A few weeks ago, I went to Oaxaca, Mexico, for three days with nothing but my Google Pixel 3a (okay, also a suitcase full of far too many clothes) — and discovered that, in addition to its ability to trick me into thinking that I'm a good photographer (I'm not), it's the ultimate travel phone. In addition to its camera, it has a great translator integration and AR map function, it's super lightweight, and comes with a really cheap phone plan. I've
reviewed the phone before, but this trip really put its breakout features to the test.
And as far as pricing for the phone itself, the Pixel 3a (5.6") starts at $399, and its larger counterpart, the Pixel 3a XL (6"), starts at $479 — basically half the price of an iPhone, except you don't even have to give up any quality smartphone features (except those blue iMessage bubbles).
Ahead, the breakdown of how I used the Pixel to optimize my selfie game, take actually delicious-looking food pics for the 'gram, and translate restaurant menus in Mexico.
Travel and accommodations were provided to the author by Google for the purpose of writing this story. Google did not approve or review this story. The Phone Plan
Google Fi, the
phone carrier I used with the Pixel, lets you roam internationally at no extra cost. (It's $20/month for unlimited calls and texting, and for data, $10/GB up to 6GB, after which data is free.) This is ideal for international travel and especially appealing compared to other carriers like AT&T or Verizon, where you need to buy an international roaming day pass for $10 per device. While in Oaxaca, where there wasn't Wifi, I got service nearly everywhere I went. More Say Cheese
The Google Pixel camera is just as solid as that of its slightly higher-end sibling,
the Pixel 3. While the 3a and 3a XL don't have dual front-facing cameras, so you can't take the wide selfie that you can with a Pixel 3, you can basically do everything else. I was impressed by how the 3a made the rich colors of Oaxaca pop in nearly every photo I took. There's also a feature called Top Shot that you can use if you enable motion on your photos, which is kind of like Apple's Live Photos, only it lets you choose which shot within the captured motion you'd like to use as the photo still.
This feature is great for when you want to take a flash-less food pic in a dark restaurant, like this chicken and mole dish with my passionfruit margarita from
Los Danzantes. Night Sight makes low-light photos actually look good — and the camera even prompts you to use Night Sight in dark environments so you don't forget. I also used it on fireworks we caught a glimpse of on the rooftop of Casa Oaxac a, but I didn't post the photo here because fireworks photos are all the same (@ everyone I follow on IG who insists on posting a photo of the firework show they're watching on the Fourth of July, despite the fact that it looks no different from any other fireworks ever).
This feature allows you to snap a selfie whenever the subjects of your selfie are smiling... without pressing any buttons. So you can, you know, capture the Monte Albán Ruins while also looking cute. Very convenient for group travel shots.
More Long Live Battery Life
In terms of battery life, charging the phone for just 15 minutes gives you a seven-hour charge, and a full charge give you up to 30 hours of usage. My phone never died on the trip, and as a person with a chronically dead phone, this is a big deal. Also, the Pixel uses machine learning to optimize your battery life by prioritizing the apps you use most, which helps it stay alive longer.
More Identifying Marketplace Fruits 101
used this feature at Coachella to identify all the chunky sneakers I saw in the Sahara tent, of which there were oh-so-many. But the Lens also serves the very practical purpose of identifying any plant, food, animal, or monument you point your camera at. I used it on my occasions over the course of my trip, including when I came upon these fruits in the Mercado Benito Juárez, which I thought were lychees, but were actually rambutan! The more you know.
You can also use it identify monuments and pull up a quick history lesson via Google, like I did with the
Templo de Santo Domingo. More Hey Google, What Does That Mean?
Part of the magic of
Google Lens is its translate feature, which lets you point at text and then overlays it with a translation in your desired language (and there are over 100 supported by Google Translate). This also really came in handy for restaurant menus when I was too embarrassed to ask the waiter to translate.
I also enabled the Active Edge on my Pixel, which means when you squeeze on the bottom half of the phone, you'll prompt Google Assistant. On many different occasions, I asked it for the conversion rate of U.S. dollars to pesos, and then was on my merry way to buy a beautifully adorned bowl that I don't need.
More When You Inevitably Get Lost
AR Mode in Google Maps, which is currently only available on the Pixel (not on other devices that use Google Maps), is great for when you're navigating a place you've never been. It integrates the camera with Google Maps and only works for walking navigation, but basically makes it feel like...you're walking on a map, with virtual directions overlaid on the camera display in front of you.
Handy if you're one of those people who spends approximately five minutes every time you emerge from the subway to reorient yourself and decide which direction to begin walking in.
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