Google is looking to buck the £1,000-plus smartphone trend by launching a cheaper Pixel 3a smartphone that still offers its top-spec camera and software.
Announced at Google’s I/O developer conference in California on Tuesday, the new Pixel 3a and 3a XL Android phones are aimed at the increasingly important mid-range market. Starting at £399, they seek to offer most of what made Google’s £739-plus flagship phones good, but at a significantly reduced cost.
The two phones, which have 5.6in or 6in OLED screens respectively, eschew Google’s glass back design for plastic, but keep its rounded shape, fingerprint scanner, primary software and built-in artificial intelligence features.
Google cut its fan-favourite Nexus line of smartphones and exited the mid-range market with the launch of its first Pixel smartphones in 2016, which cost at least £599 and were designed to take on Apple’s dominant iPhone. But it recently admitted its latest Pixel 3 line had underperformed.
However, in the mid-range market Google hopes it can leverage its software prowess to offer something more appealing than Samsung’s mid-range A series and phones from Chinese rivals such as Huawei’s Honor.
Part of that offering is Google’s well-respected camera, which has been pulled straight from the Pixel 3 with all bells and whistles attached, including the night sight and top shot features.
But perhaps most appealing to more price-conscious consumers might be Google’s commitment to at least three years of monthly security updates and Android version upgrades, which have been a standout feature of its top-end smartphones and is something others do not offer at this price point.
Google’s baked-in AI, including squeezable sides that trigger Google Assistant and on-device music recognition, are also present in the Pixel 3a series.
Both phones come with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but have Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor and are not water-resistant. They also lack wireless charging, but do have fast charging via USB-C and up to 30 hours of battery, according to Google. They also have a traditional headphone socket, something Google’s more expensive phones lack.
Whether the Pixel 3a’s combination of lower specifications but better software and camera is appealing enough to make a dent in the highly competitive mid-range market remains to be seen.
“Google has yet to deliver meaningful volume in smartphones and move Pixel beyond an innovation showcase,” said Geoff Blaber, VP Research, Americas at analyst firm CCS Insight. “Pixel 3A is a more assertive step into a more affordable segment and crucially, is supported by far wider channel distribution. This is a major ‘reset’ on its Pixel strategy.”
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL come in three colours and are available to order from Tuesday, costing £399 and £469 respectively.
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This article was amended on 8 May 2019. An earlier version did not make it clear that, while Huawei is Chinese, Samsung is South Korean.