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I’m old enough to have started writing on a typewriter – albeit, as a kid. I couldn’t imagine going back to one now, but there is something rather lovely about the sound and rhythm of the keys. For creative writing, I actually use an app that creates simulated typewriter sounds, simply because I find that puts me in the right mindset.

So when I spotted the Qwerkywriter on Kickstarter ages ago, I always meant to check it out. A recent post on 9to5Toys reminded me about it. From photos, I loved the look. My questions were whether it would look as good in real-life as it does in the photos, whether it would turn out to be a novelty or a serious keyboard – and whether it could possibly justify that $349 price-tag?

So yesterday I tried it out with my iPad, and today I’ve been using it with my Mac – including writing this review on it – in order to find out …

Let’s start with the looks. At a casual glance, you really could mistake it for a compact typewriter. In fact, I’m pretty sure if you asked anyone who wasn’t familiar with it what it was, that’s what they’d say.

It has those lovely round keycaps with the chrome edging, the carriage-return bar, the paper-feed wheels, the lovely red tab and delete keys, and that proper three-dimensional look of a typewriter keyboard.

On closer examination, it gets a little less impressive. The chrome key surrounds are plastic, not metal, as are the keycaps themselves.

Close-up, then, it looks a little cheaper than it did in the photos. But it’s still undeniably a lovely-looking thing.

There’s a deep slot at the back designed to hold a tablet. It’s a multi-platform device that will accommodate just about any tablet on the market, and with my 9.7-inch iPad Pro slotted into place it really does a most convincing imitation of a typewriter.

The iPad is held securely in place when it’s used on a desk or table.

But I found that after using it for a while, the typewriter illusion had become so convincing that I simply picked it up by the base to move it and almost dropped the iPad in the process! It’s of course not attached in any way, merely resting in the slot.

I mentioned that the Qwerkywriter is not specific to iDevices, and that does pose a few issues. For example, the CMD and Option keys are the wrong way around, while the Fn key is in completely the wrong place.

The upper function keys, too, aren’t properly mapped. For example, F1 and F2 control the volume rather than the brightness of a Mac. Qwerkywriter tells me it has a firmware upgrade that fix the volume and brightness keys, but not the others.

One other minor issue with the usability of the keyboard – which the photo doesn’t capture – is that the Escape key is slightly awkward to reach because the carriage-return bar gets in the way a little.

Oh yes, the return bar. This is one element that isn’t purely decorative: it does actually function as an Enter key!

That’s definitely a fun touch, though I confess that I used it a few times and then just used the normal Enter key after that. You can also program it as a macro key, but with only five characters, it’s of limited use for that.

But enough of the aesthetics: what’s it actually like to type on?

It’s here that the price starts to feel a little more reasonable. The Qwerkywriter isn’t just a visual novelty, it is a proper mechanical keyboard. It has a very similar feel to a keyboard that uses Cherry switches, but the company tells me they couldn’t obtain these in sufficient quantities, so they instead used Kailh ones.

Cherry keys are German while Kailh are a Chinese copy, which of course immediately raises quality questions. In use, however, it felt to me extremely similar to keyboards I’ve used with Cherry switches. The travel is good, the feel is positive, and they have that lovely sound (Qwerkywriter has a recording here). The only question, then, is whether the Kailh switches would have the longevity of the real thing, and that’s not something I can tell from a short review.


The misplaced CMD and Option keys was a real usability barrier when using it with a Mac. I wasn’t so bothered by the numbered function keys as I rarely use them, but those two keys were a pain. However, if someone wanted to use the keyboard full-time with a Mac, there are ways of remapping the keys, so this is not necessarily a dealbreaker.

However, my bottom-line view after using it for most of a day is that, as a Mac keyboard, it’s hard to justify the money. It’s cute and all, but the typewriter illusion is less convincing when looking at a monitor, and there are far cheaper keyboards available with Cherry switches.

As an iPad keyboard, the typewriter illusion is much stronger. It definitely feels fun, and it is a very nice keyboard to use.

However, I rarely type on my iPad when I’m at home. In the home, my iPad is a tablet – used mostly as an ebook reader and Netflix device. It’s on-the-move where it becomes a pseudo-laptop, used for writing, email, messaging and so on. And that’s really where the argument for the Qwerkywriter started to look a little dubious for me personally. It’s a pretty heavy and chunky thing to carry around with you. So, much as I love it as a concept, and it mostly lived up to my expectations, I don’t think it’s actually for me.

