Google has made a big move in the smartphone market. But whether it's the right one for business owners isn't so easy to answer.

Google unveiled its new Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL smartphones at its Google I/O keynote address on Tuesday. The devices are designed to complement the Google Pixel 3 the company launched last year, but come with less-powerful components and far more affordable prices. Some reviewers have called them midrange smartphones -- an apt term for what you get.

In a world of high-priced smartphones, cheaper models don't often get a fair shake. That's because they often come with less powerful processors and outdated designs, and the vendor producing them usually doesn't give them much attention.

And that might be especially true in a corporate world where functionality, power, and usability trumps everything else. A productive employee is a profitable employee. And handing that employee an underpowered smartphone to get work done can be a big mistake.

That's why Apple's iPhones have made such an impact in the corporate world and why BlackBerry phones were so popular for so long.

But can Google's new Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL succeed where previous Pixel models have failed?

It's possible.

A compelling handset

What Google got right in its Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL is the balance between price and value. Whereas Google's competitors, like Apple and Samsung, have rushed to the premium market where phones cost $1,000 or more, Google is going to the end of the market where a $399 Pixel 3a and $479 Pixel 3a XL sound like bargains.

After all, both phones come with solid designs that should appeal to most shoppers. And although they run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor that won't impress you with its performance, that's enough to perform the vast majority of smartphone tasks with ease. Better yet, the devices are running a standard version of Google's latest Android operating system, Android Pie.

Arguably, the Pixel 3a lineup's most compelling feature is its camera. With a collection of features like Night Sight and Portrait Mode -- which let you take great-looking nighttime shots and human subject photos, respectively -- it's a real winner. And those who have reviewed the smartphone have said the camera is second to none.

But let's get back to that price.

For $399 to start, you're getting a smartphone that can do much of what a high-end iPhone or Android-based device can do, at a fraction of the price. And, at least on the camera side of things, it's a cheap smartphone that can perform better than any other device you might compare it with.

The cost of cheap

That said, there's a cost to buying a budget-friendly smartphone. The device, after all, is budget-friendly for a reason: It doesn't have the same kind of power you'd get in an iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy S10. And if your company or employees (or even you) need that additional power to work with sophisticated corporate apps, the Pixel 3a lineup just isn't for you.

I should also note that while the Pixel 3a lineup has a reasonable design that won't spark distaste, it's not necessarily a good-looking device, either. And in a world where notches -- the small black bars at the top of a bezel-less screen that house the earpiece and front-facing camera -- are all the rage, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL look rather obsolete in comparison.

So, what's the best solution for you?

Truth be told, it comes down to what you really care about. If you want to save some serious cash on a smartphone and really care about taking better-looking pictures, opt for the Pixel 3a or Pixel 3a XL. But if you want something more powerful -- and far more capable of handling sophisticated apps -- look elsewhere.

Published on: May 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.