Google’s Reliability Issues Continue with Pixel 3

Posted on October 21, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 67 Comments

It’s not another Pixelgate, not yet. But Google’s latest handsets have some serious reliability issues. Fortunately, they seem to be tied to the same problem.

As the temporary owner of a Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3—I’m going to choose between them and keep one—I’m naturally worried about another year of problems. Given the endemic reliability issues with the Pixel 2 XL—I had to exchange mine for a refurbished unit, twice—I assume this concern is understandable.

And any issues with the Pixel 3 family are particularly troublesome because, for the first time ever, the smaller Pixel and the bigger XL model are both basically identical inside. This means that virtually any major Pixel 3 problem, sans something display-related—will impact all Pixel 3 and 3 XL handsets. With last year’s Pixel 2/2XL, each handset was completely different internally, and where the Pixel 2 XL has endemic reliability problems, the Pixel 2 did not.

Anyway, it wasn’t long after the Pixel 3 launch that early users started complaining about two problems that now appear to be related. In some cases, the Pixel 3 will not save photos taken with the camera. And in others, the Pixel 3 seems incapable of even the most basic multitasking functionality; the most obvious example being a music-streaming app like Spotify shutting down, and killing the music playback, when the user navigates to other apps.

Some critics immediately pointed to Google’s decision to include only 4 GB of RAM on its newest flagships in an era when its competitors include 6 or even 8 GB of RAM. And … those critics may have a point. Several prominent members of the Android community (for example here and here) have compared the multitasking performance of the OnePlus 6, with 6 GB of RAM, with the Pixel 3. And the OnePlus 6 has no issues at all handling tasks that trigger app shutdowns on the Pixel 3.

I’m not sure I’ve yet experienced these issues, but I’ve only had the phones for three days. We did use the Pixel 3 XL to stream music to our sun room’s Chromecast-connected speakers on Friday night, and I did use the phone for other tasks at the time and didn’t have any issues. But this is barely anecdotal, let alone “evidence” of anything. So I will try to trip up the phones in my testing going forward.

My guess—and my hope—is that Google can fix this with a software update. But even if this is possible, I feel like this event highlights Google’s ongoing immaturity when it comes to hardware design. And that the firm still hasn’t learned the lessons of its problematic past.


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Comments (67)

67 responses to “Google’s Reliability Issues Continue with Pixel 3”

  1. spectremandroid

    As much as I love high hardware specs and big numbers, I don't think throwing more hardware at issues like this is the best solution. Sure, six gigabytes of RAM would have been nice but with Google mimicking Apple's manufacturing, sales and service model more and more with the passing of time, I don't think Google will, at any point, be trying to add future-proofing specifications to their hardware so, we might as well not even start crying about that kind of thing. I just hope Google will continue to refine and update Android until the experience is as close to flawless as possible on the hardware that they've designed and the sooner, the better.

  2. RonV42

    Something is really wrong if you can't stream music in the background while going back to your home screen or another app. I used to think that windows was a memory hog but 4 GB not enough for a phone to do simple multitasking is just bad. Been using a Pixel 3 for a few days now and I can say it's going back.

  3. nicholas_kathrein

    " I feel like this event highlights Google’s ongoing immaturity when it comes to hardware design"

    How many issues did Apple have on their new S model? Hmm. Charging issue, cellular signal issue, and beauty issue with front camera. So how is this different Paul? Does Apple have an ongoing immaturity when it comes to hardware design?

  4. jimchamplin

    Uhhhh... These are both software issues. This is nothing even on the level of the damn USB port breaking, or the screen looking like a faded piece of paper.

    This is so very obviously a software issue that I just can't even care. Maybe I should. I keep considering switching to Android but wow, if this kind of errata slips through... Maybe I shouldn't.

    Oh, also that whole ongoing issue of phones not receiving updates for years on end because "reasons."

  5. mikejbradley

    Pixel 3 is currently a Beta released without thorough testing. Google rushed it to get it to Verizon, which is now touting it as the greatest cell phone ever. Total BS. I hope Verizon can stand the amount of customer returns they get from selling a Beta phone with major flaws......not to mention the dollars they'll spend on tech support trying to fix the problems......BTW, other phones with only 1 GB of RAM work fine multitasking, people are novices "newbies" who blame the problem on RAM. The problem is probably software incompatibilites, but that's just a guess......

