We love the Google Pixel 3a here at Android Authority. Both the regular model and the Pixel 3a XL both received glowing reviews, and for good reason. They pack in almost everything that’s great about Google’s flagship Pixel 3 series at a heavily reduced price.
The phone’s ridiculous value (unless you’re in India), amazing camera, and streamlined software are just a few reasons why the Pixel 3a is my personal favorite phone of 2019 so far (sorry, OnePlus 7 Pro, you need to sort out your camera), but even I can admit it’s not perfect.
Yet, while some issues like poor RAM management and low storage persist, the Pixel 3a just received a major boost in one of its weaker areas from an unlikely source.
Playing with Pixels
Google’s vision for dominating the game streaming market was clouded (pun intended) during its March reveal by numerous unanswered questions. Some of those burning concerns about Stadia like price, availability, and the launch game library were either partially or fully addressed in the first Stadia Connect broadcast that acted as a tasty little entrée for this year’s E3 gaming expo.
One area where Google is still keeping things vague is device support. We know for sure that the Chromecast Ultra and any desktop with a Chrome browser will let you play Stadia games at home, but what about on the go?
At the initial reveal we saw Google’s own hardware take the spotlight with the Pixel Slate tablet, Pixelbook laptop, and Pixel 3/3 XL smartphone. At that time, the Pixel 3a was just a rumor (albeit a very solid one) so it obviously wasn’t included in the line-up, but after its debut at Google I/O and Stadia Connect we now know for sure: the only phones that will play Stadia games at launch are the Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, and Pixel 3a XL.
No Pixel phone? No Stadia.
During Stadia’s unveiling, I argued that the platform represents an incredible opportunity for Chrome OS tablets, especially budget ones that could theoretically play AAA console games as well as or better than a Nintendo Switch. That same logic applies to the Pixel 3a, which will soon be one of a tiny sample of phones — Android or otherwise — that can play Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Doom Eternal, and more.
Gaming the system
It’s no secret that the Pixel 3a series doesn’t have top-end specs. Compared to other flagship-challenging “budget” phones like the Pocophone F1 and Redmi K20 Pro, Google opted to focus on software rather than core hardware or the latest silicon.
The Pixel 3a’s Snapdragon 670 SoC delivers surprisingly strong performance thanks to Google’s engineering wizardry. This is especially true of the Pixel 3a camera which is all-but-indistinguishable from the premium Pixel 3’s camera. General day-to-day use is just as impressive for the most part with next to no lag or stutter for many tasks.
That doesn’t include gaming, however. In all fairness, the Pixel 3a is by no means a terrible phone for playing some of the best Android games. The Adreno 615 GPU keeps up the pace with simple games, most indie titles, and even some 3D games like PUBG Mobile. It’s no powerhouse, though, and extended sessions of Fortnite or Asphalt 9 soon take their toll with choppy frame rates when things get really hectic.
Google Stadia completely eliminates this problem by bypassing the Pixel 3a’s underpowered internals and transferring the heavy lifting to Google’s much-heralded cloud technology and ultra-powered remote PCs. All you need is a minimum 10Mbps Wi-Fi connection to play in 720p (around 20Mbps for 1080p) and boom; your $399 phone now not only plays games smooth as butter, it also plays incredible games no other Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, Huawei, or LG phone can.
It’s also arguably a better fit for gaming on Stadia than the regular Pixel 3 thanks to that 3.5mm headphone jack. Take note, Pixel 4.
Google Stadia has retroactively made the Pixel 3a’s launch price even more of a bargain and added — at least in the short-term — a killer exclusive feature.
There are some caveats. Chief among them is right now you’ll need to order the Founder’s Edition to get access to Stadia in November. It seems inevitable that the Stadia Pro subscription which comes with “free” games will be available separately, but those that want to just wait it out for the genuinely free Stadia Base tier and pay for their games outright will need to wait until “next year.”
The Pixel 3a is now one of the best gaming phones on the market.
You also won’t be able to play Stadia games via your mobile data, so it’s not like you’ll be doing Destiny 2 raids on the subway. Likewise, not everyone wants to play games on their phone with a Bluetooth controller and Stadia can’t fix the fact that emulation of retro games — a popular option for Android gamers — is hamstrung slightly by the Pixel 3a’s lesser hardware.
Nevertheless, while Stadia is exclusive to Pixel 3a and Pixel 3, there’s no question that the “lite” third-generation Pixel is about to become the most versatile and best value phone for mobile gaming.