Once again this year, Google is trying to hit the market hard with a new flagship device. The Pixel 3 is available as the regular Pixel and the Pixel XL once again, tries to hold the large full featured top of the line flag. Is this Pixel phone worthy of the flagship title, and is it a good iteration over the old Pixel 2 and worth the 150$ price increases over last year’s phone?
I’ve been rocking the Pixel 3 XL for the last few weeks so let’s check it out!
The Google team in charge of the Pixel 3 hit a home run in my book. They managed to keep the design close to home, while making it cleaner, nicer and still add a touch of fun with the mint green power button. Yes, I have the Clearly White model! The glass back is beautiful to look at and I love the design lines on this device. It does not scream out like the Hydrogen One while at the same time feel refined.
In terms of design esthetics, for me the Pixel 3 XL is a pure joy to look at!
The Pixel 3 XL display is now a large 6.3” AMOLED panel that, for someone using a Plus size iPhone as his day-to-day device, feels perfectly sized. The Pixel 3 XL and my iPhone in his case are eerily similar in terms of footprint. The major difference is the screen that covers a lot more of the front surface.
In terms of colours, this AMOLED display is really nice. The colours are very accurate and I don’t see any blown out greens like I saw in the past on some devices. People mentioned the skewing of some colours when you tilt the device sideways, and yes I can see this, but how often do you look at your screen at an extreme angle? Sometimes I think fanboys only try to find the smallest grain of salt in the cogs…
There is a notch, and seriously you guys need to get over this. I’ve used an iPhone X and I’ve tried a few other devices and that notch situation is so overblown I find it crazy. Yes, the display is not completely covering the top, yes it’s not perfect, but seriously, I think this is a fair compromise especially if it’s designed in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Embrace the notch, but make it look good. I’m looking at you Essential phone… 🧐
After not even a day, I totally forgot about the notch and ended up really liking the display with this notch. Just like the iPhone X, it’s not aggressive to live with this notch, especially when you consider all the tech they crammed inside this little space.
Pixel 3 Case
I really like first party case, but when I saw the announcement about the fabric-covered case I was definitely a skeptic. I was happy to see that they kept the minty green power button. I know many of you will find me weird, but I really, really like this little touch of colour on the side! ☺️
Once I got the Pixel 3 XL case on, I must say I became a convert. I was thinking of getting a rubber case or something like it, but that fabric gives just the right amount of grippyness and looks very, very good! It does not impair the ability to reach the fingerprint sensor on the back and I ended up keeping it on the device at all time!
This is one of the types of gizmos that you think you don’t really need, but… First of all, it’s inductive charging, by itself it’s a very useful feature. Second of all, Google added functionality so that once you “dock” your Pixel 3, it becomes a full fledge Google Home device responding to “OK, Google” queries. Great idea! This basically replaces the Google Mini people were putting on their desk. And finally, it includes 10W charging allowing you to charge your Pixel 3 XL quickly for when you place your phone on your desk for short amount of time.
Bonus idea, I really dig. Google made sure that it can display your best photos as full-screen while charging. It really looks good as a mini wallpaper display!
This charging stand packs in quite a punch. It can charge your phone fast with 10W of power delivery, as opposed to the regular 5W on Qi chargers and 7W with Apple’s fast inductive charging. But when you set your phone on it, you have the choice to enable the Google Assistant mode of the phone where your Pixel 3 actually becomes a full fledge Google Home assistant! It responds to your voice with the classic “OK, Google!”.
The stand is made of high-quality materials and shares the same design esthetics as the Pixel itself. It’s white and looks great just by itself. If you get a Pixel phone, I would strongly suggest you get this also.
Just like some of the HTC phones, the Pixel 3 has the Active Edge technology that allows you to trigger an action by squeezing the phone in your hand. Thankfully you can set the intensity of the squeeze so it does not trigger all the time and so it does not require a Hulk level squeeze to work. Sadly, all it can do is trigger the Google Assistant and when you are receiving a phone call, a squeeze will silence the call. Not bad, but more customization would be welcome.
- Amazing new camera system and features
- Google Assitant and Assistant Mode on dock
- Fast charging compatible; including on Pixel Stand
- Screen Time to manage your phone usage
- Titan M security chip
- 6.3-inch QHD+ OLED at 523ppi
- 12.2 MP f/1.8 dual-pixel camera
- 8 MP wide-angle (f/2.2) and telephoto cameras (f/1.8)
- Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 845
- 4GB of RAM
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, a slightly more powerful CPU than the one in the Pixel 2, the Pixel 3 XL is not a slouch. It’s very responsive and the overall experience is great. Some features, especially games, could benefit from a newer CPU like the 850; which is simply an overclocked version of the 845 currently in the Pixel 3. If this was the only change from last year, most of the new camera features would be impossible to use. For that specifically, Google introduced a new Pixel Visual Core chip that supercharges most of the photo-taking capabilities of the Pixel 3.
Be it the HDR+, Top Shot, Portrait Mode and the Night Sight features, all of these would be significantly slower without the Pixel Visual Core helping crunch these calculations! This brings us to what many considered the biggest changes to the Pixel phones this year… the camera!
