Help me choose among these 3 (very different) phones
November 15, 2019 9:15 AM   Subscribe

It's time for a new phone. I've always had some version of stock android - Nexus 5 and 5x, and currently a OnePlus 5. However, the Oneplus 7 is just way bigger than I want my phone to be. So, I'm trying to choose one out of this somewhat weird spread of phones:
  • Pixel 4
  • Pixel 3a
  • iPhone 11

Google is apparently knocking $200 off the Pixel 4 for Black Friday, so that seems like a good bet. Mostly, the battery life is giving me pause. But it's hard to get a sense of what the actual battery life is like - things like the size, or tests where someone forced the screen to stay on continuously don't really tell me much about the day-to-day experience.

The 3a is appealing because it's so cheap (and going to be $300 this weekend), and I like the idea of having a phone that I don't need to treat like my most precious possession. I'm mostly worried that it would feel underpowered.

Finally, I'm looking at the iPhone 11, since it seems like a good phone that isn't $1,000. I've never had an iPhone, and I think I'd probably be really annoyed by the lack of customization (changing default apps, for example).

So my question is: do you have any of these phones? How bad is the Pixel 4's battery life really? How much do you feel the weak processor in the 3a? How walled is Apple's garden, and how irritating am I likely to find those walls?
posted by Ragged Richard to Technology (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll be able to get a Pixel 3a for as little as $150 on Black Friday, and I have no complaints about mine since picking one up for $350 in September. I haven't used a 4 yet, but just on the basis of hardware the 3a has two big advantages: a headphone jack (absent from all non-budget Pixels after the first generation) and the rear fingerprint scanner that they dropped from the 4. I find it amazingly convenient to be able to unlock my phone just through the natural motion of picking it up, and to open notifications by swiping on the sensor instead of reorienting my hands so I can comfortably reach the very top of the screen.

As far as the internals, I haven't noticed any processor chugging in my daily use, but I don't do much that's super intensive; even the games I play on it are mostly 2D.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Pixel 3a is significantly less water resistant than the other two, if using it outside in wet weather is a factor for you.
posted by Candleman at 9:40 AM on November 15, 2019

I think I'd probably be really annoyed by the lack of customization (changing default apps, for example).

Since a few OSes ago you can delete Apple's default apps (Stocks, ha) and get other ones, is there a specific use case you are concerned about?

My phone is more like an appliance, I don't use it for emails or other web stuff since I have a laptop for those things. But it's great for calls/texts/checking shit quickly. It's definitely a change, however, and having to link everything to an Apple ID is a pain in the ass if you're not already using that system. SO I think part of it is how much the phone you get is going to be your main axe/computer and how much it complements whatever you already have/ And with THAT said, linking n iPhone to a Mac comptuter is a ton simpler than trying to make it do even the most basic things (sync music!) to a PC, so it's worth thinking about that. I'm happy with being in the iPhone universe, but I might be less happy if I had to rely on it as my main computing device.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2019

Re: Pixel 4 battery...Apparently, Google is artificially capping the brightness on the P4 because of the undersized battery.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:46 AM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: Clearly 11 is better than 4 or 3a. It's much higher.

In all seriousness. I don't find Apple's "walled garden" any worse than Android. One thing you may want to consider, though, is Google dumps support for its phones faster than Apple.

The original Pixel is losing OS updates after about 3 years on the market. Apple, on the other hand, is supporting phones (iPhone 6s/6s Plus) from 2015 with iOS 13. It looks like they average 4-5 years for iPhones.

But, if you're the type who enjoys customizing your phones, you can find alternate Android builds for Pixels after Google ends support. So if that's important to you, the Pixels may be a better option.

I've switched back and forth between iOS and Android. I prefer iOS by a small margin, especially now that they've enabled a version of swyping on the keyboard. But if you prefer Android you may find the switch annoying. And, of course, you'll have to re-buy any apps you already have purchased in the Google Store, if any.
posted by jzb at 9:47 AM on November 15, 2019

"Changing default apps" refers to being able to pick which app will open when you do a certain thing, like tapping a link in an email. Android lets you switch away from its built-in apps for such tasks, which is why there are many more options for web browsers/email clients/image editors/etc in Android than iOS.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

The OnePlus 7T non-pro may not be as large as you think. The OnePlus 7T Pro is a giant chonk of a phone by any measure, but the 7T non-pro is almost identical in terms of width, depth and weight as an iPhone 11, but is admittedly a centimeter longer. Given that it sounds like you're looking for a powerful, customizable Android phone with great battery life, you may want to give the 7T a second consideration.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I switched from Android to iPhone. I still prefer Android's UI and flexibility, but I don't regret the switch. My next phone will also be an iPhone. The things I most like about the iPhone are (1) a stronger security model that protects my data from malicious apps, and (2) five years of OS upgrades and support from Apple, compared to two years from Google for Pixels.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:56 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

All the Pixel reviews I have read indicate they cut corners and they are made cheaply. iPhone 11 Pro is my suggestion. You'll get a longer life from it.
posted by terrapin at 9:57 AM on November 15, 2019

Is there a reason you aren't looking at the Pixel 3? Kind of splits the difference between the 3a and 4, still has perks like wireless charging.
posted by papayaninja at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have the 3a, and I suppose it depends on your use case, I don't use super intensive apps in any way, some light photo editing and Stardew Valley, but I haven't particularly found it underpowered! I'm also weirdly vigilant about closing apps I'm done using so perhaps that helps.

