Hey guys. Everyone knows Android is pretty fragmented with different companies incorporating different features that are unique to their brand. But the Google Pixel series is Google’s vision of what stock Android and Pixel hardware can do together. I have been using the Google Pixel 3 XL for about a month now and to be honest the experience feels pretty similar to the Pixel 2 XL. But of course there is more to it with the latest version of Android 9, and the support for wireless charging and the all new Pixel Stand.
Design and Build Quality
Let’s start with the design. It’s hard not to notice the notch once you pick up the phone. I’m actually okay with notches since I’m using a phone with one. But I feel the notch is way too long in terms of height but I think it could be the front camera sensor that’s taking up a little more space. After about 1 day of usage, it didn’t cross my mind that the notch is there.
In fact, you can enable developer mode to hide the notch completely, but it kind of removes usable screen estate. And also with or without the notch, the top and bottom bezels will not be the exact same size. The bottom bezel is where the other stereo front facing speaker is located.
I really like how the back of the phone feel on the hands, solid and well built, but it’s pretty slippery. It’s now a 2 tone glass back with shiny glass at the top and soft touch glass at the bottom. Without using a case, the back holds up pretty well. There are 3 colors for the Pixel 3 XL, Just Black, Clearly White and Not Pink. The sides are rounded and the back blends nicely to the sides, it feels like a single piece of material.
The fingerprint sensor is on the back, easily accessed with the finger. It works pretty fast and works when the screen is off. I kind of wished there was facial recognition since it’s already a pretty common technology.
All of the buttons are pretty tactile but it gets a little difficult to access the power button one handed. There are some accessibility options like swiping on the fingerprint sensor to pull down and up the notification menu, if you need to use one handed.
Hardware and Display
Following the previous Pixel, it’s missing a headphone jack. They have included an adapter if you need to use your own earphones, it’s pretty small so keep it safely. A new addition in the box is the included Google Pixel earbuds. They sound actually pretty good and fits snugly in my ears thanks to the adjustable rubber rings. You can access Google Assistant by pressing on the black button, and it can also read out your alerts without looking at your phone. What I like is that you can do real time translation just using the Google Pixel earbuds.
There is another microphone at the top and Type C port at the bottom. The SIM tray is now located at the bottom next to the charging port. It’s a single SIM model so there is no expandable storage, and the Google Pixel 3 XL comes in 64GB / 128GB storage and 4GB of RAM. But if you need more physical storage, it supports USB OTG through both Type C and USB thumbdrive using the adapter. The Quick Switch Adapter is also used for easy migration to the Pixel from another iOS or Android device. If you need even more storage for your photos, you have access to free unlimited original quality storage on Google photos till 31st Jan 2022.
Another improvement is the upgrade to IP68 certification which is good against dust and water protection up to 1.5m for 30 mins.
The Google Pixel 3 XL comes with a Corning Gorilla Glass 5, 6.3 inch display but real screen area should be lesser since it includes the notch. The OLED panel is Samsung made and their displays are known to be very vibrant with deep blacks. Pictures look great, and colors really pop on the display. You can change settings in the Color menu from Natural, Boosted or Adaptive. If you frequently look at your phone before you sleep, Night Light will help reduce blue light and may help you fall asleep easier.
To take advantage of OLED, you can toggle on Ambient Display to show information on the screen while the phone is locked. You can double tap or lift up the phone to check your alerts. There is also a dot on the app that has unread messages.
In terms of screen resolution, it has Quad HD, 1440 x 2960 display good for 523 PPI. Brightness is much better compared to the last one and viewing angles are pretty good as well. And since it’s an OLED panel, the blue shift when tilting the phone is pretty expected.
Software and Performance
This time the Pixel 3 XL comes with the latest Snapdragon 845 and Adreno 630. Benchmarks are top of the line results, gaming performance and day to day usage is a walk in a park for the Google Pixel 3 XL. It’s also good to know that when using or gaming for longer durations, there isn’t any overheating.
The experience on the UI is pretty smooth, except for occasional glitches in the software. As for connectivity, it supports Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, USB Type C and network speeds on both Wi-Fi and 4G are pretty good as well.
The Google Pixel 3 XL also features the latest enterprise grade Titan M chip, which focuses on security for your data and operating system. In summary, it secures the bootloader, uses passcode for encrpytion, enables secure transactions and prevents insider attacks.
The Pixel 3 XL is running the latest Android 9.0 Pie and the main focus of the Pixel is all about Google Assistant and Machine Learning. There are a couple of ways to trigger Google Assistant. One of the cool ways is called Active Edge that can be triggered by squeezing on the sides. You can use this to silence alerts as well. The other 2 ways is the traditional voice activation and pressing on the Home button which is now a pill shape.
The Pixel 3 XL supports gestures that are pretty easy to get used to. There is no longer a recent apps button, you can now access it by swiping up on the Home button. The Back button now shows when it’s needed, like when there is an app running or anything that’s open on top of the Home page. Spilt screen can be accessed in the Recent apps page, and tapping on the circle icon. Another way to access recently used apps is just swiping across the Home button.
