Google just launched two new Pixel phones that cost roughly half the price of their predecessors but include many of the same software features, including advanced camera capabilities and spam call screening.
The Pixel 3a and 3a XL with 64 GB of storage will cost $399 and $479, respectively, the company said at its annual I/O developers' conference on Tuesday. For comparison, Apple's budget version of its latest smartphone, the XR, costs $749 and the Pixel 3 launched last fall cost $799.
“It’s for somebody who is looking for a premium phone, but at the price that a premium phone used to cost two to three years ago,” Mario Queiroz, who heads up the Pixel division, told Forbes ahead of the announcement.
Despite being built with “commodity hardware” required for the lower price point, the new Pixel phones will shine because of their software, Queiroz says. For example, many of the much-lauded features of the previous Pixel phone, like its “Night Sight” camera mode for low-light pictures, its automatic robocall screening, and its augmented reality directions in Google Maps, will still be available on the new lower priced phones. The Pixel 3a's also have a classic headphone jack and and come in new purple color.
Paper price tag combined with a much broader carrier launch marks a new strategy for Google. The company introduced its line of flagship phones in 2016 as a way to show off the capabilities of its mobile operating system, Android. Google provides Android to hardware makers like Samsung and Nokia free, making its money through the increased usage of services like search and the Play app store. That approach has made Android the most popular mobile operating system in the world, but also means that its functionality is inconsistent: Only about 20% of Android devices use the latest version, according to Google's statistics. Pixels allow Google to roll out updates on its own schedule, but while they have generally received positive reviews, they have remained a niche product.
Now it seems Google wants to change that. Verizon was the exclusive carrier partner on previous Pixel phones, but this new line will launch with TMobile, Sprint, and AT&T, too.
“Our goal is to get as many people as possible to use a Pixel phone,” Querioz says.
It will still be an uphill battle. Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted lower-than-expected sales of its previous Pixel on the company's first quarter earnings call and the smartphone market is stalling globally.
The new phones go on sale today. You can find more details on their specs here.