Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL First Impressions

Posted on October 19, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware with 28 Comments

Not sure whether I could handle the notch on the larger handset, I ordered both a Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL to see which I prefer. Here are my initial thoughts on each, mostly about the hardware and design.

And in case it’s not clear, this one is personal: It’s highly probable that one of these will be my next phone, though I will also be evaluating the OnePlus 6T later this month and, when it’s available in carrier unlocked form, the iPhone XR as well.

But Pixel remains my first choice. The appeal of this product line, despite the reliability issues I encountered with the Pixel 2 XL, remains: From the clean Android image to the amazing camera to the Project Fi compatibility, Google’s Pixel just offers the right combination of the things I value most.

But there’s a new question this year. Which Pixel?

This wasn’t an issue previously. For the first two generations of Pixel, and with the Nexus 6P before that, I stuck with the XL-class handsets whose primary differentiator was the larger display. (I had likewise moved to the Plus-sized iPhones as soon as Apple finally embraced the phablet.) But three factors have led to me to at least consider the smaller, non-XL Pixel 3 for this round.

Both Pixel 3s include the exact same in-box accessories.

The first and most important, of course, is that notch: The Pixel 3 XL’s notch is ludicrously, unnecessarily, and embarrassingly large compared to any of the competition. It arrives at a time when other phone makers, like Huawei and OnePlus, are dramatically reducing the sizes of the notches on their newest handsets. And as bad, there’s a “chin” bezel on the bottom of the display, something that is typically missing on notch-based phones. Put simply, Google’s design isn’t just behind that of other phone makers. It’s terrible.

The second factor is a byproduct of the tall/thin handset design trends that are sweeping the industry: With the smaller Pixel 3 finally adopting this design and offering a 5.5-inch 18:9 display, you’re getting more display in a smaller body. (The XL offers a bigger 6.3-inch 18.5:9 display that offers both a higher resolution and a higher pixel density.) And there’s something enjoyable about using a small, truly pocketable design. Assuming, of course, I can even see the screen well enough.

Third, there are really no important functional or internal differences between the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The cameras, for example, are identical between the two, as are the processor, RAM, storage options, and so on. At a functional level, I’m not losing anything by choosing the smaller phone, and I’d even save about $100 over the more expensive XL.

That was the theory, at least. But now that I’m home and have both phones in hand—they were delivered two days early, and while I was still in Dublin—I have already evolved my thinking on these devices.

And I believe that the non-XL Pixel 3 will be a bit too small for me, though I like the design a bit better that of the XL. Not that either is particularly modern: The Pixel 3 looks like a nearly two-year-old Galaxy S8. And the XL … Ah boy.

I will say this: It’s the easier upgrade from the Pixel 2 XL, not that anyone should have pay $1000 to make that happen. I even got the same basic protective case that I was using with the Pixel 2 XL, so the only obvious external differences are the color—I chose white for the Pixel 3 XL—and that notch.

That awful, terrible notch.

What was Google thinking? Is the logical question to ask: It has dozens of devices to inspire it. But instead of making a best-in-class design that takes advantage of the fact that Google is literally the last phone maker or note to start shipping Snapdragon 845-based devices, here it is. Completely screwing it up.

Apple fans are troubled by my constant harping about how the iPhone X/XS’s “all screen” design is anything but that. But here’s Google making a mockery of that criticism by including both the biggest notch in the industry and a bottom “chin” bezel. What the flying [email protected]#k, Google. Holy shit. From a design standpoint, the Pixel 3 is meh, but the Pixel 3 XL is just terrible.

Turning the handsets over, you’ll find a design that is slightly refined from last year, with a slightly modified version of the two-panel look from previous Pixels. Until this year, the top panel on the back was glass to aid with wireless reception, and the bottom was the normal metal body material. This year, however, it’s all-glass. This design helped Google bring wireless charging, belatedly, to Pixel.

