Not everyone needs an iPhone XS, an expensive piece of glass and metal that feels more like a priceless artifact than a necessary tool you carry every day. The steadily increasing megapixel camera, the always more powerful processor, the unending price creep.
As an example of how far things have gone, Apple's "cheap" phone option—the iPhone XR—still starts at $750. These are the familiar steps we've all learned in an endless dance of technological excess.
Of course, not to pick on Apple—Samsung isn't any better, with a near $2,000 folding phone that doesn't really fold very well, and Google is playing the game. In 2017, you could score a Pixel 2 starting at $650, but the Pixel 3 jumped up to $800 with only marginal improvements. Last year's top-of-the-line Pixel 3 XL, meanwhile, nearly approached the $1,000 mark.
But Google's new Pixel 3a is a record scratch, reversing a trend that seemed near irreversible—at least among the big three—and in the process, Google has finally created a phone for the rest of us.
Because the real thing that sells the new Pixel 3a is the price. Starting at $400—half the original asking price of the Pixel 3—the Pixel 3a (and the 6-inch Pixel 3a XL starting at $480) is an affordable phone worth lusting over.
At first it doesn't sound like high praise, but the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are stunningly mediocre. The processor comes with a bit less muscle. The Pixel 3a is wrapped in plastic rather than aluminum. The display devolves to an OLED Full HD screen. Wireless charging is completely MIA.
For the most spec-obsessed, the Pixel 3a is DOA, another needless mid-tier phone that doesn't push boundaries in any meaningful way. As for the rest of us? There's a lot to love, but let's first walk through these perceived negatives.
For one, the slower processor is almost a non-issue for most casual smartphone users. I've used the Pixel 3 everyday for nearly 6 months, and after switching to the Pixel 3a for the past week, I've only noticed the performance hiccups when opening apps. Other than that, it just ticks along.
That display? Can't say I've noticed the missing pixels. In a side-by-side comparison, the Pixel 3 might edge out the Pixel 3a in terms of color accuracy, but it's a near dead heat during everyday use.
As for the plastic/metal debate, if you use a case, it won't really matter.
The only thing that might be a setback is no wireless charging. But with the ever-increasing domination of USB Type-C (even Apple's latest laptops are using the standard), it's more likely your friends and family will have a usable cord lying around than some dedicated Qi-compatible charging pad.