I suppose I would like the wireless charging, but that's the only downside. I wanted a headphone jack because I like to fall asleep with podcasts playing and I prefer not to use bluetooth in that case.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:23 AM on November 15, 2019

I too am a perfectly content 3a user. I decided when replacing my Pixel 1 that I didn't care about a fancy phone or need a lot of horsepower; it has served well for all of my phone needs, and I like having a polycarbonate body that I can worry about a bit less than the glass back portion of my old Pixel 1/previous iPhones.
posted by lhputtgrass at 10:29 AM on November 15, 2019

Response by poster: "Changing default apps" refers to being able to pick which app will open when you do a certain thing, like tapping a link in an email. Android lets you switch away from its built-in apps for such tasks, which is why there are many more options for web browsers/email clients/image editors/etc in Android than iOS.

Yeah, my understanding about iOS is that if someone texts me an address and I click on it, it's going to open in Apple Maps, and there's nothing I can do about that. Is that not the case?
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Super happy with my few-months old 3a. FWIW, the Android developers I know all suggest the 3a as the best bang for your buck right now
posted by chrisamiller at 10:41 AM on November 15, 2019

Ragged: correct, or in my case it will prompt me to re-install Apple Maps
posted by TravellingCari at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2019

The thing you can do is copy and paste the address into your preferred app. I'm most annoyed by being forced to use Messages.

I switched from Android to iPhone to get a smaller phone (iPhone SE) and because iPhones are supported longer. It's been over six months and I'm still annoyed by iOS. If there's an Android you like, I recommend getting that.
posted by momus_window at 10:55 AM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: I am 3A user and love it so far.

However, if I was getting a new phone today and cost wasn't an issue, the 11 would be it.

I had the Pixel 2 and really really loved it. If cost is an issue, the other suggestion would be Pixel 3. I think is better than 3A and better battery life than the 4. Best of both worlds.
posted by The1andonly at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2019

I went from the Oneplus 5 (when the touchscreen inexplicably just stopped registering any touches - even in fastboot and recovery!) to the Pixel 3a.

I did miss oxygenos a bit at first, though now, a few months on, I cannot tell you what I missed.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:17 AM on November 15, 2019

Oh, as far as battery life on the 3a goes - I get 3 days out of a charge, which amounts to about 6 hours of screen-on time, but I don't use any social media, have limited push, etc... of course YMMV.

(I do root and use Greenify, but my wife has a bog-standard stock pixel 3a, makes moderate use of social media, and gets at least a full day. Anecdatally, I just asked her to cheque - she has 1.75 hours of screen on time, some heavy gameplay usage in there, and her battery is at 74%.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:23 AM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: As others have mentioned, I just split the difference myself and picked up a Pixel 3 at a serious discount ($499 instead of $799). It's a great phone, and I expect it to last me until Fall 2022.
posted by dis_integration at 12:16 PM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: I was going to say that the one thing about default apps that annoys me with my iPhone (X, not 11) is the default map, which you mentioned. However, this is only a problem in certain situations. If I'm in the Gmail app, click a link to an address from gmail, it will open in Google Maps. If I'm in the google/chrome browser app and click an address there, it opens in Google Maps. If it's linked in a native Apple app (like someone texts you an address or saved to your phone contacts) it will open in Apple Maps.

It's been a long time since I used Android, so I'm sure my experience is out of date, but I am happy with my switch to Apple. The maps thing is not problematic enough to outweigh the other things I like better. I am not techy or a super-user.
posted by kochenta at 1:17 PM on November 15, 2019

It's worth noting that the Snapdragon 730 chip in the 3a is only about 10% "slower" than the most recent Snapdragon 850/55. Unless you're a heavy mobile gamer the difference will be unnoticeable for things like email, internet etc.
posted by smoke at 1:20 PM on November 15, 2019

I would recommend the regular Pixel 3. I love mine. Not enthused about the 4.
posted by grouse at 2:59 PM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: My wife has the 3A and it's been complete and utter dogshit so far. I think she's on either her second or third one after the original one she bought started failing within months of purchase. First it was charging issues, then it would freeze up all the time, and now she's finding that when she goes for a run with the phone it slowly loses volume (and it doesn't come back), a problem that is well documented online among Pixel users but which Google tech support has repeatedly pretended to know nothing about. I was a big ProjectFi booster, and even though I've generally been happy with my Pixel 3 so far, her experience with the Pixel 3A combined with earlier problems I had with the original Pixel (it got to the point where if the charger cable wasn't aligned at EXACTLY the right angle in the jack then the phone wouldn't charge at all) we'll definitely be avoiding Google phones in the future.
posted by saladin at 3:28 PM on November 15, 2019

Best answer: Coming from a line of Nexus 6 > 5x > Pixel 1, I bought a 3a about a month ago (open box, around $300) and love it. No issues so far, and it still feels like a good upgrade from the Pixel speed-wise.

I haven't gotten my hands on the 4, but my work phone is actually a Pixel 3, and I like the 3a better. Headphone jack included, battery life is just as good afaik, and any difference in build quality/material is small enough that the plastic back of the 3a might actually feel better than the 3. The 3a has been a good value vs. the 3 or 4; no regrets here.

My only complaints are (1) the 3a's buttons don't feel as perfect as the Pixel 1 - a little clickier than I was used to, but I'm over it now, and (2) the 3a doesn't include free original-quality photo backups like the pixel. I'm still deciding if it's worth the space/cost to keep originals instead of "high quality".
posted by enigmango at 10:40 PM on November 15, 2019

Response by poster: Update: shortly after asking this question, my wireless carrier ran a huge sale on the Pixel 3, so I took the advice that a lot of you were giving me and picked that up. I like it a lot so far - the call screening, in particular, is like magic.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2019

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