However, that’s not to say it’s not for everyone. If you love it enough to want to use it full-time, then the one-time effort to remap the keys would be worthwhile. If you love typewriters but type a lot on your iPad at home, it really is the best of both worlds – giving you a convincing illusion with none of the hassles of the real thing. At $349, it’s a pretty expensive toy, but I can definitely see that some would consider it worthwhile.

The Qwerkywriter is $349 direct from the company’s own website. There are, of course, a huge number of Bluetooth keyboards available on Amazon – including ones with Cherry switches. Check out, too, the SteelSeries Apex M800 mechanical keyboard Jeff recently reviewed.

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Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard Review

Unlike some other ergonomic keyboards, there isn’t a split down the middle of the Sculpt. The Sculpt looks more like a regular keyboard than some of the other ergonomic ones, save for a bump in the middle that raises some of the keys and gives it a nice curve. It looks really nice – I’ve never been a fan of the way most ergonomic keyboards look, but I have to say that this one is pretty easy on the eyes. It’s all black and white if we’re not counting the blue Windows 8 hot keys, and it’s relative slimness gives it a more compact feeling that some of the other beasts we’ve seen in the ergonomic field.

The keyboard may not be split, but in an interesting twist, the space bar is. Microsoft has turned the space bar into two different buttons – both of them do the same thing until you hold down one of the shift keys, then the left space button turns into a spare backspace key. Microsoft says it did this because the majority of users only ever hit the right side of the space bar with their thumb. By splitting space bar into two key and adding backspace functionality to the left one, users no longer have to reach for the actual backspace key while they’re typing up a storm. It’s an incredibly strange idea at first, but it works. Holding shift and hitting the space bar is much more comfortable than reaching for the backspace key, but it’s definitely going to take some getting used to. After all, we’ve only been reaching for that backspace button for years and years, so it makes it sense that it’s going to take some time to break that habit.

UPDATE: While shift-space does indeed activate a backspace, simply pressing the left half of the spacebar also initiates a backspace – simple and clean!

Other than the split space bar, there isn’t anything all that remarkable about the rest of the keys. Microsoft claims that the slight curve to the layout helps improve typing speeds, and I feel that it’s helped mine slightly. It was kind of hard to tell at first since I had to adjust to the curvy layout, but after that adjustment process was finished, I found that my speeds were a little bit better than when I was using my regular mechanical keyboard. Resistance on the keys is nice, and they make a pretty satisfying sound when you press them. You won’t get the “clack” you’re used to hearing if you regularly use a mechanical keyboard, but the keys still make a good sound when you hit them.

The only issue I have with the keys is the fact that the letters aren’t laser etched onto them. That, obviously, is a feature of more expensive keyboards, but it still would’ve been nice to have, since without it your keys will begin fading after a while. It isn’t the biggest of problems (far from it actually), but having your keys fade on you is always an annoying experience.

On the Sculpt, the function keys double as Windows 8 hotkeys, allowing you to navigate the new Windows 8 UI with ease. There are buttons for volume and audio playback, then you have the search, share, devices, and settings keys, which all take you to the different Windows 8 submenus that are featured in the right menu bar. There are also buttons that allow you to snap what you’re currently looking at to the left or right side of the screen, letting you look at two apps at once. Microsoft has placed a sliding switch to the right of the function buttons, which you can use to change the functionality on that row of keys. It’s definitely a nice touch, especially for someone who might still be getting used to the Windows 8 UI – instead of trying to find these menus and do these actions with your mouse, you can simply hit the shortcut key on the Sculpt. That should save those who are new to Windows 8 a lot of time.

The wrist pad is soft enough to be comfortable, yet firm enough to where your wrists aren’t sinking into it. I think it gets the job done rather well, as it does a lot to take the pressure off your wrists while you’re typing. Of course, the Sculpt is still pretty easy to use if you remove the wrist pad (which cuts down on the keyboard’s overall size significantly), but if your job requires a lot of typing, you’ll probably want to keep the wrist pad attached as often as you can.

