3a XL MegaPixel | Google's Extra Large Value Sarge

Discussion in 'General Smartphone/Handheld/Wearable Discussion' started by Mi An, Jan 16, 2021.

  1. Mi An

    Mi An Hyperfocal

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    TL;DR: I upgraded from a 2016 Moto Z Play to a 2019 Google Pixel 3a XL and blather about it for a while. Feel free to consume this professional review instead:


    Why didn't Google call their XLs 'Megapixels'? Seems like a missed opportunity.
    The Google Pixel 3a XL is the largest screen I've ever had in a phone, albeit only out-matching my old Google Nexus 6 whalephone by .04". I've put this phone in the thickest case I've ever owned, an Otterbox Defender because... well, the case was like $12 and I'm a cheapskate, couldn't resist the deal on what I consider the best protection out there. Still, though the phone is much taller than my Moto Z Play, it is just a smidge wider even in the case and thus very easy to handle.

    pixel3axlotterboxd.jpg p3axlotterboxd2.jpg

    Replacing my aging Z Play has been of growing priority for me of late, and I'm deeply grateful that I was able to find a great OLED device this affordable. I read heavily on my handhelds, have ever since my first Palm PDA, the m500. I do love eink as well, particularly outdoors, but OLED, when properly filtered, is by far my favorite tech for eye comfort, particularly for night time reading.

    Downgrades
    There are some downsides which I'll try to plow through quickly before moving on. Not really intended as a complaint, overall I'm happy, but I was pretty happy with my Z Play too and I'd like to remember some of its assets as I bid it farewell.

    I am, obviously, losing mods. Battery mods, a pico projector and, most tragically, a keyboard attachment. The 3a XL also lacks a microsd card slot. 64gb internal is sufficient for now, but should this phone hang with me as many years as my Z Play did, it may not always be. I've lost my front fingerprint sensor and the ability to power down the phone with the fingerprint sensor instead of the power button, I'll miss both.

    I'm losing twrp as a system level bulletproof backup option, owing to new Android versions no longer allowing it, and perhaps it is just as well as development on the 3a XL seems very sparse. the xda sub is surprisingly empty. It does appear to have very recently gotten a lineageos build, but with no xda thread and thus little info on what works. I may wait a long time to tinker with this phone.

    Another biggie is no out of the box double chop to flashlight motion, or any other shortcut to the flashlight other than google assistant which I won't use. Moto really did good with that shortcut, I used it ALL the time. Sometimes I even double chop with other phones, like my hisense a5 and then stare at it perplexed when it doesn't magically light up.

    Sidegrades
    The Pixel also lacks Moto's ambient display that shows time and notifications when you get anywhere near it, reach for it, etc. But it does detect when you lift the device and oddly, Google now officially supports an old feature that used to be present in custom xda kernels for the Nexus 4, double tap to wake, which like it sounds, has you double tap the screen when off to wake the phone. Good enough for me.

    The Pixel 3a XL comes with rim firing speakers, which are not really what I prefer, fortunately, it also comes with one forward firing speaker in the earpiece, so the sound is pretty good. I'm somewhat glad to be upgrading to an older phone, before bezeless designs crowded out all good uses of bezels and embraced icky punchholes and notches. I'll adapt to modern design but I'm happy to put it off a while.

    I also suspect the matte surfacing of the rear fingerprint sensor will be more durable than the glossy, print magnet of the Z Play's glass surfaced sensor, after you wipe it down and a bunch of times, scratches appear and the sensor struggles more over time to recognize prints.

    Apparently Pixels have great cameras. I don't really care about this, so though I'm sure it's objectively better than my Z Play's camera, I doubt I'll notice. Smartphone cameras got good enough for me many, many years ago. Though I admit, I look forward to trying google's night sight someday after hearing a lot of reviewers bring it up and show it off. I've also always wished I could do super high framerate video, though I'm not sure any smartphone will ever have high enough fps to wow me.

