Best answer: The Pixel 3 is still a compact, powerful phone with years of guaranteed software updates ahead of it — but it’s hard to recommend it these days over the more powerful Pixel 5 or the cheaper, longer-lasting Pixel 4a.

The Pixel 5 isn’t a flagship, but that’s okay

The Pixel 3 was a great phone for its time, but its since been supplanted by the likes of the Pixel 5. Admittedly, Google took a step back with the Pixel 5, after seeing the mixed success of the Pixel 4. But this time around, Google went back to its roots, re-introducing fan-favorite features like the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. Battery life has vastly improved over the Pixel 4, and you’ll still get that amazing camera experience that you won’t find anywhere else.

Instead of trying to keep pace with the Samsung’s and OnePlus’ of the world, the Pixel 5 just does a lot of things great without being too flashy. You’ll get the mid-tier Snapdragon 765G, paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. This not only provides plenty of performance even for some of the best Android games, but it also provides 5G connectivity.

Going even further, Google returns with 15W wireless charging, just like the Pixel 4, along with 5W reverse wireless charging for the best wireless earbuds. There’s a lot to like about the Pixel 5 with its compact form factor, and in a way, this feels more like a direct successor to the Pixel 3 than the Pixel 4 ever did.

… And the Pixel 4a is still the better value

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a is a new, more affordable alternative that offers a nearly identical experience to that of the regular Pixel 4. It has most of the Pixel 4’s best features, including its remarkable camera and frequent software updates. In exchange, you give up the Pixel 4’s glass back for a plastic one, and lose some niceties like water resistance, wireless charging, and Face Unlock. Interestingly, you regain the headphone jack, and the fingerprint sensor seems like a better unlocking option for the current times.

The Pixel 4a offers up-to-date software, an amazing camera, and a compellingly low price.

One of the ways Google cut costs with the Pixel 4a is by using a lower-end processor, the Snapdragon 730G, which translates to slightly longer load times when opening apps and scrolling through the software, but it’s still reasonably snappy, especially when compared to similarly priced options from other manufacturers. One aspect where the Pixel 4a actually performs better than the Pixel 3 or 5 is in battery life, with the 4a able to make it through a full day of use with ease.

If photography is your sole priority, there’s almost no reason to spend the extra money on the Pixel 3 or 5; the 4a has the same main sensor as its pricier counterparts, and even carries over features like Night Sight, allowing you to take photos far above its price point. You’ll miss out on the wide front-facing camera of the Pixel 3 (this was also omitted in the Pixel 5), and the slower chipset and lack of a dedicated image processor means you’ll need to wait a bit longer for your photos to process, but those are pretty minor tradeoffs for this level of camera performance.

In short, the Pixel 4a is the clear choice if you’re after a pure Google experience with a limited budget, while the Pixel 5 wins out for those in need of 5G connectivity and overall better performance. That doesn’t leave much room for the Pixel 3 in the middle; while you can find the Pixel 3 used for around the same price as the 4a these days, the latter offers far better battery life and a more durable casing. The Pixel 5, on the other hand, is more powerful and features modern appointments. If you’re asking “should I buy the Pixel 3”, we would recommend to skip on it and buy either of these great options instead.

Current generation

Google Pixel 5 – 5G 128GB

$700 at Best Buy
$700 at Google

A step back but a welcome one

The Pixel 5 may not offer a flagship-level experience compared to other phones released in 2020, but it still offers the best Pixel experience today. Between Google’s continued camera success and a beautiful 90Hz display, you’ll get everything you could want with this one.

Lower price, same experience

Google Pixel 4a 128GB

$350 at Best Buy
From $349 at Google

The core Pixel experience — and camera — for hundreds less

The Pixel 4a has the same software, features, and camera experience as the Pixel 4, but at a more enticing price point. The processor might be a little slower, but otherwise it’s largely the same phone, with better battery life to boot.

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