The Google Pixel 3A is 2019’s most important phone; not Note 10

The Google Pixel 3A is 2019’s most important phone; not Note 10

As far as non-folding phones go, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the most extravagant of the year (the Galaxy Fold is another level entirely). Announced recently alongside the smaller Note 10, it has a 6.8-inch display, four rear cameras and an S Pen with new gesture controls that essentially make it a magic wand. If you have an unlimited budget, it may end up being the best Android phone of 2019. But it’s not the most important phone of the year. That honor goes to the $399 (AU$649, £399) Google Pixel 3A.

To understand why, consider two trends happening simultaneously in the phone world. First, phones which cost around $500 and under are becoming faster, getting better cameras and looking more stylish. Second, partially as a reaction to this, “ultrapremium” phones like the Galaxy Note 10 and iPhone XS offer sumptuous features to differentiate themselves — and get pricier as a result.

The latter trend is more noticeable. In 2017, it was borderline scandalous when the Samsung Note 8 launched at $949. Then, just two months later, Apple released the $999 iPhone X. Since then, phones that cost as much as a MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13 are just a part of life. The Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, as the most recent examples, retail for $949 (AU$1,499, £899) and $1,099 (AU$1,699, £999) respectively.
But the more significant trend is the advancement of midrange phones, exemplified by the 3A and the $479 (AU$799, £469) 3A XL. Why? The law of diminishing returns. The better something is, the harder and more costly it is to improve. Expensive phones are great, but they’ve been great for years.
It’s harder for the Apples and Samsungs of the world to invent new technologies to justify a $999 price than it is for companies like Google, Moto and OnePlus to make existing tech more affordable. As a result, the gap between midrange and premium phones is shrinking.
More and more people are figuring this out. Apple’s quarterly sales are down 12% year-over-year, and Samsung’s revenue from the S10 series fell compared to last year. Apple doesn’t release data on specific model sales, but analysts believe the $749 XR is a better seller than the $999 XS or $1,099 XS Max. Meanwhile, Samsung’s total phone shipments are up — because of its cheaper Galaxy A range being so successful.
Oh, and the Google Pixel 3A? Between its affordable price and widespread availability, versus the Pixel 3’s Verizon exclusivity, it doubled Google’s phone sales.
But sales aren’t what make the Pixel 3A 2019’s most important phone. The 3A is momentous because it sets a new standard for what to expect from a $399 phone, and in doing so redraws the line between mid-range and premium. This is mostly thanks to its astounding camera.
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