Hands on: Google Pixel 3 XL pack
The Google Pixel series has taken the fine standard set by the Nexus line of devices and moved things on quite a bit.
The latest edition, the Pixel 3 improves the hardware, but it is in the software where the real innovation lies.
The pack on test here is the Pixel 3 XL 64GB version, with the Google protective cover and the Pixel Stand, wireless charging dock.
In terms of form factor, the Pixel 3 XL is fairly unsurprising, built around an aluminium frame with front and rear Gorilla glass and dimensions of 158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm, with a weight of 184g.
It is slim, nicely rounded, and comfortable to hold, despite its large 100.3 cm2 screen size.
A point of note however, is the XL’s 3430 mAH battery which in normal use lasted for two full days without the need for charge. However, when heavy usage was carried out, it still got through a good 8-10 hours before anxiety set in.
Another point of note is that, even though the device is dominated by its gorgeous 1440 x 2960px, 18.5:9, P-OLED capacitive touchscreen with 16M colours, the novel bit is that the forward facing camera and a few sensors live in what has been termed a “notch” in the top of the screen. I found this a little confusing, and in usage, it is more akin to the screen stretching around this little peninsula, giving some extra display area over its Pixel 3 sibling.
Note: I do not expect the ‘peninsula’ nomenclature to catch on.
Beyond the first few swipes, acceptance simply develops.
The XL is driven by a CPU octa-core mix of Kryo 385 Gold and Kryo 385 Silver, on a Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845 chipset with an Adreno 630 GPU, all running Android 9.0 (Pie). This all adds up to pretty much class-leading performance, so whether you want to run games, stream HD video or run your data centre infrastructure management app, you hav the power, and the battery life.
The Pixel line, as with previous Google phones, run an unvarnished version of Android. This means no overlay, no bloatware, no unwanted apps, no nagware — this is a good thing.
For this reason, we will be using the XL as our base of comparison device for all such reviews for the foreseeable, kindly supplied by Google.
The lack of preloaded stuff means you can customise to your heart, or role’s, content and make the phone your own, and the community, as well store, availability of everything from wallpapers, themes and tweaks, means that this can be as individual as you are.
Android 9 offers a wealth of new, smart features that would take too long to detail here, but some of the nice elements are a mode that recognises when you are driving and mutes alerts, and a night mode that eliminates blue light, that is part of a larger Wind Down function that helps you prepare for bed. All of these little things add up to a device that can tailor itself to you and your usage, recognising when it can offer you something more. These features are not on by default, but as the device recognises when they could be useful, you get prompt to say its there and to turn it on. This is a welcome change from the on by default nature of certain platforms, that can actually be bit intrusive.
All this leads, among quite a few strong features, to the stand out – the camera.
Google has done a lot of work on the hardware to bring one of the best cameras in a phone to the market, without what some see as the gimmickry of multiple lens/camera combinations. However, a recent software update has added a low light mode called Night Sight that simply blows the competition out of the water.
Night Sight is described as “a ground-breaking AI-driven feature”, allowing regular users to capture low-light photos without a flash or tripod, that produces vibrant and detailed, without any specialist knowledge – just switch on the feature, point, and shoot. It does what it says on the tin.
Available for the Pixel two is a slim, hardcase with a textile outer that offers comfortable grip. The supplied model was what would have been described in the past as a salt and pepper colour, and fitted snuggly. It is durable and protects the phone well, without obscuring any functionality.
It neatly exposes the USB type C interface, which benefits from IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins). There is no headphone jack, but it comes with clever wired earbuds that can be size adjusted in a most ingenious manner with its own wire, giving comfortable, personal fit. There is also a 3.5mm to USB C connector, if you cannot ditch your old earphones.
The cover also works with the wireless charging dock, meaning that there is no need to remove it to enjoy wireless charging. However, it is a dock and while neatly sat, it is designed to enhance and direct the speaker output. It also gives options to have the phone display as a picture carousel, news reader and several other functions.
The cover is also flexible enough for the Pixel3’s other party trick — the quick squeeze. By simply squeezing while holding the lower part of the phone, whether locked or not, activates the Google Assistant, for voice or touch, which is nice.
So, with beautiful design, great packaging, surprisingly good battery life and a wealth of intelligent, but non-intrusive features, are there any criticisms?
Yes, one or two.
Firstly, there is no facial recognition for face unlock. While it may be no loss in terms of security, it is still a user-friendly feature that many might miss from previous generations. Secondly, there is no SD card expansion. Every modern phone should have SD card expansion, but this has been a consistent feature of device sin this line, no surprise.
Also, there is no facility for dual SIM in hardware. However, there are rumours of eSIM support, which is essentially a SIM in software that would allow two numbers to be operated from the device anyway. We will have to wait and see.
In summary, Google has attached the best camera you can get for a mobile device to a class leading phone that has the power of Android 9 behind it. With the cover and wireless charging dock, plus those clever headphones and personalisation possibilities, it becomes more than a phone and moves into life companion territory.
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are available from Google direct, or with exclusive carrier Vodafone. The Pixel 3 starts from €899, with the XL starting from €999. The cover comes in at €45, with the wireless charging stand at €79.