Google Pixel 3 Pixel 3 XL review
GOOGLE PIXEL 3 – PIXEL 3 XL REVIEW
- PROS • Great camera • Much-improved screen • Premium build quality • Best Android software experience on the market
- CONS • Bezels and notch spoil its looks • Average battery life • Not a big enough upgrade over Pixel 2 especially for the high price
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are Google’s latest attempt at taking on the ever-increasing array of Android smartphones that seem to launch on an almost weekly basis.
And with the technology giant producing both the Pixel hardware and software you’d expect these new devices to be top of the class.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL both go on sale early next month but Express.co.uk has been putting these new call makers through their paces and here’s what we love and hate about Google’s latest and greatest smartphones.
THE PIXEL 3 DESIGN
If you were hoping for a radical new look you’re going to be hugely disappointed.
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL appear incredibly similar to last year’s phones with their two-tone rear case offering a unique appearance over their shiny glass rivals.
From the back, we actually quite like the look of this device and it certainly gives Google a unique style that breaks away from the current trend.
This case is now also covered in a matt-effect glass which finally allows the phone to be charged without the need for annoying wires.
And Google has been clever as, unlike almost all of the competition, its soft-touch finish means it doesn’t get covered in fingerprints.
The name ‘soft touch’ may sound like some irritating marketing talk but this device is refined and really pleasant to hold.
From the rear the Pixels keep their unique style
It’s a huge improvement of the plastic-style casing of the Pixel 2 and is possibly one of the nicest feeling phones on the market right now.
There’s so much to love about the rear of the Pixel, but all of that good work is undone the minute you spin the phone around.
The standard Pixel 3 arrives sporting two huge bezels top and bottom which makes it look like it’s stuck in 2015.
Almost every other manufacturer is pushing the boundaries of screen design and it’s baffling that Google is sticking with this old-fashioned apperance.
The Pixel 3 XL gets a more dramatic design upgrade but things aren’t great for this phone either.
Despite adding an edge-to-edge screen, there’s still a hefty chin at the base of this device and then there’s that notch.
Since Apple released its iPhone X last year, there’s been plenty of controversy about this design.
Many other Android phones have copied the notch but nobody has produced something quite as ugly as Google.
A flash of colour appears on some versions of the phone
The Pixel 3 XL’s notch is so deep and, like a giant spot on your face, it’s almost impossible to ignore.
We’ve never had a problem with any notch until this one and it spoils what is otherwise a decent looking phone.
Apart from this dire design choice, everything else is positive about the look and feel of the Pixel.
All the buttons and fingerprint scanner are in the right place, the camera bump is small and there’s even a flash of colour on the power button which we really like.
We’ve been left a little baffled by Google’s decisions and sadly it makes their new phones look like they are from the past and certainly not the future.
The XL’s notch is an ugly addition to this phone
The Pixel 3 features larger bezels at the top and bottom of the phone
Apart from that notch, the new displays are excellent on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Last year’s phones were dogged with complaints of a blue tint affecting the screen but that appears to be all fixed on this latest flagship.
If you opt for the Pixel 3 you’ll get a Fullscreen 5.5-inch full HD+ OLED display with a 443ppi.
Those opting for the more expensive XL get a slightly improved experience with this device packing a 6.3-inch QHD+ OLED screen with a 523ppi resolution.
Both devices feature always-on technology which shows time, date, weather and basic notifications when the phone is in standby mode.
Pixel 3 is also certified by the UHDA as a Premium HDR device which certainly helps when you manage to track any High Dynamic Range-ready content down.
The overall viewing experience of the Pixels are really good with content popping through the screen with plenty of contrast and colour.
However, as we said in the previous design section, it’s just such a shame about the bezels and notch.
With other manufacturers taking their displays to almost every inch of the device we can’t help feeling Google should have done a little better.
These black bars and notch interfere with what is otherwise a fabulous display.
The Pixel 3 and XL feature a single rear camera
THOSE NEW CAMERAS
Put simply, the Pixel 3 has the best rear camera on a smartphone right now.
Images captured on both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL easily fooled people into thinking they were from a DSLR.
Since the release of the original Pixel back in 2016 Google has consistently focused the spotlight on what its cameras are capable of.
And unlike its flagship rivals, the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL feature only a single 12.2-megapixel rear sensor, meaning there is no telephoto, wide-angle or monochrome lenses present.
But that does not hinder either Google device from producing some of the best images we have ever taken on a smartphone.
The American tech giant’s use of software to add bokeh effects and implement HDR are unparalleled, resulting in masterfully crisp and colourful shots that retain glorious amounts of detail.
The Pixel 3’s camera is excellent and copes with all levels of light
Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL feature auto-focus tracking, meaning unpredictable moving objects can be photographed without any blur whatsoever.
