Week One with the Google Pixel 3 XL

Posted on April 29, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile with 29 Comments

I’ve been using a Google Pixel 3 XL since last week. Here are a few follow-up notes about my experiences so far.

Cost

First up, let’s talk about money a little bit. This is a topic I take very seriously, and I think this is especially important when you consider how cavalier most reviewers are about cost when it comes to the expensive toys that they usually get for free on indefinite loan. But I don’t have infinite money to spend, and when it comes to buying my own devices, which I do, a lot, I try to be as thrifty as possible.

And half-off is about as thrifty as it gets on what is still Google’s flagship handset. I’ve complained about the high cost of the Pixel lineup for each of its three years and generations, and I mourn the days of the reasonable Nexus 6P and 5X pricing. But $500 is a lot easier to swallow than $1000. The math is so simple even I can follow it.

In this case, too, I had $300 sitting in PayPal, which I use for discretionary, typical gadget-related purchases. And a Pixel 2 XL that isn’t getting any younger, or more valuable as a trade-in. So, the timing was right, too.

I figured the Pixel 2 XL was worth about $200 on trade, but that assumption was based on nothing more than a random guess. As it turns out, my guess was inflated by about 25 percent: Both Gazelle and Amazon Trade-In tell me the phone is really worth about $150. Ah well.

Regardless of the actual value of the trade, I like the idea of trading in an old device for a new one, and I do this whenever possible. This is especially good for expensive devices—I traded in an old iPad Pro and MacBook Air when I bought the new MacBook Air, for example, and traded in an iPhone 7 when I bought the iPhone XR—but it’s as much about getting rid of clutter as anything else. One device in, (at least) one device out.

With the Pixel 3 XL specifically, of course, I’m hoping that it will be worth more should a Pixel 4 XL actually make sense this coming fall. Or that it will last longer than the Pixel 2 XL, at least. Especially since the Pixel 2 XL I was using is a refurb.

Put simply, the Pixel 3 XL I purchased is not worth $1000. But $500? Absolutely.

Protective case

I really enjoy the feel of modern smartphones, but with their all-glass designs, they’re accidents waiting to happen. So I will always cover my phones in cases to protect them and preserve their eventual trade-in value. I really like the cases that Apple makes for its iPhones, and try to find cases like those for my non-iPhone purchases. But for the Pixel 3 XL, I decided to forego an expensive ($40 to $50) leather case for now—after all, it’s still possible I won’t even keep the phone—and go cheap. Cheap but hopefully effective.

The two cases I chose are the Tuopuna Air Armor and the ESR Essential Zero Case. Neither are particularly notable beyond the fact that each proves you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a decent case.

Tuopona case

I prefer the ESR case because it lets the Pixel 3 XL’s natural color (officially called “not pink” but really a tan-ish color) show through. But it’s not as grippy, and I’ve used the Tuopuna case more, especially when I go to the gym, so the phone doesn’t just slide out of my pocket when I’m using a machine.

ESR case

And regardless of your feelings about cases, you will want one if you go with a Pixel 3 of any kind: The all-glass body is as slippery as a bar of soap, as my wife pointed out the day before the cases arrived. She was afraid to even pick it up.

Notch

It’s impossible to discuss the Pixel 3 XL without pointing out that notch. It’s bigger than any notch on any phone, by a wide margin. It is so ludicrous that when images of the device leaked, a popular conspiracy theory proclaimed that Google was simply spoofing leakers. There was no way they’d release a phone with such a terrible design.

Well, they did. And as any Pixel 3 XL user will tell you, yeah, you do get used to it. This is true of almost anything, really, just not phone notches. But it is true regardless. Only people like me, who experience multiple different phones every year, would ever really complain about it.

And it’s worth pointing out, too, that even with that notch, there’s still more usable on-screen real estate than was the case with the Pixel 2 XL. It’s not much more, maybe a quarter of an inch vertically, but it’s there.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to Google eliminating this with an in-screen front camera in the next Pixels.

Camera

Ever since the Nexus 6P and 5X in 2015, Google has had the very best cameras in smartphones. Indeed, it hasn’t even been close. (Sorry, iPhone fans. It’s true.) And then Huawei happened.

Thanks to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, released in late 2018, Google’s Pixel lineup is now second, overall, in photographic prowess, and the Pixel 3 series only outperforms that entry in one area, low-light photography. But with the P30 Pro, Huawei has stripped away the title for good: Not only is the low-light performance better, according to reviewers—I’ll be reviewing the P30 Pro myself, soon—but its 5X optical zoom is transformational.