But it also created an interesting design dilemma, since Google wanted to carry that two-panel Pixel design forward (for some reason). So the glass on the larger bottom panel on the back has been etched into a matte finish that sort of replicates the feel of previous Pixels. I’ve heard that it scratches and smudges too easily. But again, I’ll be using a case. And it actually feels very nice, and very natural, to me. I’m not sure I would have known it was glass.

Given the reliability issues I did experience with Pixel 2 XL, I’ll be more sensitive than usual to any weirdness. But I’m also a little worried about quality: The Pixel 3 and 3 XL both share a new all-glass build that I’m a bit worried about, though I’ll protect whichever one I keep with a case, of course.

Turning again to the front and trying to avoid staring at the car crash of that XL notch, I can see that the displays on each are also different, and not just in size. And not just different from each other.

Where last year’s Pixel 2 XL had a notoriously terrible LG OLED display, the Pixel 3 XL utilizes a superior Samsung OLED display, and I’m very eager to compare the two in a variety of conditions. As noted, it’s 6.3-inches big, and it provides a resolution of 2960 x 1440 (523 PPI).

The smaller Pixel 3 apparently uses an LG OLED display—uh-oh—but it’s supposed to be vastly improved over last year’s LG debacle, and it looks great. At 5.5-inches, the Pixel 2 display provides a resolution of 2160 x 1080 (440 PPI). I’ll keep eyeballing it and comparing it to the more pixel-packed XL, but so far so good.

What I was most curious about, I guess, was how the Pixel 3 XL’s notch-based display compares to that of the notchless Pixel 2 XL. Do you still get extra on-screen real estate?

The answer is yes, you do. But not by much. The Pixel 3 XL notch is so big that the Android status bar area is over twice as tall as it is normally, and that extra space is just wasted. But if you line up the bottoms of the status area on each device, you’ll see that the Pixel 3 XL’s display is—maybe—one-quarter of an inch taller than that of the 2 XL.

Pixel 3 XL (left) and Pixel 2 XL (right). Pay no attention to the screen color: The Pixel 2 XL had night mode enabled.

Neither handset offers a headphone jack, which I feel is another embarrassing mistake. Worse, the USB-C port on my Pixel 2 XL was the source of several reliability issues that necessitated two Pixel 2 XL replacements. I assume it’s obvious why I’m nervous about this port on the Pixel 3s.

And then there’s the camera. I’ve only taken a handful of shots—I did bring the Pixel 3 XL with me on this morning’s walk—so I just don’t have much to go on yet. But it’s already clear that the Pixel 3/XL will perform at least as well as the Pixel 2 XL in this area. This will obviously be a big focus for my testing, as will the Pixel 3 XL’s unique AI-based functionality.

So I’ll have more soon. But I think the Pixel 3 is going back. And that I’ll be sticking with the Pixel 3 XL, terrible notch and all.

 

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    JerryH

    Mine will come next week, a coworker got his today. I will simply use developer options and turn the ludicrous notch off. Then it will have a similar "forehead" as the Pixel 2 XL that I use now. Problem solved. And then more notification icons fit.

  2. Avatar

    jchampeau

    I didn't screenshot it, but when I preordered my iPhone XR this morning, Apple's site told me it was an unlocked phone and that they only asked for carrier info so they could initiate the switchover process with the e-sim.

  3. Avatar

    dcdevito

    I'm the biggest Google that ever lived, and.....I'm done with their hardware. My Pixel 2 XL will be the last piece of hardware I ever purchase from them. I'll just get an iPhone, they last longer and their support is better. Google is nuts.

  4. Avatar

    thalter

    OK, Paul, I think I've finally figured out your issue with the notch. You look at it in a glass half-empty manner - Look at that dead space at the top of the screen. Instead, you should look at it as glass half-full - look at that bonus space for the clock and the status icons at the top of the device that I otherwise wouldn't have gotten.


    Yes, a completely full screen device would be great, until they find a way to put the speakers and cameras behind the screen, this is the next best solution. The notch gives you most of the benefit of a full-face screen by pushing the clock and status icons all the way to the top bezel of the device in the "horns" of the display and freeing up space for more content. I still find this preferable to having a large "forehead" at the top of the device .

