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I Bought A Google Pixel 3a Camera Phone For $299

Hey, at least I tried.

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ASTORIA, New York City- Something inside me hates to say this, but the smartphone is the #1 piece of digital nomad gear. While I’d love to say that my MacBook Pro is tops or my Blackmagic cinema cameras, I know that if I could only choose one piece of electronic gear with which to run my operations, I would have to choose my smartphone (a Blackberry Key2).

The reason for this is simple: If I had to, I could do everything with it. I cannot take photos and video with a laptop. I cannot write, edit, and publish with a camera. While a smartphone does none of the above better, it does do it all.

The smartphone is not the device to skimp on … although I bought a new phone the other day that initially seemed like I was skimping. For some reason that I don’t quite understand, Google was selling the Pixel 3a for $299, which is $100 off the current list price of $399 and less than it was being sold for anywhere else.

The Pixel 3a is an anomaly in the smartphone ecosystem. It is a basic Android phone with a top end camera slapped in it. Seriously, the camera in this thing can challenge an iPhone X.

$299 is nothing for a tool that would enable me to increase my production value on a daily basis.

I saw the deal and bit.

Initially, I intended to buy the phone for myself. I need to replace my iPhone SE — the companion to my Blackberry Key2 that I used for photos — and I know that there are a few social media moves that I need to take in the coming year (much to my chagrin). I really need a competent camera phone, and the Pixel 3a is by far the cheapest out there, even before the $100 discount.

However, I couldn’t help feeling for my poor wife who has been using her SE as her main driver for the past three years. The phone has a teeny screen. It looks like a relic from another age.

I initially put two phones in my basket — a black one for me and a white one for my wife — but then looked at the price: $650 or so with tax. I couldn’t do it.

I deleted the black one.

I gave my wife her phone last night for the Hanukkah. She tried to say thank you but “Why the f’ck would you buy this when my phone still works?” came out.

She deposited the unopened box in a pile on her dresser next to her deodorant and comb, and that’s probably where it will stay for the next three to six months.

My wife hates three things in life: outer space, the letter X, and new stuff.

Hey, it was a good try, right?

Where the Pixel 3a landed. So much for that camera.


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Filed under: Digital Nomad, Electronics, Travel Gear

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

15 comments… add one

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  • Trevor December 23, 2019, 3:20 pm


    post about my Tab A coming next….

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    • Wade Shepard December 23, 2019, 3:58 pm


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  • Georgiy Romanov December 24, 2019, 6:38 am

    SE model from another world, but I bought it this year and I’m very happy. Inexpensive and fulfills his money 100 percent. This is a beast! Now I take photos and videos on my phone more often than on other cameras. My brother bought an iPhone 6s in 2019 and he also very happy. He keeps his blog about work, shot everything on the phone and edited videos also. I never thought that smartphones could be a means of production, not just consumption.

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    • Trevor December 25, 2019, 5:56 am

      Hi @ Georgiy Romanov . what is SE ?

      The concept of running EVERYTHING from a smart phone appeals.. I loath to be weighted down, physically and mentally by stuff…
      I cant run my Weebly website from an android phone app. Its doo able on the desk top version. Just. more so on a latest Samsung tablet.
      and I miss the ability to take zoomed in photos.

      have u ever used one of those telescopic attachments for smart phones?

      I think that by the time my newly purchased Lumix TZ70 dies., EVERYTHING will be do-able from a smart phone and not just 98%

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      • Jack December 25, 2019, 2:42 pm

        The SE is the iPhone SE. It’s a cheap iPhone that does an awesome job. It’s basically a 6S in the form factor of the iPhone 5S. It can do pretty good video and pretty good pictures. You can pick them up now for under $100.

        The ipad 7th generation iPad is a formidable competitor. It can use external hard drives with an adapter, it’s got great battery life, an impressive app availability, and it’s as fast as the latest S6 tablet. Actually faster in many benchmarks. Plus it is just $329. As long as you keep your video at 1080p, it’s usable for photo and video editing. If you increase your price range to that of the S6 tablet then you are looking at iPad Air prices and that’s a good bump up in performance and even video editing. With iPadOS, things are becoming more and more possible on iPads.

        And like you, I am looking for the time when one device takes care of everything. I’ve got an iPhone 11 Pro Max and it does almost everything, but forget typing out blog posts on the thing. Yes, I could, but I’d just as soon use my Chromebook or iPad Pro.

        I’m just suffering from device overload.

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        • Wade Shepard December 28, 2019, 10:16 am

          Yes, the SE is the iPhone that I always complain about on here haha. It’s good for someone who just wants to make calls and check email. It is my impression that the imagry is substandard though — however it works for basic collection in well lit circumstances. I would say it’s better than my precious Blackberry’s cameras.

          Cool that you are using the 11 Pro. That thing is pretty cool. Lots of options there for basic collection. I thought about getting one but the cost is a little too far up there right now for something that I would only use for taking quick photos.

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      • Wade Shepard December 28, 2019, 10:08 am

        That’s true. Smartphones keep getting better and better as content production devices. Some of the cameras that they have now are seriously legit, with choices between wide angle and “telephoto.” I put telephoto in quotes as it’s impossible to have a true telephoto lens — which is based on length — in a device as thin as a smartphone. The one issue is typing, I believe. ios isn’t built for writing with. Just look at the copy and paste functionality or how difficult it is to move the cursor to the exact place that you want it to go. Other than that, these things can 80% of everything at 50% quality, but these numbers will surely rise soon.

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        • Jack December 29, 2019, 5:55 pm

          ARGH!!! The cursor! That is the WORST thing about using ios in typing anything is actually getting the cursor were you want to be. I hate it! And that’s truly why I don’t like typing long pieces on my iphone.

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          • Wade Shepard December 31, 2019, 8:55 am

            Definitely! This is completely mystifying for me. Don’t the engineers try out their systems before releasing them to the public? Why don’t I hear everyone complaining about this? It’s bad. Like, really, really, really bad. This was ultimately what made the SE unusable for me.

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            • Jack October 17, 2023, 8:30 pm

              I was wondering where this comment has been hiding. Good news: there was an easy fix for this all along. Hold down on the space bar and then you can move the cursor to the exact place you need it. Once I discovered this, my life became markedly better lol

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              • VBJ October 18, 2023, 9:26 am

                Whoah! Never knew this. Gonna try it.

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    • Wade Shepard December 28, 2019, 10:19 am

      Man, if you can work with that phone you can work with ANY phone haha! The SE is HARD to use, man. I ended up trying to smash mine on the ground out of frustration more than once haha. Good on you for making it work though! It’s always good to get the most out of the cheapest equipment. It’s good skill building for when you upgrade to better gear further down the road.

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  • Trevor December 25, 2019, 5:49 am

    Hey wade… whats happened to ur home page looks very weird on android device…..

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    • Wade Shepard December 27, 2019, 7:49 pm

      It’s a code that only sporadically works, which doesn’t make any sense.

      It looks fine on my Android phone.

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      • Trevor December 28, 2019, 11:29 am

        yeah the side bar was at the top and the words BLOG were some where in the middle… written downwards

        but seems to have corrected itself now..

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