The stands have actually made their way to underneath the wrist pad, which is another strange feature that makes the Sculpt stand out from keyboards. It looks odd, having the stands on the front of the keyboard, but it actually feels surprisingly comfortable while you’re typing since it keeps your wrists a lot straighter than they would otherwise be. The only problem is that the Sculpt has a tendency to slide around when it’s up on its stands and placed on a hard, smooth surface. Most of the time I was using the Sculpt, I was typically using it without the stands, just because I found that keyboard kept sliding out from under my hands whenever I had them up.

The Sculpt is a wireless keyboard that’s powered by two AAA batteries and connects to your computer through a USB stick. Installation was a breeze, as it only requires that you connect the USB stick and give the system a few moments to install the drivers for the keyboard. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go. As with most wireless keyboards, battery life is great. The batteries actually haven’t died on me yet, and I don’t think they will for another few weeks at least. In other words, if you pick up the Sculpt, you probably won’t have to worry about purchasing batteries all that often. The wireless capabilities work well too – I never had an instance where the signal cut out, and that’s really as good as it gets when you’re talking about wireless keyboards.

Marshall Middleton Bluetooth Speaker Review: Punchy Bass In A Heavy Frame

The teenage version of me, complete with messy pages of Kerrang! and Mojo slapped on my wall, would be delighted to know that one day I could be blaring music out of a tiny portable Marshall speaker.


The company, best known for its range of towering guitar amplifiers has been slowly making the transition to more consumer products – think more headphones for runners and speakers for BBQs than Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.

And now, a few iterations down the line, we have the Marshall Middleton. A speaker that is all about portability, survivability, and above all, big sound from a small package.

To see if it could live up to its legendary brand name and its many claims, I spent a few weeks with the Marshall Middleton to see how it stacks up.


If you’ve seen a Marshall device before, whether that’s a speaker, amplifier, pair of headphones or one of the many other devices the brand makes, then you’ve seen this one.

Black faux leather all over, with gold buttons and the signature gold Marshall logo, the Middleton gives a sleek and stylish look to a genre that can often be quite boring.

The speaker actually plays out of all four sides, through a grate on each part. However, the front of the speaker is unsurprisingly where most of the brute force of sound is emitting from.

On the top of the speaker, there’s a gold metal button, intended as the power button as well as the volume and skip buttons.

It’s not huge for a Bluetooth speaker, but it is surprisingly heavy. Despite its above-average weight, Marshall ships this speaker with an attachable wrist strap to help carry it or tie it onto bags.

This is clearly a strong strap, more than capable of holding all the weight, but that didn’t stop me frequently feeling like it was going to snap, leaving me with an expensive accident. 


The Marshall Middleton is simplistic, focusing on good audio and that signature Marshall design over a wealth of features. However, there are a few key things to note when using the device.

Once fully charged, you’ll get at least 20 hours of playtime. There is also an in-built power bank which allows you to charge devices from the speaker. However, this unsurprisingly will rapidly drain the battery.

Designed to be taken on the move, the Middleton is IP67 dust- and water-resistant, helping it to fend off some rain or a dusty festival.

If you like to customise your music more, Marshall offers an app to use alongside the speaker, tweaking the sound as you please. Equally, there are bass and treble adjusters on top of the speaker.


Thanks to its beefy size, the Marshall Middleton can pump out a hefty sound. It thrives in harsher genres, packed with bass and aggressive drum tracks. With its adjustable bass toggle on the top of the speaker, you can really customise the aggression of bass-heavy tracks.

This speaker, unsurprisingly with its history, especially thrives in rock and metal genres. The hard-hitting drums and bass backing of Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name Of hits with precision and isn’t muddied like some cheaper speakers have a tendency to do.

The same goes for similar genres like Queens of the Stone Age’s Go With The Flow. A powerful drum backing and fuzzy guitar come through cleanly but with the kind of power you’ll find it hard not to be impressed by.

This emphasis on bass especially pays off in electronic genres. The slowly rising bass of Gosh by Jamie XX punches hard as the song goes on. As does Fred Again’s Marea with its complicated jumble of sounds spanning the many levels a speaker looks to achieve.

Sometimes the emphasis on bass can be overwhelming. Bury A Friend from Billy Eillish’s award-winning album pumps through a lot of bass, which, even with adjusted settings, becomes a bit of a mess through the Marshall speaker.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that, while bass is Marshall’s premiere game here, it isn’t a one-trick pony. Afghan Whig’s softly rising Birdlands is perfectly clean without imperfections in the playback, as is Polyphia’s Playing God, a song that really pushes your speaker’s soundstage.

