After about a month in the company of Pixel 3 XL and having written in detail about many of its features, it is finally time to draw conclusions. What do I think about the new smartphone made by Google? Find out in the full review of Google Pixel 3 XL.
- Exclusive Google software
- Photographic experience
- Great display
- High-end design
- Notch (not its presence but the software)
- RAM management (bugs)
Not a bargain
Google offers the Pixel 3 XL in two variants and three different colors: Just Black, Black & White and Not Pink. The 64GB storage variant costs $899. To have twice the storage space, you will have to pay $999. Google almost exceeds the $1000 mark this year.
It is certainly not the smartphone with the best value for money, but Google has adapted to the market. The Pixel 3 XL plays in the same league as other high-end flagships and its price reflects that.
Stylish design in a familiar format
The waterproof shell of the Pixel 3 XL (thanks to its IP68 certification) is not so different from its predecessor. Google has once again separated the top of the panel from the rest. However, the shell of the new Pixel is made entirely of glass. The opaque part on the Just White model in my possession looks almost porcelain and it feels amazing in my hand. The Google Imprint fingerprint sensor is located in the middle of the top panel and is framed by a diamond cut edge.
The metal structure that holds together the two fragile pieces of glass the smartphone is composed of, has a glossy finish that feels ceramic to the touch. The mint green accent of the power button is wonderful. The volume button is just below and is as shiny as the frame, unlike the green button.
When you pick up your smartphone for the first time you will immediately notice how well it fits in your hand, even if it does not use an exaggeratedly rounded front glass like its predecessor. I personally prefer this flat panel to the curves of the Pixel 2 XL, but it's a matter of taste.
What hasn't changed? The smartphone is difficult to use with one hand. To really reach all areas of the display you'll need to use two hands.
The best display the market has to offer
The Pixel 3 XL is a little larger than its predecessor. The front panel houses a QHD a 6.3-inch display (2960x1440 pixels) with an 18.5:9 format. This is made possible by the slightly narrower "chin" at the bottom and the much thinner bezels around the display.
Obviously, there is the notch - the most controversial novelty offered by the Pixel 3 XL. Yes, it is relatively narrow, but visibly protrudes into the display. Let's say that it does not go unnoticed, but in everyday use you learn to live with it quickly (like any other notch).
What I didn't like was Google's software implementation for masking the notch and managing the icons on its sides that often seem misaligned or need to be hidden due to lack of space. Placing them on two lines would have solved this problem, in my opinion, given the height of the notification bar.
As for the quality of Samsung's OLED panel, you can't argue: this year Google chose the best display on the market.
The Pixel 3 XL wants to be squeezed
As a special feature on the Pixel 3 XL, we find Active Edge (already present on the Pixel 2 XL) which has not been modified compared to the previous generation, as happened on HTC U12+.
The new Taiwanese manufacturer's implementation is unusable and annoying. Pressing the frame can activate Assistant or mute incoming calls. It also works when the display is off, which allows you to start the assistant, for example, while your smartphone is still in your pocket. Unfortunately, you can't remap Active Edge's functions, unlike on the HTC U12+.
Pure Android with some small exclusives
The software is the real star of the new Google smartphones. The Pixel 3 XL comes with Android 9.0 Pie. In this case, the new gesture-based navigation system is enabled by default (unlike the Pixel 2 XL, which required manual activation) and you cannot disable it. In my personal experience, it is a system that you can get used to, but it is still far from the easy to use gestures of the iPhone XS and Xiaomi smartphones.
Under the motto "AI First", there are also functions such as Now Playing (which now has a history ❤) for automatic music recognition even when offline, and Google Lens. Apart from the beautiful new backgrounds, the Pixel Launcher doesn't seem to offer any exclusive new features. You can activate dark mode from the settings but this only applies to Quick Toggles and Pixel Launcher, not to settings or other system apps.
The combination of Qualcomm's latest SoC Snapdragon 845 and the elegant pure Android interface has paid off and using this smartphone is really satisfying. Unfortunately, in my case, I also encountered problems with RAM management, which would close background applications, such as Maps or Spotify, when taking photos, for example. However, the problems have now been resolved by the update containing the November patches. It has also slightly improved the fluidity of gestures.
True champion performance
As expected, the Pixel 3 XL offers excellent overall performance despite the annoying bugs mentioned above. The RAM management problems will be solved completely with a new update. However, that's too bad, because paradoxically the Pixel 2 XL, which has the same amount of RAM and a less powerful SoC, performs better in some situations and in multitasking.
