There’s reasons why the Pixel keeps coming up in conversation and enormous sales figures aren’t one of them.
The fortunate few who have played around with one though, know exactly what the fuss is all about. Purest Android experience? Check. Timely updates? Check. Picture quality? Oh boy. Where do we even begin with that one?
Google’s constantly making tweaks to its smartphones in significant ways and the Pixel 3 XL is no different. Tallboy display, glass all around, dual-front facing cams, and AI that improves even further on what’s easily the best smartphone photography we’ve ever experienced.
There’s also an XL sized notch that’s far beyond my comprehension, but within a few clicks in dev options, it can be put to sleep permanently. The new Pixel is also Google’s most expensive yet but we’re promised full justification. Only one way to find out, right?
Design and screen: Elegant despite notch
Pick it up, and you’ll instantly notice how the all glass design is a big leap forward. The soft touch matte finish combined with the shiny top around the back give it an air of elegance. You still get a quick fingerprint scanner where your finger naturally rests as well as a power key well within reach. It adds a nice pop of colour to the mix.
The phone feels surprisingly well-adjusted to human hands despite accomodating a 6.3in OLED which is also a fix over last year’s polarising one. It’s an 18:9 1440p affair that’s crisp, and calibrated to look natural. On both sides of this screen reside dual front-facing speakers that dish out a solid 40% more power than the Pixel 2 XL.
Of course that notch up top will shock you with its sheer height and if you’re like me, you’ll run to dev options and disable it before you can even say the word notch. That option makes all the difference and doesn’t force itself upon you like Apple’s flagship offering. Lastly you get to choose between Just Black, Clearly White and Not Pink colour options.
Camera: AI AI captain!
Google’s single-handedly shifted the whole smartphone industry’s focus to software based photography with its single lens sorcery. Smartphones packing up to four cams today are still playing catch up with last year’s Pixels and there’s Google AI to thank for that. You get a 12.2MP lens at the back and two front-facing 8MP snappers for wide-angle group selfies.
Now let’s dive deep into all of its new cam candy that you can look forward to. Top Shot will take a burst of shots and select the best ones so you never miss a moment. It’s eerily accurate in varying conditions. The Portrait mode is now even better with post shot background blur tweaks so you dial in just the right amount of bokeh.
The Playground mode will add AR characters to your life like Iron Man and Childish Gambino. Motion autofocus locks onto subjects so they’re always in the spotlight when you’re moving. Google Lens has been improved further to identify objects you put through its system. Then there’s Night Sight for low-light shots only a DSLR can outdo and Super Zoom that uses shaky hands to capture info so zooming in doesn’t destroy detail. What!
In practice, we have hits and misses in equal measure with some features still in the pipeline from Google such as Night Sight. Regardless, you’ll be treated to the most natural looking photos you’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Throw it in varying conditions and it’ll crush any rival for sharpness, clarity and detail.
That’s just the rear cam. The dual-front facing snappers further increase the gap between the Pixel and its next best rival. This is officially the king of selfies. Around the back, Super Zoom doesn’t quit deliver to its promised extent often outdone by a dual-lens setup highlighting the important of dedicated hardware. Video junkie? You can shoot 4K scenes in 30FPS with smooth stabilisation for gimbal-like result.
Battery and Performance: Bigger, better
At the core of the new Pixels is a flagship Snapdragon 845 heart. It’s partnered with a mere 4GB of RAM, which feels a bit 2016 today but software optimisation means it feels as smooth as you’d need it to be. The tasty piece of Android Pie running the show ensures stand-by time and apps demanding extra power are efficiently managed.
The XL gets its juice from a 3430mAh bar which helps it get to the finish line at the end of a full day’s work. You can always plug it into the bundled fast charger for more stamina but to take full advantage of the new design, a separately sold Pixel stand is your guy. It supports fast-charging wirelessly and even doubles up as a notification stand when docked.
Google Pixel 3 XL VERDICT
There’s reasons that make the new Pixel supremely desirable and that godforsaken notch certainly isn’t one of them. What will draw you in instead is its elegant new design, camera software that’s nothing short of sorcery, powerful stereo speakers, and timely updates so your device never feels like it’s lagging behind.
For a phone this large, the Pixel 3 XL is surprisingly well-suited to small-handed folk while the Digital Wellbeing software is literally trying to peel you off your addictive smartphone habits. When it’s all backed by software that’s pushing out power throughout the day, you’re left with an Android that’s always trying to help, and it only gets better from here.