This is not to say the Marshall Middleton is perfect. For the audiophiles of the world, there will be noticeable imperfections, especially on songs that have been masterfully crafted in the studio. But for a portable speaker of this price range, it is pretty fantastic.


The Marshall Middleton has a lot going for it. It’s sleek and stylish, built in a robust casing, it pumps out a rich sound in all directions, and thanks to its IP rating and strong frame, can take some falls, bumps and spills.

However, there are two crucial factors that hold this speaker back from being the perfect portable device. Firstly, it is pricey. Costing you £269, it costs more than most of its equivalent competitors.

Secondly, for its size, the Middleton weighs far more than it realistically should. It’s going to weigh down any bag it’s put in, and at its bulky size, isn’t exactly the most portable speaker out there.

If you can deal with these two factors, then the Middleton is a fantastic buy thanks to its combination of style and high-performance sound.

Alternatives Sonos Roam

Sonos has quickly become one of the biggest names in audio, capable of pumping out high-quality audio from small speakers. The Sonos Roam keeps things portable, packing that same power into a smaller frame.

At just £179, the Sonos Roam is surprisingly affordable for a speaker of this quality.

It is dust- and water-resistant, capable of being submerged in water – perfect for camping trips or somewhere it might get wet.

JBL Boombox

The JBL Boombox takes the phrase portable to its extent. This massive boombox speaker from a big-name audio brand is able to reach some incredibly loud volumes without forgoing audio quality.

It is also water- and dust-resistant and has a battery life of 24 hours. However, with its bulky size and high price tag, this isn’t going to be for everyone.

Sony SRS-XP500

The Sony SRS-XP500 is a massive outdoor speaker. Designed to get the party started, it is covered in flashing lights, able to pump out plenty of sound for any event.

It isn’t going to be the most finessed audio out there, heavily emphasising the bass, but if you’re appealing to a large crowd, it will be the perfect choice.

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Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review

Bluetooth speakers offer an easy and convenient way to take your favorite music everywhere. Given their rising popularity right now, manufacturers have been quick to flood the market with tons of products of all shapes and sizes. From the vast sea of Bluetooth speakers, today we bring you the Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: a portable music-playing elliptical-shaped waterproof speaker. If you’re curious to learn how well this affordable device will play your music, follow along in this review to learn more about its capabilities.

Getting Started with the Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

The Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker is delivered in a very compact square box, which includes a USB Type-C charging cable. There are no other accessories included, but it’s really all that you need to start listening to music.

The Splash 1 is a super portable device, which can easily fit in your palm. It features two buttons on the back (On/Off and Menu), while the volume, forward and back buttons are mounted on top, underneath the logo.

Using the Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

The Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker features a practical (but built r in) lanyard design so that you can easily hang it anywhere. This makes the product suitable for travel, office, hiking, beach/pool, shower and many other scenarios.

Given the speaker’s size, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of sound, but the device performed pretty decently in this department. According to the spec sheet, the Splash 1 boasts so-called “premium dual drivers with Passive Radiator for Tonal Balance.” It also offers True Wireless Stereo for Stereo Surround Sound. Moreover, Tronsmart says the device can deliver 15W stereo sound. This last specification places the Splash 1 somewhere in the middle, not too loud but not too quiet.

Of course, we’ve had louder speakers, but given the Splash 1 price range, as well as compact frame, the outcome was better than expected, especially indoors. On the other hand, if you want to use the Splash 1 at a barbecue or another type of social activity – anywhere where there’s a lot of chatter as well as background noise – you may have a bit of a hard time hearing the music over the racket.

Even in closed spaces, you shouldn’t expect the Splash 1 to convey outstanding sound. When maxing out the volume, for example, sound quality does take a noticeable dip, so we don’t recommend listening with the volume turned all the way up. With all that being said, the speaker does a decent job at playing your favorite tunes. There’s nothing spectacular about it, and that’s okay for the price and what its designed for.

Battery Life and Other Features

The speaker offers a pretty long battery life. You can get an entire day of playback if you’re willing to keep the volume to 50% or lower without the battery dipping down too much. The product is powered by a 2,200 mAh battery, which takes about 2 hours to fully charge with a USB Type-C cable.