So, the Pixel 3 XL is suddenly an also-ran in the photography department. But consider two points.

First, it’s a wonderful also-ran, and while it will never rival the optical zoom capabilities of the P30 Pro, the Pixel 3 XL takes terrific photos, in all lighting conditions. It’s only a step down if you’re used to using a recent Huawei handset.

Second, that Google is able to accomplish this with a single camera lens, at least on the back, is a miracle: Other handset makers, including Huawei, rely on multiple lenses to achieve their stellar shots. Google uses only one, plus its amazing AI capabilities. Should it finally adopt a second or even third lens in future Pixels, this could be a real competition again. (The Pixel 3 XL does have two front-facing cameras, which enables a special super-wide mode for selfies that is truly useful.)

I haven’t done side-by-side comparisons yet, but it looks like this Pixel 3 XL will be a lateral move for anyone with a Pixel 2 XL. Meaning, don’t upgrade just for the camera. But for everyone else, sans Huawei customers, the camera is a great reason to upgrade.

Reliability issues

Given the number of issues with the Pixel 3 XL—some of which have been fixed since launch, some of which haven’t—I’m obviously very keen to see how this handset fares in real-world usage. This is doubly stressful because my previous Google handset, the Pixel 2 XL, has been a nightmare of unreliability as well. (I’ve had mine replaced twice because of hardware issues.) So I’ve been using the Unofficial Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL bug and issue tracker on Android Police and my own previous experience with the handset as a guide.

The biggest issue I noticed with my original Pixel 3 XL has been fixed: The memory issues that triggered the background audio from music, podcast, or audiobook apps stopping when I used another app (like Camera) are no longer present, and were apparently fixed in a December 2018 software update. So far—and, yes, it’s early—performance has been excellent across the board.

The audio issues I noticed were partially fixed. The weird vibrations experienced during audio playback are still present in the device’s body—due, I think, to the move to glass from aluminum—but they don’t trigger any audible distortion anymore. The stereo issue, where the volume is biased to the right (non-notch) side when the device is held in landscape orientation (like during movie playback) is still there, but it’s not dramatic. Some of the other phones I’ve used still have mono audio, so this is acceptable. Not great. But acceptable.

The audio issue I mentioned last week—where my Powerbeats earphones stopped working when I was at the gym may have been user error. (Shocker.) I noticed the next day that the volume on the earphones themselves was all the way down, and turning that up obviously fixed that. I’ve been bringing an extra pair of (wired) earbuds to the gym ever since, just in case.

The other, perhaps-related issue where the phone seems to heat up in use—also at the gym—is something I have experienced again. But it doesn’t happen frequently—it may have literally only happened twice—and I haven’t been able to figure out what triggers it.

I’ve not yet experienced—to my knowledge—a widely-reported problem with taken photos not being saved, but I’ll need more time to be sure. And I’ve not experienced any of the other issues listed on that bug and issue tracker page. I will keep using the phone and gauging its reliability and performance, of course.

I’m happy with the Pixel 3 XL overall. I like the form factor, and the clean Android image, and the full Google Fi compatibility. The camera, if not as HDR-happy as that of the Mate 20 Pro, is excellent. Battery life has been good overall, though I can already tell it doesn’t match the Huawei. I wish Google had kept the headphone jack. And the return to a rear-mounted fingerprint reader has been nice: It’s wicked fast and works very well.

More soon as warranted.

Tagged with

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (29)

29 responses to “Week One with the Google Pixel 3 XL”

  1. Osmanmohamed

    I am glad your 2nd chance for the Pixel 3 XL is going better than the first

  2. mclark2112

    I've gone the route of using specific wallpapers (and the app Notcho) to hide the notch on my iPhone 10, and I think Android can do this natively? It makes me happier on the login page a home screens, but the notch is still in the apps. You do stop noticing it though.

  3. locust infested orchard inc

    Quotes by Paul Thurrott:
    "Week One with the Google Pixel 3 XL"
    "More soon as warranted"


    With the litany of problems that plague the Pixel 3 XL, as noted by Paul in this article, "Week One with the Google Pixel 3 XL" shall also be the last week with this Pixel device.


    And so whilst Paul indicates "More soon as warranted", this shall turn out to be returning the device soon under warranty.

  4. jedwards87

    I'm sorry Paul but while I agree the Pixel is an outstanding camera to say the iPhone XS is not even close is nonsense. I think reviewers and users have shown they are pretty comparable in quality (except low light. Pixel wins here). But I get it. You hate Apple.

