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Home Reviews Google Pixel 3a XL: A review at six months

Google Pixel 3a XL: A review at six months

Google has never had a problem making premium phones. Since the release of the Nexus lineup, we’ve seen the company partner with handset makers to deliver high-quality phones and tablets, some of which were hundreds of dollars less than the competition.

These options were all the more enticing since they came with pure Android, fast updates, and years of support from both Google and a community of developers through custom ROMs and tweaks.

The search giant decided to take a new route a few years ago, killing off the Nexus lineup in favor of Pixel devices. Gone were the days of cheaper devices as we were introduced to Google’s vision of a flagship. Consumers used to cheap annual hardware updates had to look in another direction.

But, Google is changing course again. The Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are a return to affordable hardware with a clean build of Android. If that wasn’t attractive enough, the same lauded camera from last year’s Pixel 3 and 3 XL are on board. A truly compelling package, and all for under $500.

We’ve spent the last few months living with the Pixel 3a XL and this is what we found.

Hardware and design

If you’ve never held a Pixel device in your hand, you might not know how dominating it can be. These are not the pencil-thin devices where bezels go to die or incredibly tall screen aspect ratios. They’re big, wide, and the screen seems to stretch for miles. That’s no different with the Pixel 3a XL.

The difference this year is that the device is made out of plastic instead of glass– but that’s not a bad thing. We’ve long since abandoned plastic devices and (myself included) have assumed that glass backs were as good as you could get. They feel great and look fantastic, but come with the downside of scratches and cracks.

With the Pixel 3a XL, I’ve changed how I use my phone. I’ve never been overly careful with my devices in the past anyway, but now I don’t worry about my phone breaking at all.

Sure, I do try to protect the screen but I feel a lot better about tossing this into my bag than I would with another, far more breakable device. It’s freeing in a way that I had forgotten about.

And to be honest, this all still feels pretty nice. This isn’t the gross plastic covering of the Samsung Galaxy S5, but it’s hard and feels great in the hand, like a high-quality product that you’d have no problem paying the money for.

Thanks to the plastic back, fingerprints are no longer a problem and the potentially deep scratches of the Pixel 3 are gone, too. Google really killed it here.

The biggest problem most people will have with the Pixel 3a XL comes on the front of the device. In a world of waterdrop notches and pop-up cameras, the Pixel 3a XL goes in another direction.

Huge bezels adorn both the top and bottom of the device. This wasn’t so much a problem with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL because there were front-firing speakers in that space, but that’s not the case here. The 3a XL does have great stereo speakers, but they’re not front-firing; rather opting for an earpiece and downward firing speaker grill like we see in most phones with stereo speakers.

If bezels are an issue for you, this is not the phone for you. But during my time with the Pixel 3a XL, I never had an issue. These past few months, I never noticed the “gigantic” notch and I don’t notice the huge bezels here either. I only see the (relatively nice) display and hear the fantastic audio coming out of the speakers. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you don’t care about screen-to-body ratios, this is a good fit.

Hiding between those two bezels is a really nice OLED display. Price would indicate that we’d see an LCD here as with similarly priced phones like the ASUS ZenFone 6, but Google was able to stick with OELD and it pushes the experience from nice to great. The colors pop, blacks are wonderfully deep and the always-on-display remains a trusted way to glance at your notifications and move on. I don’t think I’d be so high on this device if the OLED panel wasn’t here.

Sneaking around the sides of the device, we find SIM card tray on near the top of the left side with all of the buttons on the right side. A volume rocker sits under the power button with nothing else to report besides the Active Edge feature that allows you to open Google Assistant by squeezing your phone. This is a familiar feature that has been around for years now and one that I enjoy.

I do find myself triggering Assistant by accident from time to time, but Google allows you to retrain the sensitivity in software to suit your needs.

There are other devices that cost less and feature “more premium” materials. There are devices that are more durable. But, there are few that I think will continue to look as good years down the road. Google struck a really nice balance here and while it’s not going to blow away enthusiasts, it’s going to be great for most people. That’s exactly what Google was going for.

And it has a headphone jack. What more could you ask for?

