Google on Tuesday finally announced the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, its latest Android flagships which have been leaking all over the Internet for months now. Those countless premature sightings were largely accurate so while nothing unveiled at today’s event in Paris was truly unforeseen, Google still had a number of small surprises up its sleeve. While a single look at them doesn’t really suggest these handsets are so similar, they’re much more alike than they appear at first and choosing one over the other will be more of a matter of taste than technical demands and smartphone habits.
In terms of specifications, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are mostly run-of-the-mill 2018 flagships: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chip is here, together with a minimum 64GB storage option and 4GB of RAM which Google is surprisingly sticking with for the third year in a row now. Speaking of things that are not new, the sole 12.2-megapixel camera is once again making a return, though the single-lens selfie solution from last year has now been replaced with an 8-megapixel dual-camera setup on the front, with the second lens being of the wide-angle variety and designed for group selfies. The Pixel 3 features a 5.5-inch FHD+ (2,160 x 1,080, 18:9) screen, whereas the Pixel 3 XL offers a 6.3-inch QHD+ (2,960 x 1,440, 18.5:9) panel, both of which are of the OLED variety, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, and offer UHDA-certified HDR support. The dual stereo speakers are said to be up to 40-percent more powerful than last year’s units, with the new phones also offering Bluetooth 5.0, NFC. All things considered, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are relatively underwhelming in terms of pure hardware but as far as Google is concerned, the experience they offer is all about their software and hardware working together and is still of the ultra-premium variety.
To notch or not to notch
The most obvious difference between the newly announced Android handsets is that the smaller Pixel 3 doesn’t have a notch and pretty much looks like last year’s Pixel 2 XL, whereas the larger Pixel 3 XL features a rather sizeable cutout that appears rather crude compared to minimal notches other manufacturers opted for over the course of the last year. Google made no attempts to explain the sizeable notch or why doing super-wide selfies even requires a second camera, which is presumably a large part of the reason why the cutout ended up being so big.
Screen cutouts aside, the aluminum-and-glass build of the new series appears to be as premium as they come and Google even decided to make the new handsets more playful by using lime and orange hardware accents on select variants. The amount of bezels is fairly minimal and both devices have been designed for single-handed use in mind, hence their tall aspect ratios. IP68-certified resistance to dust particles and water completes the mostly glass package which remains rather compact; the Pixel 3 weighs 148g and is 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9mm in size, whereas the 184g Pixel 3 XL measures in at 158 x 76.7 x 7.9mm.
The best mobile photography software meets… not the best hardware
Besides the Pixel 3 XL’s notch, the fact that both of the new handsets are featuring only a single rear camera is surely the most controversial “feature” of the lineup. It’s 2018, consumers can already buy several mainstream devices with not two but three rear cameras, and while more doesn’t necessarily equal better, even a remotely capable developer can come up with software that leverages multiple cameras to make the overall mobile photography experience more versatile.
On the bright side, Google is way more than just a “remotely capable developer,” so the overall imaging capabilities of the Pixel 3 line remain worthy of a premium price tag. The 1.4μm rear sensor and its f/1.8 (76°) lens that utilizes both OIS and EIS can now help you capture even the most difficult shots by basically taking images all the time, so if you press your shutter button and aren’t satisfied with what you see, you can browse through a dozen or so images taken before and after you actually instructed the device to record something. Google calls this feature “Top Shot” and it looks rather advanced, though it remains to be seen how it ends up working in practice.
While the rear panels of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are still accommodating just a single rear camera each, their fronts now feature two-lens systems. As a result, the company’s Portrait Mode is now said to be more natural and accurate, whereas wide-angle selfies become an option even without a selfie stick, as Google is eager to point out. The devices can also capture 187-percent larger area than the Apple iPhone XS can, the company said, adding that its Portrait Mode has been additionally improved as well. “The biggest breakthroughs are not in hardware alone,” Google hardware SVP Rick Osterloh said today, and the Pixel 3 camera is meant to drive that point home or die trying.
