REVIEW: Google Pixel 3 XL
We’ve been using the new Google Pixel 3 XL almost a week now and we’ve learnt a lot about Google’s newest handset, which will be the first Pixel phone available to Irish consumers on November 1st. We must say though, before we get into the details of our review that, the Pixel 3, the smaller of the two models, has exactly the same features and specs as the XL model with only the battery and screen size different between them. Now, is Google’s newest handset worth your hard-earned cash and have they done enough to make it stand out from the crowd? Read on to find out in our review of the Pixel 3 XL.
Seeing as this is the first Pixel phone to come to Irish shores, we haven’t had a chance to try out the previous generation models to compare how the build quality holds up. What we do know is, the new Pixel 3 XL feels very sturdy in the hand and we’re a big fan of the brushed glass on the lower section of the back of the phone as it not only adds a bit of grip when using the device without a cover but also reduces the appearance of fingerprints.
The dual, front firing speakers are also pretty impressive but we have noticed some slight cracking when playing certain tracks and even when the assistant is responding to a query. This may just be an issue with our review model and hopefully Google can push an update that will tweak the speakers EQ to correct it somewhat.
Now, on to one of the most contentious parts of the new Pixel 3 XL; its display or, more specifically, the notch at the top of the display. We’d like to say, straight off that bat that, yes, it’s quite a large notch but, after a few hours using the phone, you forget it’s there. Google did announce the option to ‘hide’ the notch if you go into the developer options section of the phone but it literally turns that part of the screen off and moves the notification strip down below the bottom part of the notch which doesn’t make much sense, hopefully Google will release an update that allows users to both hide the notch but still place the notifications panel in the two ‘hidden’ parts at either side of the notch.
NotchGate aside, the overall display quality is excellent and Google appear to have learned from the problems which many users had with last year’s Pixel 2 XL display. The Pixel 3 XL has a 6.3″ 18.5:9 POLED QHD HDR display that looks great in all scenarios. We’re a big fan of OLED displays in general and the Pixel 3 XL has one of the best we’ve seen. Viewing angles are also very good and peak brightness does any HDR content you watch on the device justice.
Now, ever since Google introduced their Pixel line of phones to the world, it’s their cameras that has really helped them stand out from the crowd. Not to follow trends, Google has again decided to stick with a single camera on the rear of the device but has added an additional wide angle lens to the front of the phone to help make sure you capture much more of your surroundings, or friends, when taking a selfie.The very impressive ‘blurred background’ or bokeh effect you can achieve with the selfie camera also makes a return.
Jumping between the normal and wide angle selfie cameras, we did notice a change in the colour temperature and overall quality of the images but it wasn’t something to detract from the overall improvement to just how much more you can capture with a front facing camera so we commend Google for adding this new lens.
The HDR capabilities of the rear facing camera is really what helps makes this camera shine (pun intended) and Google has introduced a new ‘HDR+ Enhanced’ mode which takes things to another level. When shooting in this mode, the camera does take a second or two to capture an image but that’s because it’s capturing multiple exposures at once to stack on top of each other and give you the best HDR image possible. Here are some images we took to try and show off this feature in particular.
Google has also upgraded their augmented reality (AR) offerings and has re-branded ‘AR Stickers’ to ‘Playground’ which can be found in the ‘More’ section of the camera app. In here, you can add characters from the Stars Wars, Stranger Things and even Marvel franchise to your photos, videos and even selfies along with sports. animals and weather related characters and effects.
We’ve been playing with the camera on the Pixel 3 XL for nearly a week now and it really is one of the best we’ve tested in a smartphone. Google’s software tweaks such as ‘Super Res Zoom’ which uses some sort of machine learning witchcraft, allows the Pixel 3 XL to capture digitally zoomed images at much better clarity than should actually be possible.
The low light capabilities are also very impressive but Google has promised an update coming down the tracks called ‘Night Sight’ which, again, uses ‘state of the art techniques in computational photography and AI to capture vibrant and detailed photos in low light without the need for flash.’ . Below are some ‘non Night Sight’ low light images from the Pixel 3 XL but we’ll be sure to update this review once the new feature is added to the Pixel 3’s camera. We’ll be very interested to see how it stacks up against Huawei’s class-leading low-light capabilities in their P20 line. (Google did say that the feature will be coming to older Pixel models also.)
When it comes to video capture, the Pixel 3 XL can record up to 4K resolution but unfortunately, there’s no 60FPS option, not even at 1080p, which is surprising. There is, however, some very impressive video stabilisation called ‘Fused Video Stabilisation’ which does a great job of keeping your captured videos as judder-free as possible. Slow Motion video also returns with options for 120FPS or 240FPS video capture at 1080p or 720p respectively. You can see a sample of some 240 FPS footage below.
Packed inside the Pixel 3 XL is a 3430 mAh battery and, when paired with Google’s ‘Adaptive Battery’ feature that limits battery for infrequently used apps, the battery on the 3 XL has been great. We’ve easily been getting over a full day’s use from one charge and, with fast charging built in, both wired and wirelessly, you’d have to be very unlucky to have your new Pixel run out of juice on you.
Google Pixel Stand
Speaking of battery, we’ve also been playing with the new Pixel Stand wireless charging dock for the new Pixel phones. Capable of charging the new handsets at a very impressive 15W (10W for any other Qi enabled wireless charging capable handset) the new stand really does add to the value factor of having both the handset and the dock to get the most out of each other. Not only that, the stand helps turn your handset into its own smart display and lets you use your Google Assistant in a more intuitive way.
You can also have it display images from your Google Photos albums, turning it into a super high res digital photo frame. We’re also fans of the ‘Sunrise Alarm’ which will slowly brighten the Pixel’s display in warm sunrise colours before your alarm goes off.
We’ve been longing for Google to launch their Pixel range of phones in Ireland ever since they were announced back in 2016 and now, they’re finally here. Having spent some time with the new handset, we can see why owners of previous generations are such big fans. Google’s take on hardware and the operating system it helped create is one of the best we’ve seen in a modern day smartphone.
Yes, the overall visual design could be better (we’re looking at you, notch) but, when you get over that and actually start to use the phone day-to-day, everything just works together they way you’d expect it too. The OS is buttery smooth and intuitive, the camera is one of the best we’ve ever tested and the battery will last you the entire day. Google’s Pixel 3 XL can stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best the Android Ecosystem has to offer and may well be one of the best smartphones available right now, period.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL launch November 1st in Ireland in Just Black, Clearly White and Not Pink on the Google Store and the black and white models will also be available on Vodafone Ireland. Below are the sim-free pricing breakdowns for the handsets and Vodafone will be offering the Pixel 3 for free on their ‘Red Connect Super’ plan. You can register your interest for the new handsets on Vodafone’s network here.
- Pixel 3 64GB – €899
- Pixel 3 128GB – €959
- Pixel 3 XL 64GB – €999
- Pixel 3 XL 128GB – €1099
The Google Pixel Stand will also be launching on November 1st for €79 and will be available via the Google Store.