Software

The Pixel 3a XL came out of the box running stock Android 9.0 Pie with Google’s Pixel Experience enhancements on top and has since been upgraded to Android 10. Updates come faster than any other Android OEM not named Essential, but do lag just a little bit behind the more expensive Pixel 3/XL and 4/XL. These delays are counted in days or weeks, not months.

If you enjoy the software experience on any other Pixel, you’ll find no real differences here. It’s fast, fluid, and lacks the bulky features that other OEMs cram into their devices. As an aside, it’s okay to like those features. We get so caught up in “pure” Android that we sometimes gloss over the fact that other phones ship with software features the Pixels don’t have.

Anyway, back on topic. In my time using the OnePlus 7 Pro as my daily driver, I forgot about some of the useful features that I really enjoyed on the Pixel 3/XL and 4/XL. One of the most prominent is call screening. I have T-Mobile so spam calls are unrelenting. While Big Magenta has done a good job cutting down on them in recent months, they’re still here and call screening is a wonder.

Call screening works with just a press of a button. Instead of just your normal answer and decline buttons, you also get the option to screen the call.

A recording will come up stating that you’re using an answering service and will receive a transcript of the call. It then asks the caller to identify who they are and why they’re calling, displaying those answers for you. You are given multiple quick reply buttons at the bottom to ask more questions or end the call. It’s a fantastic feature and one I’ve used over and over again.

I’ve heard people call the Pixel line the “Google iPhone” before and that’s fine. I guess we can just say that the flagships here are iPhone-like and move on but the one problem I have with this analogy is that Apple forces you into its software vision whereas Google presents its to you.

It’s light, it’s bright, and it does the things you need without you thinking. But if you don’t want any of that, you can change it. Do you want to install a thousand apps that all work together and share files and data between them? Go for it. Dark mode is in almost every Google app now and came system-wide with the Android 10 update.

Google has a vision for Android, that much is obvious. But that doesn’t have to be your vision for you to love this phone. You do have to love iOS to love Apple’s phones, too, and that’s a big area where Google will score points with consumers. It’s an area where it should be educating consumers and if it does, I think it crushes Apple’s most popular phone, the iPhone XR.

Camera

Camera is core to the experience of a Pixel phone. If you want simply the best camera out there, you pick up a Pixel. That much has been known for years. But we’ve never dealt with a “budget Pixel” before. Most budget phones cut corners to save money and one of the easiest ways to cut costs is opting for a serviceable, but not good, camera.

Google went another route, relying on its camera to sell units because it knows photography and full well how to get everything possible out of that sensor. The search giant is a master of computational photography and it shows with the Pixel 3a XL.

The camera setup is mostly the same as the more-expensive Pixel 3 XL. We have a single rear 12.2 MP shooter with an f/1.8 aperture at 28mm, optical and electronic image stabilization, dual pixel PDAF, and a dual-LED flash.

Where things start to differ is around front. Instead of a dual-lens setup, there’s a single 8 MP f/2.0 lens at 24mm that supports HDR shooting. Gone is the wide-angle lens that allowed for group-shot selfies. We’re also missing the Pixel Visual Core, a dedicated chip inside the device that allowed for quicker picture processing.

Despite those missing features, the experience here is still great. Pictures look fantastic and full of life. The portrait mode delivers great bokeh and Nightsight still blows me away with how much light it can pull out of a scene.

The biggest change from the Pixel 3 XL to the 3a XL is just how fast those pictures get processed. Sometimes I do find myself waiting around a little bit for the slower Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor to finish working on my pictures, but I honestly don’t really care.

Battery and Performance

I wish I could tell you that this sub-$500 phone punched above its weight and went toe-to-toe with phones that dwarf its price tag. Unfortunately, I can’t.

What I can say, though, is that the Pixel 3a XL is fine. It completes tasks in a timely fashion and I’ve yet to see instances of dropped frames or hard stuttering.

It does take longer to complete tasks than phones with flagship-level processors, but that’s to be expected. This doesn’t have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 like the Samsung Galaxy S10, LG G8, or OnePlus 7 Pro, but it also doesn’t have that kind of price tag either.

