Every year we get a slew of flagship smartphones all hoping for your hard earned dollars. They all have the latest and greatest specs, promise the best pictures you can see on a phone, and claim they can offer the best Android experience.
Google is not immune to this rat race, as for the past few years, the Pixel range of products have attempted to show what Android is capable of. While past iterations have boasted some impressive specs, and some of the best phones of their respective years, it was not until the Pixel 3 that Google finally found its footing and produced what is potentially the best Android phone to date.
Starting off with the design, the Pixel 3 XL is a beautiful piece of technology. All three colours on offer (Just Black, Clearly White, Not Pink) have their own unique charm, presenting a phone that not only boasts the best, most up-to-date Android experience, but one that looks the part of being an expensive flagship. The two-tone back makes for a striking device, and with it now being made out of glass, inductive charging is finally a reality.
The display on offer in the Pixel 3 XL is a major step up from last year. The 6.3-inch Quad HD 2,880 x 1,440 display is vibrant and a joy to see in everyday use. The Pixel 3 XL also has numerous colour modes to fit your needs. The boosted colour mode will bump up the saturation, making everything pop (think Samsung S9). The natural is what you have come to expect from expect from displays, making colours as close to the source as possible. And finally. the default (adaptive) optimizes colours to best work with a variety of situations. While I tested all modes, I found adaptive worked the best, although when you are colour matching or looking at something for true sRGB comparison, you will want to flip over to natural.
Now before we get ahead of ourselves, yes the Pixel 3 XL has a notch. It is big, and when you first turn on the device it can be a bit distracting. Once you have used the phone for a little over a day, this small issue is barely noticeable. I personally am a fan of getting every inch of potential screen real estate out of a device, and until we can find a better way to widen the cameras, sensors and mics, I am more than happy to put up with the notch.
Hidden in that notch is one of two front-facing stereo speakers, 8-megapixel (f/2.2 aperture, wide-angle) and an 8-megapixel (f/1.8 aperture, telephoto) for good measure. On the back of the device, you will find the fingerprint sensor, 12.2-megapixel (f/1.8 aperture, OIS, EIS). You will also find the sim-slot has moved from last years Pixel 2 XL, as it is now on the bottom of the device. The right side of the Pixel 3 XL is home to the volume rocker and the power button.
Under the hood, much like many flagships phones from 2018, you will find the Qualcomm 845, 4GB RAM, and a 3,430mAh battery for all-day battery life. While nothing spec wise stands out above the competition, it is the ways Google has optimized this device to work best with Android 9.0 PIE that makes things so interesting. The fusion of software and hardware makes the Pixel 3 XL simply the best android phone you can buy in 2018, hands down, and a true showcase for the platform.
But before we jump into the wonders of Android 9 on the Pixel 3 XL, I want to touch on something that makes the Pixel 3 XL so fun to charge – the introduction of wireless charging, especially with the new Pixel Stand. The $109 CAD dock turns your Pixel smartphone into a portal to Google, bringing with it the ability to use Hello Google, act as a digital picture frame, and even view people ringing your nest doorbell. While not totally necessary, it makes the act of charging far more interesting.
Now that is not to say the Pixel 3 XL will have any trouble getting through the day on a single charge. I found while listening to Spotify, playing some games, and some social media and browsing, I would have no problem making it to my night side table with around 10% battery left. It does support fast charging, so you can top it off for a super late night, but for most people will have no trouble getting a full days charge with little fear of running out of juice.
The software for the Pixel 3 XL and the way it integrates into every aspect of the experience is what makes the phone such a joy to use. I have been using this OS for years now, and while it has shown steady progression to this point, only now does it finally feel that Android has struck a perfect balance between a tech enthusiast OS and something the mass market can enjoy. The visual flairs, and cohesiveness of the experience cannot be overstated.
From the integration to Google assistant, to the way Google apps integrate into the whole experience, it cannot be overstated how cohesive using the Pixel 3 XL feels. Google taking the reigns and focusing on the software and hardware at the same time has yielded results. While it is still an Android, the experience has matured to the point that it makes everything feel far less like a chore to execute.
No part of the Pixel 3 XL’s focus on software and hardware integration feels more apparent than in the improvements for photography. The 12.2-megapixel camera manages to produce some truly remarkable results, even compared to last years already fantastic Pixel 2 XL’s offering. From the way it reproduces colour and clarity, to the new features on offer in this device are fantastic, the camera is a pleasure to dig into.
While the full slate of features is extensive, there are a few standouts that are useful to the everyday user. The first of which is the Super Rez Zoom. While many smartphones today include a tiny telephoto lens to get that extra detail at a distance, the Pixel 3 boasts a software feature that enhances the photos you can achieve through digital zoom. Now let’s be clear – it is not magic, as it cannot produce data that is simply not there. What it can do is create a photo that is “good enough” for social media or to share with other phones.
The wide-angle lens included on the front of the Pixel 3 XL also worked far better than I expected. Wide angle lenses can at times distort human features in unexpected and often unwanted ways. Yet, somehow Google managed to get past this. The wide-angle selfie camera worked well at capturing a small group, making it a fantastic feature in a pinch.
Finally, I wanted to mention the less useful, but oddly fun feature of Photobooth. This little section of the photo app lets you automatically take photos once your smile level hits a certain level. As you improve your smile, the little bar at the top of the screen fills out, and once it is filled, you get your photo. While ultimately not that useful, I had a blast playing with the feature. It was an odd way to gamify the act of taking a selfie, and it was simply fun to try.
Starting at $899 USD, the Pixel 3 XL is not a cheap phone option, yet that price comes with best in class quality, software and experience. The Pixel line of smartphones has always been the premier showcase for Android, and with the Pixel 3 XL, Google has built a phone that shows the true promise of the OS.