During our testing, we were able to capture clear and sharp pictures of leaves, plants and flowers blowing in the most aggressive of wind conditions.
Pixel 3 excels when the light is favourable but is incredibly talented at producing shots in the face of direct sun and in the dark.
Low-light performance is exceptional on the Pixel 3 and that is before Google’s “Night Sight” mode arrives next month the firm has insisted will forgo the need for the device’s flash entirely.
We were amazed by the clarity produced by the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL time and time again in dark environments.
The device does a great job at minimising grain and tames light extraordinarily well to prevent images from being blown out.
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL’s lack of any secondary telephoto sensor means zooming in is worse than on competing flagships however.
During the unveiling of the new products Google boasted about the level of clarity able to be achieved using a digital zoom – however the software on show here simply cannot match a secondary sensor dedicated to such a feature.
So while Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL have the best main sensor on a camera we have tested, other flagships with multiple sensors certainly have more to offer in terms of features and shot variety.
Google Pixel 3 is capable of recording 4K video at 30-frames-per-second and we found footage to be smooth with awesome levels of clarity.
It is worth noting the microphone here is certainly not the best when compared to rival flagships, meaning Pixel 3 may not be the best smartphone if you really enjoy capturing video for Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook.
Moreover, in quiet environments we noticed a strange static noise in some of our videos that was not only bizarre, but also frustrating.
Pixel 3 camera test
Google Pixel 3 camera test
And the lack of 4K recording at 60-frames-per-second will be a deal-breaker for some people.
While Pixel 3 sticks to a single rear camera sensor, Google has opted to bring in two front-facing lenses this time around.
What is most immediately striking about the front modules are how large they are compared to other hardware on the market.
Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL come with a main 8-megapixel and a secondary 8-megapixel pixel sensor with the latter offering a wide-angle field of view.
The extra camera real estate means more people can be crammed into your photos and we found ourselves taking advantage of it more than we thought thanks to the unique feel of view provided.
Pixel 3 delivers some of the best selfie shots we have seen on a smartphone with a score of details retained across the board.
However, we did notice in some lower-light instances the phone appeared to smooth over our skin more than we would like.
Pixel 3 camera test
Google Pixel 3 camera test
Pixel 3 camera test
Portrait mode shots on both the front and rear cameras look sublime with the latter performing the best overall.
Google has added in a toggle this year to allow users to alter the level of bokeh provided which is greatly appreciated.
Overall the Pixel 3 certainly takes the crown for having the most accurate Portrait mode shots on a smartphone right now.
Moreover, the camera app on the Pixel 3 itself has been redesigned with Google opting for a swipe-based interface.
The software is extremely simple to use and has been enhanced with Google Lens functionality.
Although Lens integration was touted as a highlight feature by Google during the unveiling of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, we found the feature to be surprisingly hit or miss.
The iPhone XS Max,left, v Pixel 3, right, in a low light selfie test
Google Lens is now baked into the phone
While Lens was able to correctly identify a pair of trainers and provide its price and a link to buy them, it was not able to fully detect a pair of headphones, instead suggesting they were simply “audio equipment”.
However, when the feature does work it is incredibly quick and is extremely handy to have.
And with future software update sure to sort out the current niggles we have with Lens, we are very excited about its integration with the Pixel 3’s camera system.
Google has also implemented a score of other modes on the camera; some of these are useful and others are far more gimmicky and will probably only be harnessed a handful of times during your ownership of the device.
Top Shot promises to provide the ultimate solution for blurry photos and for the times a subject is blinking.
If you snap an image on Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL that is far from optimal, the device will ask if you want to swap it out for a better one.
Google achieves this with its motion feature that captures moments before and after you hit the shutter button, acting as the ultimate safety net for smartphone photographers.
Photo booth automatically takes photos when it detects a subject is smiling and while the premise is fun and quirky, it did not take us long to forget such a mode existed entirely.
Lastly, there is a new AR feature called Playground that can summon virtual characters such as Marvel icon Iron Man.
While this mode offers a full five seconds of excitement is unfortunately just as forgettable.
SPEED AND BATTERY
It’s no secret the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL do not come with industry-leading spec sheets.
Instead, both devices come with a relatively predictable Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB of RAM.
However, both flagships deliver some of the fastest performance you can get on Android, and that’s because both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL bear close similarity to Apple’s iPhone.
That is because Google has put together both the hardware and Android operating system the phone is running, and the results are an obvious level of synergy that breeds exceptional speeds.
Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are able to blitz through Android 9 Pie even under the most intense of loads and during our usage, we never experience an instance where the phone stuttered or kept us waiting.
However, the fact both devices employ a Snapdragon 845 processor does leave us slightly worried Google’s smartphone entry will be trumped as soon as Qualcomm announces its next-generation chipset.