The device comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 SoC, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. Those are roughly what we’d expect to see at this price in 2019 and are just a step below the big boys who routinely pack in 6GB+ of RAM and 128GB of storage.

We did see issues with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL’s “only” 4 GB of RAM when the devices first came out, but Google seems to have figured those out. No longer do music streaming apps die in the background once they’re closed, and that’s a relief. But, I did notice that it couldn’t hold too many apps in memory, which lead to longer loading times down the road.

Battery life, on the other hand, is a huge win. It’s hard not to compare this device to the Pixel 3 XL released late last year in this respect because I was pretty disappointed that phone’s battery life.

While I did usually get through the day, it was just barely. Power users always had issues doing so. Luckily there was fast charging and wireless charging on board to keep users juiced up during the day.

While fast charging does return for the 3a XL, wireless charging does not — and that’s a bummer. It’s one of my favorite features on phones today.

I don’t ever do scientific testing on battery life because this is an area that varies widely from person to person. I don’t think numbers really tell the story. So, let me tell you a little bit about how I use my phone and the results I get.

First off, what I don’t do. I don’t play a ton of games and usually only do so to test out phone performance here and there. I don’t snap a ton of pictures or record 4K video unless I’m doing so for a review. I also don’t do extremely long video streaming sessions because I have a TV for that.

My daily usage consists of several hours of music streaming in the background, at least two hours on Reddit killing time and reading articles, five to ten phone calls that last anywhere from a minute to a half an hour, and syncing 10+ email accounts. I usually kill phones by the end of the day with somewhere around 5 hours of Screen on Time at the most.

During my review period I never once had an issue with the Pixel 3a XL dying, or even coming remotely close. In fact, I went past six hours of screen on time several times with 20-30% of my battery left at the end of the day.

I’ve held up the OnePlus 6T as my battery champ in the last year and that long battery life is one of the reasons that I’ve used it as my daily driver for so long. The Pixel 3a XL is right there with it and I’d have no problem taking it with me when I know I’m going to use it heavily for an entire day.

Conclusion

Budget phones have long made sense for most people. If you can pick up 90% of the phone for 50% of the price, that’s a good compromise, right? It seems that while the logic is there, consumers disagreed. Flagships are still the most exciting thing in Android with most headlines dedicated to new chapters from Samsung, LG, and OnePlus.

Despite that, Google has taken a page from Motorola’s book and released a truly compelling mid-range device that delivers in nearly ever aspect. Sure, we’re missing features like an IP rating, wireless charging, and oodles of RAM, but we have everything we need and a camera that’s almost unmatched.

There’s a been a trend of crowning the Pixel 3a and 3a XL as the king of budget phones, and while I think that’s taking it a bit too far, there is a ton to love here.

For your money you get a processor that gets the job done, enough RAM to keep going all day long, battery life that can push into the two-day category for light users, and one of the best cameras on the market. All in all, a very compelling experience at just $399 for the Pixel 3a and $479 for the 3a XL.

But, this is not the phone for you if you want to hold onto a device for many years into the future. While companies like Samsung and OnePlus are sticking a ridiculous 12GB of RAM into devices, Google stuck with 4GB.

It wouldn’t have made sense for the company to release a budget phone with more RAM than its flagship, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about how the phone will hold up for the next few years. We’re getting larger apps and hungrier system processes with each passing day and the Pixel 3a XL could soon be in a tight spot.

If you do want a cheaper phone for right now, one that will get software updates well into the future and a camera that’s capable of more than just social media pictures, then this where you want to start your search.

At $400, this is one of the best values on the market right now and in the US, it’s the only readily available option which delivers these specs at this price.

We fully recommend the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, though if you’re outside of the US, you do have more options. Do your research, but start here.

Buy the Pixel 3a XL from Amazon, Best Buy, or Google.

