Google’s vision of what a perfect smartphone should be is simple. They want each user to have “their own personal Google,” which makes the Google Pixel 3 the boldest attempt at harnessing the computational power of Google in a device you carry in your pocket.
Third-generation hardware. In terms of hardware, the Pixel line of phones has not been the most inspired or luxurious to come to market. The first Pixel looked and felt like a Soviet-designed prototype, the second generation had some flourishes such as two-tone colors and bright sleep/wake buttons, but still fell short in some smartphone aficionados’ eyes.
Despite the decent and recognizable design, the Pixel 2 still felt tied to old school smartphone design. No water resistance, no wireless charging, and only a single camera? What’s up with that?
The Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL correct the course with an all-glass body to enable wireless charging. These new Pixels are water-resistant with a respectable IP86 rating. And we now have dual front-facing cameras for widescreen selfies, even as we retain the single 12-megapixel camera in the rear.
The Pixel design language, ostensibly based on Android’s own Material Design framework, is clearly evidenced in the Pixel 3 line. The aesthetic is all about subtlety and nuance, texture and levels, and it translates well on to hardware.
The Pixel 3 XL has great hand feel. The glass back is etched to offer two distinct textures: a high gloss finish and a grippier matte treatment. This feels like the most luxurious Pixel yet. But the glass will pick up scratches and microabrasions as soon as you remove it from the packaging.
It was thoughtful for Google to include a nice fabric case for my Pixel 3 XL, that’s where the phone will live until I can get Urban Armor Gear’s rugged case. As lavish and smooth as this phone is, it will require a case for protection.
Having a smartphone that’s encased in glass has its benefits including a more organic feel, better antenna transmission, and wireless charging. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that Pixel 3 is more delicate than its polycarbonate or metal predecessors.
The same can be said for the iPhone Xs and any recent Samsung flagship, which also tout all-glass designs front and back.
Software leads the way. Google has flexed its computational muscle as the key advantage of the Pixel 3. Android P on the Pixel 3 XL simply flies and is a prime example of what a great mobile operating system matched with the right hardware can do.
Android P comes alive on the Pixel 3 and offers a seamless, sleek, and instantaneous experience. Everything from opening apps, multitasking, taking photos and videos, as well as invoking Google Assistant happens quickly with no perceptible lag.
Because of the great software implementation, the Pixel 3 XL is quite manageable even if it is a large smartphone with a 6.3-inch display.
The notch. The Pixel 3 XL has a sizeable notch that breaks up the symmetry of an otherwise edge-to-edge design. This notch is deeper than what you’d see on the iPhone X line of phones or any of the various copycats in the market.
There are two good reasons for the notch on the Pixel 3, it is the placement of dual front-facing cameras that can offer wide-angle selfie shots. Now, many pundits seem to be getting bent out of shape because of the notch but like with most smartphones bearing this feature, it is something one gets used to.
Google will offer the option to hide the notch on the Pixel 3XL using software, but by doing so, you miss out on the other information that can be displayed in that area.
I can see how some may be dismayed at the presence of a notch. But trust me, just like with the iPhone X a year ago, you soon get used to it.
Display dominance. The notch removes focus on the new OLED display, which is stunning and a superb update over the Pixel 2 XL’s muddy and dim display. The Pixel 3 XL’s 6.3-inch QHD+ OLED display with a 523ppi pixel density is superb and rivals the best that Samsung and Apple have to offer on their large format phones.
Not only is this large display immersive and great to look at, it is super responsive to touch with no perceptible lag even when navigating HD videos.
Displays by themselves are half of the experience when consuming content. Google has also looked after the sound aspect of the Pixel 3 XL. The front-facing stereo speakers are surprisingly loud, clear, and well-defined. Google says they are as loud as the speaker on a Google Home Mini and I must agree.
I really enjoyed watching videos and listening to music on the Pixel 3 XL and found the combination of a large and lavish display plus the full sound of the front-firing stereo speakers to be exceptionally executed.
These speakers are tuned by a Grammy-award winning producer and you just need to listen to them in person to experience how awesome they sound.
