Google Pixel 3a took the smartphone industry by storm when it got released as the first budget smartphone from Google back in May 2019. Google LLC—the multinational tech giant—was at the time known for breaking the norm every time it released a flagship device.

After it's release, the budget smartphone had to compete in a competitive budget smartphone market that was flooded with various Chinese manufacturers already churning out good affordable phones with attractive designs and decent hardware. Still, the popular smartphone by Google gracefully stood out because of its reasonable $399 starting price, decent hardware, great software, and an even better unique selling point—that was customers could get the affordable flagship smartphone-alike smartphone with the same rear proven camera as the award-winning Google Pixel 3

In addition, the phone was an excellent buy because it featured stock Andriod experience along with Google's image processing magic.

Fast forward a year, Apple followed suit of Google Pixel 3a launching its budget smartphone iPhone SE 2020 (starting at $399). With the phone's release, it put pressure on other manufacturers to rethink how they approached budget smartphones.

So, why Google Pixel 3a and iPhone SE are so popular?

Good Camera Wins Hearts

Both Google and Apple (with the Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020 respectively) have made compromises on the designs and components used in the budget offerings but not in the camera department. 

Google did what was unthinkable when it offered excellent camera hardware and image enhancement software with the Pixel 3a. Being able to experience flagship smartphone-alike image quality in the Google Pixel 3a provided the budget smartphone with the ability to punch above its weight. The Pixel 3a even offered the stellar Night Sight feature that provided flagship-level low-light photography—which phones in the $300-500 price range lacked.

The iPhone SE 2020 followed the same good-camera-at-affordable-price strategy when it launched this year. It released with the same rear camera, A13 Bionic chip and Hexacore processor as the iPhone 11. This strategy meant that people could enjoy flagship-alike features using the phone. The only downplay on the phone during its release was Apple leaving out Night Mode feature even though the hardware and software in iPhone SE 2020 were more than capable of low light photography.

Here is how the Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020 cameras compare in terms of specifications.

Google Pixel 3a iPhone SE 2020
Rear Camera
12.2 MP
f/1.8 aperture
Up to 4K @ 30fps
Rear Camera
12 MP
f/1.8 aperture
Up to 4K @ 60fps
Front Camera
8 MP
f/2.0 aperture
Up to 1080 @ 30fps
Front Camera
7 MP
f/2.2 aperture
Up to 1080 @ 30fps

If you are bent on having a wide-angle camera option on your phone or for some reason need optical zoom, both Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020 offer just one camera, albeit really good cameras. Even though they lack a telephoto lens, both cameras can also take crisp portrait photos with really good background blur and object edge detection due to their better software capabilities.

Decent Performance Is All You Need

Both Google and iPhone went separate ways when it came to the performance and the components of Google Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020. 

The Pixel 3a followed other budget smartphone makers and offered a decent processor, big screen, small bezels, and a plastic build. While the phone compromised on the components used, it still packed enough to power the similar camera capabilities found on its flagship counterpart, Google Pixel 4. 

Similarly, everyday usage and gaming became respectable on the Pixel 3a with the Snapdragon 670, LCD screen, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage. The 3000 mAh battery on the phone ensured a day’s battery use and if not, the 18w fast charger included in the box surely helped.

The iPhone SE 2020, on the other hand, offered the same processor found on Apple’s $1099 iPhone 11 Pro Max, and the 11 series. However, the powerful processor and updated camera were repackaged in the footprint of the three-year-old iPhone 8. 

This resulted in the iPhone SE 2020 having a slightly outdated look with chunky bezels and a diminutive 4.7inch LCD screen. Also with just 1,821 mAh battery, the iPhone SE 2020 was deemed as a phone that was unable to cater instances like photo editing, taking 4K videos, land longer hours gaming. But still, the phone featured flagship-alike features with its excellent camera and fast processing. 

Best Software Experiences At Just $400

Before Pixel 3a, there was no way to get stock Android on the budget or even midrange phones unless they were a part of the Android One program. Even budget or midrange phones that offered the coveted stock Android did not include any of the flagship features. You had to shell out at least $799 for the latest Google Pixel flagship to get the best of both worlds.

But then came the Pixel 3a with its top-notch camera performance, phenomenal Google’s stock Android experience, and promise of at least three years of software support. The phone offered value like none other in the Android world. 

Later a year, Apple made its foray into the budget category with iPhone SE 2020. The phone was basically the cheapest iPhone released since 2019 that you could get. For the people who wanted to enter the Apple ecosystem, the iPhone SE 2020 was $300 cheaper than the iPhone 11. And with Apple’s five-year software support, the phone was destined to be attractive three or four years down the line.

Basically, Google got it right with the Pixel 3a as it sold more units than its flagship counterpart, Google Pixel 4 in 2019. No wonder, it was reviewed as the best budget smartphone by many tech reviewers after it launched. 

Apple with a similar budget smartphone strategy also made iPhone SE 2020 an undeniable value for those looking not to spend flagship money for good performance and camera.

How Are Other Smartphone Makers Reacting?

When two of the biggest names in the smartphone industry are improving the budget segment, other manufacturers have also joined the race.

After the success of the Pixel 3a, manufacturers have taken notice and started stepping up their camera performance as can be seen with Samsung’s Galaxy A series. Samsung's Galaxy A51's $399 starting price has given a direct competition to Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020. 

Released after the Pixel 3a in December 2019, the Galaxy A51 has nearly doubled up on its camera performance than its previous iteration, Galaxy A50, which was released just nine months prior in February 2019. To recollect, the Pixel 3a launched in May 2019.

With the Galaxy A51, Samsung is offering four different camera options with the main sensor speccing out at 48 MP in comparison to single 12 MP respective cameras on the Google Pixel 3a and iPhone SE 2020. The Samsung budget smartphone also offers a Super AMOLED display and 4000 mAH battery capacity.

Similarly, OnePlus, which had entered the flagship territory with its OnePlus 8 lineup (starting at $699), also announced in 2020 that it will be releasing a less expensive option in the OnePlus Nord. 

Releasing on the 21st of July 2020, the price of the OnePlus Nord is expected to be below $500. The phone will also feature flagship-level specs like AMOLED screen, 5G connectivity, and six camera options in total (two front cameras and four rear cameras).


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Gone are the days when you had to compromise on performance, software. and especially the camera when it came to budget smartphones. Today, you can get some of the best features even if you have a small budget to buy a smartphone. 

Thanks to the Google Pixel 3a and now the iPhone SE 2020, the budget smartphone segment is being redefined.