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InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes review

There’s really no way around it, we live in a different world right now. A global pandemic has taken the lives of nearly 200,000 Americans in roughly six months.The majority of us are doing what we can to be a bit cleaner than we were previously. That includes washing our hands regularly, wearing masks out in public, and just doing the best we can to not spread a disease we may not even know we have.With that said, we need to remember that the thing we touch the most during the course of our day needs to be cleaned, too. I’m talking, of course, about our phones.There’s been an uptick of new devices such as mophie and InvisibleShield UV sanitizers that promise to sanitize your smartphone and pretty much whatever else you can fit inside. Heck, some of them even charge your phone when you’re done sanitizing.Let’s say you’re nowhere near your UV sanitizer and your child hands you the phone with their germ riddled hands. After you’re done chasing them around with hand sanitizer you still need to take care of your phone.You can’t exactly wipe your smartphone down with a Clorox wipe. I mean, I guess you can, but they’re not made with that incredibly expensive slab of glass in mind. That’s where the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes come in handy.Available in packs of 10, 25, or 500 for $4.99, $9.99, and $69.99, respectively, they’re like Wet Ones designed for phones. Throw a couple of these in your purse, pocket, or backpack and whenever you need to ensure your electronic devices are clean, just give them a good wipe down.The AndroidGuys team was provided the opportunity to test these babies out and I jumped at the chance. Having two goobers of my own, one of which that loves his tablet, I figured if anyone could put these to the test, it would be my very own little germ factory.The wipes themselves are pretty small and are packaged very similarly to your standard Fresh Naps or a Zeiss lens wipe. Although they are on the smaller side, they have enough juice in them to clean two smartphones, or maybe a tablet.They’re not just for smartphones, you can wipe down just about any nonporous surface. What made me so excited to get these was the fact they won’t damage the oil-resistant coating on your smartphone or tablet screens.I would say the convenience factor alone is enough to get the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes. You can pretty much keep them anywhere and have them handy any time you need them.I love having the peace of mind of knowing my smartphone is clean clean. It’s just one less thing I have to worry about. I’ll definitely be buying more of the InvisibleShield disinfecting wipes as the price is just too good. If you grab that 500 pack it comes out to about $0.14 per wipe. Sold.Learn more about the InvisibleShield Disinfecting Wipes at the ZAGG/InvisibleShield website where they’re available for purchase. You can also find the wipes at carriers and retailers like Verizon, AT&T, and Staples.

Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC Traveller Headphones Review

