah.... you can't get a phone these days without making some comment on what sort of person or lifestyle that you live... or are wanting to project. Apparently, mid-range Pixel owners are rock lovers and have a fondness garishly bright decor. Sadly, there was no rock in the box... possibly an optional extra.
The phone actually has a decent heft to it... these days, there are many phones that just feel too light. Well, there will always be a lower limit of weight with the battery chunk, but I do prefer that my phones have a bit of substance in their feel. The back cover is something that I'm not quite so fond of... it is a touch slippery... but on the other hand, everything feels slippery after being spoilt by that sandstone texture of the OnePlus One (and the subsequent back covers for the rest of the iterations of OnePlus). However, again, it should not be something that really influences a phone buying decision as there are many skins and covers available for "fixing" this problem.
Something that will take a bit of training is the button placement... now, I'm not really a fan of having all the buttons on the same side of the phone. The OnePlus design of power on the right and volume rocker on the left is one of the better ones (power on the top is the worst of the worst!). On this Pixel 3a XL. the power button is too high up to comfortably reach when you are using the phone one handed... and muscle memory from the OnePlus phones means that I was hitting the volume rocker all the time (it is in the same location as the power button on the those phones...).
Well... the ever controversial... "where do you place the fingerprint scanner!" This is something that really does divide the phone aficionados. Most phones do have the scanner on the front... and that is where it is for the OnePlus line of phones. On the Pixels they have chosen to do it one the back, so you are scanning your index finger rather than the thumb. I would have to say that this would have been my preferred choice of scanner location... but these are the sacrifices that we make for kick-arse hardware at a low price (I'm talking about the OnePlus line...).
Having toyed around with both versions now... I have to say, in the end... it doesn't really matter. Like all phones, your muscle memory starts to adapt to the different feels, weights and sizes of objects until it feels natural anyway. Likewise, both versions of the fingerprint scanner location start to feel efficient after a day or two...
So, the first power on... to me the screen is a touch blue for my liking... it's too saturated, but that is what most people prefer on their phones anyway. I have mine set to the sRGB targets... and most people will think that that is too washed out looking... but in fact, it is a more realistic colour target than the saturated cartoon images that people have on their screens... but the saturation does make images "pop"... even if they are not realistic!
Something that I do like about this phone is that they haven't bothered to pretend to have a full screen phone by having a notch or cutout. I have to say that it is a stupid marketing trick to do that... and aesthetically it looks horrible (the notch/cutout). I know that after using a phone with one for a while you do stop seeing the cutout screen, but in the same way that you just live with a spike through your brain rather than complaining about it every day...
So, I LOVE that the Pixel 3a XL has not bothered to try for an all front screen (with the disclaimer of the missing bits...). It's honest, and it looks much better! Marketing has a lot to answer for... beautiful design and engineering are often overruled in favour of a metric to sell!
... and finally, the reason that we bought the phone! Now, this photo doesn't really do it justice... as it was taken of a screen with the photo with an inferior camera.... but I have to say that Google have done a stunning job with the software that processes the raw image data. Images are super sharp... although with the disclaimer that sometimes they look overly sharp. contrast and colour are superb... and the speed is up to catching the children in motion!
Something else that is really quite interesting is the Motion option. To do the image processing, the camera is capturing images from before and after the shutter press. So, the Motion option is a really fun way of stitching the images into a little half second motion video. Kind of like your own personal Vine! It's hilarious... especially when you have kids, which are notoriously difficult to keep still for a photo!
So, in the end... a great phone for my wife. I don't think it would be the phone for me... I would hit up the full flagship Pixel (with the corresponding huge price tag...), or more likely (never....) settle for the OnePlus 7. I have loved the OnePlus line... and the Pixels.. so it would be a tough choice, but for me hardware and specs are the chief influence on my choice.
For my wife, a long battery life and superb camera are the killer "specs" for her. So, to this end... this Google Pixel 3a XL is the perfect match for her... and I would argue that it is the perfect match for most people!