The Splash 1 is rated as waterproof (IPX7), so you shouldn’t have any problem using it in the shower. In our testing, the product managed to do its job without skipping a beat, even with water splashing it continually during a 20-minute shower. The device should work just as well at the beach or the pool.

As for additional features, the speaker packs a cool light show. There are two lights at the base of the speaker that constantly change while you’re playing your tunes, which will make the whole experience more enjoyable. Users can also access their virtual assistants via the Splash 1, so you can talk to Google Assistant, Cortana or Siri just by saying the magic words.


The Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker can be purchased for $30.99, and for this price, the speaker offers quite a lot. It’s small and easy to carry, so you can take it with you just about anywhere. It has an IP7X rating, which means you can hang it in the shower or take it to the pool for some background music.

It has a decent battery life and can connect seamlessly to your smartphone via Bluetooth. However, it won’t sound as good as some of the larger speakers currently on the market. Despite its dual drivers and stereo sound capabilities, the Splash 1 falls into the average category when it comes to sound.

The Tronsmart Splash 1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker isn’t for audiophiles, but it’s a great starting point for someone who has never owned a Bluetooth speaker before and wants to see what such products can offer. The super affordable price alone is enough to make it an interesting choice for a larger audience.

Alexandra Arici

Alexandra is passionate about mobile tech and can be often found fiddling with a smartphone from some obscure company. She kick-started her career in tech journalism in 2013, after working a few years as a middle-school teacher. Constantly driven by curiosity, Alexandra likes to know how things work and to share that knowledge with everyone.

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Razer Huntsman V2 Gaming Keyboard Review

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The Razer Huntsman V2 is, realistically, a tune up design. It updates Razer’s most popular keyboard with some features and design introduced in the keyboards the company made since the Huntsman Elite launched in 2023. In its full-size form, the Huntsman V2, adds a whole bunch of flashy little flourishes like 8K polling, which theoretically reduces input lag by increasing the number of times the keyboard communicates with your computer. The new release also adds PBT keycaps, and a redesigned wrist rest without any sharp plastic corners. None of these are essential improvements: In fact, they range from pleasant quality of life upgrades to borderline useless. Like Razer’s recently released mouse, the Basilisk V3, the Razer Huntsman V2 feels like a refresh that keeps the Huntsman current, rather than true innovation. While the Razer Huntsman V2 is a very nice gaming keyboard, and more worthy of its $200 price tag than the now three-year-old Huntsman Elite, there also isn’t anything here to get excited about.

Hunting down lag on the Razor Huntsman V2

Huntsman is Razer’s line of gaming keyboards with optical switches, an increasingly common alternative to mechanical keyboards, where pressing a key pushes down a panel that allows a laser to shine through and “actuate” the key, sending an input signal. Switching from mechanical switches to analog in keyboards and mice is the next phase in PC gaming peripheral makers’ never-ending war on input lag. Lag is the gap between when you press a key or button and when the resulting action occurs on your screen. It can make a big difference when playing certain games that require quick reaction times. 

In this case, using analog switches cuts out a very, very slight gap introduced by mechanical keys called “debounce delay,” where the keyboard determines what signal to send to your computer. Analog switches do not introduce debounce delay, using an analog keyboard theoretically shaves a few milliseconds of lag off each keystroke.

A few milliseconds is not a lot of time, but that’s what’s left to shave in terms of input lag. There was a time when input lag was a serious concern for everyone, particularly when using wireless devices. At this point, most people would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in lag between mechanical and optical switches without special equipment. However, with the recent boom in esports gear, there is an emphasis in high performance, so cutting lag anywhere and everywhere remains a priority.

Polling rate, not power level

Mike Epstein

But that’s what was new in the original Huntsman Elite. The Razer Huntsman V2 doubles down on high performance features by adding the capacity to run at an extremely high (but not unprecedented) 8000Hz polling rate. Polling rate, a spec more commonly associated with mice, measures the maximum number of times a keyboard can send signals to a computer. The industry standard for keyboards and mice is 1000Hz, or 1000 signals per second. In the past, manufacturers have upped the ante to 2000Hz, but doing so showed no performance discernible improvements. 