The UI is pretty standard for Android. You can tap and hold to access settings, add widgets and change wallpapers. Swiping right shows information in the form of cards and you can customize what you want to see in here. Swiping down shows the notification panel and you can tap and hold on the icon to access the settings, and also arrange the icons to your liking. One of the most requested features is Dark mode across the phone. Previously you will need to use a dark wallpaper to trigger it, but now you can choose it directly in the settings.
When pressing on the volume rocker, the slider is now on the right side. It’s easier to access using the thumb and you can head directly to the volume settings or use dedicated toggle to choose different alert profiles.
Digital Wellbeing is currently in beta, you can check how much time you have spent on your phone. It shows you how many times you have unlocked your phone and how many notifications you have received. If you think that you spend too much time on a certain app, you can set App Timers to limit how long you can use that app.
Towards the end of the day, you can start to Wind Down. You can either set a schedule or ask Google Assistant to turn on Wind Down. It fades the screen to Grayscale and turns on Do Not Disturb. In addition to muting alerts, it also blocks visual notifications. But as you turn it off, all alerts will reappear.
Flip to Shhh is another way to trigger Do Not Disturb. Flip the phone face down will turn it on and flipping it face up again will turn it off. There is a light vibration when this mode is triggered.
Battery life was pretty good for the 3430 mAh battery. It’s slightly smaller than the Pixel 2 XL, but I had no problems lasting throughout the day. In fact my screen on time was around 5 hours max compared to 6 hours on the Pixel 2 XL. With Ambient Display on, it can last around 10 hours with around 10 – 20% battery left. One thing I noticed is that leaving it unplugged through the night, the battery drain can be around 10% on standby. It’s pretty consistent no matter apps were closed or not and I think this battery drain is a little too high.
The charger that comes with it is rated 18W so you can expect fast charging. The Pixel 3 XL also supports wireless charging and Google has released the Pixel Stand accessory to take advantage of it. To get fast wireless charging at 10W, you either need to get the Pixel Stand or Google licensed wireless charger. If not you will only get 5W charging for other wireless options. I have done a charging test for the Pixel 3 XL so be sure to click the link in the description to watch it.
There are some quirks for the Pixel Stand that takes advantage of the display while charging. You can display photos as a screensaver and also use Sunrise alarm that slowly brightens the screen before the alarm goes off. You can also access Google Assistant and turn on Do Not Disturb when it’s docked.
The Pixel 3 XL has a single 12.2MP back camera with OIS and dual 8MP front camera with normal and wide angle lens. To activate the camera you can double tap the power button to do so. You can also flip the phone twice to quickly switch between front and back camera.
There are a couple of modes like Panorama, Photo Sphere and Portrait. Portrait is pretty good even without a depth sensor. That goes to show how well Google does using software to create Portrait effect.
By default HDR+ is enabled but if you would like to choose, you can enable it in the settings. Shutter speed is very quick, photos turned out very clear with very little noise. Even in night shots, photos are pretty clear as well, one of the best I’ve seen so far.
Night Sight uses computation to generate brighter photos even in very low light conditions. I must say it really works, pretty well too.
Auto and manual focus in both day and low light is very fast as well. As for macro shots, it keeps the focused object clear and very detailed. For close up shots, Super Res Zoom uses natural hand movements to add additional clarity to photos.
What Top Shot does is it uses Machine Learning to find the best shot in the photo where people are smiling with eyes open. It also detects blur, gaze and focus to recommend the best among them.
Playground is essentially like AR where you can add characters that react to each other. A preview of Marvel Studios pack where characters like Iron Man and Hulk can also be played.
To keep the main object in focus, tap on the subject and a white circle will appear around it. It will stay locked on the subject at all times and it works for both front and back cameras, photo or video mode.
As for video recording, the back camera can record up to 4K resolution and the front camera up to 1080p. OIS is supported on the back camera and footage is smooth when moving about.
With the wide angle camera on the front, taking group selfies or even the surrounding is pretty fun. You can use the slider to adjust the zoom so that everything fits into the frame.
The Google Pixel 3 XL is a great phone but it’s really not for everyone. This phone revolves around pure Android experience showcasing what Android truly is, Google Assistant and Machine Learning. I feel that the design of the phone needs a little more thought. It seems rushed especially on the front, like the uneven chin when hiding the notch. But the features compared to other manufacturers makes the Pixel 3 XL look pretty dull.
With the maximum storage capacity at 128GB, this might not be enough for some of you. And as for battery life, it can be improved much more. It seems hard to justify the price tag that comes along with it, with memories of how affordable the Nexus line was.
What I really like about the Pixel 3 XL is the solid build quality, IP68 rating and definitely the camera. Not forgetting wireless charging and high performance with the latest Snapdragon chipset.
It’s a difficult choice whether to upgrade if you are already using the previous Pixel 2 XL. But for those that really want to experience Google’s vision of Android, the Pixel 3 XL is the only one.