The world’s most leaked smartphones are finally here. Consequently, we know almost everything about Google new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL but that doesn’t stop them from being two of the most controversial flagship phones available. They also pack several surprises which Google didn’t mention during the launch.
Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL as well as how they have improved upon the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL…
Displays – Super Size Me
Perhaps the most obvious, and most polarising, change Google has made to its upgraded Pixels is their displays:
- Pixel 3 – 5.5-inch, AMOLED, 2160 x 1080 pixels, 18:9 ratio (443 ppi density), 77.2% screen-to-body ratio, Corning Gorilla Glass 5, 100% DCI-P3 coverage, HDR
- Pixel 3 XL – 6.3-inch, AMOLED, 2960 x 1080 pixels, 18.5:9 ratio (523 ppi density), 82.8% screen-to-body ratio, Corning Gorilla Glass 5, 100% DCI-P3 coverage, HDR
While the Pixel 3 plays things safe with a taller and thinner 5.5-inch display than its 5-inch 16:9 predecessor, the Pixel 3 XL generates all the attention for the massive notch Google has built into its 6.3-inch display.
I’ll discuss this in the design section below, but Google actually deserves a lot of credit for the quality of the Pixels’ panels this year. After the controversy surrounding the Pixel 2XL in particular, both new models have premium OLED panels which have been lauded by DisplayMate as being in the same class as the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS.
Google has produced displays worth savouring. Except…
Designs – 2017 in 2018
Much like the first two generations of Pixel, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL again appear to be behind the curve in terms of design.
Notably, the Pixel 3 looks like a shrunken version of last year’s Pixel 2XL and the Pixel 3 XL looks closer to last year’s Android iPhone X knock-offs than the cutting edge notch-less and almost notch-less phones we’ve seen in 2018 from Huawei, Vivo and OnePlus. There’s also a belated move to glass backs to support wireless charging (more later) and the headphone jack isn’t coming back.
That said if you can get past the controversial fascias (at least you can hidethe Pixel 3 XL notch) there’s actually a lot to like.
For starters, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are almost identically sized to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, despite their larger displays while their body-to-screen ratios have also improved significantly:
- Pixel 2 – 145.7 x 69.7 x 7.8 mm (5.74 x 2.74 x 0.31 in) and 143 g (5.04 oz)
- Pixel 2 XL – 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 in) and 175 g (6.17 oz)
- Pixel 3 – 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm (5.73 x 2.69 x 0.31 in), 148 g (5.22 oz)
- Pixel 3 XL – 158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 in), 143 g (5.04 oz)
In addition, both phones retain their front-firing stereo speakers (now 40% louder than last year), deliver dual front cameras (discussed in the Camera section), upgraded IP68 dust and water resistance (up from IP67 last year) and most of their glass backs are textured to make them both more grippy and fingerprint resistant in hand.
This year’s colors also retain the upbeat feel of their predecessors. I’m sorry to see the so-called ‘Panda’ black and white colorr scheme go, but in its place are ‘Clearly White’ (white with a green power button), ‘Not Pink’ (yes pink, with an orange power button) and ‘Clearly Black’ (even the charging port is black). All three colours are available on both models.
Performance – Great Software, Underwhelming Hardware
Google always touts the Pixel range as being about more than hardware, and that’s true. They deliver stock Android, instant updates and no bloatware – a major differentiator in the Android world. But the hardware should still be more exciting than it is:
- Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL – Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core chipset (4x 2.5GHz Kryo 385 Gold and 4x 1.6GHz Kryo 385 Silver CPUs), Adreno 630, 4GB RAM
What sticks out like a sore thumb here is the RAM. In 2018 Android rivals have moved onto 6GB and even 8GB of RAM with exceptional results and, while stock Android is efficient, my experience with the similarly 4GB-equipped Pixel 2XL is it can get bogged down with a lot of multitasking – which is where extra RAM shines. It’s simply a bizarre decision at this price point.
Helping out the RAM is Qualcomm’s top of the range Snapdragon 845 chipset which delivers approximately 30% more power than last year’s 835. That said, the timing of Google’s Pixels leaves something to be desired as Qualcomm announces its next-generation chips every December for release in January so these devices won’t be on current gen hardware for long.
I’m sure the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will be lightning quick out the box. The big question for me is: How long will they stay that way?
Where Google has been listening to customer concerns, however, is security. Apple dines out on its claims about data security and in response, both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL come equipped with a new ‘Titan M’ security chip which is designed to secure your data and passwords. Google has yet to detail how the chip works, but the fact it exists is a step in the right direction.
Dual Sim – eSim Done Properly
While left out fo the Google presentation, both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will support standard sims and eSims (electronic sims) simultaneously. A point Google later confirmed and which brings true multi-sim functionality for home/work numbers and frequent travellers. Or it will when more networks begin to support eSims – something which should happen quickly now this functionality is also built into Apple’s new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.
It is worth noting that last year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL had standard and eSim support as well, but they could not be run simultaneously and forced the user to alternate between them.
