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The Google Pixel 3 XL was the search giant's flagship phone for 2018. It was, arguably, the best Android phone on the market when it launched too, mainly thanks to its awesome cameras.
Since it launched, prices have dropped, but it's now lacking performance compared to most current Android phones. Plus, that notch looks even more unsightly by the day. Still, it's far from a bad phone.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL debuted back in October 2018, replacing the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. While the outgoing Google phones were generally well thought-of, they struggled slightly against some Android competition, especially Samsung’s S8 and S8+ (and newer S9/S9+).
However, the older Pixels excelled when it came to photography, pretty much brushing aside iOS and Android competition at launch. More impressively, the Pixel cameras maintained the gap even as the iPhone XS and Samsung S9 launched.
So, the task for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL is simple: Catch up with Android rivals for performance, design and value, while maintaining the market-leading cameras.
Has Google managed to do so with the Pixel 3 XL? Mostly. We’ll explain more below:
In this review:
Google Pixel 3 XL Design
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. At the base of the Pixel 3 XL, there’s a nano-sim tray and a USB-C port — but no headphone jack.
Head up the phone, and you’ll find the microphone/speaker grille along the bottom-front bezel. The grille is long, running to about a third of the width of the overall phone, but it’s slim, so it’s not too too large for its own good. The bottom bezel isn’t huge, but isn’t as slim as, say, a Samsung S9 or iPhone XS.
Round the back, you’ve got a long, matte-finished pane of glass. We tried the ‘Clearly White’ version, and it looks and feels excellent – especially when compared to the slippery glass rears on Apple’s recent iPhones.
Round the front, you’ve got the 6.3-inch OLED display. It has a Quad-HD+ resolution (2960×1440) with an aspect ratio of 18.5:9. It’s constructed of super strong Gorilla Glass 5 and supports HDR. It is, in a word, excellent. Watching videos and playing games is a genuine treat, with deep blacks and excellent contrast without feeling over-saturated. The washed-out and lifeless displays of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, at least at launch, are long gone.
There are two buttons adorning the aluminum frame of the Pixel 3 XL: A typical white volume rocker and a mint green power button, providing a nice flash of color on the white frame.
In line with the power button on the rear, there’s the fingerprint reader. It’s quick enough and falls easily to hand, but can occasionally be a bit finicky, which makes the lack of facial recognition or iris scanning more apparent.
Above the fingerprint scanner, the glass changes from the grippy, matte finish to a smooth, glossy material. As you don’t touch the phone up here, the change in material has no effect on the ergonomics of the phone, and provides a nice, subtle contrast. Within this smooth glass, you’ll find the rear camera (and there is only one), depth sensor and flash. The camera bump is tiny, especially when compared to the latest iPhones.
Round the front, at the top of the screen, there’s that notch. It’s large, intruding almost a whole centimeter into the display, and is certainly the most visually striking element of the phone’s design.
So what’s in the notch? It contains two cameras and one of the phone’s speakers. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but it is significantly larger than nearly all of the notches on competing phones. What’s more, when watching videos or playing games, the big black rectangle it cuts out of the top half of the phone does rankle.
Google Pixel 3 XL Cameras
The cameras on the Pixel 3 XL – both front and rear – are incredible. They’re easily among the best on the market, if not the best.
Let’s start with front cameras. You’ve got an 8Mp wide angle and regular lens, with f/2.2 and f/1.8 aperture, respectively. The wide angle lens has fixed focus, whereas the normal lens autofocuses. So can they atone for the notch design with top-notch selfies?
Yes they can. Snap a regular selfie and you’ll get a picture with tons of detail, with definitely no beauty-smoothing that iPhones have been accused of. You might not like it, but the Pixel 3 XL will pick out pores and errant eyebrow hairs with ease.
Colors are sharp and bright, without becoming oversaturated. If you want to put Kim K’s selfie game to shame, there’s no better phone to use than the Pixel 3 XL.
Portrait mode on the front cameras is good, although the contrast seems to have been ramped up slightly from the regular selfie mode. This effect can be reduced with some settings tweaks, should you want to. The color pop filter – which keeps the foreground in color while turning the background grayscale – can’t always differentiate between similar colors close to the center of focus, but is still an impressive feat of software.
