Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL Review

So I suppose the only way I can start this is review by commenting on that incredibly large notch at the top of the Google Pixel 3 XL! It’s huge and easily the biggest in the mobile phone industry right now. Although sure, it ruins somewhat the front aesthetics, but there is a very good reason for that which I will get to further on in the review. But as it stands, Google announced and are launching two new flagship devices: the Google Pixel 3, and Pixel 3 XL. Both are pretty much the exact same phone under the hood, with the exception of screen size. The XL measures at 6.3 inches and the former at 5.5 inches.

Design

However if you move down to the standard Pixel 3, the notch disappears, instead retaining quite a large forehead for a modern handset. There’s a relatively large chin on the bottom too, of both the Pixel 3 and Pixel XL Both phones still retain that dual-selfie cam and even have dual front-facing speakers, which explains why Google have kept them thick. Both phones are still far from bezeless too, and although their left and right are kept to a minimum, they’re still a far-cry from something as beautiful looking at the iPhone X. To put it into perspective, the forehead and chin areas come in at around one centimetre on the Google Pixel 3 which is somewhat huge.

The phones now compared to the previous generation handsets are thinner, and are now coated in Gorilla Glass 5 on the back and the front, while the edge band is made from aluminium with a gloss finish. This is of course to protect the devices from scratches and drops, but it also enables the phones to have wireless charging. Google do now provide a very nice looking dock for that, which matches the aesthetic of the phones and looks quite nice on a desk. The bottom of the phone only has a USB-Type C input, which is a little annoying as there is no more headphone jack. Users will have to use a provided dongle to use wired headphones of which Google does supply in the box.

The fingerprint sensor can be found on the rear of the device like it was on the Pixel 2, and works fairly well, although there were times when I found myself entering my chosen pin as it just wasn’t picking up my fingerprint at all. The rear uses a two tone type finish again, with the bottom section covered in some kind of frosted coating. The top is glossy and the phone as a whole looks quite premium although quite slippery to hold. The mint green unlock button and volume rocker is on the right although positioning is a little fiddly. I would have liked to have the two swapped round to save a stretch to the more commonly used unlock button although this is nowhere near as bad on the smaller Pixel 3.

I prefer myself the smaller Google Pixel 3 as it gives me a chance to use the phone with one hand and thumb to navigate, unlike the larger Pixel 3 XL, I found myself having to stabilise the phone with my left hand, while then using my right fingers like a stylus type device to draw on the phone.

There’s no surprise that the Google Pixel 3 XL has a higher resolution than the standard Pixel 3, and at 1440 x 2960 with 523ppi, it looks super sharp all throughout whether it’s reading text on a webpage, playing a game or using various work related apps. I never found an issue with the display. The smaller Pixel 3 has a resolution of 1080 x 2160 with a pixel density of 443 so not too far behind its older sibling.

Both screens use a P-OLED technology too which gives superb viewing angles to your device as well as very nice colour reproduction when watching something like Netflix. I’ve just got through a few episodes of Better Call Saul on the Pixel 3 XL and I can very much say that it looked superb. Diving into the advanced display settings open you up to choose various colour schemes for the phone too. These range from Natural, Boosted or Adaptive. Natural muted colours while Boosted heightened the contrast. I kept it on the pre-set Adaptive mode as the phone changed the colour display depending on what I was watching. Lastly, the screen can go super bright on max brightness, which is good especially in sunlight, but can cause some issues with battery life.

To be completely honest, the phone ships with a pretty great screen calibration anyway, so I found there not to be too much need to change the settings.

Being rated IP67 also means that this phone is protected from the elements like water and dust, so there’s no worry of it breaking if you take it around the poolside and it gets splashed. If it falls in the pool though you’ll have around 30 minutes to retrieve it.

Performance

Both iterations of the Samsung Pixel 3 come with the same Qualcomm SDM845 which is a Snapdragon 845 Octa-core processor clocked with four cores at 2.5 GHz Kryo 385 Gold and four more at 1.6 GHz Kryo 385 Silver. There’s also an Adreno 630 graphics chip. Running a Geekbench test on both devices rendered them at similar scores, as specification wise, they’re identical. The Google Pixel 3 XL gave a single core score of 2355 and a multicore score of 8275. Similarly, the Pixel 3’s single core score was 2365 and multicore 7862.

This is fine of course for number pushing, but how does this perform in real world situations? Extremely well. I never noticed any kind of slowdown with either phone. Multitasking a whole was very quick. Using the quick launch tool by sliding your phone up from the bottom looks at your most recent apps which haven’t closed when you leave. Getting back into them is pretty instantaneous.

