After recently switching from my iPhone to an Android powered Pixel 3, I’ve been asked enough questions, and usually in a surprised tone, that it seems that the Android vs iOS accessibility debate is still quite a hot topic for people. So, before I go any further let me say this. Accessibility on both Android and iOS is fine. Both have certain areas where there could be improvements, but both platforms are, not only accessible, but VERY usable by the visually impaired. I honestly don’t feel I owe any particular loyalty to a specific brand. All I care about is whether I can use and be productive on a device. I’ve been happy with my Pixel 3 experience so far, but I’m also very interested in some of the new features introduced in iOS 13, and if the rumoured iPhone SE2 is ever released, I may switch back to iOS. Yes we could, and often do, argue all day about why a specific platform is better than another, but for me the very fact we have a choice is the most important thing.
With that being said, it’s also important to point out that when it comes to Android, the very fact that a device manufacturer can customize it to work how they want it to, means you should spend a little more time asking questions about a specific device. For example, I’ve recently tried a budget Android phone from Samsung where I was unable to start TalkBack out of the box. Holding 2 fingers on the screen or holding both volume buttons down did not, as they do on stock Android, turn on TalkBack. Someone also recently told me that they were unable to enter the unlock pin into their Huawei P20 Pro as the number keys weren’t labelled. These kind of ridiculous mistakes by manufacturers can make accessibility on an Android device not as straightforward as it should be.
Okay, with the accessibility debate out of the way, let’s get on with it…
The Pixel 3 & Pixel 3A
I’ve talked about my experience with the Pixel 3 smartphone before, both on the radio and TV, but a few weeks ago I also got my hands on the much more affordable Pixel 3A. So, because of this and with the imminent release of the Pixel 4 meaning that these “older” models may drop in price, here’s my review on these 2 handsets.
The Pixel 3
Released in October 2018, the Pixel 3 is the flagship smartphone from Google. Well, at least for the next 24 hours until the Pixel 4 is released. And I’ve got to say, the Pixel 3 does feel like a premium device, with its aluminium and glass body and excellent build quality. It features a very nice 5.5 inch OLED screen with bezels that are both thin enough to give that full screen look, but not too thin where accidental screen touches are a problem. If you’re looking for a larger screen, there is also a XL version of the phone with a 6.3 inch display.
On the rear you’ll find one 12.2 mega-pixel camera and a fingerprint sensor. On the right-hand side is the power button and volume up and down buttons and on the bottom edge is a USB C port for charging etc. And no, sadly there is not a 3.5mm headphone jack on the Pixel 3. However, the speakers are forward facing rather than down firing and produce a nice, loud stereo sound. There are also 2 front cameras, with the second one being wide angle for those group selfie shots.
Powering the Pixel 3 you’ll find a Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB of ram. It also has a dedicated chip called the Pixel Visual Core which handles all the image processing for the camera. Although I’m probably not the best judge when it comes to picture quality, the Pixel 3 is widely considered to produce some of the best photos of any smartphone.
Battery life is good, giving me a full day of moderate use and the fast charging feature means that I can charge the phone to 70% in about 40 minutes. The fact that Google provides the 18 watt fast charger in the box is also a nice touch. The Pixel 3 also supports wireless charging through the Qi standard.
Finally, the Pixel 3 is waterproof to an IP6 standard and is available with 64 or 128GB of storage.
The Pixel 3A
The Pixel 3A, which was released in May this year, is almost identical in design and layout to the Pixel 3. Despite ditching the aluminium body in favour of plastic, the Pixel 3A doesn’t feel any the less premium as the Pixel 3. In fact, I really couldn’t tell a difference when it came to feel and build quality.
It also features an excellent OLED screen but it’s slightly bigger than the Pixel 3 coming in at 5.6 inch. Again, if you want a bigger screen, there is a XL version available with a 6-inch display. As I mentioned earlier, the placement of the power and volume buttons, fingerprint sensor and USB C port are the same as the Pixel 3 but has the bonus of including a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge. I know some of you will love that. The speakers are still clear and loud, but the bottom speaker is down firing. Now, I wouldn’t say this made the 3A sound any worse than the Pixel 3, but it did mean that sometimes I would accidentally cover the speaker when holding the phone in landscape mode, which could be annoying.
Camera wise, the 3A has the same rear facing 12.2 mega-pixel camera as the Pixel 3. However, it does lose the wide-angle front facing camera and also the dedicated Pixel Visual Core chip. This doesn’t mean that the Pixel 3A can’t produce the same high-quality pictures as the Pixel 3 but it does mean it takes a little longer to do so. This really shouldn’t be that noticeable for most users, but it could be something to think about if you want to take fast moving shots or multiple shots.
The 3A is powered by a Snapdragon 670 CPU, which isn’t as powerful as the Pixel 3’s 845 but it does keep the 4GB’s of ram. Battery life is slightly better on the 3A and, like the Pixel 3, has fast charging, but it does lose the wireless charging feature.
It also loses the waterproofing of the Pixel 3 and is only available in a 64GB option.
So that’s the tech specs of the two phones, now let’s see how they compare in real world use.
After using the Pixel 3 as my daily driver for a while now, I can honestly say that performance has always been great. It’s never felt under-powered. Even though the Snapdragon 845 CPU is a generation behind the latest and greatest on offer. Everything about the phone is snappy and responsive. Everyday tasks such as booting up, charging, launching apps and browsing the web never feel slow or clunky, this is also true in the case of using TalkBack. Whether you’re browsing a particularly cluttered web page or Facebook timeline, the Android screen reader never feels overwhelmed. The screen is also excellent with great contrast and popping colours, which can make a difference to low vision users. Add this great performance with a nice design and premium build quality and you’ve got a smartphone which is easy to recommend.
So, what about the Pixel 3A? Can a phone that costs almost half as much come anywhere near its premium priced big brother? Well… If you take the above paragraph and simply replace the phrase Pixel 3 with Pixel 3A then you will get my answer. Yes, it does run a slower processor, but as with the Pixel 3, I never found it slowing down or felt like I was waiting for TalkBack to catch up. Yes, when running the phones side by side you can tell that the 3 is quicker, booting up for example takes about 5 seconds longer on the 3A, but when using the 3A on its own, the performance is never an annoyance. Also build quality doesn’t feel like it’s been compromised in the cost cutting process. I honestly can’t really ‘feel’ a difference between the two phones. The features that have been lost due to cost on the Pixel 3A are features that I can happily live without. Yes, things like wireless charging, waterproofing and more storage are nice to have but at the price point the 3A hits I’m more than happy with these limitations.
The Pixel 3A is an amazing phone at an amazing price. Like the iPhone 6s and the iPhone SE you do lose some cool features that are present on the premium phone, but none that feel like you’re missing out on anything important.
To put it simply, the Pixel 3 is a great phone but the Pixel 3A is an astonishing phone for the price. I can’t wait to see what Google do with the Pixel 4 and hopefully the 4A…
Co-host & audio producer on the Double Tap Canada radio show. Occasional contributor to Double Tap TV, full time shed resident.