The run-up to the #madebyGoogle product announcements in October probably made the Pixel 3 the most-leaked device in recent history. So much was written and shared about Google’s 3rd-Gen Pixel phones – the unanimously-agreed upon hideous notch, the colours, the potential lack of hardware changes, the excited chatter about the software/AI improvements – that seeing the phone in person felt a tad bit anticlimactic, TBH.
Actually using the Pixel 3, though, was far from underwhelming. I’ve been using the Pixel 3 XL for the past few weeks, and here’s a low-down on what the phone’s like when you’re using it 24/7. Here you go!
Let’s rank the Pixel 3 XL’s specifications on a descending scale.
The display – 10/10
The Pixel 3 XL has a drool-worthy fullscreen 6.3 inch display, and its QHD + (2960 x 1440) flexible OLED at 523 ppi screen makes everything on it pop – bright colours, muted tones, text, video, streaming content etc. The absence of a bezel-less screen and the pretty conspicuous notch and chin notwithstanding (I know, it’s a lot of stuff to disregard), the excellent display kind of makes up for these slight deficiencies.
The Camera – 10/10
Are the Pixel 3’s 12.2MP dual-pixel rear and the 8MP wide-angle front cameras the best phone cameras around? I’m sure there have been plenty of reviews comparing the Pixel cameras to the iPhone X – for me personally, the Android flagships this year have seen some of the best phone cameras, notably the Samsung S9 and the Huawei P20 Pro. Comparing the Pixel 3 with the Samsung S9 in low-light and daylight, was like a clash of the titans – with the Pixel besting the S9 because of brighter colours, better clarity, lesser saturation and colours that are closest to the real ones..
Here’s a low light comparison between the Pixel 3 XL (top) and Samsung S9 (bottom):
And here’s a daylight comparison between the Pixel 3 XL (top) and Samsung S9 (bottom):
Every photograph looks stunning on the Pixel’s display. But, beyond the pixel clarity, there’s also a bunch of new features and enhancements to existing ones, that make the Pixel 3 camera a super-fun gadget all on its own.
The ‘Photobooth’ mode, which essentially allows you to take a photo with just your smile, is like a godsend for selfie-amateurs like myself. All I had to do was turn on the mode, press start, and Photobooth recognised when I wanted a photo based on when I smiled. You’ll never complain about short arms or a lack of a selfie stick from now on!
‘Playground’ was my other favourite mode on the Pixel camera – combining AR and emojis, the Playground feature is something you can easily lose an hour over, each time you explore it. The Playmoji selection is pretty cool (Star Wars, Marvel and Stranger Things characters, among others) and you can use it in the selfie or normal camera mode, for photos and videos. Whether it’s posing with Captain America, fighting a demogorgon, pretending like The Hulk is rampaging through your home or having a Stormtrooper pose next to your precious collectables – bottom line is, you’re going to have a ton of fun!
Group selfies look great with the Pixel 3, and the Super Res Zoom lens works better than any other phone camera I’ve seen. The Pixel 3 also continues the ‘Motion’ feature for photos that Google introduced with the Pixel 2, and I absolutely love it! No more stitching together three or more similar shots to create an animation – Google Photos allows you to save these Motion-captured photos in a GIF format, and you’re ready to go.
So, to get back to my original question – does the Pixel 3 have the best smartphone camera on the market? Short answer – based on your requirements, it might just!
There’s also unlimited online photo storage with Google Photos, which deserves a 10/10 no questions asked. All the photos you take on the Pixel 3 get uploaded to Google Photos in their original quality, and you know how useful that is if you’re the kind of person who takes 1500 photos on a week-long trip!
The design – 9/10
The Pixel 3 XL has an aluminium frame with a “hybrid” coating, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, a soft touch glass on the back and is water and dust resistant.
Simply put, the phone looks and feels great in your hands – not quite as beautiful as the Huawei P20 Pro or the Oppo Find X, but also not as fussy as the latter. The soft touch glass finish on the back is almost matte and has a lovely touch.
My review unit was in the “Not Pink” colour (Google’s ironic naming continues with the Pixel 3 – both the 3 and the 3 XL come in “Just Black”, “Clearly White”, and the new “Not Pink” colours) and the blush-toned millennial hue grew on me the more I used the phone. The power button is painted a bright orange colour for the Not Pink (it’s a mint-green shade for the Clearly White and a normal black for the Just Black) and adds a subtle pop of colour to the device. I still miss my sparkle-back Nexus 4 from 5-6 years ago and a part of me wishes Google would add the luminescent sparkle to its Pixel phones as well, but this will do for now.
The finger-touch sensor on the back of the Pixel 3 works exceedingly well, and on a slight side-note, so does the keyboard (I use Gboard).
The battery – 8.5/10
The Pixel 3 XL’s 3430 mAh battery is supposed to last up to 7 hours on the go, with just 15 minutes of fast charging. I wasn’t quite able to test the purported 11 hours of video playback, but the battery lasted really well throughout – I used the phone for pretty much everything (except my nightly Netflix true crime or documentary binge in bed, but I’ll come to that later) and a quick 15-20 minute juice (wired charging) would last me all day long.