The bokeh effect achieved in portrait mode can’t replicate wide-aperture shots on a full frame camera perfectly, but no phone has mastered this yet. The wide-angle selfies, intended for groups, are good – although that fixed focus means there’s little differentiation between foreground and background.
The rear camera – of which there is only one, in contrast to most other flagship phones and bucking the recent camera-packing trend – is a masterpiece.
It can’t manage detail at high zoom levels the way that dual or triple camera phones do. But, really, that’s the only area the Pixel 3 XL’s camera falls down.
Apart from that, you’ll get highly-detailed, accurate images at all distances. There’s no iPhone-style oversaturation, although you can engineer this in yourself with the filtering tools if you want to. The contrast is excellent, even between similar colors at distance, while always remaining natural. It’s incredibly hard to find fault with the Pixel 3 XL’s camera.
The camera is a real showcase for Google’s AI and software prowess. It puts the snappers from other phones with more hardware to shame, simply by being so smart.
Night Sight, the mode which illuminates low-light settings, is brilliant, bringing objects into focus without appearing doctored or unnatural.
Google Lens, the object and text recognition mode, is certainly smart. However, it doesn’t always give the most helpful results, often relying on a Google Image Search to bring up similar-looking images.
Playground, the AR camera mode which lets you put pets and Marvel heroes into the camera frame, is a fun novelty. Photo Booth – which lets you take selfies simply when you smile – is uncanny, being able to detect the perfect moment to snap with ease and without error.
All told, the Pixel 3 XL takes the best photos of any phone on the market at the moment.
Playground mode on the Pixel 3 XL
Google Pixel 3 XL Battery Life
The Pixel 3 XL has a 3,340mAh battery. That’s smaller than the 3,400mAh unit found in the Samsung Galaxy S9+, but larger than the 3,174mAh battery in the iPhone XS Max. It’s pretty middle-of-the-road for a flagship phone nowadays.
Despite the big screen and power-hungry Snapdragon 845 processor, the Pixel 3 XL will easily run to a day’s regular use, and a day-and-a-half if you’re being cautious and using the battery saver. Again, it’s not remarkable, but certainly delivers what people expect of their phones nowadays.
However, battery life does take a noticeable knock when playing serious games or watching high-resolution videos. So it would pay to be cautious if you’re expecting to be away from your charger for a while. And as it uses USB-C, which hasn’t achieved the universal usage it deserves just yet, it would make sense to keep a charging cable handy.
Google Pixel 3 XL Features
The Pixel 3 XL comes with a fairly typical roster of features for a smartphone in 2019: NFC, a fingerprint scanner, a USB-C port, wireless charging, no memory card slot, and no headphone jack.
It doesn’t have any form of facial recognition or iris scanning authentication, which is surprising, but not a deal-breaker. It does have the squeezy sides, which debuted on the now Google-owned HTC’s U11 phone. By default, these bring up Google Assistant (more on that in a moment) but can be turned off or used to silence notifications. In truth, doing a long press of the virtual home button is easier.
The dual front-firing speakers are decent, with a good level of sound clarity – although they struggle slightly with bass-led music. The bundled headphones, though, leave Apple’s ubiquitous EarPods in the dust. They both fit and sound better.
The Pixel 3 XL comes running Android 9 Pie, the latest version of Google’s mobile OS, out of the box. It’s the closest to a clean-slate version of Android you’re going to get, although it is strangely reminiscent of Apple’s iOS in certain areas. For example, swiping up from the bottom of the phone presents you with an app switcher, much like iOS. It also gives you a small, customizable app tray, and swiping up again gives you the full app drawer. The gesture controls work well, although you can’t swipe left or right in-apps to go back and forth, as you can with iOS.
Pull down from the top and there’s the familiar notifications and quick settings view; pull down again and you get more options. Long press on any of the icons and you get taken straight to the in-depth settings menu. It all fits together seamlessly, and swapping back-and-forth between apps and menus is a breeze. Occasionally, we found that reaching the top of the phone required some slight contortionism, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the hand-gymnastics required on the iPhone XS or XS Max.
Of course, the most important feature on the phone is Google Assistant. It’s the best virtual assistant on the market, and Google, rightly, puts it front-and-center on the Pixel 3 XL. It’s smart, easy-to-use, and provides you with genuinely helpful digests of the news, notifications and more. If you’re coming to the Pixel 3 XL from an iPhone, which is genuinely worth considering, you’ll find the difference between Google Assistant and Siri startling.