Earlier this year, a couple of companies, including Razer, introduced mice and keyboards 8000Hz polling. In mice, such as Razer’s Viper 8K, it can make cursor animation smoother and seemingly improves performance in reflex-driven actions, like a quick-draw gunfight in Call of Duty. Unlike mice, however, keyboards rarely put out a continuous signal, so increasing the number of inputs per second makes no perceivable difference in or out of games. It may shave a few microseconds off certain gaming actions, like stopping a dime when you release a movement key, only the absolute best players would need to pick a keyboard specifically for that kind of performance difference.

That begs the question, why add 8000Hz polling to a keyboard? Aside from the fact that it always looks better to make the numbers go up, the fact of the matter is that polling rate does improve things in some cases, and while no one has made a strong case for it in keyboards yet, it may become useful someday. In the Razer Huntsman V2, though, you can ignore it.

So what else is new, Razer Huntsman V2?

Setting aside its new 8000Hz polling, the Razer Huntsman V2 is largely a cosmetic refresh. Measuring 17.31 by 5.5 by 1.59 inches (WDH)–or 17.31 by 9.03 by 1.59 inches if you include the wrist rest–it’s a smoother, sleeker design than the elite. The new version features more durable Polybutylene Terephthalate (AKA PBT) keycaps, ensuring that the lettering on the caps never fades. 

The best quality-of-life improvement, by far, is a new wrist rest with wall-to-wall padding. The old wrist rest design had a plastic bezel that stuck to your skin and had pointy corners: this one’s comfortable from every angle.

The Razer Huntsman V2 comes with a new and improved wrist rest. Mike Epstein

In a press briefing, Razer also emphasized that the Huntsman V2 features a layer of sound-dampening foam inside, which takes the edge off of the keys’ mechanical clack. For keyboard enthusiasts, the tone of mechanical keys while typing can be almost as important as the technical aspects of the keyboard, so putting in the dampener helps cultivate a more pleasing sound.

Who Should Buy The Razer Huntsman V2?

The Razer Huntsman is the latest in a beloved line of keyboards, but it isn’t as big an upgrade as some of its predecessors. Mike Epstein

If you’re looking for a Huntsman, the Razer V2 is realistically the right choice for most people. The more feature-rich Razer Huntsman V2 Analog has a more novel feature-set, but its signature feature, dual actuation, is only worth it for players who really like messing around with custom keyboard mapping. 

The Huntsman Elite is still a great keyboard and likely worth getting over the V2 when retailers drop its price. Dollar for dollar, though, the Razer Huntsman V2 is the best construction and combination of features Razer’s put into a Huntsman. There are other notable optical keyboards, such as Corsair’s K100 RGB, but the Razer Huntsman remains the gold standard for this particular corner of the PC gaming universe.

Google Pixel 3A Review: A Budget Phone That Acts Like A Premium Flagship

The Google Pixel 3a has the right combination of great, good enough, and affordability to rival phones that cost twice as much.

The Google Pixel 3a makes a strong case for tossing out the spec sheet. On paper, it looks like yet another boring budget smartphone, with a middling processor, single front and rear cameras, and a bare-minimum 1080p screen. But in your pocket, you might just mistake it for a premium phone.

Ignoring the numbers game

For as long as high-end Android phones have existed, we’ve been trained to believe that we need the biggest battery and best processor to get the best experience. As such, handsets have crossed the thousand-dollar threshold to give us the specs they’ve convinced us we need, as premium phones have all sought to outdo each other with cameras, RAM, storage, and pixels.

Michael Simon/IDG

You can squeeze the sides of the Pixel 3a to summon Google Assistant.

The Pixel 3a does none of that. Spec-, design-, and most importantly, price-wise, it’s the antithesis of a premium Android phone. It’s made of plastic rather than glass, has a Full HD screen instead of a Quad HD one, and its interior attributes are decidedly non-premium as well:

Processor: Snapdragon 670


Storage: 64GB

Battery: 3,000mAh

Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0

Rear camera: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS

But numbers aren’t what the Pixel 3a is selling. Much like the premium Pixel—which also has just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of base storage—the 3a makes the most of its parts, offering an Android experience that rivals phones that cost more than twice as much. Plus it has a headphone jack, which makes the lack of one on the higher-priced Pixel more glaring. I’d like an option for more storage or at least a slot for an SD card, but as it stands, the Pixel 3a maxes out at a relatively paltry 64GB of storage. Keep in mind that you don’t get free unlimited storage of photos in original quality like you do on the Pixel 3, so space might become an issue.