The RAM LPDDR4X offered is limited to 4GB. For some it's a shame especially if you look at the competition that offers 6GB or even, in the case of OnePlus 6T, 8GB. Although 4GB is currently enough, 6GB would have been more congenial for the future and given the high price of the smartphone. For more information about performance, please refer to the in-depth analysis that also contains the benchmark and gaming tests:
For the internal memory, you can choose between a 64GB and a 128GB variant. Once again Google makes a bad impression compared to the competition by giving up on a 256GB storage model, since the memory can not be expanded via microSD. But there's a reason: the company wants to push the use of its cloud services and offers unlimited online storage space for photos and videos for more than three years.
The rest of the spec sheet reflects what is expected from a 2018 flagship: NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE and Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz), GPS, Glonass, Beidou and Galileo are all on board. The USB Type-C connector also supports the USB 3.1 Gen-1 standard, which offers higher transfer rates than a USB Type-C 2.0 connector.
Also included is a new chip called Titan M that will be responsible for the security of your personal data on your smartphone.
The most powerful speakers ever seen on a Google smartphone
They are a rarity, but with the Pixel 3 XL we can welcome them again: the front-facing stereo speakers. One is located at the bottom of the screen, the other is combined with the headset in the notch. Both sound good, even if the upper speaker has a slightly lower volume. This is especially noticeable at maximum volume.
The audio output has powerful bass and the whole body of the phone vibrates accordingly - transmitting the beat of the songs you are listening to the hands holding the smartphone: I find the feature very interesting but according to some colleagues it's just annoying.
If you have a high-quality wired headset, you'll need to make use of a Type-C USB adapter (included, learn Apple) on the Pixel 3 XL because there's no headphone jack. Google supplies your smartphone with a Type-C Pixel Buds-like headset in the box. In addition to the appearance, the sound is sadly similar.
The best camera in the world is now even more useful
Unlike the competition, Google continues to focus on a single 12.2MP main camera with f/1.8 aperture. The manufacturer has once again worked on the software and is still able to stand up to rivals with two or three lenses. There is a dual camera, but Google has actually placed it on the front of the device. Alongside the notch you'll find two 8.1MP (f/1.8 and f/2.2) sensors, a normal and an ultra wide-angle one.
The king of cameraphones is back.
New software features for better photos
Google has made some changes to the camera app. The different modes are now aligned horizontally above the viewfinder and can be changed with side swipes. New features include these modes:
- Top Shot: should ensure that everyone has their eyes open in group photos. The Pixel 3 XL creates a series of images and puts them together so that all subjects look at the camera.
- Super Res Zoom: a digital zoom improved by AI that will automatically follow the subject being framed.
- Night Sight: a powerful night mode that takes amazing shots in the dark.
The battery has shrunk
Compared to its predecessor, the Pixel 3 XL battery is a tad smaller - 3430 mAh. Software optimization should ensure an equally good battery life, but in fact the Pixel 3 XL is a bit disappointing. Yet, the Pixel 3 XL's battery doesn't just charge quickly just via the Type-C USB port at the bottom of the device: the wireless charging technology, which had taken a break is back and (with a Pixel Stand) it reaches 10W!
Google Pixel 3 XL technical specifications
Okay, now let's all sit down and take a breath. Rereading this review, it almost seems that the Pixel 3 XL is a smartphone that should be thrown out of the window of a moving car, but that's far from the truth. You, the buyer, have the right to be informed about the small defects or issues that the Pixel has, before spending a small fortune on it.
Most of them are still due to the software and I sincerely find it strange that Google has slipped in that regard. At the same time, however, it means that they are all problems that can be solved by an update - I do not doubt that Google will do so soon. As I already said several times, it is difficult to believe that the company will let its latest smartphone perform worse than the Pixel 2 XL.
The only complaints I would make to the Big G, concern the battery - it could be a few mAh larger. The lack of memory (both storage and RAM), should not be a problem on a smartphone that costs almost $1000 either.
In terms of design, the Pixel 3 XL is a step forward from the past with impeccable craftsmanship, slim bezels around the display (the side bezels of the Pixel 2 XL were certainly not the best...) and the best display in the world. Using this device is a real pleasure if you manage to ignore the temporary bugs. On top of that, the camera is still unsurpassed.
As happened last year, it is unlikely that another smartphone will be able to steal the place of the Pixel in my pocket, and it's just as unlikely that we will see manufacturers present cameras with better results. Finally a worthy substitute for the smartphone that has accompanied me on a thousand adventures around the world!