The actual sensor is not much different from the one in the Pixel 2. Most of the new Pixel 3 features are or will be back ported to the Pixel 2 in the coming months. The more processor intense features will not be back ported because they need the Pixel Visual Core 3 to be able to function in a relatively fast fashion and for some, like the Top Shot feature, it is still MIA.
Let’s take the Night Sight mode, where you take a low light or even nighttime photo and after the magic processing, it’s almost as if it was taken during the day! If you quickly go to Photos after taking the photo, you will see the original version and an overlay marked “Processing…”; then after a few seconds you actually see the processed version. This only takes a few seconds, but I’m sure it would take another 5-10 on the Pixel 2. Compared to the processing done on the iPhone XS, I agree it’s not as intense, but Apple was able to cram the processing right in the viewfinder. Therefore you see the resulting pic even before you click the shutter button. If Google could have more powerful silicone, they could even do the same!
The quality of the images taken by the Pixel 3 XL are quite simply amazing. Sharp and with well-balanced colours, always. It’s a real joy to look at! Quite literally, dSLR level! When working with hard conditions, even without the Night Sight feature, it really gives out superior photos. It does so very fast and even features like the Portrait Mode works great. On the Pixel, this is all software achieved since it only has a single camera lens. The way Google approaches things with its Portrait algorithm has always been one of the best and the Pixel 3 XL gives out amazing results.
From my recordings, the 4K video looks good, but when you have such a powerful photo camera, you are kind of expecting something amazing on the video side. Don’t get me wrong, if you mix the Pixel XL camera with a nice Moment Case and a wide-angle lens, you will be able to take amazing videos. I was just expecting more.
You can record 4K30p and 1080p/120p (60p or 30p). The often preferred 24p is nowhere to be found.
This feature needs to be discussed a bit more. The camera actually takes a bunch of shots and then processes the result to make sure it can leverage the best of all the pictures. It eliminates all of the noise and really makes the image look as if they were taken during the day. It’s not perfect and you can clearly identify those photos as being taken with Night Sight mode ON. However, for the situations where you are missing a small amount of light, it’s really great!
Here’s a bunch of examples taken with the Pixel’s regular camera, then with the Nightsight feature ON and finally with an iPhone 7 Plus.
The camera is great but what’s even better is the second selfie camera that is equipped with a wide-angle glass. This allows you to fit a lot more good people or landscape in your photos. It’s like if you arm became more than twice its current length all of a sudden!
I’m not a big selfie guy, but I can see the appeal and this will be well received by many!
Android 9.0 Pie
Google is really getting their shit together with separating most of the OS features into single apps, like the laughter or the camera. This way more and more people, even those without an available Android update, can have a close to vanilla experience with Android the way Google intended it to be. And that OS is really good. Coming from an iOS user, this is high praise. I am at a point where I can recommend Android as much as iOS to anyone, it’s solid, stable, feature full and tries novel ideas that are pushing both OSes forward.
Price and Value
The price is, however, the pain point. This Pixel 3 XL tested starts at 899$ for the 64GB model and 999$ for the 128GB model. I complained about the iPhone XS prices and I will complain about the Pixel’s price too. The jump from the iPhone X to iPhone XS does not warrant such a big increase in price and similarly, Google decided to do the same thing with the Pixel and raised the price for no apparent reason. The Pixel 2 XL was 749$ when it came out last year.
Apple started the trend of raising prices and it really seems other manufacturers like Samsung and Google followed suit. Not a good idea, in my opinion. At least, you could get a free Pixel Stand when you pre-ordered the phone so that’s a 79$ consolation prize.
The Pixel 3 XL, is such a great device, I was hoping the price would stay the same so that it could get even more units sold since even the Samsung Galaxy is a 1,099$ phone. The Pixel is cheaper, but being kept at 749$, it would have been quite a hook into Samsung’s jaw!
Overall, the Pixel 3 XL is the definitive Android phone to get this year; at least until now! According to many the Google Pixel 2 camera was still the best camera on a smartphone before the Pixel 3 came out and now, with the new smarts in this camera, the Pixel 3 phones are now even further ahead the competition! I strongly recommend the Pixel 3 XL to anyone looking for a great phone!
The camera and the work the Visual Core chip is doing is quite simply incredible. Just look at the sliders of photos up there for quite impressive examples. Google hit hard with Top Shot, Super Res Zoom and the nice wide selfie camera. All of which have a wide aperture and powered by Google’s custom silicone we achieve results that basically keep it in the Top 1 position on the market!
The performance of this phone is great even if it does not have the best CPU when it got release, but with a full-day battery life and quick charging you will definitely not feel constrained! And Google is behind its product 100% having release multiple great updates since the phone was released. Including one that caused apps to be closed due to a high memory consumption issue when using the camera and its powerful algorithms.
If you are looking for an Android phone this year, this is the phone to get! And if you are curious about Google or would like to switch to Android for a change, you will have a great experience!
- Great design
- Awesomest camera
- Latest and greatest Android
- Quality accessories
- Photos taken needs processing (no live view of the results)
- Price increase is exagerated
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