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  3. Google Pixel 3 and 3XL review: Android at its best

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL review: Android at its best

With the best smartphone camera money can buy, decent screens and long battery life, it's got a lot to offer.

Pros

  • Latest Android updates and Google support
  • Very clean, unassuming interface
  • Best smartphone camera money can buy

Cons

  • Unexciting design
  • Big screen notch on the larger model
  • No Optical zoom

First impressions and design

  • Conventional shape similar to previous models
  • Only the XL has a “notched” screen
  • Matte finish on the back helps with grip

You could be forgiven for mistaking the Google Pixel 3 range with last year’s models. You’ll find they have the rounded lines and double-textured back as the Pixel 2 range. But it’s a design that appealed to us last year. And after all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Unlike last year’s Pixels, the 3 range is made entirely of glass, but with a matte yet smooth finish that won’t get covered in messy fingerprint smudges within seconds of you holding it. Only the top of the body, where the camera and flash are located, is made of a highly reflective, smooth glass.

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL backs black unboxed

Matte-finished glass is a practical and attractive bit of innovation from Google.

The Pixel 3 comes in two sizes. The standard Pixel 3 comes with a 5.5-inch screen and a bigger Pixel 3XL boasts a huge 6.3-inch screen.

Pixel 3 and 3XL unboxed with wires

The Pixel 3, and the Pixel 3XL, unboxed. Two sets of adaptors are included, an audio-jack to USB-C for wired headphones, and a USB “Quick switch adapter” that can be used to transfer all your data from an older Android device.

The Pixel 3 is a very compact device, comparable in dimensions to the iPhone XS. And it’s considerably smaller and lighter than other Android bestsellers like the Galaxy S9 and the OnePlus 6T.

The Pixel 3XL, on the other hand, is a considerably larger device. Its 6.3-inch screen will appeal to people who rely on their smartphones for videos or gaming and don’t mind having to use the device with two hands.

As with previous Pixel models, the fingerprint pad is located at the back on both devices, it works well but it feels slightly too high up on the large Pixel 3XL.

There’s no audio jack, but an adaptor is included in the box, as well as a fairly good quality earbuds.

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL backs black in hand close up lens hero size

Contrary to the widespread trend of multi-lens cameras, the Pixel has an unassuming single lens camera with unrivalled quality.

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL in hand side on view ports

Reversible USB-C and no headphone jack. USB-C earphones are included as well as an adaptor which should go a long way to end the debate over jack or no-jack

The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL are both water and dustproof with an IP68 certification, meaning they can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters of water for half an hour without sustaining any damage.

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL headphones and box

A handy diagram explains the clever solution adopted by the Pixel’s earphone. A cable loop that can be used to hold them in place.

Build Flat-glass back and smooth metal frame
Weight 148g (Pixel 3), 184g (Pixel 3XL)
Dimensions 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm (Pixel 3), 158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (Pixel 3XL)

Vodafone is offering the Pixel 3 for £32 per month and £9.99 upfront with 16GB of data per month and unlimited calls and data. Find the deal here: Pixel 3.

Prefer the Pixel 3 XL? You can pick it up on Vodafone for £34 per month and £25 upfront, with monthly allowances of 15GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. Find the deal here: Pixel 3 XL.


Screen and sound

  • Not as narrow as its competitors
  • Both screens are well balanced with natural colours
  • Quite a big notch on the Pixel 3XL, very round corners in the Pixel 3

The screens on both models are built with OLED technology, with bright colours and deep blacks, as you’d expect from a premium device. The Adaptive Colour mode, on by default, does a great job of adjusting the colour temperature and brightness to the surrounding environment and any transition is seamless.

The displays on the Pixel 3 series don’t try to dazzle with high saturation but are pleasant to use out of the box.

With regard to resolution, the Pixel 3XL is marginally superior to the Pixel 3. It tops the Note 9 and is comparable to the one found on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Pixel density is also slightly higher on the 3XL than the one on the smaller version but this is unlikely to make any difference in everyday use.

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL screens Amazon

Pixel 3 on the left, Pixel 3XL on the right. If you spend a long time on your phone for web browsing and online shopping, the bigger screen makes a huge difference.

The screen notch on the 3XL is undoubtedly thick, which can be a nuisance, especially when watching full-screen. But it’s something you can get used to unless you plan to watch movies or TV.

Google Pixel 3XL gaming screen hero size

Both screens appear less bright when compared to some rivals but colours are natural and I didn’t feel the need to ever to make any adjustments thanks to the very effective adaptive brightness mode.

Google Pixel 3XL screen video hero size

The Pixel 3XL has one of the thickest notches around.

The displays on both models are built with Corning Gorilla Glass 5, the highest quality glass available on the market and guarantee high scratch and knock resistance. They certainly feel solid and even after a few days of careless use without a case, there were no visible marks.

Size 5.5 inches (Pixel 3), 6.3 inches (3XL)
Resolution 1080 x 2160 pixels (Pixel 3), 1440 x 2960 pixels (Pixel 3XL)
Technology P-LED

Camera

The Pixel 2 released last year had one of the best cameras we’ve ever tested.

I’m pleased to say Google has done it again with photo a shooter capable of outstanding performance in almost any situation.

