Believe it or not, May 2022 marks the three-year anniversary of the launch of the Pixel 3a series by Google. This means there will be no further Google Pixel 3a updates (though Google may have another update this month, maybe). The phones will still work fine, but the lack of future Android security updates leaves them vulnerable. It would be advisable for the users to upgrade.
Not only this, but the Pixel 3a has completely changed the budget and mid-range smartphone sector as well. The existence of the Pixel 3a has forced competitors – Samsung in particular – to up their game when it comes to non-flagship devices.
our choice: Best Budget Phones You Can Buy Right Now
In other words, May 2022 does not signify the end of the life of ordinary smartphones. With updates to the Google Pixel 3a now out, we’re saying goodbye to a modern classic—one for the history books.
In 2019, the Pixel line needed a shake-up
When the Pixel 3a series was launched in May 2019, the most recent Pixel phones in the Pixel 3 series were from October 2018. They were not unsuccessful, but they were very divisive. For example, the big notch of the Pixel 3 XL drew a lot of nasty comments. Overall, both phones didn’t greatly derail — or advance — Google’s position in the smartphone world.
However, the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL were different. They each looked like a Pixel 3, had the same camera system as the Pixel 3, and had most of the same software features, including similar speeds and longer update periods. However, Google cut the spec and design elements in half to cut the price of the Pixel 3a to just $399 compared to the Pixel 3.
When the Pixel 3a came out, no other Android company was doing anything like this.
In a sense, these new phones were like a band’s greatest hits collection: all killer and no filler. This might sound like an interesting thing, but no other Android company was doing it at the time (I’ll go into that in a bit more). The closest replica we had was the launch of the first iPhone SE in 2016, which offered some high-end features (like the processor) while cutting out others to keep the price down. What Google understood, however, is that buyers don’t want a phone that looks like it was five years ago.
It shook up Google’s entire smartphone strategy. Can you try to explain to a high-end company executive why buyers are more interested in your cheap, plastic phone as opposed to your more expensive, premium flagships from both last and current year?
After the Pixel 4 crashed and burned down and later the Pixel 4a continued the success of the Pixel 3a, Google tried to mix its premium ambitions with its budget designs, resulting in the Google Pixel 5. With that phone, Google abandoned the design. Adopted Pixel 4’s language and Pixel 3a/4a language instead. A mid-range processor and a rehash of the same old camera system also kept the price down. Unfortunately for Google, this strategy didn’t work as well as it had imagined, which is why the company eventually revamped its ambitions with the Pixel 6 series.
Basically, the Pixel 3a changed everything for Google. Its success pushed the company in directions it hadn’t anticipated. But Google was not the only company affected.
The industry also needs a jolt
Earlier, I mentioned that no other Android companies were adopting the Pixel 3a strategy. Overall, this is true, but it still deserves an explanation.
First, many Android OEMs had Tried To do something like Pixel 3a. The OnePlus X is a great early example. That phone cut out some of the more premium elements of the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2, while keeping the essentials, such as a flagship-level processor. However, both the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 were never priced like premium phones, so a cheaper version wasn’t necessary. The OnePlus X never had a follow-up.
related: History of OnePlus’ complete lineup so far
Samsung also tried a Pixel 3a-like strategy with the Galaxy S10 line launched in 2019. It introduced the Galaxy S10e. Despite rave reviews and a devoted following, the phone failed to win over a large consumer base, possibly because Samsung simply didn’t go far enough. The phone was priced at $749, which was only $150 cheaper than the proper Galaxy S10, so it was still pretty much a premium. Like the OnePlus X, the Galaxy S10e had no follow-up – although the Galaxy S20 FE and Galaxy S21 FE follow that formula.
With the Pixel 3a, Google was the first company to truly implement the concept of a cheaper version of a flagship. This success forced all other Android companies to take notice. Suddenly, we saw a flood of “lite” models or new versions of phones that had a small letter attached to their name. You know what they say about imitation and flattery, right?
The Pixel 3a has dictated how the budget version of the flagship should be.
However, competing companies neglect to copy one of the best aspects of the Pixel 3a: its software and support. Remember that for less than $400, the Pixel 3a got you the latest version of Android on day one, plus monthly security updates like clockwork. Meanwhile, competitors committed to an Android upgrade (or two if you were lucky) and sporadic security patches. Knowledgeable consumers, of course, saw this trick right through.
However, the company that got the most attention was Samsung. Maybe it was the relative failure of the Galaxy S10e combined with Google’s success in the budget level, but Samsung completely changed its strategy after 2019. At the time, buying something like a Galaxy A phone was pointless, as you would be spending too much. For a completely sub-par experience compared to the money you would think. Fast forward to today and the Galaxy A line is filled with great phones at great prices.
Likewise, on the software front, Samsung’s modern Galaxy A line gets a solid commitment. In 2019, a user would be lucky if their Galaxy A phone got two years of support, most of which only got an Android upgrade. In 2022, the higher-end Galaxy A phones get a four-year Android upgrade, with a three-year commitment going to the cheaper model. This is a completely different market.
Obviously, Google won’t stop releasing A-series phones. If the Pixel 6a can replicate the same formula as the Pixel 3a and deliver a Pixel 6-like experience at a price closer to $400, then talk will be closed. We just hope Google doesn’t make the mistake Samsung made with the Galaxy S10e – if the Pixel 6a is too close to the price of the Pixel 6, it won’t work.
Regardless, this month marks the end of the original Pixel 3a. We probably won’t see any more Google Pixel 3a updates, but we can attest to its importance in the smartphone history books. A lot has changed since its launch and the industry is much better suited for it.
Introducing you, the Pixel 3a: Gone too quickly, but not forgotten.