A few years back, smartphones with 3GB RAM were touted as the powerful new Androids, while the iPhone was mocked for its 1GB RAM. Never mind that iPhone still worked smoothly than most Android phones, 1GB RAM and dual-core processor notwithstanding.
The point I’m making is that in the Android world, conversation around phones has been dominated by specifications. Software, thanks to the fragmentation in Android universe, has always taken a back-seat.
And that’s what Google has tried to change, first with Android One, and now with its Pixel phones. Take the conversation away from specifications. The strategy is similar to Apple’s iPhone, where talk isn’t about RAM or battery size, but the overall ‘premium’ experience.
But as we know, making a premium phone is easier said than done. Last year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL had quality control issues with the touchscreen display and audio distortion. With the Pixel 3 XL, Google continues on its path of creating the ‘premium’ Android, but does it finally get things right? Here’s our review.
Google Pixel 3 XL specifications: 6.3-inch QHD+ display | Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor | 4GB RAM+64/128GB storage | 12MP rear camera + 8MP+8MP front camera | 3430 mAh battery | Android 9.0 Pie
Google Pixel 3 XL price in India: Rs 83,000.
Google Pixel 3 X: Design, Display
The 6.3-inch Pixel 3 XL is the most expensive Android phone in the Indian market and will compete with the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9. Pixel 3 XL feels heavier than last year’s phone and is slippery thanks to the glass back. But Google has given a half matte finish, which is interesting to touch and feel. The matte is still prone to smudges and does not get cleaned easily, which is a shame.
Still Pixel 3 XL has a much better display and overall design compared to the earlier iteration. I had no trouble using it with one-hand, which can be a challenging for me with 6-inch plus devices.
My one major complaint with the older Pixel 2 XL was the display. I would notice that in YouTube videos, especially in makeup videos, the skin would have a greenish tinge at times, which was so frustrating.
But all of that changes with Pixel 3 XL. God bless the Samsung OLED. The blacks are deeper, and the overall colour reproduction is accurate, and noticeably better. Video viewing is a much more enjoyable on the display, though there is the issue of the notch, which is likely to leave many angry and unhappy.
Pixel 3 XL does have an option to turn off the notch in the software settings, but you have to go into developer options. Say what you will, the notch is intrusive on some apps. For instance, with Instagram or Facebook Stories, the notch appears quite prominently on top. It does seem like a waste of space for the top bezel, but then again, notch screens have become far too common.
I do not consider the notch deal-breaker just yet. But having an option to turn it off in regular settings would make many more people happy.
Pixel 3 XL: Performance, software
There have been no app crashes, no crashing of camera app or any other problems while using this phone. My only major concern is the heating up of the device, which is noticeable when I’m using the camera for a long time or charging the phone. Be it gaming or just browsing content on various social media apps, Pixel 3 XL has been a smooth sailing so far.
The RAM management issue, where Pixel is reportedly killing off some apps running in the background, has not cropped up either. Though I did notice that in some instances the camera had not saved a photo I clicked, which has been reported by others.
Pixel is about the software which improves battery life, notifications, how you interact with the phone and most importantly, the camera. Pixel 3 XL runs Android Pie, which I have been using for a while now thanks to the Pixel 2 XL.
One thing I love is how the notifications are smarter. Android Pie has figured out which ones I tend to dismiss, and will ask me if it should just turn them off. It makes the task a lot more easier. Notifications from a lot of apps like my carrier app, no longer bother me thanks to Android’s AI-driven smartness.
The UI has changed with a single home button. Gestures are now part of the Android system, rather than the three buttons one was used to with Oreo and others. I feel the gestures could be smoother. For instance, I still end up with overview mode, even though I’m swiping for the app tray. But yes, one does get the hang of it.
You can also swipe on the fingerprint scanner and the notifications will appear. You can just flip the phone twice to switch to the selfie camera while the camera app is open, though I never seem to get it right.
There’s Adaptive display, which understands your surroundings to get the right settings. Then the app drawer will show the apps you use the most right on top. There’s Smart Compose on Gmail app, which will predict what you write next and is pretty useful, though some might find it annoying.
The software is designed to help the user and for fans of Android, this is one of the best experiences right now. The Pixel 3 XL also comes with Pixel Bud type-C USB headphones bundled in, which is good to see. These work with Google Assistant and when you plug it in, it will read out your notifications, which can be very useful.