    • Avatar

      SvenJ

      In reply to thalter: I think if OEMs were to program in a black bar and use white icons, lettering, for status, time, etc. it would still look like a forehead, but with usable space. The rest of the screen would be rectangular without any cutout, or weird missing display portions when apps don't account for the notch. I believe Android even has a setting to do that. Not sure if it doesn't shift the status bar below the blackout bar, which would be unfortunate.


    • Avatar

      akcanuck

      In reply to thalter:

      Rene Ritchie uses the "horns" term for the notch which is enough to never use it. He also continually mispronounces Thurrott on purpose.

  5. Avatar

    Bill Russell

    I have a pixel 1 because about 6 mos ago it was about $179 on ebay. Seems like the best phone on earth for that price, and i'll get at least another year of updates, each month. I also got an iPhone 6s around the same time, for about the same price, although its a year older. That may get updates for 2 more years. In either case both are considered "landfill" in a span of a couple years, (however I disgree with that). But, not a huge amount of time in either case in the scheme of things. Typically I get android phones that can be upgraded to a custom ROM like LineageOS. Then they get repurposed as webcams or for the younger kids as an "ipod" (Family Link is great).


    I switch to the iPhone for a week or two and back, etc. Its really the best thing to do this. You start to appreciate the pros/cons of each device and ecosystem and you don't get bored. I've "settled" on the Pixel as my prime driver, just because those little details that make more useful sense for me and they can take a while to fully realize. (I don't even use google fi though)


    So as bad a value proposition the Pixel's seem when they come out, within a year and a half they become the best value.


  6. Avatar

    Stokkolm

    After struggling through the constant and intense lagging and non-responsiveness fits of my Pixel 2 XL, which sometimes can last for over 30 seconds I have decided I'm just going to get an iPhone again. I'll miss Google Messages in the browser, but at least I won't have to contend with constant issues from dismissing notifications to launching the camera app to issues that the unresponsiveness causes in Android Auto in my brand new Subaru. The Pixel 2 XL has beaten me down :-(

  7. Avatar

    wolters

    I used a Note 9 over the last two months after using a Pixel 2 XL for much of the past year. I believe the Note 9 is the best, full featured smartphone but as a camera lover, I was left disappointed way too many times.


    • Rear Camera was capable of amazing pictures but I end up with too many blurry shots. More so than any phone I've owned.
    • Selfie camera was nearly useless. Again, blurry photos, distorted lighting, rarely a keeper.
    • The camera app crashed often.
    • Many times, I'd press the shutter button and nothing would happen or I'd hear the sound but no photo was taken.


    I'm so glad to be back on Pixel with the Pixel 3 XL, despite the notch. Camera performance is great, though I've encountered a bug where Google Photos didn't save the photo. Checking Reddit, over 300+ people have reported this. But I'm sure that will be fixed.


    If Camera is at the top of your feature list, then for the third year in a row, I have to recommend the Pixel.



  8. Avatar

    wolters

    A few notes for those who are interested in reducing the influence that the Notch has...


    As many know, you can enable developer settings and choose to hide the notch. This moves the status bar just below the notch area. And from my testing, it works 100%...the notch doesn't show up at all even in landscape. I think Google should make this a standard option. Though question remains if there may be screen burn in from the "black area" over time?


    There is also an app called "Nacho Notch" and it makes the notch area black and keeps notifications there. It works great though sometimes the notch does show up...namely on the lock screen or when looking at photo/video in landscape mode. Sure, we shouldn't need a third party app for this but it is neat.

    • Avatar

      SvenJ

      In reply to wolters: I thought it did this. Why doesn't the 'hide the notch' setting leave the status information up in the wings instead of dropping it down and using even more real estate with a virtual forehead. It should stay that way at all times once set. Couldn't be that hard.


      • Avatar

        wolters

        In reply to SvenJ:

        Wondering myself...I'm trying to verify if this turns off the pixels or if we will have screen burn in.


