Google Pixel 3a XL
Image Credit: TechRadar

Camera

The headline attraction on the Google Pixel 3a XL is its rear camera – it boasts very similar impressive hardware as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, which means you can take some stunning shots with this phone.

You get a 12.2MP, f/1.8 dual-pixel Sony sensor which boasts HDR+, OIS (optical image stabilization) and EIS (electronic image stabilization). Add to that the AI software smarts working behind the scenes, and you have a powerful camera at your disposal.

We’ve managed to take some impressive shots with the phone, of the kind you might expect to only get from a phone that costs a lot more than it.

Portrait Mode allows you to blur the background behind your subject, and we found this consistently worked well. Many smartphones use a second sensor to capture the depth data for these 'bokeh' effects in order to produce more accurate results, but the Pixel 3a XL does a good job of working it out digitally.

You also get Google’s Night Sight mode, which manages to brighten up some of the darkest scenes in an almost magical way. In our testing, it seemed as effective as it does on the Pixel 3 range, and few devices can boast a similar feature.

Below you can see an example shot with Night Sight turned off and then on. It makes a noticeable difference, and we found ourselves constantly wanting to test it when in a suitable scenario. 

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Normal shot without Night Sight

Normal shot without Night Sight
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A similar photograph with Night Sight turned on

A similar photograph with Night Sight turned on

Below you can see an example shot with Night Sight turned off and then on. It makes a noticeable difference, and we found ourselves constantly wanting to test it when in a suitable scenario.

The camera isn’t as good as the Pixel 3 XL, but it’s close. You don’t get all the features of this phone’s more expensive siblings – there’s no Pixel Visual Core image processor, plus the Pixel 3a XL runs a mid-range main chipset, so it won’t be as effective at processing images as the flagship power in the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. 

What this means is that while the camera on the Google Pixel 3a XL is still a great option, the reality is that it won’t be quite as capable as the pricier handsets it’s borrowing most of its technology from. 

That said, we barely noticed any shortcomings during our testing, and it’s a remarkable camera considering the price of the phone. If you’re looking for a handset that offers top-end smartphone photography on a budget, this is it.

Round the front you get a single 8MP selfie camera (no dual-camera setup here, as on the 3 XL, which also has a wide-angle selfie snapper) which boasts a new mode way to capture shots, called Kiss Face.

As well as having smile recognition built in, the Pixel 3a XL’s selfie camera can also recognize a pout, and can automatically take a shot when it recognizes someone in frame making either expression. This means there’s no fumbling for the shutter button required from your outstretched arm.

We found selfie shooting to be good on the handset – it’s not as strong as the Pixel 3 XL with its two front-facing cameras, but again, we didn’t find that to be a problem, as the phone was still able to take great shots we were eager to share.

Camera samples

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Battery life

The Google Pixel 3a XL has a 3,700mAh battery, and while that may not sound huge on paper it’s actually quite impressive in day-to-day usage.

We often found the phone would last the whole day, and there wasn’t one day in our two weeks with the handset that it didn’t make it all the way from being taken off charge at 7am to being plugged back in at around 11pm.

That was with typical mixed use throughout the day – and often we had the phone on maximum brightness, which is well known for draining battery life quicker than other features.

Google claims the Pixel 3a XL can last up to 30 hours on a single charge if you enable Adaptive Battery in the settings, with the phone learning your usage habits, and optimizing apps and prioritizing power allocation as needed.

You’re also able to charge the 3a XL quickly, with just 15 minutes plugged into the 18W fast charger giving you seven hours of use. We found this to work well, but remember you’ll have to have the specific Google fast charger to get these benefits.

There’s no wireless charging on the Google Pixel 3a XL, but that’s not a feature you’ll find on many phones around this price.

Our standard battery test involves playing a 90-minute video on the phone at full brightness, and we found the 3a XL had 88% charge left at the end of it – that’s a strong result, although not the best we’ve seen.

Image Credit: TechRadar