Up for review today are the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones from Beyerdnyamic. Priced about $250, you can get your hands on them today.How do they sound? Are they comfortable? What about the app experience? Read on to learn what we thought about these headphones.DesignAt first glance, there isn’t anything too special about the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. They are mainly made of plastic with accents of artificial leather on the padded earcups and headband.However, once you turn them on the light show begins with hidden lights inside of the earcups. The ring of light inside each earcup is activated by a sensor when removed and helps the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones truly stand out. It is unfortunate that you rarely get to enjoy this splash of light though, because most of the time it will be completely hidden while you are wearing them.Not only do the lights look cool, but they also serve a purpose. Taking off the headphones and glancing at the color informs you of the current battery level, Bluetooth connection, and even which side is left or right.Beyerdynamic has included rotating earcups that swivel on the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. This design helps make them fold up into a compact shape to fit in the included case, as well as making them more comfortable to wear on your head or around your neck when not in use.ComfortThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones use memory foam on the headband and the earpads, and unfortunately, both are inadequate in my opinion. The sparse level of padding on the headband is most apparent due to the heft of the headphones. You can really start to feel it on the top of your head after extended periods of time. The cushioning on the ear cups also left a bit to be desired. During my listening sessions, I could feel the inside of the headphones grazing up against my ears, which lead to some early-onset ear fatigue.I wouldn’t classify the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones as uncomfortable by any means–but a little extra cushioning would have made a massive difference–especially if you plan on wearing these for long periods of time.User ExperienceThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones incorporate touch-sensitive controls on the right earpad. Touch-sensitive controls have never been one of my favorites, but they work extremely well here. The most common commands include double-tapping to play/pause music and swipes to skip songs or adjust the volume. I found myself using these gestures often, especially the swipes, because of how convenient and reliable they are to use.One issue I ran into while using the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones, was that they wouldn’t consistently power on and connect when sliding the power button. This happened more than a handful of times and required me to slide the switch back to off and back to Bluetooth up to one or two more times before it would connect. Perhaps this was user error, but I feel headphones should not be this difficult to power on.Another minor gripe of mine, is that in order to update the firmware on the headphones, it required using a computer. This is the first time I’ve ever had to update headphones that didn’t utilize the app on the phone, and it seemed like a bit of an oversight to not include this capability. Especially when Beyerdynamic has a well-designed app for the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones.AppThe MIY app helps enhance your experience with the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones by allowing you to change the color of the light in the earcups, adjust the sensitivity of the touch controls, personalize the audio for your ears, and more.In order to tailor fit the sound signature to your ears, the MIY app uses a hearing test. Beyerdynamic is not the first to try this, and my experience with these types of customizations has been mixed in the past. As far as the test itself, I found it to be more similar to playing a game, where your reaction time was being tested more than your hearing. I’d love for Beyerdynamic to tweak this to make it easier to take the test more accurately.Regardless, the results from the MOSAYC sound personalization were actually positive in my experience. I found the adjustment elevated the mids and added a bit more depth to the sound overall. That’s far better than I can say for some others I’ve tried, so good job Beyerdynamic.Unfortunately, the MIY app does come up short on a couple of features. For starters, there is no way to control active noise cancellation. That means, you cannot enable or disable it from the app, nor can you adjust the level of cancellation being used. This is a very common setting for headphones that include ANC, and I was disappointed to find it missing here.Another feature I would have loved to see is an equalizer. Sure, you can rely on the hearing test to adjust the audio automatically, but some of us like to tweak the equalizer manually for our own preferences.One unique feature from the MIY app that I’ve never seen before, is a way to monitor how much strain you’ve put on your ears for the day. I assume this is in an effort to protect your hearing, because it gives you statistics based on how long you’ve been listening and at how loud of a volume. It then provides you with tips such as, “Feel free to turn the volume up a bit.” I can’t say I would make much use of this feature, but if you’re someone concerned about your hearing, this may be useful for you.Sound QualityOverall, I was impressed with the sound quality of the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones. There was plenty of detail in the highs, although they were a little reserved so you won’t get an overly bright or crisp sound.The soundstage was fairly wide, giving plenty of space for the instruments to breathe and provide separation, making it possible to hear all the layers in each track.Finally, the bass was strong without being overpowering. As someone who enjoys a little extra kick of bass, I really enjoyed this. It may not be enough for bass heads, but if you prefer a little more in the low-end then these headphones won’t disappoint.ANCThe Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones do a decent job at muting noise with active noise cancellation turned on. It’s not quite as good as flagship models from Bose and Sony, but it’s good enough. As long as you have the volume set to 40% or above, it should be enough to drown out repetitive noises in the background between the passive and active noise cancellation it provides.Battery LifeBeyerdynamic rates the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones for a whopping 45 hours of playback time without ANC and 24.5 hours with ANC enabled. The majority of the time I was using them with ANC off and the battery life measures up to Beyerdynamic’s claims.When it came time to charge them up, I was pleased to see that the Lagoon ANC Traveller headphones went with USB-C over micro USB. This has become more common in recent years, but I’m still thrilled when I don’t have to dig out a micro USB cable when a new gadget comes in.If you ever do run out of juice on the go, don’t worry, because there is a 3.5mm headphone jack you can use as a back up. That is assuming your phone still has a jack, or that you didn’t forget or lose your dongle.Final ThoughtsThis was my first time with a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones, and overall, I have to say I was impressed. There is a lot of competition in this price range, and Beyerdynamic has done a fantastic job of combining stellar audio quality, smart features, and a long-lasting battery.At the same time, they were also able to undercut other major players like Sony and Bose with a price of only $249. If you’re looking for a high-quality pair of ANC over the ear headphones that won’t break the bank, then I’d have no hesitation recommending the Lagoon ANC Traveller from Beyerdynamic.Buy from Amazon Buy from Beyerdynamic