  6. mrdrwest

    No ** smartphone ** should need 6-8GB of RAM to run applications...except maybe hackers and the military.

    I don't have that problem with my L950XL running Windows 10 Mobile that I'm about to replace with a Nokia 7.1...OH, CRAP, AAAAAAARGH!!!

  7. beholderseye

    The biggest technical glitch about the pixel, is it does not have G5...

  8. wolters

    I went from the Note 9 to the Pixel 3 XL. I've had it since Thursday. I did encounter it not saving to Google Photos on my very first photo but none since. The camera blows away the Note 9's camera for sure.

    Memory management, I do see that is usually hovers at 3GB of 3.7GB used but I've not encountered any adverse effects with the phone thus far.

  9. SvenJ

    It occurs to me that if there is a memory management issue (not lack of memory issue), shutting things down inappropriately, that could easily account for pictures not being saved. Especially true if there is some post processing that is happening. Some accounts note that turning of HDR sometimes helps. Presumably additional processing goes with that.

  10. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    I'm trying to understand why aggressive memory management now equates to immature hardware design and earns the Pixel a "Gate" moniker?

    Sure, Google should tune their memory management to be less aggressive (a software problem by the way), and fix the Google Camera bug (another software issue), but to make a huge fuss out of this is an orbital reach.

    The hypocrisy is that when Apple for over 5 years refused to add more memory to their iPhones and as a result tuned their memory management aggressively, nobody made a scandal out of it.

    For years, you couldn't even run anything in the background on iOS. Forget trying to sync a large Dropbox file in the background. The media and everyone heralded it as "great design" and "hardware optimization".

    Google does the same thing and it called "Pixel-Gate".

    Stop it!

  11. caseylr

    I've had to have my Pixel 3 replaced due to the APN configuration options being grayed out, which prevents the phone from being configured to T Mobile's network. I spent an hour troubleshooting the issue with Google and they eventually agreed there is an issue and have started the replacement process.

  12. Tomaz

    I have my Pixel 3 XL and my wife has the Pixel 3. We are experiencing no issues. I think Paul is nitpicking, for the sake of it?

  13. dontbe evil

    "Google’s Reliability Issues "

    what a surprise /s

  14. markiehill

    My Pixel 2 XL was doing the same with Spotify - I noticed that the app has been listed in the adaptive battery sessions as a restricted app … I have removed it and will test !

  15. wright_is

    Sorry, nothing to do with RAM, I can stream music on my wife's Hauwei P-Smart and navigate to other apps and that has 3GB RAM, and it has the mid-range Kirin 659 processor. But that is running Oreo, not Pie.

    I'd guess an optimization snafoo in Pie or the drivers for the hardware.

  16. jprestig

    I've been enjoying my Pixel 3 XL since Thursday, and I thought I'd gotten away with none of these issues. But this morning I was listening to music and sure enough, it crashed when I went to use the camera. If it didn't fully crash, it made the music stutter quite a bit. The issue seems to be worse when listening over Bluetooth. FWIW, it happened using Apple Music.

    This is my first Pixel phone and I'm not sure if I should keep it. I'm trying not to get caught up in too much hyperbole.

  17. JerryH

    Paul, when you use Chromecast you aren't taxing the phone and isn't "streaming" from your phone - the phone sends the Chromecast a connection key and the Chromecast does the downloading. You can leave the house with your phone and the Chromecast keeps playing. So that is not a test at all.

  18. Jeffrey Tschiltsch

    I doubt its anything to do with the Pixels only having 4 GB of RAM, since my Pixel 2 XL only has 4 GB of RAM as well and has never had a mutli-tasking issue that I've noticed. I've been using my Pixel 3 now since Thursday last week and have had zero issues.

    My guess is Google has a bit of bad code somewhere that's doing terrible things in memory, and if the Pixel 3 had 8 GB of RAM it have the same problem when that code executes (it would just take it a little longer to gobble it up). Maybe its in the new camera app, maybe not. I wonder if any of the people who have managed to load the Pixel 3 camera app on their Pixel 2's have been able to reproduce the issue (my Pixel 2 XL camera app hasn't updated yet).