Cameras – Dual Cameras Backwards
Google’s Pixel range is the undisputed king of smartphone photography, but while 2018 saw almost every major smartphone maker move to dual cameras the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL have done so arguably the wrong way round:
- Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL – Rear: 12.2 MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, OIS, dual pixel PDAF; Front 1: 8 MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), PDAF; Front 2: 8 MP, f/2.2, 19mm (ultrawide), no AF
Yes, the dual cameras are on the front! Google did this so it could add a second wide-angle lens with 97-degree FOV (field of view). This is welcome and a notable upgrade for group photos, but it also makes me wonder why we still need the standard (75-degree) lens as well? Google could’ve removed it and made the notch a lot smaller. We can hold the wide-angle lens closer if necessary.
There are two other camera complaints: still no optical zoom due to the single rear camera on the back, and no 60fps 4K recording – something supported by many rivals.
That said, these are Pixel phones and the camera is where they excel. So, these grumbles aside, they are full of exciting upgrades:
Top Shot – a ‘best shot’ feature which automatically suggests alternative photos taken before and after your photo, if the subject was blinking or you missed their smile.
Photobooth Mode – automatic shot taking when you smile or pull faces in front of the camera. There’s no need to press the shutter button.
Super Res Zoom – a machine learning alternative to optical zoom, which compensates for the movement of your hand when you zoom for a shot.
Playground – add AR (augmented reality) characters, such as Marvel superheroes, into your shots. They will interact with the scenery and the subject. Kids (and big kids) will like this.
Motion Auto Focus – tap on a moving subject and the new Pixels will automatically track it and keep it in focus. Great for shots of pets and children.
Night Sight – a potentially game-changing low light mode which uses “computational photography and AI” to not only light a very dark scene but even restore the colors. Google’s demo showed a startling comparison with the new iPhone XS (below), so let’s hope the theory plays out in reality. The feature will arrive via an update to both new and older Pixels after the Pixel 3 launch.
Battery Life And Charging – Incremental Updates
Battery life has been a Pixel strength, but Google skipped mentioning it at all when launching the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL. Now we have the information, it’s clear the smaller Pixel 3 is the big winner:
- Pixel 3 – 2915 mAh (Pixel 2 – 2700 mAh)
- Pixel 3 XL – 3430 mAh (Pixel 2 XL – 3520 mAh)
In conjunction with its smaller display and lower resolution, the Pixel 3 should now last almost as long as the Pixel 3 XL which – somewhat surprisingly – has a slightly smaller battery than last year. But this should be more than compensated for by its more efficient chipset.
USB-C fast charging also remains, with Google claiming a 15-minute charge with the bundled fast charger will provide up to seven hours of usage.
But the real headline news – and the reason for the glass backs – is the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL now support fast Qi wireless charging at up to 10W. Google is capitalising on this with the launch of a Pixel Stand, which not only has 10W wireless charging but turns your phone into a smart display (automatic photo slideshows, reminders, integration with its Nest Hello video doorbells, etc) and virtual assistant when the phone is in standby.
Price and Storage – Google’s Gamble
2018 has seen smartphone makers increase prices but also increase storage capacities. With the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL, Google has done the former but not the latter:
- Pixel 3 – $799 (64GB), $899 (128GB)
- Pixel 3 XL – $899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)
The result is the Pixel 3 costs a hefty $150 more than the Pixel 2 while the Pixel 3 XL is $50 more than the Pixel 2 XL. This is a risk, especially with Apple offering iPhones in capacities of 64GB, 256GB and 512GB.
Google will argue greater capacity is not needed since it offers unlimited photo and video storage on Google Photos to Pixel owners. But not everyone will choose to use Google Photos and, even if you do, it still can’t beat the speed and offline flexibility of having the vast majority of your phones in native storage.
Personally, I think Google has taken a big risk here as the average user walks into a shop, looks at a spec list and the Pixels will lose out (especially on paper with their single rear cameras). For me, 64GB and 256GB options would’ve been the smart move.
The Pixel 3 XL is going to get a lot of abuse. When the original Pixel launched, Google mocked Apple for removing the headphone jack and threw the company’s own ‘Think Different’ message in its face. Since then the Pixel 2 models removed the headphone jack and the Pixel 3 XL has the largest notch on the market. Some of this abuse is deserved.
Despite this, there’s a lot to like about the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL.
They are all but certain to have class-leading cameras once again (given the year-old Pixel 2XL is still the class leader at this point) and a lorry load of new tricks. The wide-angle selfie cam will prove useful, the displays are now top quality, there’s greater performance, wireless charging, improved water resistance and true dual sim functionality. And don’t forget stock Android and instant updates as well.
Despite this, I’m not convinced Google has done enough to persuade Apple and Samsung fans to jump ship. The designs do look dated, the prices are high, storage options are low and they launch with 10-month-old chipsets and a needlessly small amount of RAM.
I’m sure those who can look past these failings will love the new Pixels and, as a camera enthusiast, one is still likely to end up in my pocket as my daily driver (just has the Pixel 2 XL has been all year). But if Google wants to win over the masses then its uninspiring hardware needs to catch up with its inspirational software by the time the Pixel 4 launches…