There’s Adaptive battery as well, which is supposed to ensure a longer battery life, by figuring out which apps you use more and restricts those which are used infrequently. You can go in settings and restrict battery life for some apps which might be draining this as well.
Still there are newer features for Google Assistant like Screen Calling, Duplex which remain limited to the US for now.
Perhaps the most important new software feature in Pixel 3 XL is Digital Wellbeing, which will let you regain some control over your smartphone. I like how I can set a limit for each app, rather than go by categories like it is on iOS. If you exceed your time limit for an app, then it will be greyed out for the rest of the day. One has to go back to settings and reset or increase the limit, in order to get access back.
Digital wellbeing is certainly a useful feature for those who want to restrict their time on phones. I’ve certainly found it useful when it comes to curbing my consumption of apps like Facebook, Netflix, Instagram and YouTube.
The DND and Wind down feature is also useful. With Wind down the screen turns gray automatically for your daily preset bedtime. It really does make sure you do not spend any more of your time staring at your phone’s screen in the night.
Google Pixel 3 XL: Camera
Camera is the most hyped part of this phone. Once again, Google is relying on software wizardry to power the camera, not just hardware. And with Pixel 3 XL, Google mostly gets it right. The camera performance is fantastic in various lighting conditions, be it low-light or the bright outdoors. There are enough details in photos, and the colours just pop right out. Pixel 3 XL does the job of making sure the picture manages to stand out, with minimal effort on the user’s part, which is what you want with a smartphone.
I used the Pixel 3 XL’s camera at a family wedding, and the Portrait shots are simply stunning, though a bit sharper compared to the previous phone.
The best part about photos on Pixel 3 XL, be it selfies or the ones on rear camera is the preservation of details. For instance, in the wedding selfies I took in Portrait mode, when I zoom in, the camera also captures my smile lines, my pores. Yes, ideally most people would not want to see those, but Pixel 3 XL is not hiding any details, and that’s impressive. I’m glad there is no default skin smoothing beauty mode on Pixel 3 XL like on many Android devices.
One new feature of the Pixel 3 XL is the Super Zoom, which has impressed me for most parts. The photos, taken from four feet, five feet away, other side of the road have enough details. No other smartphone is achieving this with just digital zoom. Still when you zoom in on some of the ‘Super Zoom’ photos, the details can be smudgy.
Then there’s Playground feature, where you can add animated characters like Iron Man to your photos and videos. Yes, this is nothing new, considering Pixel 2 had something similar. But there are those who will find ‘cool’.
One feature of the Pixel 3 XL camera that’s yet to make an appearance is Night Sight. Now people are already sharing photos of what it can do, based on some modified APK that’s being shared, and so far it looks very impressive. Frankly I’m waiting to see how Night Sight will improve an already excellent camera.
Google Pixel 3 XL: Battery
As I mentioned above, Pixel 3 XL has the Adaptive battery feature, which relies on AI and deep learning to improve battery life by restricting apps you tend to use less. Still right now I think Pixel 3 XL is not exceptionally better than the previous Pixel 2 XL. I have noticed that on some days, even with minimal usage the battery would drain faster, which was surprising. But yes, on most days Pixel 3 XL should you for the entire day.
Pixel 3 XL does come with a fast charger at 10W with the Pixel Stand, but you have to purchase that separately. Also Google has restricted fast-charging only to its own authorised chargers.
Google Pixel 3 XL: Verdict
But is the Pixel 3 XL worth its asking price? The 64GB variant will cost you Rs 83,000 and the 128GB version costs Rs 92,000, which is pretty close to the iPhone XS’s 64GB option. Like the iPhone, Pixel 3 does not have a microSD card slot either, though Google is continuing with the unlimited storage option on Google Photos at full-resolution. However, Google Pixel 3 XL does not have a 256GB variant like the iPhone XS or the Note 9, which is disappointing for such an expensive phone.
Pixel 3 XL is for those who want a premium Android phone with a camera experience unlike any other, without any of the jazz about three or four sensors at the back. It is also for those who want an Android experience which gets upgraded regularly. However, Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL users might not see much point in upgrading, considering there’s not such a bump in hardware or performance. Plus, most of the camera features of Pixel 3 will be coming to Pixel 2 phones. It is software afterall.
The high price tag aside, there’s no denying that Pixel 3 XL is an excellent premium phone, though the hardware might not impress all.