Revisiting the Google Pixel 3 XL

Posted on April 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google, Mobile with 28 Comments

As you may have seen, Google had a one-day, half-off sale on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL earlier this week. After first dismissing this, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give the Pixel 3 XL a second shot. What could go wrong?

Well, all kinds of things, based on history.

As I’m sure you know, the Pixel 3 family has been dogged by all kinds of problems, many of which are still unresolved and/or will never be fixed. It is, from all accounts, as problematic as the Pixel 2 XL was a year earlier.

Which is part of my problem. As you may recall, I’m on my third (and refurbished) Pixel 2 XL now, thanks to two unrelated USB-C issues with my original and first replacement. I had expected to upgrade that phone to the Pixel 3 XL when it was released last October. But after evaluating both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, and having experienced some of the performance and reliability issues that others had seen, I decided to hold off. So, I returned both phones to Google.

Since then, I’ve been rotating between three phones: My Apple iPhone XR, my Pixel 2 XL, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Each has its pros and its cons. The Mate 20 Pro, for example, has the best overall camera, in my opinion, though the Pixels work much better in low-light. The Mate 20 Pro also ships with one of my least favorite Android mods, and while you can replace most of that with a third-party launcher—I’d been using the Microsoft Launcher most recently—those all have their own weirdnesses and I’ve been missing phone calls and texts for some reason.

Ultimately, what led me to try the Pixel 3 XL again was a combination of factors. The price, of course, was a big deal: At half off, these phones were finally priced correctly given the reliability risks, and once I trade in my Pixel 2 XL, my effective cost for what is usually a $1000 handset (I wanted a 128 GB version) is effectively $300. That’s kind of hard to walk away from.

But it’s not just the price, of course. I knew that the camera is excellent, especially in low-light. I really like the clean Android image that Google uses on Pixel. And this handset will provide full Google Fi compatibility, which I value. So what the heck.

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to buying the phone, the black version was sold out in both 64 GB and 128 GB configurations, and the white version was only available in 64 GB. So that left the “not pink” variants, which were available in both configurations. So I opted for the 128 GB version and decided that a case—very necessary on such a slippery, all-glass device like this—could hide my shame.

My new Pixel 3 XL arrived yesterday, just one day after I ordered it. So I set out to perform a clean install, which is more tedious than restoring from a backup but my normal way of doing things, and connecting its internal eSIM to Google Fi. I updated all the built-in apps, installed a surprising number of system updates (each after a reboot), and then installed the key apps I use, and then downloaded content to Google Play Music, Castbox (podcasts), and Audible. I still have a few things to move over—like Microsoft Authenticator and a ton of second-tier apps—but it’s pretty much up and running.

What I’m focusing on, of course, are the problems I experienced during my brief time with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL last fall, and with the problems that others have reported with the device. And so far, it’s mostly good, though I’m concerned with how hot the device gets in normal usage and that my ability to listen to podcasts through my Bluetooth wireless earbuds stopped while I was working out at the gym this morning. This was never an issue with my other phones, so I have to assume that the Pixel 3 XL is at fault. I will watch this warily. And bring backup headphones to the gym just in case.

Beyond that, a few of the niggling issues I previously experienced are still present. The notch on the 3 XL is, of course, ludicrously large. The stereo speakers are obviously biased towards the right (non-notch) speaker, and I’m curious why this couldn’t be (easily) fixed via a software update; Google says it is aware of the problem and will not fix it. The weird internal vibrations I experienced before with audio are still present, but it no longer seems to rattle.

The performance and reliability problems that many (myself included) previously reported don’t appear to be in evidence, and I was able to listen to podcasts (in this case via wired USB-C earbuds) while taking photos on a walk without any issues.

I like the form factor, aside from the notch, the crisp display, and the clean Android image.

I like that Google ships with Pixel 3 XL with an astonishing number of cables and accessories: In addition to the USB-C power/sync cable and power adapter, you get a USB-C-to-headphone jack dongle, a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter, and a nice pair of wired Google earbuds in the box. (Google no longer ships both USB-C-to-USB-C and USB-C-to-USB-A cables in the box as it used to, though; now you just get a single USB-C-to-USB-C cable.)

The camera is very good in normal conditions, as one should expect.

But the Night Sight capabilities are amazing, even though I had experienced this before with the Pixel 2 XL. My test photos from last night are much better than anything the Mate 20 Pro, or any other phone I’ve used, can produce.

It was pretty much pitch-black out when I took this

As noted, I took the Pixel 3 XL on a walk yesterday and to the gym this morning, and in both cases, I was very nervous about dropping the fragile, all-glass device and breaking it. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and I had ordered two inexpensive cases from Amazon (~$10 each) that should arrive today. So I’ll get that covered up as quickly as possible.

So, we’ll see. Getting a more modern Pixel for very little money is appealing on a few levels, one of which is future-leaning: Maybe the Pixel 4 XL will solve all my problems. You never know. For now, I’m still grappling with whether the Pixel 3 XL makes sense for me today. So far, it’s not a disaster. But it’s not a slam-dunk either.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Revisiting the Google Pixel 3 XL”

  1. mmcewan

    Hmmm, I've never experienced any degree of heat from my Pixel 3XL when using BT for several hours. I keep it in my shirt pocket, so I'd notice if it was. Even when travelling and using GPS continually, I found it never got anywhere near so hot as my old Windows phones used to. GPS seemed to be the most work for any phone I have used.