Improved batteries + more efficient processing = better battery life
The Pixel 3 builds on the 2,700mAh battery of its predecessor by shipping with a 2,915mAh cell, though the Pixel 3 XL is fueled by a 3,450mAh unit as opposed to the 3,520mAh module found inside the Pixel 2 XL. Still, coupled with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, both should last longer and charge quicker than their predecessors, thus having zero issues with lasting throughout the day on a single charge and casual users may even get more out of them, with the company itself advertising their cells as “day-long batteries.”
One important novelty in the battery department comes in the form of wireless charging support which is making a return to a Google product line for the first time since the Motorola-made Nexus 6 released in late 2014. To that end, Google is also launching a wireless charging dock called the Pixel Stand alongside its latest Android handsets. Compared to the phone from four years ago, the Pixel 3 lineup takes things a step further with the introduction of fast (10W) wireless charging, whereas Qualcomm’s Quick Charge tech remains supported as well.
The only truly premium stock Android experience on the market
With Android 9 Pie unsurprisingly being part of the package, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are the only smartphones that are currently offering a truly premium experience of Google’s latest mobile operating system. A stable version of the company’s Digital Wellbeing portfolio is also on offer here, having been designed to reduce the amount of time you spend on your smartphone every day through smart app and action suggestions, as well as more general automation. Naturally, that technology can be disabled at will but Google urges you to give it a go and see if it improves your quality of life.
The Active Edge from the Pixel 2 lineup is making a return with both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL and doesn’t appear to be any different to last year’s tech that’s essentially just a rebranded version of HTC’s Edge Sense. In other words, you can map the action of physically squeezing the device with a certain amount of force to various shortcuts, whether to launch particular apps or perform actions within apps such as taking an image. The feature was mostly received as a neat gimmick that’s easy to ignore last year and that’s unlikely to be different this time around. Integration with other Google services is once again and completely unsurprisingly touted as a major selling point of the handsets, so e.g. all Pixel 3 owners will have unlimited (full-resolution) Google Photos storage until January 31, 2022, for all images and video clips recorded on their Android smartphones. Native Google Lens, AR Stickers (now called “Playground”), Google Assistant, and Titan Security support is also a core part of the Pixel 3 experience, as is a free six-month subscription to YouTube Music Premium, and the handsets will not only be the first to receive new OS versions and monthly security patches but may also still enjoy temporarily exclusive access to various new app features Google comes up with moving forward.
Something for everyone
Google is offering three color variants of its latest Android handsets – Just Black, Clearly White, and Not Pink. All versions of both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL come with only 4GB of RAM, though users can choose between 64GB and 128GB of storage space. That and the screens are pretty much the only differences between the two handsets, though Google appears to be confident that will be enough to cater to a wide demographic in its target markets. There’s still no word on whether the firm intends to re-release one or both phones in additional colors at a later date, though that doesn’t seem likely given how it never did so in the past.
Available globally… kind of
As was the case with the first two generations of the Pixel family, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are kind of available globally, except not really. As far as the United States market is concerned, Verizon is still the only wireless carrier selling the new smartphones, whereas American consumers can also buy them unlocked directly from the Google Store. Prospective buyers in most other countries will have to deal directly with Google, provided the Pixel 3 series will actually be sold in their market. Given how the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were notoriously lacking in the availability department, some industry watchers were hoping Google will be pushing their successors to many more markets but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, France and Japan are the only new countries that will be receiving the latest made-by-Google handsets, or at least the only new ones the company confirmed so far.
Pricing is another front that brings some less-than-pleasant surprises, as the Pixel 3 starts at $799 in the U.S., $150 more than the Pixel 2 went for last year. Verizon is at least offering a BOGO deal on the handsets that allows you to buy two for the price of one on a contract and some other carriers such as Fido in Canada are bundling all pre-orders with a free Pixel Stand thrown in. The Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 and does up to $999 for the 128GB version, whereas the Pixel 3 variant with just as much storage space retails at $899. The devices will start shipping on October 17 in the U.S. and abroad.