In benchmarks, the Pixel 3a’s Snapdragon 670 scored around 7,250 in the PCMark Work 2.0 test, lower than the Snapdragon 845-based Pixel 3’s 8,828, but not crippling by any stretch. Geekbench 4 returned similar results, with the Pixel 3a posting a 1,600/5,125 (single-core/multi-core) score versus 2,358/8,337 on the Pixel 3, but all in all, the Snapdragon 670 wasn’t as laggy as I expected. Only occasionally during my testing was I consciously aware that I wasn’t using a near-thousand-dollar phone, and even then, it was fleeting. More often than not, I forgot that I wasn’t using the grown-up Pixel.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 3a runs the latest version of Android—and will until Android S in 2023.

That’s because Google has taken an iOS-like approach with the Pixel 3a. Instead of building a phone optimized to run Android, Google has optimized Android for the handset to the point where the Pixel 3, which costs twice as much, doesn’t feel all that much faster than the 3a in normal use. Even with a lesser processor, Android Pie on the Pixel 3a is as fast or faster than it is on phones that cost twice as much. Little touches like Now Playing (which listens to background audio to automatically ID songs on the lock screen and notification panel) are delightful without dragging things down. And because you’re guaranteed to get three years of Android updates—something few phones in this price range can promise—your Pixel 3a might actually feel faster even as its hardware ages.

A design that finally fits

Michael Simon/IDG

Is that…. yes, it’s a headphone jack!

The front of the phone has a modest screen-to-body ratio, but the 5.6-inch OLED display’s rounded corners and 18.5:9 aspect ratio give it a high-end feel. The Full HD display itself is basically the same as the one in the 5.5-inch Pixel 3, with 441 ppi (vs 443 on the Pixel 3) and full 24-bit color depth, though it’s wrapped in Dragontail glass rather than the more famous Corning Gorilla Glass. You likely won’t notice the difference, however. My case- and screen protector-less Pixel 3a picked up a few visible smudges reminiscent of the Pixel 2’s oleophobic coating issues, but it emerged scratch- and scuff-free.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 3a has the same two-tone look as the Pixel 3, except here it’s all made of plastic.

Besides, you’re not going to have to charge it all that often. Not only does it feature 18W fast charging via the bundled charger, it’ll also likely last you through a whole day. In testing, I was able to reach more than seven hours of screen-on time and 14+ hours between charges, which should get most people through a day. If you can’t make it, a quick 30-minute charge will give you all you need.

A premium shooting experience

12.2MP dual-pixel


Autofocus + dual pixel phase detection

Optical + electronic image stabilization

Michael Simon/IDG

The Pixel 3a, left, actually captured better distance detail than the iPhone XR in this shot.

Unfortunately the dedicated Pixel Visual Core image signal processor isn’t present on the 3a, so photos aren’t quite as sharp or as detailed as they are on the higher-priced Pixel phones, but they’re still fantastic for a phone in this price range. I was most impressed with the color accuracy, which was rich and vibrant without being oversaturated. Portraits were equally impressive, with crisp edges and impressive definition even when dealing with objects instead of people.

Michael Simon/IDG

In good lighting, the Pixel 3a is capable of taking some fantastic shots.

Even motion shots, which generally cause all kinds of issues in budgets smartphones, showed minimal blur. In the photo of the rollercoaster above (center), the Pixel 3a not only captured the quickly-moving car, but legs and arms are also in focus. That’s the kind of quick shutter that I expect from a $900 phone but not from a $399 one. Heck, some premium phones can’t handle motion as well as the Pixel 3a does.

Michael Simon/IDG

With Night Sight turned on, the Pixel 3a (left) is able to capture an incredible amount of color with barely any light, but the Pixel 3 (right) makes the most of the Visual Core.

Should you buy a Google Pixel 3a?

Whether you’re in the market for a Pixel 3, Galaxy S10, or OnePlus 7 Pro, you should give the Pixel 3a some serious consideration. It may technically be a mid-range phone, but it’s really hard to tell when using it. It’s plenty fast, takes great pictures, and has a killer price tag.

But you don’t have to think of it as a great alternative. Just think of it as a great phone that doesn’t cost a lot.

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