  5. Sir_Timbit

    Got an iPhone 8+ and, having played with the Night Shot mode on the Pixel 3, I was blown away with the results. I'm really hoping Apple releases an equivalent feature with their next-gen phones. But that alone wasn't enough to make me switch, as I simply don't see myself upgrading for at least another 2-3 years.


    One thing I read elsewhere that still concerns me is their customer support. Apparently, if you use Google Fi with Google Pay, and there is a fraud issue with your credit card, you're out of luck. Your account will be locked including your Google Fi number, so you lose it. And Google's customer support can't unlock it. It's just gone. It sounds like this may be more of an issue with associating it with Google Pay. Anyone else hear about this? It was on Android Police. For some reason I can't include the link here, but search for "The ludicrous Google Pay 'death sentence' can lock your Fi account and phone number"



  6. slerched

    Dropped my Sony Xperia late Fall 2019, broke the screen. Not sure if anyone ever told you but... No one repairs Xperia screens (probably because no one buys them). Bought the 2 XL based on my wife kinda not giving any other option.


    And guess what? No problems. I don't like the OLED smear when scrolling with the brightness down.


    Other than that? Nothing. I use it every day. Sometimes for hours on end, no breaks. Still no issues.


    I hate the case I bought. But again. Wife.



  7. dwils

    Glad to see you giving the Pixel another shot. And yes, the notch is annoying, but just enable developer mode, and you can make the buck toothiness go away :-).

  8. wosully

    Hey Paul, this link may be incorrect: https://d.docs.live.net/2cd1217f16df98fd/Documents/Work/To-do/B07H9W2Q4F from:  Tuopuna Air Armor 

  9. wocowboy

    All the to-do about camera quality goes over the heads of most phone users. They just want a camera that takes an acceptable picture, not something they can tweak to no end using 3rd party software that has adjustments that only professional photographers and Photoshop gurus know anything about. Tech YouTubers can go on & on & on about camera features and capabilities all they want but most users do not care one bit about that. I have personally never once seen anyone launch a camera app on their phone, tweak 20 or more settings, and then take the picture. Nor have I ever seen anyone do any post-tweaking of their pictures using one of those apps after they have taken the picture. In most instances, the subject of the shot would have gotten bored and walked away or the moment had passed long before all that tweaking would have been completed to set up the shot. Not to say no one does that, but 99.92% of users do not.

  10. dwindleflip

    Paul did you get the 64GB or the 128GB model? I'm curious, since I'm wrestling with this choice. Any thoughts on the matter?

  11. rocwurst

    That's a surprisingly large number of issues with the Pixel. Doesn't inspire much confidence going forward. Perhaps the most worrying thing about the Pixel line is that they have been and continue to be a market failure which has one questioning Google's long term support for the devices.


    Google sold less than 4m Pixel devices (phones, tablets and Chromebooks) in 2017 compared to 317m Samsungs and 215m iPhones and 44m iPads and hasn't much improved since. Pixels have only 0.7% market share in Google's home market - the USA.


    Google has already abandoned making Android tablets. How much longer will they keep making low selling phones and ChromeBooks?

    • Tony Barrett

      In reply to Rocwurst:

      I don't think Google make and sell Pixel phones to become high selling devices (although they probably wouldn't complain). I think they make their own hardware to show off Android at it's best - bloat free, streamlined and updated regularly. If you want a 'pure' Android experience, you buy Pixel (or an Android One device). Much like MS does with Surface - relatively low sales, but a platform they use to show off Windows. Like MS though, Google have gone through a painful learning curve re hardware design and issues that have crept in. I still miss the Nexus brand though - Pixel was just too expensive.

      • rocwurst

        In reply to ghostrider:

        Ghostrider, That is an all too convenient reason to excuse abysmal sales which would no doubt change if they started selling serious numbers of devices. It is after all a VERY expensive promo vehicle if that was all it was.


        The billions lost on the failed Motorola (12 Billion dollars!) and more recent HTC purchases is also pretty hard evidence that Google has larger (albeit unfulfilled) aspirations.


        Then there is the fact that Google canned their Android tablet line because of even more dreadful sales - if they were merely aiming at providing "best-in-class" hardware examples, why would mere poor sales deter them?


        Not to mention the fact of Google's changing pricing strategy - when the cut-price Nexus line failed to deliver decent sales, they switched to the premium Pixel line pricing strategy which has similarly failed. All very embarrassing for the GooglePlex.

  12. dcdevito

    Hope this one works out for you, Paul. Cheers

  13. kamasamak

    Paul, you should have checked Trade In with Google. They value Google Pixel 2 XL (64GB) at $251.00.