    • jedwards87

      In reply to jeffreytz:

      I have also yet to run into any of these problems with my Pixel 3. Normally I am an iPhone user but I decided to try the Pixel 3. I am impressed with how this thing is working. I haven't decided whether I will keep it yet but so far so good. The camera is crazy good compared to my X, which is great in good lighting but everything else not so much. I have started using mostly Google services so I thought it was a good time to try a Google phone again as it has been awhile.

  19. GT Tecolotecreek

    Wow, Verizon is already advertising buy one get one free for the P3. Guess they are trying to get a jump on the returns so you are not out of a phone when you ship one back on warranty.

  20. mrmediaguy

    I guess for most people, hardware and software are sort of indistinguishable when talking about a phone's performance; they don't really care which one is the culprit, just that something isn't working as designed or promised. That's fair -- it's all about the user experience in the end. The challenge with a newly released phone is that *both* the hardware and software are new (yes, the Pixel 3 build is different from the most recent Pie builds on the Pixel 1 and 2), so it's hard to know where to point the finger.

    That said, the problems being reported are almost never the result of hardware issues. It's hard for something to physically "break" that would lead to apps shutting down, and a design flaw would be pervasive on all phones, not just a handful. And it should be obvious that "only 4GB of RAM" can't be the problem, because then your 1st and 2nd gen Pixels would have had the same issues long ago.

    So likely there is something different introduced in the Pixel 3 build that doesn't play nice with some other app or service. Now, I just fired up Spotify and stared a playlist, and then began opening apps. And more apps. When I counted 50 apps open, I started switching between them using both methods (slide right and slide up). Music still playing. So I opened 20 more. Music still playing. Then I checked RAM. Plenty left.

    I'm willing to bet if you lined up all the Pixel 3's with "the Spotify issue" and did an inventory, you'd find some app or combination of apps in common across most all of them. So my advice to people with this issue is, do a factory reset and DON'T restore your apps. Add them back a few at a time until you find the culprit. Then report the bug to Google and to the app developer (if it's a non-Google app).

    But just saying "my phone is flawed from the factory" isn't helping anyone.

    • skane2600

      In reply to mrmediaguy:

      To a degree what you say is true, however, hardware design flaws don't necessarily mean that all units with the same hardware will exhibit the problem. That's why good hardware design involves providing adequate margins so that the product works correctly given the variation in characteristics that vary from one instance of a component to another. With inadequate margins, some product units can operate outside the specifications.

  21. Tom Berry

    I can t see it being the ram, I'm still rocking a Pixel 1 with zero multitasking issues. Eager to see how you get on Paul, it's about time I upgraded!

  22. Bats

    Thurrott has been really the only one having these issues, whereas no one else really has. I think the problem is not with the pixel the problem is him.

  23. integritasystems

    Not trying to be the grammar police but how this read made me laugh.

    "4 GB of RAM on its newest flagships in an ear..." Era is probably more appropriate.

  24. dcdevito

    As soon as a midrange OEM makes a camera that is good enough, I'll get one.

    • bart

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Keep an eye on Nokia. Am truly impressed with the Nokia 7 Plus. Nokia 8.1 has appeared in benchmarks. Might be the one for you. And me!

    • wright_is

      In reply to dcdevito:

      What is "good enought"? The cameras on the Hauwei Mate 10 Pro and P20 seem to be very good, the Mate 10 Pro can be had for under $500 now, here in Europe, The Mate 20 should drop in price after a couple of months as well.

      The Nokias also have reasonable camers, AFAIK.

      But thereagain, my phone accounts for less than 1% of the photographs I take, because the lenses are not good enough - most of my photography is either macro or >200M distance, so I use dedicated macro or telephoto lenses on my camera.

  25. scarper86

    Apple's "ongoing maturity" certainly hasn't made it immune to software and hardware design problems either, The new and extremely expensive XS phones (up to $2000 here in Canada) have had charging problems, display issues, poor WiFi and LTE performance not to mention the plastic look of skin with the camera. With their resources, reputation and history, one would think that they had learned the lessons of its problematic past.

