The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL offer a lot for $400. They perform well enough, they have that incredible camera voodoo the Pixel brand is known for under the hood, and with financing, they cost about as much as 3 fancy coffees from your favorite coffee shop every month. They aren’t exactly a rekindling of the Nexus line, but they nail one void its passing left behind: they’re good and they’re cheap. They will probably also spell trouble for the upcoming Pixel 4 when it comes to sales figures.
A Pixel 3a may not be enough phone for you, but enthusiasts are but a tiny portion of the market.
I can already hear some of you groaning and saying that the $400 Pixel 3a isn’t a good enough phone for you. To that, I say it probably is (we’re just spoiled) and that’s OK because there are plenty of phones that cost more because they offer more when it comes to specs or features. But I’m not talking about us because we’re phone nerds. We might not like that a high-end phone costs so much but we’ll pay it anyway because smartphones are a necessity, a passion, and a hobby all rolled into one for people like us. I’m talking about the average smartphone buyer, which happens to be the person Google has been trying to woo over with the Pixel line.
Let’s speculate what the Pixel 4 XL is going to be for a few minutes. That sounds like fun. It’s going to have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 without the X50 or X55 5G modem, 4 (maybe 6) GB of RAM, a good Samsung OLED display, wireless charging, and maybe 2 cameras on the back. A look at Android Q — which it will ship with — and I’m also guessing the display will be HDR10+ certified. It will also have a price tag close to $1,000 for the base 64GB of storage model. I’m sure I’m probably wrong a time or two here, but I’m just as sure I won’t be too far off the mark in any single category. Google wants the Pixel to be the Android equivalent of the iPhone and it needs to look good, be built well, be simple and “elegant” and not much more. Google can build that phone and has for three years.
Now ask yourself one question: would anyone who is not a phone nerd think anything there is worth $600 more than the Pixel 3a XL? Bonus question: if you’re a phone nerd, did you think that the Pixel 4a XL might be worth waiting for?
These types of problems are good for us. Decent phones that have a reasonable price are 100% win, and if a Pixel 3a can finish what companies like OnePlus started and drive the price of flagship phones lower by making price reductions and sales happen sooner, everyone wins in the end. But one other thing could happen that isn’t the greatest thing in the world for Google’s hardware sales numbers and that thing is Samsung.
If you only want fast updates and an unlockable bootloader, the Pixel 3a is there for you at substantial savings. If you want more, just buy a Galaxy Note and have it all.
Samsung already eats Pixel sales for lunch every day and is still hungry afterward. Without doing any math because we don’t know exact numbers (I’m guessing 5 million versus 50 million), there are probably close to 100 Galaxy S phones sold for every Pixel sold. Google has been happy with that ratio because it’s all Android and it makes money just by Android being there, and Google isn’t trying to be a big player when it comes to sales. That’s a good thing because of how difficult the company makes buying a Pixel phone for the first month or two after release.
I’m going to guess that about 40% or so of those sales go to phone nerds because of the promise of fast updates for three years or so they can have a phone that’s fun and easy to monkey around with.
The Pixel 3a, and presumably a Pixel 4a, will have fast updates for three years and be fun and easy to monkey around with. And it costs $600 less. I know which one I would buy, and a bit of reading across the internet tells me I’m not alone. The Pixel 4 will be a hard sell for a large portion of its existing user base now that a “cheap” option is once again available. And I love it even if Google won’t.