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Friday, August 09, 2019

Post Tour Review: Pixel 3A XL

For mother's day this year, I got Xiaoqin the Pixel 3A XL to upgrade her from the (still wonderful) Moto Z Play. Several items drove the upgrade:
  1. Much better camera. The debate for the trip we had was whether to pick up a Ricoh GR 3 or to upgrade her phone. The idea was that the phone would be used all the time, while a compact camera might not be gotten out except for special occasions like bicycle tours.
  2. More primary storage. I was concerned about the 64GB storage without additional add on SDcards, but I audited her Moto Z Play and discovered she wasn't using more than 64GB in total anyway. And having a simplified storage with less management was better. To augment the storage for movies while off-line, you can get a USB C flash drive to load it up with content. Unfortunately, this absolutely will not work if you're depending on streaming apps such as Google Movies or Amazon Prime video --- those insist on using your internal storage. And clearly, unless you intend to keep that USB C drive plugged in all the time, it's not going to work for music, either.
  3.  Improved processor, larger screen, and more RAM. In 2019, I'm discovering that 3GB of RAM just doesn't cut it any more.
The Moto Z Play wasn't waterproof, so that wasn't an issue, and it had a headphone jack as well, so both those issues were a push.

Let's start with the camera. In many situations, the camera provided great pictures:
This picture clearly benefited from the in-camera HDR processing, and the clarity and detail were obvious. I was very pleased by it. By the way, I tried RAW mode and couldn't get similar effects in lightroom from a RAW file, so my conclusion is that RAW mode is a waste of time on the Pixel 3a XL.
Some times, however, you get a pixelated mess, with no idea what happened and how to correct it. It wasn't predictable to me why certain pictures were fundamentally unusable. This didn't happen often, but it was glaring when it did. The Canon G7X II, by contrast always performed consistently, though for best results you needed to tweak the output in lightroom. When my G7X II died during the trip, the Pixel 3a XL became our primary camera. My Moto X4, by contrast, had horrible latency (5s to turn on the camera), and never showed any moments of brilliance.

The phone was always fast and never ran out of battery: despite my wife using Google Maps and turning on voice as her primary navigation (she turned up her nose at the Wahoo ELEMNT and never bothered to learn how to use it), it always survived to get to the hotel. While my Moto X4 would turn off Google Maps whenever I tried to take a picture, her phone never did that. The phone wasn't waterproof, but when we got caught in a thunderstorm all that needed to happen was that the phone went into a zipper in a waterproof rain jacket, and never came out again until after rain was over.

The phone is also light, much lighter than my Moto X4. Some people actually consider this a negative, but a cyclist who weighs every gram will not complain about reducing weight.

I'm usually vocal about my disdain for Google phones by being a poor imitation of an iPhone (no SD card expansion, no headphone jack, expensive storage options, all point to someone at Google HQ suffering from Apple Envy), but the Pixel 3a XL by bringing back the headphone jack and providing a lower entry price (we paid $479 but got a $100 gift card during the B&H promotion), I can actually recommend the Pixel 3a XL. If prices drop sufficiently I might be tempted to replace my Moto X4 with one.


Scott said...

I think Moto X4 doesn't "turn off" maps when you take a photo - I think the camera app locks down a ton of memory, which causes the out-of-memory handling to kill everything else. In fact, I've learned to take pictures, then use the gallery selector to select images in apps which support the camera, because often the camera sub-system will swap out the app which requested the photo. You'd think 3G would be enough to run two apps at once, but apparently today's programmers aren't up to that.

Piaw Na said...

Don't get me started on today's programmers. But hardware is cheap, and the people who make hardware want to give you a reason to upgrade, so there's no incentive to optimize.

Scott said...

Yeah, except at this point I've lost trust that the hardware improvements can actually keep ahead of the sucky programmers. My Moto X4 has gone from adequate to pretty janky as OS upgrades land. It's not like gmail is offering me super-amazing new features to warrant taking 4 seconds to startup.

Piaw Na said...

Yeah, but I'm noting that 4GB of RAM is now the minimum, and the high end phones are now at 6-12GB. RAM is cheap and easy to add, though single threaded performance has now plateau'd.

Sojka's Call said...

Amazing clarity for a phone in the picture of you on the triple - from your beard stubble to the window coverings inside the tudor style house.

Piaw Na said...

Yeah, and the auto HDR meant that I didn't have to mess around with multiple exposures. It's certainly a major reason why camera sales are now falling off a cliff --- the computational photography stuff is really starting to hit its stride.