Both phones are also pretty much on par with eachother. I never noticed a reason on why you would go for the Google Pixel 3 XL over the smaller version in terms of performance.

One area inside the settings menu which intrigued me was the Digital Wellbeing area. Inside these settings you can look at how long you spend in each app, whether it’s Facebook, a game of Fortnite or anything. There’s also a wind down schedule too where you set your bedtime. Once this is set, it shuts off access to your phone so you’re not distracted while you sleep. Admittedly this’ll probably be better for the younger generation among us, as who doesn’t check their Twitter while they’re laying there trying to drift off. But if this kind of thing is what you’re after, then go mad. Set schedules up so you’re not just looking at your phone all the time.

Camera

There’s no escaping the fact that Google pretty much won the best phone camera of the generation award with the Pixel 2, and seeing the raw performance of the machine-learning AI camera of the Google Pixel 3, kept me insanely impressed.

On the back you can find a 12.2-megapixel camera with a f/1.8 aperture, which doesn’t exactly scream performance, but because of its ability to increase its pixel size to 1.4-microns depending on your lighting situation, makes this snapper produce some wonderfully sharp images.

There’s a lot of things happening here with the Google Pixel 3 in terms of automation thanks to its AI learning ability, and a lot of magic that happens behind the scenes. Take for example their new Top Shot mode, which is where the Pixel 3 will take a motion photo, and choose the best images from that bunch. This will ensure that you capture the absolute action, even if you press the shutter button moments after it’s happened. There’s also a new Night Sight mode, which gives users the chance to capture sharper images at night. However, this feature wasn’t available on our test unit, as Google says it will be coming when the phone is launched in November.

However, the most impressive smart camera feature is the Super-Res Zoom. The Pixel 3 will take a number of shots each a bit different from the last, but this time will combine them to create a super sharp, nice looking image. And finally, is the ability to take a wide-angle selfie, which captures more of your surroundings which can include more friends in the frame, without the need to use a selfie stick or put the phone on a tripod a distance away from you. It also films at 1080p at 30 frames per second.

What more is that Google have decided to stick to a single camera setup on the back which is a little odd seeing as everyone else are now using a minimum of two. Even still, the photos you do get from the Google Pixel 3 look wonderful, especially on its portrait mode. It does a great job of separating your subject with its background and I never noticed any kind of soft edges either. It does some smoothing to skin which is pretty strange, but doesn’t get in the way of producing a good photo.

The video performance of the Google Pixel 3 actually follows suit to the camera as it can produce some wonderful sharp imagery. It can shoot maximum at 2160p at 30 frames per second all the way down to 720p. What’s nice is if you shoot at its lowest quality, you get the chance to shoot at 240 frames per second giving a smooth slow motion ability.  The camera is able to focus pretty quickly too, ensuring that your subject stays in focus and separated from the video’s background.

Inside the camera is actually where you can find the Lens app which has a number of features which could be quite useful to you. Say your friend arrives to the party wearing a fresh pair of trainers. You can use the Lens app to scan them. Once they’ve been ID’ed it will show you that product, or similar items online for you to click. You can scan items, copy text, identify plants and dog breeds and discover books and other media.

For the most part it works well, but there were times I was trying to scan an item like my Pret A Manger coffee cup and my phone thought it was a plant pot so showed me garden items and ceramic pots as a suggestion.

For all examples of the photo and video quality, head to the top of the review to our video review embedded into the page.

Battery Life

This is one area I was a little disappointed with to tell you the truth. It doesn’t last anywhere near as long as I wanted it to. I work in social media as my full time job, so phone use is pretty important to get my work done. On a typical day I would spend an hour or so listening to music going to work using Bluetooth headphones. Once at work I’m on my computer and phone living on social media. By lunchtime I was reaching for a charger to top up the battery life. What’s nice however is that Google have implemented quick charging on their new handsets, so I can go from around 30% to full in around 30 minutes. There’s an always on display which tells you the time and some notifications with a quick glance. This can be turned off to save battery life too.

Verdict

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are wonderful all-round handsets. I don’t think they’re going to turn heads, as design wise they’re pretty dated now you have phones coming out with near 100% front screens. But Google has achieved what I believe they set out to do; and that’s make a better phone than the Google Pixel 2. Camera performance is still hugely above average. too. It will be nice to see some photo comparisons between the other flagship handsets, especially as brands like Samsung are now sticking four cameras on the back of their phones. But the photos and videos you do get from the Pixel 3 are still wonderful. Battery life is a little disappointing but a quick charge will get you back up and running in now time.

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