  14. mmcpher

    I really appreciate the reviews here, even though I don't have a Pixel 3 XL and don't intend to be in that market. The review is so straight forward that it does provide a kind of baseline against which I can measure my own device. There is real value in long-established credibility, beyond the loyalty this site's owners and writers enjoy. There is never a shortage of breathless reviews and disproprtionally harsh criticisms of new devices or models online, but I come here to get an honest assessment. My daughter had a Pixel 2 XL and a Pixel XL before that and her photos always surpassed mine on a succession of Samsungs. Now, she has a Samsung 10 Plus. And here photos are still way better. She just has a better eye but I wonder if at least a part of it was that her use of Pixels sharpened her eye?

  15. James Hancock

    The biggest problem is still every pixel and ndxus 6p problem:. Horrible Bluetooth stack.


    3 phones in a row that disconnect and reconnect in the first 5 minutes of starting your car. Doesn't matter car brand, same issue with Lexus, jaguar, Honda, and Subaru.


    Makes Bluetooth music steaming unusuable and same for boothtooth triggered Android auto.

    • wthicsktun

      In reply to JohnGalt1717: I agree 1000%. I am not sure why the bluetooth sucks so bad in the Pixel lineup. Always has and I guess always will. It drives me bonkers. So much so I grabbed a Galaxy just to try it. Guess what? The bluetooth works great with the Galaxy. I just hate the Samsung interface. Everything esle about the Pixel is fantastic.


  16. rmlounsbury

    I was pretty well set on waiting for the Pixel 3a but given their sale and the rumored price point for the PIxel 3a I ended up going ahead with the Pixel 3 netting the better processor and no-sacrifice version of the hardware for what is probably a small increase in price vs. whatever the 3a comes in at.

  17. Sbeisner1

    I too took advantage of the half price deal last week but I got the Pixel 3 rather than the 3 XL. I was moving from an original Pixel. Overall, it's been quite an upgrade in every way except the camera. I have taken over 50 pictures with my Pixel and then the same shot with the Pixel 3 and compared the side by side on a 24" monitor. I see virtually no difference and there should be. While the original Pixel was pretty decent, it should be no match for the Pixel 3. Yet shot after shot really look s pretty meh. When viewing side by side,they're both a bit "flat" and the Pixel 3 appears to be a little blurry. I can't figure it out. I was expecting to be blown away by the camera.

  18. TroyTruax

    That's the one thing I miss about the Lumia phones. I never felt the need to put a case on one.

  19. bill_russell

    "phone seems to heat up in use"

    I've noticed this just before being notified of a software update, as though it was downloading in the background.


    I will probably pick up a Pixel 3 non-XL in another year, when its down to $200-ish on Ebay.

    Meanwhile my pixel 1 will be interesting to see if its gets Q on its 4th year.

  20. justincrawford

    I've been using the MS Launcher since it came out. I really hated the way Google wanted to force you into their services and MS Launcher was a quick and easy way to get rid of all of that. But I have to say, I'm really enjoying the default setup on the Pixel 3. A quick install of outlook, OneDrive and authenticator gives me most of what I need. The google assistant is better than Cortana.

    • markld

      In reply to justincrawford:

      I'm so much like you, the MS Launcher was on my Android phone as soon as I could put it on because Google's tentacles were digging in from the start, forcing you into their system.

      • solomonrex

        In reply to Markld:

        So I've been back and forth on this on my own Galaxy. Bing search isn't nearly as good with geography - why didn't they buy/keep HERE when they had the chance? And like many other vendors, the reminders system is opaque. But even as a google fan, there's too much google out of the box, so I keep trying.


        I did use Edge, but adding MS corporate stuff suddenly introduces another authentication hoop to jump through to use it, and its poorly designed and troublesome. Outlook notifications used to open emails, now they can't, non-work profiles can't be chosen on Edge, there's a long list of weird apps that are inscrutable to everyone except IT.


        I know it's all under development, but their Android sloppiness concerns me.

  21. justincrawford

    I just bought the Pixel 3 (non-XL) during the 50% off sale. I upgraded from an aging Nexus 5X. Maybe it's because I haven't used a modern phone in a while, but the Pixel 3 is absolutely amazing. Best $400 I've ever spent.

  22. rupertholmes

    Text me when you get rid of the Huawei. Bought the Nokia 9 not so Pureview, day one, as my break from Win Mobile. It is a short timer for me. Still have to get my 950XL to take nice photos.

  23. Piras

    You take spending money seriously. And you 'trade in' your perfectly good devices instead of selling them ? Wow.

Leave a Reply