A few years have gone by since we’ve seen hardware at Google I/O, but it looks like this year that will change. Today, a teaser on the Google Store promises “something is coming to the Pixel universe” on May 7, the first day of Google I/O. Considering we’ve been expecting the Pixel 3a and 3a XL—cheaper versions of Google’s Pixel 3 flagship—to be released sometime this summer, it’s a good bet this is referring to these devices.
Google’s teaser page is extremely vague, for what it’s worth. It’s mostly an ad for the movie due out April 26, complete with an -themed Google logo and a crossover video ad for the existing Pixel 3 and the new movie. Just like with Stadia, though, we’ll remind you that the Google Store is for hardware, not software, and it’s hard to imagine teases like “something big is coming to the Pixel universe” and “meet a new hero” are not referring to a new phone. Stephen Hall of 9to5Google even claimed he heard whispers of a May 7 release date for the Pixel 3a a few days before this teaser.
The “Pixel 3a” and “Pixel 3a XL” are supposedly stripped-down versions of Google’s existing flagship smartphone. We’ve seen reports of a “mid-range” Pixel going all the way back to last summer, and pictures of a real device first started popping up about five months ago. We’ve seen a few spec lists reported, but the latest claims the devices will have OLED displays, a Snapdragon 670, and 4GB of RAM. According to reports, part of the cost cutting involves swapping out the glass back of the Pixel 3 for plastic. Two big things to note: the mid-range Pixels will reportedly have the same amazing camera as the more expensive Pixel 3s, and the mid-range devices improve on the flagships with the addition of a headphone jack.
These phones represent Google’s first self-branded smartphone hardware that isn’t a premium-priced device. Google doesn’t keep its older phone models around, so currently the company only sells the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, giving Google smartphones an entry level price of $800. That’s more expensive than Apple or Samsung, which have much cheaper lineups through either selling older devices or designing cheaper hardware.
Of course, the price is the real question for the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. Demanding a premium price for Google’s vision of a premium smartphone is one thing, but can the company really compete in a price-sensitive market? The OnePlus 6T is currently for a value-oriented smartphone: it already offers better specs than the Pixel 3 for $549. How will the Pixel 3a compare to devices like that?
Google I/O tickets have already hit our inboxes, and we have plane tickets booked. So if Google does announce a new phone at I/O 2019, we’ll have hands on and all the other coverage we can muster.