        In going back and forth between Nacho Notch and "Hide Cutout", the latter seems to be the best option. Of course, I'm trying to be tolerant of the notch but it is hard.

  9. Avatar

    djross95

    Frankly if I'm going to spend that kind of money on a phone, and have to live with an unsightly notch, fragile all-glass design, no micro-SD expansion or headphone jack, I'd just get an iPhone. At least Apple offers in-store support and better resale value.

  10. Avatar

    F4IL

    I'd have kept the 2XL and sat this one out.

  11. Avatar

    bhatech

    My Pixel 3 XL delivered couple of days back and honestly enjoying it a lot. Camera has been *top notch* compared to my Xs Max and everything feels smooth as expected since it's a new phone ?


    Overall honestly the notch doesn't bother me that much, agree it's 2018 and Google's screen design is not the most modern but not a deal breaker given the superior camera and regular security/platform updates which are important to me.


    I also agree Pixel 3 was too small to me as well. Thought would be fine with the smaller one but it felt very small, may be a week or two with it I would have gotten used to but the 3 XL felt comfortable familiar size to me personally.

  12. Avatar

    nerocui

    That sentence" What the flying [email protected]#k, Google. Holy shit. " is just golden.

  13. Avatar

    Yaggs

    I have seen some videos of the 3XL with the notch turned off... I think it looks at least as good as the 2XL when the notch is turned off... the bezels look very similar...

  14. Avatar

    jprestig

    Though the notch is not ideal, I'm really enjoying my 3 XL so far. This is my first Pixel, coming from an iPhone. I've used Android in the past, but with Samsung.


    Pictures are amazing with this thing. I have been going back and looking at my iPhone pictures(most recently the 8 Plus), and they look awful compared to pictures I'm taking with the Pixel. Of course, I expected nothing less after reading so much about Pixels the past couple of years.


    Software is amazing. Super fast, clean, with all the apps I actually want to use already on the phone. No bloatware, no stupid Verizon logo at boot. Of course this is subjective I guess, depending what services you prefer.


    I've been using the new USB headphones for a few hours this morning and so far they are great. I appreciate the loop on them as they help to stay in my ear. With the Apple Earbuds I always had trouble with them falling out. Especially while sweating at the gym. Also, the speakers on the phone itself are great. They get very loud and I like the front facing.


    Like Paul, I ordered both the regular and the XL. XL for myself, and the regular for my daughter(BOGO deal). She is also loving the phone, even though she is used to iOS products. When comparing the 2, the screens on both look great. Though the regular one does seem a bit more saturated. Not in a bad way. The blues and reds pop a bit more than the XL. She opted for the Not Pink, which I think looks fantastic. The regular does feel too small for myself though, as I'm used to bigger phones.


    I went with the Google branded cases for both phones and I'm not disappointed. The fabric looks and feels great. They are soft on the inside as well, which was important to me.


    I guess this turned into a bit of a review. TLDR: I'm really liking the Pixel 3 XL. It's still very early of course, so lots can change, but so far so good.



  15. Avatar

    chrishilton1

    Research 'open hole' technology - SGS10 - and wait until Feb

  16. Avatar

    Daekar

    My heart aches for you, Paul, that you'll have to deal with that chasm of useless space on your phone. As the kids say, "I can't even."


    Hopefully the camera will live up to your expectations in exchange!

  17. Avatar

    npatel2260

    Paul,

    I am wanting to buy this new Pixel 3 xl and move over to Project FI. however I am also a user of a dual sim phone.

    I do believe the Pixel3 has this capability.. can you test for me if you are able to have Project FI and a second number both be active at the same time on the new Pixel3? Basically have two numbers active at the same time without switching which sim the phone is active on. This way I can have ne business line and one personal line and both lines be active on the phone.


    Thanks

    NIlesh

  18. Avatar

    nfeed2000t

    There is no need for notch hysteria. I have a phone with a notch and I got use to it in about a day. 


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