I went to buy a Google Pixel 3A. T-Mobile tried to put me off

This is the first time T-Mobile is selling a Google Pixel phone. The sales pitch may need a little work.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

A good phone. But how should it be sold?

Angela Lang/CNET

It sounded like a revolution.

Well, a small one. Like suddenly eating oatmeal for breakfast instead of a Starbucks double-bacon sandwich.

The Google Pixel 3a seemed to offer an exciting mixture of nice phone and a (relatively) reasonable price.

Indeed, my colleague Jason Cipriani was quite enamored with its big, relatively inexpensive sister, the memorably named Pixel 3A XL.

Pixel phones have usually been the domain of Verizon. Indeed, not so long ago a Verizon salesman gave me an astute reason for buying the Pixel 3 -- that it's not an iPhone.

Now, however, you can peruse a Pixel at, among other places, T-Mobile. So I went to one of its fine stores to see how it was being sold.

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The two reasons to buy a Pixel 3A, apparently.

I've always found T-Mobile stores to be full of extremely cheery, relaxed staff.

In this case, a saleswoman was only too delighted to walk me over to the Pixel 3A display.

The phone was bolted down and in manacles.

"May I pick it up?" I asked. "I promise I won't steal it."

The engaging saleswoman was happy to help and I managed to get at least some of my hand around it. It's always hard in phone stores to get the feel of a phone when it's attached to a large cable, via a bulbous bulge on the back of the phone.

Still, the Pixel 3A felt lighter than my iPhone XR and looked slightly thinner.

"So why should I buy this phone?" I prodded.

"Two things," said the saleswoman. "The camera and the memory."

This wasn't quite the twosome I'd expected, but I wasn't going to interrupt.

"The camera is just the same as the one in the more expensive Pixel," the saleswoman continued. "It takes really good pictures."

I'd heard this and believe it. Well, almost. This Pixel 3A camera does have Night Sight and that's quite a sophisticated thing.

I was, though, a little more intrigued about the memory aspect. This wasn't something I'd often heard as an inducement.

"With iPhones, if you get 32 gigs or whatever, that's it. With my Android, I can put a new SSD card in and get, say, 256 gigs."

Ah, OK.

Then, a twist.

She pulled out her Galaxy S9 and began to tell me how much she loved it.

But wait, I came in here to ask about the Pixel 3A.

It's always fascinated me how often phone store salespeople insist the phone they have themselves is the best phone.

This saleswoman, however, did possess objectivity.

"If you've got an iPhone now, maybe you shouldn't get one of these Pixels," she said. "I've had so many people try Android for a couple of days and then come and say, 'I just don't like it.' Or 'I can't get it to work.'"

Yes, but why is it so cheap?

Still, she couldn't say enough about her wonderful S9.

One of the main reasons she loved it? The headphone jack. She has Samsung Buds, but they often run out of charge, so she whips out her headphones and uses the music for motivation to clean or do housework.

"So does this Pixel 3A have a headphone jack?" I wondered. 

"No, it doesn't."

I looked at the phone and concluded that it likely does. Which made me wonder whether T-Mobile has really trained its staff for this new phone as well as it has for some of the other phones.

This isn't to criticize this saleswoman. She was extremely enjoyable company. She just clearly wasn't completely familiar with the phone. She found it hard to find Chrome on the home screen. She also suggested it had the same processor as her S9, which didn't sound entirely right. (My spec experts tell me we're talking 2.0 GHz vs 2.7. Whatever that means.)

She did, though, manage to avoid some of the negatives of the Pixels 3A, such as no water resistance and no wireless charging.

"Why is it so cheap, if it's such a good phone?" I asked.

She looked at me and shrugged.

"Maybe it's because it's a smaller brand and they want more people to buy it," she said. "They probably bought a lot of the parts from Samsung anyway." Then she added it was actually better than my iPhone XR because the Pixel 3A has an OLED screen, while the XR enjoys a mere LCD.

Still, I wasn't quite buying her tone. I could tell she loved her Samsung and wanted to sell me one of those.

For myself, I found the Pixel 3A a breath of fresh air, in that it was inexpensive but could just about pass for something costing at least a little more.

There is, I confess, one thing about it that says cheap. It's something I never expected to say.

The Pixel 3A doesn't have a notch, the element that was once thought to be a blight on the firmament and now signifies more cameras and sensors than behind the goal at a World Cup Final.

At $399, this phone surely has a chance to attract a new market, but somehow this saleswoman didn't seem sold herself.

She accepted my relative enthusiasm and suggested a package that would cost me around $100 a month, including $16.68 for the phone.

I said I'd think about it. 

But, as if realizing she hadn't quite made the sale, she tried one more shot.

As I was walking out the door, she shouted: "We also have cable."

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