  2. wolters

    Welcome back! I just can't let go of the camera. The last 3 years I went Note 7 to Pixel XL, Note 8 to Pixel 2 XL, Note 9 to Pixel 3 XL. Despite the fact I really like the S-Pen and the screen on the Note series, the cameras on the Samsung phones have been vastly overrated and I stay with the Pixel for the camera. It has yet to disappoint.

  3. saturn

    Paul, I feel for you. I’ve had similar “drives” in the past to purchase products which I knew I shouldn’t get but can’t help myself haha. It’s one of those things and I do get it. Call it enthusiasm, I guess. To that end, I just purchased a 128GB iPod Touch for my rather large personal audio collection even when I know it’s just a glorified phone with no phone. And it’s over 4 years old by now. The things we do sometimes...

    Just out of curiosity, though, for someone that seems very interested in photography I’m surprised that you wouldn’t prefer to invest in say a compact DSLR. It’s likely that the quality a dedicated camera offers would be superior to even the best smartphone camera. There is the issue of taking it around, I guess. It just seems you may be better served overall by a nice, high-quality dedicated camera. Each to their own, though. I’m sure you would’ve weighed the pros and cons of owning a dedicated camera versus investing in smartphones with strong cameras built-in.

  4. irfaanwahid

    Paul, will you be giving a shot at Huawei P30 Pro? I have read and seen UTube videos with rave reviews.

    Looking forward for your thoughts.

  5. chrishilton1

    you went for pink! very metro

  6. kjb434

    Missing text and calls on the Mate 20 Pro is part of the handset maker's agressive battery management. It's so agressive that it will suspend the messaging and phone apps.

    Linus Tech Tips did a video overview and discovered why his battery life was so long

  7. anderb

    Not interested in the 3aXL? Less glass, no notch plus a proper headphone jack?

  8. locust infested orchard inc

    Quote by Paul Thurrott, "So far, it's not a disaster. But it's not a slam-dunk either."

    In a word or three, mediocrity from Google.

    Exactly as one ought to expect from Google if it doesn't involve either data guzzling or tax avoidance.

  9. skane2600

    "Since then, I’ve been rotating between three phones"

    If you're doing this in service to your readers, thank you. If not, stop the torture.

  10. rekingus

    so your hanging out in very dark bars lately?

  11. nacho

    I ordered mine on Sunday with the $200 discount and pay for the expedited shipment, it’s supposed that my phone arrived yesterday or today and I haven’t received the tracking number, I contacte google store support and they didn’t give an update yet of when I’ll receive it.

  12. MacLiam

    My Nexus 6P finally started throwing the spontaneous shutdown problems that others have complained about for years, so I'm in the market for a replacement. I almost bit on this half-off opportunity but decided to wait since the camera wars are so hot right now. Kind of feels like I'm going to favor Huawei when a decision can't be put off any longer, but I may be patient enough to to see how the Pixel 4 is received.

    Looking forward to further reports on your Pixel 3.

  13. dcdevito

    I hope it works out for you, Paul. But my wife and I have moved onto the iPhone XR. Too many inconsistencies, issues and poor customer support from Google. And for people like us who spend big money on flagships directly from Google, you’d think they’d offer g suite services so none of the massive data collection would happen.

  14. chriswong13

    Yeah, I was about to do the same, had it in my cart, but then canceled it...

  15. kcarson97404

    I went for the Google Pixel 3 (not the XL) and have found it to be an excellent phone. Having previously had the Pixel XL, I was concerned about the smaller size, but found the screen size more than adequate, and have really liked having a phone that fits in my pocket. The camera is amazing, and the screen is crisp and bright. The sound from its internal speakers is great. My only disappointment is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. Yeah, most of the time I use bluetooth headphones, but there has been more than one occasion where I needed to charge the phone and listen on wired headphones at the same time (on a cross country airplane ride), where I was stuck.

    The clean Android experience is great, although I have switched to the Microsoft Launcher since it integrates very nicely with all my MS services (Outlook, To Do, Sticky Notes, etc.)

    At this sale price, I don't think you could do much better than the Pixel 3.

  16. rmlounsbury

    I thought about getting a Pixel 3XL since the camera is so ludicrously good. However, I'm holding off and waiting to see what forthcoming Pixel 3a XL will bring with it and at what price point.

    I used an International version of the Nokia 7 and that device did everything I needed it to do and with smooth performance; save for an average camera and lacking the LTE bands I need to use it daily. The Snapdragon 660 + 4GB of RAM and a really great screen for the price point proved to me that I don't need a flagship device per-say. But I do want my phone to have a great camera and that has been the rub and kept me in the flagship realm.

    But, if Google can deliver a Pixel 3a that has the same Pixel 3 camera module + imaging smarts, 670 snapdragon processor, LCD screen in the realm of the iPhone XR or Nokia 7.1 and 4GB of RAM and get the starting price down around $475-$499 for the 3a and $599 for the 3a XL I pretty much have to jump on board.

  17. peterbell

    It was the hardware inconsistencies that helped me move from the Pixel 2 XL to the XR, which has been solid. Part of me misses the feel of the phone in hand, but I don't miss the rest of the little things that were like a million little paper cuts.

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