Google’s recent critically acclaimed releases, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, are at the forefront of the company’s Pixel suite. They offer an incredible level of value for money in the U.S. market where many of the value Chinese offerings are missing.

They compete with Google’s 2017 flagships, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, in pricing, but offer far newer hardware. So, which should you buy? The older but better built, and technically more powerful 2 XL, or the newer, lighter, and more efficient 3a XL?


There is a striking resemblance between the two devices, despite the 19 months separating their release. They share the same notchless front bezels with the distinctive rounded corners and top left selfie camera placement, making them hard to distinguish from the front. The back is a similar story as well, with the window up top and placements for the Google logo, fingerprint scanner, and rear camera more or less the same.

Pixel 3a XL vs 3 XL top down

Where you’ll notice the difference is the ergonomics. There may only be an 8g difference in weight between them, but you certainly feel it. The aluminium and glass of the 2 XL are heaps more premium than the polycarbonate composite of the 3a XL. However, the shiny plastic sides of the 3a XL made the biggest difference to me in terms of perceived quality; the finish just makes the 3a XL feel cheap and tacky. Both offer USB-C; however, the newer device only delivers USB 2.0 speeds vs. the USB 3.1 speeds of the older flagship. That speed difference mightn’t affect your day to day life, but the lack of a headphone port could. The 3a XL sports such a connector, whilst you’d have to make do with a dongle on the 2 XL.

See also: HTC U19e revealed: More expensive than Google Pixel 3a, but what do you get?


The displays differ not only in their panel technology but general metrics also. Both sport 6.0-inch OLED screens; however, the newer unit ditches the poorly used pOLED tech that was found in the 2 XL. It tended to wash out colours and produced an overall warmer colour set. Whilst you can improve this by changing the calibration settings, it doesn’t completely fix the issue.

The OLED in the Pixel 3a XL is a much better example of OLED. The colours are more natural, the viewing angles are better, and the experience is far easier on the eyes. In person, I much prefer the 3a XL’s display for it’s more true-to-life colours, even if the sharpness and calibration certifications aren’t quite on the level of the 2 XL.

Pixel 2 XL and 3a XL displays

At Full HD+ as opposed to Quad HD+, the Pixel 3a XL’s screen comes with a significantly lower pixel density, too, at just 402ppi. This is barely noticeable in reality, even if there’s a 33 percent jump from the newer model to the older model.

See also: How we could soon say goodbye to the notch altogether!


  • Pixel 2 XL:
    • Snapdragon 835
    • 4GB RAM
    • 64/128GB Storage
  • Pixel 3a XL:
    • Snapdragon 670
    • 4GB RAM
    • 64GB Storage

Under the hood, the Pixel 3a XL looks to be in the shadow of the 2 XL at first glance, offering a mid-range Snapdragon 670 over the latter’s 835. This presumption is called to question, as the phones are comparable in Geekbench 4, pushing out similar numbers. The story changes for the Antutu benchmark, showing that the GPU is far less powerful on the 3a XL than on the 2 XL. In fact, 3DMark proves this further with drastically different scores.

What does this mean? Well, if gaming is important to you, you’re going to want to skip the 3a XL in favour of the older and more powerful handset. In general everyday use, both phones feel very close in performance. It’s only really when you want to crank up the settings in games that it becomes more apparent which of the two has the most horsepower.

Interestingly, the Snapdragon 670 found in the 3a XL is actually based on the 845 — the flagship chip used in the full bore Pixel 3 and 3 XL. With this information in mind, it makes it clearer as to why the mid-range CPU keeps up with the ex-flagship’s.

The 835's GPU is what helps the Pixel 2 XL pull ahead.


  • Pixel 2 XL:
    • 3,520mAh battery
    • 10.5W charging

  • Pixel 3a XL:
    • 3,700mAh battery
    • 18W charging

Battery life is okay on the 2 XL, but noticeably better on the 3a XL for a number of reasons. The latter has a larger 3,700mAh battery, a lower resolution display, and a more power efficient chipset. The former’s 3,520mAh cell is too small and just doesn’t compete. Neither phone offers wireless charging, but both do allow for fast charging via USB. The 2 XL limits wired charging rate to 10.5W of power vs. the full 18W that the 3a XL allows for, so the faster charger is the 3a XL.