    • skane2600

      In reply to scarper86:

      The whole trend of recent years of rushing new products to market has led to a substantial drop in quality across the board. Nothing is likely to change since people seem to be accepting it in the same spirit they accept microwave ovens that are still more like a science experiment than a reliable method of cooking.

    • Lauren Glenn

      In reply to scarper86:

      One would probably think that a company with such resources could move a good portion of its production to the US and do some good in its own headquarter's home location. This is a company that had a great sounding iPod Shuffle (1st version) and then cheapened it with a poor sound chip and ruined the sound quality. More money doesn't mean you have better equipment. It means you're probably charging too much for said equipment.

  26. Dryloch

    The Galaxy S10 is shaping up to be a beast. I think jumping on the Pixel now might be a mistake...

  27. scuzzidroid

    After many years and many products is this still that much of a surprise?

    Rose tinted memory of say the Nexus 5? meh camera and awful battery life...

    Nexus Player? too little storage and flakey bluetooth

    GoogleTV, any fond memories there?

    Google should not be doing hardware period, the apple envy as Paul would put it should be getting called out more often. It certainly didn't stop Microsoft from getting crap for it. I was a huge Android fan but this among other issues makes it a no go any more. With WIn10 mobile fizzing out Apple despite its own issues is the only reliable hardware/software I can't in good conscience recommend to friends and family currently.

  28. Jeff Jones

    Does this kind of app closing problem happen on lower end 2GB phones like the Nexus 5x or Samsung, Motorola, or Nokia units? I've never noticed it, but I don't keep a lot of apps open when I pocket the phone either, so there isn't much accumulation between sessions.

    Could the problem be purely a Pixel Phone software issue with the OS not knowing the difference between a real multitasking app running in the background and a paused app that could be closed if needed? Or perhaps the Pixel's camera app is particularly in efficient?

  29. BeckoningEagle

    As long as it is a software problem then it's not a big deal as it can be fixed. If it turned out that it was having the same screen issues and the same problem with the USB port then it would be a show stopper.

  30. RonH

    I think using Chromecast hands over the task to the Google Home app.

    I was playing music stored locally on my Note 9 via chromecast, and and then took my dog for a walk. I listened to a podcast from the phone. When I got home, the music was still playing. I opened up the music app and it took a few seconds for it to show what was now playing... The Home app showed what speakers were aging music.

  31. Kudupa

    It seems like Google can't make a good phone. Meanwhile samsung and OnePlus kicking ass. I personally prefer OnePlus for its simple UI compared to Samsung and software updates.

  32. simont

    I did read somewhere that the photo problem is also happening on the Pixel 2 when using the Google Camera app.

  33. kjb434

    Personally enjoying my LG V30, but when the time comes I think I'm going to get Razr's new phone after the price drops. It's a clean Android experience and no bloatware.

    The Pixel's just aren't doing it.

  34. Winner

    So basically you are reporting on issues seen by others even though you've not had any problems.

    Many new phones have issues and I'm sure they will be quickly fixed.

    Meanwhile, I'm seeing reports that the newly fixed Windows 10 still is having problems, too.

  35. Lauren Glenn

    I picked up an old LG V30 after having issues with my other phone. I bought it outright for about $250 and I really got it because of the superior audio quality vs. any other phone I've had as of late. A good camera is a nice to have but I listen to music far more than I take pictures. Mine plays videos just fine (even H265 ones in MKV or MP4 containers w/ AC3 audio) but that's all I use mine for. Maybe I learned after a while that it's probably better to wait a year because the first year's production run always has some kind of issue... plus, I save a lot of money too when the next model comes out. But usually by then, you pretty much have all the patches and the next OS version in tow to where you don't have to wonder if you're getting the next version of Android since you just got it.

    With new phones costing $1000 or so and not being used to their full potential by me who only wants it for less intensive tasks, I have no problem waiting a year and having something slightly slower but a bit more matured. And all the pawns went first having all the production issues to where I know what I'm getting into before I get into it.

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