Google Pixel 3 XL Performance
Powering the Google Pixel 3 XL is the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845 processor. It can’t match the speeds of Apple’s A12 Bionic processor for sheer speed or graphical performance, and it’s widely expected that the Kirin 980, Huawei’s new chip, might best it.
Still, the Snapdragon 845 is a blisteringly fast mobile chip. You'll be able to run demanding mobile games – such as PUBG Mobile – with no discernible drops in performance or frame rate. However, we did experience some unexpected app closures using the Pixel 3 XL when playing games, which is likely due to inefficient memory management. This could be fixed with a software or firmware update in the future.
The Pixel 3 XL speeds through less demanding tasks, such as flicking through apps, switching tabs in Chrome, or using AI filters in Playground mode. This phone is more than a match for everything you might want to throw at it.
Google Pixel 3 XL Cost and Value for Money
In a world of $1,000 iPhones and Samsungs, the $899 Google wants for the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t seem so bad. But, of course, this is still a huge amount of money.
Right now, though, you can pick up the Google Pixel 3 XL for as little as $38 per month on Verizon.
For that outlay, you’ll get a phone crafted from high-quality materials which feels light but sturdy. You’ll also get the best phone cameras on the market, along with access to the latest version of Android as soon as it launches.
One big issue is that, unlike a lot of other high-end Androids, there’s no memory card slot, and you have two storage choices: 64GB and 128GB. The 128GB version costs $999. The lack of a 256GB version seems odd, especially when Samsung will sell you a 512GB Note 9. You do get unlimited photo storage with Google Photos, though, so this should save you some space.
Google Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9
So how does the Pixel 3 XL stack up to its main rivals?
All offer 6-inch plus OLED screens, though the XS Max has a lower resolution at 1242×2688, compared to the Android phones’ 1440×2960. All offer processors so quick you’ll be unlikely to notice any performance issues, although the Samsung has the other two licked when it comes to memory: 6 or 8GB (depending on storage choice) plays 4GB for the Pixel and iPhone.
Both the iPhone and Samsung offer dual rear cameras, but as we explained above, they still can’t match the Pixel for picture quality. The Pixel offers two front cameras, unlike the other Apple and Samsung phones – again though, the Pixel’s cameras are better.
Only the Samsung offers a headphone jack or expandable storage via a microSD card. The Samsung also has the biggest battery at 4,000mAh.
Frankly, these phones could trade blows all day long. But, if you want maximum bang-for-buck, get the Note 9. If you want the best camera, get the Pixel. If you want a phone that will make people stop and say “wow”, get the Pixel. It sounds surprising, but this phone has made the biggest impression in the TechCo offices for a while, mainly thanks to the camera and the bright white design. When would you get the XS Max? Only if you’re a die-hard Apple loyalist – it’s simply too much money to recommend in this company.
|Pixel 3 XL||iPhone XS Max||Samsung Galaxy Note 9|
|Screen size (in)||6.3||6.5||6.4|
|Dimensions (HxWxD mm)||158×76.7×7.9||157.5×77.4×7.7||161.9×76.4×8.8|
|Operating system||Android 9 Pie||iOS 12||Android 8.1 Oreo|
|Front camera (Mp)||8 + 8||7||8|
|Rear camera (Mp)||12.2||12 + 12||12 + 12|
|Buy from Verizon||From $899||From $1,099||From $999|
Google Pixel 3 XL: The Verdict
The best phone camera on the market, and probably the best Android phone on the market. It’s really that simple.
The Google Pixel 3 XL is a fantastic phone, with only a handful of small downsides. It’s slightly overpriced, especially when compared to Samsung alternatives. Some people might find it slightly too large, as reaching the top can be a bit of a stretch. There’s also that notch – apologies for going on about it, but it is big.
However, for those tradeoffs, you get a beautiful, well-made phone which finally gives Apple a rival for hardware/software integration. You also get Google Assistant, which, if you’ve not used it before, will genuinely make your life easier. Oh, and the cameras – did we mention those? They’re worth most of the sticker price alone.
If you’re looking for a new Android phone, buy the Pixel 3 XL. You won’t be disappointed.
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