See also: The ultimate guide to replacing your smartphone battery.


  • Pixel 2 XL:
    • 12.2MP IMX362 sensor
    • f/1.8
    • 1.4µm
    • OIS
  • Pixel 3a XL:
    • 12.2MP IMX363 sensor
    • f/1.8
    • 1.4µm
    • OIS
Pixel 3a XL Pixel 2 XL Pixel 3a XL
Pixel 2 XL

With the specifications in mind, you’d expect there to be little difference in sample images and videos, but this isn’t the case at all. From the colors, to sharpness, to dynamic range, the 3a just takes it further with how much detail it retains whilst remaining a pleasing image. The 2 XL’s images are less saturated and retain less dynamic range in the background whilst coming out overly warm. This may be to do due the image signal processors found in the Snapdragon 835 vs. the 670. The former uses the older Spectra 180 and the latter sports the Spectra 250. In areas with less light, the 2 XL does pull ahead somewhat. However, for the more reliably good looking image, I’m taking the 3a XL.

Pixel 3a XL Pixel 2 XL Pixel 3a XL
Pixel 2 XL

Spec for spec, there shouldn't be a huge difference, but there is.

Night Sight, Google’s excellent computation nighttime photography mode, is an obvious and stand-out feature of the Pixel line. These two are neck and neck in Night Sight in every way. From the detail retained in highlights, shadows, and everything in between, it’s too close to tell the difference.

Pixel 3a XL Pixel 2 XL Pixel 3a XL
Pixel 2 XL


Stock Android is widely regarded as the one true way to experience Android. Whether you agree with that sentiment or not is up to you, but both devices are running 9.0 Pie with not a single piece of bloatware in sight. There’s not much to talk about when it comes to features or exclusive tools, but these two will get the fastest software updates.

A notable difference to me has to be the fact that you can change your navigation method to the three standard buttons on the 2 XL’s version of Android Pie. Not having that option on the 3a XL is a big deal to me, personally. That being said, the next big update, Android Q, is said to reinstate the option in the settings menu.

Pixel 2 XL and 3a XL navigation methods

See also: Here are the best smartphones running stock Android!


 Pixel 2 XLPixel 3a XL
Display6-inch pOLED
2,880 x 1,440 resolution
6-inch gOLED
2,160 x 1,080 resolution
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 835
10nm process
Adreno 540
Qualcomm Snapdragon 670
10nm process
Adreno 615
Camera12.2MP (IMX362)
f/1.8 27mm OIS
1.4µm pixel size

8MP f/2.4 25mm selfie camera
12.2MP (IMX363)
f/1.8 28mm OIS
1.4µm pixel size

8MP f/2.0 24mm selfie cameras
10.5W fast charging
18W fast charging
SoftwareAndroid 9 PieAndroid 9 Pie
Dimensions157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9mm
160.1 x 76.1 x 8.2mm

Value for money

  • Pixel 2 XL:
    • $300
    • 350 pounds
    • 21,000 rupees
  • Pixel 3a XL:
    • $479
    • 469 pounds
    • 45,000 rupees

Pixel 2 XL and 3a XL Cameras

Unfortunately, the 2 XL is no longer available on Google’s website; however, buying used on eBay is certainly an option. The far newer 3a XL can be found in carrier stores as well as in the hardware section of the Google Play Store. The price difference is enough for me to recommend the 2 XL over the 3a XL if you’d ever consider buying a used handset. Otherwise, the Pixel 3a XL is a brilliant buy for those of you looking for a brand new Pixel with the latest features, long-lasting software support, and some good battery life.

Final verdict

As a brand new device, the Pixel 3a XL exceeds the 2 XL in battery life, camera quality, and even versatility thanks to its headphone port. However, it’s an incredibly close battle between these two; they trade a lot of blows.

From a price-to-performance perspective, the 2 XL will win every time in this situation due to its speedier SoC and lower used cost. From a future-proofing standpoint, the 3a XL is ahead due to its newer hardware and larger battery.

Which would you pick? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Buy Pixel 2 xl

Buy Pixel 3a XL

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