    I rather like the design, though it's buried deep in the otterbox defender. Pixels look better in white than any phone I've ever seen, though since I got it in a sale, I ended up with black. I'm not sure really what Pixel's design is. I can spot a pixel from a ways away, it reminds me a little of Nokia Lumia, though nicer, of course. I can tell my Hisense A5 ripped off Pixel design, but I don't know what it is or why it's the only phone I've found remotely tolerable, much less nice, in white. But it's nice in black too.

    p3axl2.jpg

    Tactilely I like the backing's wonderful matte texture, just right. But it's highlighted with glossy texture at the top, which looks nice, but also on the sides, where I hold the phone. I'm glad that's covered up with the matte grippy edge of the otterbox. Some people complain about the plastic, some like this particular variety, I'm a fan. Metal is ok as an alternative, but I don't want any extra glass on my phones for sure, and this doesn't feel cheap and plasticky to me.

    p3axlb.jpg

    The phone probably isn't as much of a battery champ as my Z Play when it was new, but it's a welcome upgrade to my degraded and aging battery. Sadly, the Pixel 3a XL doesn't look any easier to replace the battery than the Z Play. Ifixit says it's 32 steps to repair, and even the first step sends chills through me, no thank you. I'm pretty sure I'd completely destroy a modern phone trying to swap out a $5 battery.

    Upgrades
    Although the Pixel is already more than a year old, the performance is a big upgrade from my old Z Play. I'd say roughly twice as fast. Not a big motive for the upgrade, but nice to have so it'll last a nice long time. The efficient 10nm sd670 also likely contributes to the excellent battery performance.

    The screen is beautiful. The public specs are the same as my Z Play's screen, but not only is the screen a half inch bigger, there is something extra beautiful in it. A few generations of evolutionary upgrades add up, it seems. The otterbox defender also comes with a holster that doubles as kickstand, so it's a nice multimedia device.

    It's nice to have up to date operating system versions and security updates, for a while at least. I don't love everything about the new android, at least not right away. I've noticed some games in the play store that don't show up on my Z Play either because it's old and/or it doesn't pass safetynet because it's rooted. I don't mind falling a little behind at times, but I figure I have to bite the bullet and upgrade software eventually. I've got Android 11 now, had Android 7 before. It was time to move.

    Conclusion
    Somehow the pros and cons list doesn't quite sum up how thrilled I am about the 3a XL, but I am. My Z Play was aging less and less gracefully even as my ability to replace it decreased. A deal on the 3a XL came around at an amazing time for me and it does everything I need plus that wonderful OLED covers my biggest want.

    I also like having an excuse to feature the Nexus X in my avatar again. I don't know why I like that logo so much, but I do.
     
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  2. lelisa13p

    lelisa13p Your Super Moderator Super Moderator

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    We live for The Blather! :vbgrin:
     
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  3. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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    Mi An - fantastic review! I also enjoyed the YouTube one as well. I'm happy for you - it looks like a great phone. Congrats!

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab A (10.1") /128GB using Tapatalk
     
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  4. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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  5. Mi An

    Mi An Hyperfocal

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    Thanks :newpalm: It is nice and I do enjoy blathering from time to time.

    Twilight (an app not unlike f.lux to filter blue light, though one that uses red light rather than amber) works a little better than it did when last I used many moons ago. It has a feature that allows it to also shade the navigation and drop down menu, sometimes a source of unwelcome white light for me. It's not as versatile as cf.lumen's root version, but it might just be good enough.

    I've come across a rootless shortcut for flashlight that might be almost even better than moto's double chop. Older pixels including mine have a feature called active edge that lets you squeeze the edges to summon google assistant. I've managed to get tasker to toggle the led when I summon the assistant via the long press home, so I'm part way there.

    There's an adb command that can be issued to allow active edge to recognize 3rd party assistants, which can include tasker. For whatever reason, it's not working for me just yet, I've pushed the adb command through about 3 times now, but I've heard from other people very recently with the most recent version of android that it does work for them, so hopefully I'll repeat the steps at some point and it'll just magically work. These day I seem to have more success hoping for magic than relying on my own skill. :vboops:
     
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