Surprisingly, unlike almost all premium phones out there, the Pixel 3 does not pack more than a single lens at the back. This makes you wonder if the addition of extra lenses at the back of the latest smartphones is more a marketing ploy than an effective strategy to improve camera performance.

The Pixel 3 series proves that sophisticated software processing goes a long way in delivering great shots. It’s this software that sets the Pixel 3 apart from every other smartphone when it comes to what the camera is capable of.

Colour rendering is superior to the one seen on both the iPhones XS and the still excellent Galaxy S9.

The Pixel 3 performs admirably, giving pictures a sense of depth that is hard to beat with any of its rivals.

The selfie camera on the other end, is composed of two lenses, a wide and a super-wide lens, making it perfect for group selfies.

Google Pixel 3XL camera interface hero size

As you’d expect from a Google-branded device, the camera interface is uncluttered and easy to use.

Google-Pixel-3-camera-sample-church

No dark corners left behind in this late afternoon shot.

Google-Pixel-3-camera-sample-bakery

A picture taken against the setting sun. The sky has an overly bright spot but it’s a good trade off considering the wide range of light reproduced including the dim side alley and the inside of the shop on the right.

Google-Pixel-3-camera-sample-street

“A busy road at night is not easy to get right and some motion blur is inevitable. I am amazed at the vivid colours of the Christmas lights over the road.*

Google-Pixel-3-camera-sample-bar

The Pixel 3 camera will not let you down even in dark condition. I didn’t use the dedicated “Night Shot” in this picture of a pub interior. A lot of different light sources can be challenging but colours are vivid and details are sharp.

Google-Pixel-3-camera-sample-kettle

Compromises have to be made in low light. They are usually made between brightness, colour reproduction or sharpness of detail. Compared to some of its rivals like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the Pixel 3 prioritises colours over contrast, resulting in more natural-looking photos.

Camera 12.2 MP, f/1.8, 28mm
Optical image stabilisation Yes
Unique features Night sight / Auto HDR

Performance and battery life

  • Big difference in battery with the bigger 3XL boasting longer life
  • Latest version of Android and timely updates

Google Pixel 3XL homescreen in hand

One of the biggest advantages of having a Google-branded Android phone is that you’re always guaranteed timely system upgrades and the latest version of Android.

The Pixel 3 and 3XL come with Android 9.0 (Pie) and have identical processing power that deliver a smooth experience whatever application you throw at them.

They each have 4GB of RAM which is in-line with other premium phones. There are two storage options 64GB and 128GB. Although 64GB should be alright for most users, it’s important to bear in mind that the storage cannot be upgraded. So the 128GB option might be the better option, especially for gamers.

Having said that, Google does offer unlimited storage for full quality photos and videos for two years after purchase.

The Pixel 3 comes with a 2915mhA battery, considerably smaller than the 3430mAh found on the Pixel 3XL. In real life usage, this gives the Pixel 3XL a bit more longevity than its smaller sibling and it can comfortably last for two days on a single charge if used lightly.

Heavy usage, especially with a screen at a medium to high brightness, changes everything. An hour-long session of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or a few episodes of The Good Place are going to take a heavy toll on the battery, especially for the larger 6.3-inch screen. But overall these are two devices that, although not exceptional, offer plenty of battery life.

Fast charging, of course, takes most of the worries away and a quick 20 minutes plugged in will be enough to fill the Pixel 3 up and carry you to the end of the day.

Wireless charging is also supported but it’s the Google-branded charging dock that makes this feature stand out. It provides fast-charge, not as fast as you’d get from the USB-C but a lot faster than you’d obtain from a standard charging pad. It can also turn your Pixel 3 into a Google Hub device.

Fingerprint unlocking is fast and reliable but unfortunately, it’s the only biometric access feature present on the Pixel 3 series. It’s not the end of the world and it’s a feature you’d only miss if you have ever used the practical face-unlocking before.

RAM 4GB
Battery capacity 2915mAh (Pixel 3), 3430mAh (Pixel 3XL)
OS and version Android 9 (Pie)

Value and verdict

  • Still the best camera out there
  • It’s a hard choice between a fairly compact 3 and the large 3XL
  • Dull design but powerful and dependable devices

Google Pixel 3 and 3XL lockscreens

Like the Pixel 2 before it, this new release from Google is not going to set the smartphone world on fire. The design is conservative and apart from the matte glass, there is little there that we haven’t seen already in other premium Android devices.

The Pixel 3 and 3XL are understated phones that seem to comfortably tick all the boxes of performance and reliability without distracting gimmicks.

Multiple sizes of the same phone often differ in specs, with the larger one having generally a better camera but a less sharp screen as well as some extra feature thrown in. But these two phones have identical specs apart from battery and screen size.

The camera is again where the Pixel tops every other phone out there. And impressively, it manages to do that without the multiple lens setups we are used to seeing, using outstanding software capabilities instead that you can rely on to produce great shots in any condition.

A Pixel 3 64GB, the most basic option, currently retails at £639 SIM-free (£739 for the 128GB version) while the Pixel 3XL at £769 for the 64GB and £869 for the 128GB.

The preferred screen size is the only factor you should consider when choosing one over the other but the upgrade to 128GB is worth considering.

Convinced you need Google's latest smartphone? Take a look at our best Google Pixel 3 deals.

Want to go large? Here are all our best Google Pixel 3XL deals.

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