Google’s newest Pixel phone is a mid-range device that delivers great features for its price. But make no mistake, this isn’t a real alternative to some of the best 2018 and 2019 flagships out there, iPhones included. By the way, don’t consider trading your old iPhone for a Pixel 3a model, unless that iPhone is iPhone 6 or older. The Pixel 3a lacks the build quality and the top hardware of the Pixel 3, but it also packs a feature you won’t find on the Pixel 3 phones. That’s the headphone jack, which Google removed from its Pixel flagships back in fall 2017.
Google mocked the iPhone 7, Apple’s first iPhone without a 3.5mm port, back in 2016. Then, a year later, the company quietly removed the audio port from the Pixel 2 phones, without addressing the matter on stage as Apple did.
Google did explain the decision in a follow-up interview. “The primary reason [for dropping the jack] is establishing a mechanical design path for the future,” Google’s Mario Queiroz said at the time. “We want the display to go closer and closer to the edge. Our team said, ‘if we’re going to make the shift, let’s make it sooner, rather than later.’ Last year may have been too early. Now there are more phones on the market.”
Sure enough, the Pixel 3 phones that followed were almost all-screen phones, especially the XL model.
Fast forward to Google I/O 2019, and the Pixel 3a marked the return of the headphone jack. Sonyia Jobanputra explained in an interview the thinking behind this decision. If it wasn’t clear already, it’s all about convenience and affordability. The Pixel 3a does target buyers looking for cheaper smartphones, buyers who might not want to invest any money in wireless or USB-C headphones, given that most people already own 3.5mm headphones, and there’s nothing wrong with that:
We debated on this headphone jack but we really felt that consumers at this price point in this price tier really needed flexibility, and that’s what that headphone jack gives you. We still support digital audio, and it is the ultimate way to consume your audio. You can either use the USB-C adapter on the bottom, or you can use Bluetooth headphones. And digital audio is incredible. But, a lot of people have headphones, and we didn’t need to create anymore e-waste in the world so we’ve decided to put a 3.5mm headset jack in so that people could use the accessories that they already had available to them.
However, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL do not ship with new headphones in the box, so you’re not getting new 3.5mm headphones from Google.
The full interview where Jobanputra explains the best Pixel 3a features follows: