Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL are the company’s latest flagship devices. When you buy a phone directly from Google, rather than one of the other OEMs, you get a device that comes with stock Android. That means there’s no manufacturer or carrier software layer, but you get exactly the hardware and software combination that Google designed. In many ways, this places the Pixel 3 as the closest phone experience to what Apple offers with the iPhone.
The Pixel 3 runs Android 9 Pie out of the box and features a 5.5″ display, making room for the XL version at 6.3″ for those that like bigger displays. On the sides of the device is a unique pressure sensor that allows you to squeeze the hardware and initiate a software experience in the form of Google Assistant. This is a neat trick not found elsewhere and surprisingly addictive. It’s so much faster than the verbal command ‘ok Google’, that means you’ll naturally use it more often.
The phone has a number of other great features and in this review we take a look at them and let you know what’s good, what’s got room for improvement, before you decide to buy one as your next phone.
The Pixel 3 has a number of unique attributes that make it a softer, more friendly device than the typical black slab device. Firstly, there’s a fun coloured power button on the right, this shows a level of playfulness in design, one that’s enhanced by the squeeze feature.
The curved corners combine with the curved edges of the back, making for a great feel in the hand. The back is a two-tone design, with the lower half featuring a distinct matt colour, while the top 1/3rd is a gloss finish. This different texture beneath your hand, makes the phone more grippable with a single hand, reducing your chances to drop it.
Many users will opt for the Google Pixel Cover which comes in a fabric finish, matching the design of the Google Home products.
On the back of the phone, there’s a central fingerprint reader that also doubles as a gesture input platform, allowing you to swipe down to pull down your notification drawer. This certainly isn’t the first phone to implement this function, but that does allow the design of the screen to be in full view as you avoid having to reach for the top of the display with a second hand.
On the Pixel 3, there’s no sign of a notch, but that means there’s also a forehead to support the earphone, the camera and light sensor. There’s unfortunately not face unlock, but there is in the Pixel 3 XL which does deliver the full screen displays made famous in 2018, but again, you have to be comfortable with a 6.3″ display, rather than the Pixel 3’s smaller, more charming 5.5″ display.
Connected and capable
Inside the Pixel 3’s body is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with 4GB. That’s not crazy by today’s standards, but this phone performs incredibly well. Remember than smaller screen on the 3, means it’s not pushing so many pixels.
Squeeze to launch Assistant
This is one of those features that didn’t have to be included, but once you own the Pixel, you’ll quickly appreciate that they did. Launching Google Assistant quickly and easily is done by squeezing the lower half of the phone. When the sides are pressed gently, Google Assistant is launched, ready to take your voice command. This works from any screen, making it fast, even faster than issuing a “Hey Google” voice command. If we’re honest, if you’re in the line at the supermarket, you’re not talking to you phone, so the squeeze works great.
Cameras – 4K video and Night shot
The pixel 3 features a 12.2 MP dual-pixel camera on the rear with an f/1.8 aperture. The hardware, combined with some seriously smart software, delivers a feature called Night shot. If you can hold still while taking it, the camera can leave the ‘digital’ shutter open for a few seconds, allowing more light into the photo in dark (sometimes seriously dark) environments. What would have been a grainy disaster in your last phone, is now an amazingly beautiful photo in low-light. This technology is out of control and a real strength of this phone.
When shooting in video mode, you can bump the settings to 4K at 30fps, while the higher fps modes are available (up to 240fps) at lower resolutions.
When it comes to using the Pixel 3, most users will get through the day without worry, often without getting much under the 20% warning, even with moderate use. The 2915 mAh battery does a great job of powering your social media uploads, email, browsing and podcast listening habits. There’s 18w fast charging available (via USB-C), as well as the awesome Qi standard of wireless charging.
As with all good modern phones, the Pixel 3 uses a USB-C connector for charging and file transfers. If you have a car with Android Auto, it’ll also be used for transmitting the Android Auto experience from your phone to the display in your vehicle via a USB-A to USB-C cable. As more and more devices I interact with support USB-C, having a single cable type certainly makes life easier. With my wife recently transitioning from iPhone to Android, it means we can share a cable in the car. When I get back to my desk, my monitor has a USB-C to charge should I need.
While the cables will certainly work, generally your bedside table should have a wireless charger on it, so at the end of the day, you can drop your phone on the dock and it just charges. This avoids the clumsy fumbling with cables and potentially waking your spouse.
Dirty Camera Check
One unique feature I haven’t seen elsewhere is a checkbox in the settings menu that enables the phone monitor lens cleanliness. If your lens gets dirty, it’ll tell you, letting you clean it and avoid taking tainted photos, something you’ll likely only find out when it’s too late. This works by monitoring the the photo taken and analysing it for spots and smudges typically associated with your dirty fingers touching the lens. Whatever the cause, this feature is a great one, something I’d love to see all phone makers add.
Room for improvement
This list is going to be very short as the Pixel 3 really is an impressive device. If I had to provide Google with suggestions to improve the device for the Pixel 4, I’d share the following.
1. Add the notch to Pixel 3.
While it visually isn’t my favourite thing, removing the forehead and having the screens stretch the full length of the phone is clearly the direction the industry has moved it. They agree this was a good enough idea for the Pixel 3 XL, so this notch should be available on the Pixel 3, mostly to enable face unlock.
2. 4K@60fps +
The rear camera can shoot in 4K at 30fps, while that’s acceptable, in an ideal world, you’d have higher, like 60fps or higher.
3. Better battery life
Regular users will get through a day with the Pixel 3, but aggressive users, like those that have an early day to catch their flight, followed by a long day of shooting and sharing at an event or conference (all over 4G), combined with some GPS navigation and finally a late trip home, will struggle to get their device to last for 18 hours. Like I’ve always said, I’d happily sacrifice some thinness and some weight, for better battery life. By modern standards, the 2915 mAh battery, while the 3Xl has a 34030 mAh, both kind of small when the phone in my pocket, the Mate 20 Pro, has a mega 4,000mAh battery that really does get you through a massive day.
When Google quote ‘all day battery life’ the asterisk takes you to the definition of what they mean by that. It says “Approximate battery life based on a mix of talk, data, standby, and use of other features, with always on display off and mobile hotspot off, according to a user profile as defined by Google. An active display or data usage will decrease battery”. So basically use your device and expect less than a day of battery life.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Google Pixel 3 is available in 2 storage sizes, 64GB or 128GB. There’s a few colours available with some creative names from Google’s marketing team. You can choose from “Just Black”, “Clearly White” and “Not Pink”. The Pixel 3 costs A$1,199 for the 64GB and A$1,349 for the 128GB model.
If the base Pixel 3 doesn’t suit your needs, there’s also the Pixel 3 XL. Available in the same storage sizes and colours, the XL costs A$1,349 and A$1,499 respectively.
You can grab a Pixel 3 from Google directly, or via retailers like JB Hi-Fi. When it comes to an accessories, there’s lots to choose from. The most practical is a Pixel 3 case, and Google pixel stand that offers wireless charging on your bedside table.
What Google created with the 3rd generation of the Pixel is an incredibly well refined, still playful and very capable phone. The design could be considered as plain, but then again, Google offer a custom case service to really customise (and protect) your phone.
During the review, my wife kind of fell in love with the Pixel 3 and even moved from an iPhone, to the Pixel 3. This was largely due to 2 main factors. Firstly the camera. With young daughter, the photos that come out of the Pixel 3 are just stunning. While we expect all flagship phones to have brilliant cameras, it’s the simplicity and regularity of snapping professional looking photos that is the real winner here. The second aspect is the size and that’s a very personal thing. The size (and lets throw in light weight) of the Pixel suited her perfectly, while personally I prefer a screen size like the Pixel 3 XL.
While some people (like myself) love to run 3rd party Android launchers, the Google default experience in Android Pie is a really great one. Once you get through the first couple of days to understand the gestures, it’s fast and easy to move around. Something I loved was the consistency in launching Google Assistant with your voice, hands-free. While technically this is possible on other Androids, I’ve found it can definitely have problems with OEM customisations.
All things considered the Pixel 3 is a bloody great phone and one that is worthy of its price tag. If you are in the market for a new device, get off the fence and go grab a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, you won’t regret it.