The manufacturer is expected to show off its next mobile platform towards the end of the year and will surely provide a noticeable improvement from its 845 unit.
Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL review
It is expected Qualcomm will build its next chip using a 7nanometre process that is currently used by Apple for its A12 Bionic processor and Huawei for its Kirin 980.
Pixel 3 comes with a 2915mAh battery while the larger Pixel 3 XL has a 3430mAh pack.
The former struggled to make it through an entire day during our testing and was only able to survive if we limited our usage or adjusted battery settings.
Thankfully, Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 support incredibly quick wired charging with Google insisting 7 hours of usage can be attained in just 15minutes.
While we did not achieve that, we were impressed with how quickly our devices were able to recover juice.
Wireless pads can also be used with the Pixel 3, but Google has heavily promoted its Pixel Stand as the ultimate way to charge the device.
Pixel Stand supports fast wireless charging, but the main appeal of the accessory is its integration with the Pixel 3.
When Pixel 3 is placed on the device a Google Assistant icon will appear at the bottom of the screen, alerting the user an “okay Google” command will summon the helper.
The Pixel’s come packed with Android 9 Pie features
ANDROID 9 PIE
Android 9 Pie comes pre-installed on Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL and is immediately noticeable.
That is because on both flagships the traditional Android home, back and multitasking buttons have been shunned in favour of gesture controls.
A half swipe on the home screen will bring up the array of applications you have open while a full swipe displays your app drawer.
However, we frequently found ourselves struggling to reach our app drawer after what we would consider to be a full swipe only opened our multitasking view.
A back button is displayed at the bottom of the device when context calls for it, meaning the new way of navigation is not entirely gesture-based.
While the interface takes some getting used to, we ultimately found ourselves enjoying it more than the old three-button prompts.
Adaptive battery is another headline feature in the software and while the premise of the feature is admirable, it still did not allow us to get through an entire day of usage with the smaller Pixel 3.
Call screening was touted by the Mountain View firm as the ultimate way to deal with telemarketers and scammers.
Instead of having to answer, the Google Assistant will pick up the phone for you and ask why the call was made.
The responses from the caller will then be transcribed in real-time by the virtual helper.
Then, the user can decide whether they want to hang up or answer the call.
Demos shown of the feature in action are incredibly tantalising and have us incredibly excited for it.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL will go on sale next month
Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL pack a ton of futuristic software tricks, but neither come cheap.
Pixel 3 starts at £739 for the 64GB model but rises to £839 for the 128GB option.
Meanwhile, Pixel 3 XL starts at £869 and climbs to a whopping £969 for the 128GB of memory.
Such prices are incredibly disappointing, especially when the front of both devices looks slightly archaic compared to other 2018 flagships from the likes of Samsung, Apple and even cheaper alternatives such as OnePlus.
Moreover, a host of upgrades Google showed off during the Pixel 3’s unveiling are coming to older Pixel devices which are now much more affordable.
Pixel 2 starts at £479 and Pixel 2 XL comes in at £599 on Google’s online store.
Pixel 3 v Pixel 3 XL – it’s the size that really matters
PIXEL 3 v PIXEL 3XL
If you’re wondering which device is best for you it really comes down to size.
The Pixel 3 is obviously much smaller and lighter than the 3 XL which makes it a little easier to handle.
However, those reduced dimensions do mean you get a smaller battery and less screen to binge on those boxsets.
The larger XL’s edge-to-edge style helps make it look a little more modern although the big notch may mean some will prefer to opt for the smaller phone’s design.
Other than these design differences there’s little to separate the devices.
They both have the latest Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage.
The cameras, speakers and wireless charging are all identical and internally there’s nothing separating them.
As we mentioned above, the only other major difference is price, with the Pixel 3 costing £130 less than its bigger brother.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL are powered by Qualcomm’s 845 processor
There’s no question that the Pixel 3 and 3 XL are first-class smartphones.
These Google-powered devices are fast, feature-packed and offer the ultimate experience for those who want pure Android power.
If photography is your passion you’ll also struggle to find a phone that can take pictures better than a Pixel.
Google’s decision to add wireless charging and improve the speed via the Snapdragon 845 processor also adds to the overall appeal.
However, for all its greatness the Pixel 3 and XL fall slightly flat.
The design of both phones is baffling to us with one device featuring those chunky bezels and the other getting a notch that’s so big it’s almost comical.
There’s also the question of whether these phones offer enough of an upgrade over their Pixel 2 predecessors which are now around £200 cheaper.
If you simply want the best Android experience on the market the new Pixels will give you that in spades.
It just such a shame the hardware lets things down.
Otherwise, these would have been contenders for best smartphone of 2018.