My review unit also included the Pixel Stand (which you’ll have to buy separately) and it was pretty useful having it on my bedside cabinet while the phone charged wirelessly – it turned the Pixel 3 into some sort of time and temperature display unit.
All that’s “meh”
The Pixel Stand – 7/10
Now you might wonder – I just said the Pixel Stand was useful, so why then am I categorising it as “meh” and giving it a 7 on 10. Fair enough, the Pixel Stand certainly does what it’s supposed to do – it charges your phone wirelessly, you can customise the experiences on your device once it’s docked, and you can also use the Pixel 3 as a virtual photo frame when it’s docked and charging on the Pixel Stand (just set one of your Google Photos album as your screensaver).
It does all of that quite well. The thing that underwhelmed me about the Pixel Stand is its design – it’s a robust single piece that ships the way it stands, so you’re essentially getting a bigger-than-is-necessary box when you order it. That also means the Pixel Stand is not the easiest travel accessory, unlike the really well-designed Samsung S9 wireless charging dock that folds into a neat round disc when it’s not being used to charge the phone. It just seems like the Pixel Stand was an afterthought, as if someone who was in charge of it had dropped the ball and remembered it just days before the launch, and then rushed to shoddily put something together. It still works, sure; but it could, nay, should have been soooo much better!
Pixel USB-C earbuds – 7/10
Again, the Pixel 3’s USB-C earbuds are nice and Google Assistant is quite well-integrated into the audio experience (once you set it up, you can get directions, answers, information and notifications quite easily, and you can also use Google Translate for pretty savvy real-time translation), but I found myself having to switch back to my old 3.55mm headset every so often, especially during long-distance calls to family and friends.
Thankfully, the Pixel 3 box includes an upgraded USB-C to 3.55mm adaptor, which came quite handy in these instances.
The ‘Digital Wellbeing’ (Beta version) – 6/10
I know this is meant to be the epitome of the “Keep Calm and Relax” millennial ethos, and I tried to get into it by using the App Timers (meant to limit how much time you want to spend on each app) and the Wind Down feature (which reminds you to switch off at night). But I just couldn’t optimise my usage of it.
I can imagine this being pretty useful for someone who’s actually addicted to their phone and desperately needs to wean away from it, but fortunately, I don’t fall in that category and so the Digital Wellbeing feature was sort of wasted on me.
The size – 5/10
Alright, so just to be clear – this is more a personal choice than an objective statement about the Pixel 3 XL’s size. At 6.3 inches, the XL is a bit too borderline-phablet for my small hands. As a woman, I also find it remarkably tedious having to lug around a phone that size because it doesn’t fit into any of my jeans/trouser pockets. I was visibly worried each time I had to whip the phone out on the streets, to check my way on Google Maps.
As I mentioned before, the Pixel 3 XL is nowhere as fussy as the Oppo Find X or even the Huawei P20 Pro, but it’s still too large for some of us.
Home screen Launcher/Icon grouping limit – 4/10
The default Launcher on the Pixel 3 has a ‘Search’ bar which also includes the four-circle Google Assistant icon, but it takes up an inordinately large amount of space on the home screen. And you can’t remove the bar, so if you want to rid of it, you’ll have to install a separate Google-approved Launcher.
This may not be a big deal for people who have no widgets and have just five app icons on their home screen, but if you want to club multiple families of apps together into folders, or have more than five app icons on the home screen, the default Launcher will begin to feel like a fat real-estate hogging no-gooder.
Which brings me to my second point – about clubbing together similar apps. If, like me, you’re used to clubbing a bunch of familial apps together, then the Pixel 3 (despite its screen size) will leave you scrambling. For e.g. I’ve got all my G Suite apps in one folder, arranged in order of use, so that the apps I view at first glance are the ones I use most. Samsung allows me to view 9 apps at first glance; on the Pixel 3 XL, I can club together multiple app icons, but can only view a meagre 4 at first glance.
Let me illustrate what I mean with the Samsung (left) and Pixel (right) home screens below:
Are the round folders on the Pixel 3 less space-efficient than Samsung’s square folders? Perhaps. Is there a reason why I can’t view more app icons at first glance on a 6.3 inch screen? Not that I can think of!
No Netflix – womp womp
Yup, the Pixel 3 XL (well, Android Oreo, to be fair) does not support Netflix. I don’t know if the blame lies with Google or Netflix, but I don’t really care. Just give me my Netflix fix!
Conclusion: Despite its home screen issues and (personal) drawbacks such as the cumbersome size and lack of Netflix, the Pixel 3 XL is a terrific Android phone. With the best of Android Oreo and Google Assistant at your fingertips and a remarkably brilliant display and camera that takes the most gorgeous day time and low light photos, this phone is going to take some serious hardware innovations to beat.
Personally, I’m investing in the Pixel – I’m just hoping the equally well-spec’d 5.5 inch Pixel 3 will suit me better!