Camera magic. The crowning glory of the Pixel line since its inception has been its camera performance. While the competition is adding multiple cameras to their devices to approximate performance from DSLRs, Google is relying on computational photography.
The Pixel 3 line has a lot to live up to, the Pixel 2 is still a heavy favorite for best smartphone camera. This will likely continue with the Pixel 3 XL, which adds a prodigious number of features to what is already an outstanding set of shooters.
The dual front-facing cameras, designed for taking wide-angle selfies, are outstanding and give wide-screen selfie or group shots without requiring a selfie stick.
The wide-angle front-facing camera of the Pixel 3 XL makes it possible to get stunning group selfie without a selfie stick.
The 12-megapixel rear camera is still a lone wolf, but it brings some astounding capabilities including improved low-light photos, computational zoom functionality, and motion tracking for video. Top Shot is a new feature with the ability to take a range of photos as well as suggest the best image from the bunch.
Taking photos with the Pixel 3 XL is delightful. Having shot images in various conditions including on a bright day, dark evening, and indoors, I’ve been able to produce photos I would not have been able to capture on other smartphone cameras.
The big advantage of the Pixel 3 XL is the implementation of AI or machine learning into the photo capture. Multiple images are taken in succession and processed in-device for the best possible outcome.
The most important feature for me is that the photo quality is consistent and natural. Whatever computations juju Google uses to shoot the best photos does not overly process or filter the images. The result is stunning and print-ready photos worth sharing and showing off.
Video recording on the Pixel 3 XL is also super impressive as the camera has advanced optical image stabilization that does an outstanding job of curbing handheld video shake.
AI dynamo. Google includes the USB Type-C headphones in the box with the Pixel 3 XL. More than providing decent audio for calls or music playback, these headphones can read back notifications and can even be used for Google Translate translation on the phone.
Just tap the button on the buds and say, “Hey Google, help me translate Japanese.” If the language pack is installed, you can get instant translation even without access to the internet.
Other cool features are quick wireless charging with the Pixel Stand. This also turns the Pixel 3 XL into a Google Home with the ability to show the latest news, recent photos from Google Photos, and interface with existing smart home devices.
Google could have just made a powerful and fast Qi charger, but they went the extra mile by creating a delightful range of functionality so your phone does more than just sit there and charge.
Once more, Google’s push for software and services shines through what could have been a mundane accessory experience.
The Pixel 3 XL and its smaller brother, the Pixel 3 can be considered the first true “Made by Google” smartphones in that they’ve not been outsourced to LG or HTC. What we have now under the Pixel brand is a confluence of smartphone pedigree. You have the influence of Nexus and influences from Motorola as well as HTC, which Google has pulled collectively under its devices. The result is a cohesive, purposeful, and effective culmination of Google’s best software services encapsulated in the best hardware it has created. The Pixel 3 XL as a device is an outstanding achievement in terms of performance, display technology, as well as the industry’s best computational camera. This makes the Pixel 3 XL currently the best Android smartphone in the market right now and a definite contender for 2018’s phone of the year.
Display: 6.3” P-OLED HDR capacitive, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 (2,960 × 1,440 resolution)
SIM: Dual (nano + eSIM)
Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
GPU: Adreno 630
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 64GB/128GB internal
Cameras: Rear – 12.2MP with f/1.8 aperture, 28mm (wide), 1.4µm, OIS, dual pixel PDAF, up to 2160p@30fps video; Front – Dual 8MP with f/1.8 aperture, 28mm (wide), PDAF + 8MP with f/2.2 aperture, 19mm (ultra-wide), Auto HDR, 1080p@30fps
Connectivity & I/O ports: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot; Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE, aptX HD; GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO; NFC; USB 3.1; Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
Security: Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor
Other features: IP68 dust-/water-resistant
Battery: Non-removable Li-Po 3,430mAh, fast charging, Qi wireless support
Dimensions & weight: 158 x 76.7 x 7.9mm, 184g
Price: US$899/P47,600 approx. (64GB), $999/P52,900 (128GB)