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Google Pixel 3 XL Review: The Best Camera Phone

After Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 and Apple’s iPhone XS, Google has launched their third gen Pixel smartphones- 5.5-inch display Pixel 3 and 6.3-inch display Pixel 3 XL. How does it stand against its completion? Is it worth buying?

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Pixel 3XL Price in India

64GB- Rs 83,000

128GB- Rs 92,000

A few years earlier, it used to be Samsung vs Apple in the race of premium smartphones. Two years ago, California based tech giant Google came up with the Pixel smartphone with which Google is trying to make way for itself in the completion. After Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 (Review) and Apple’s iPhone XS (Review), Google has launched their third gen Pixel smartphones- 5.5-inch display Pixel 3 and 6.3-inch display Pixel 3XL. How does it stand against its completion? Is it worth buying?

We have used Pixel 3XL for more than three weeks and here’s what we think about it.

Design and Display

When Apple came up with the notch display in iPhone X last year, they were mocked last year by almost every Android smartphone brand. It was just a matter of time, now the majority of Android handsets have a notch at the top, including the new Pixel 3 XL.

First things first, Pixel 3 XL’s display has a really big notch at the top which houses two selfie cams (wide-angle+normal), an earpiece and a bunch of other sensors. Talking about the display, third gen Pixel XL features a 6.3-inches QHD+ (2960x1440) pOLED display with 18.5:9 aspect ratio, pixel density of 523ppi and Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which protects screen to some extent from scratches.

The screen is vibrant and displays crisp and clear content. Be it gaming or binge-watching your favourite show, Pixel 3 XL’s display will not disappoint you in any way whatsoever. 

Unlike previous year’s Pixel handsets, this year’s Pixel XL has a glass at the back. Google still retained the contrast design with glossy upper portion and the lower portion with matte finish, which Google achieved with an etching process. The phone feels nicer to hold and I didn’t find it slipping out of my hands. Pixel 3 XL is available in three colours- Just Black, Clearly White, and a new colour which Google calls it ‘Not Pink’, which is kind of pink.

The display quality is undoubtedly one of the best you can get on any smartphone out there.

Pixel 3XL retains the front stereo speakers from last gen Pixel phones, with one at the bottom and earpiece doubling as another speaker.  

The device is IP68 rated water and dust resistance which means you can submerge your phone upto 1.5 metres deep for 30 minutes.

Pixel 3XL still retains the rear-mounted round shaped fingerprint scanner from its predecessor which is fast and accurate to scan fingerprints for unlocking the phone. However, Google missed on face unlock or the modern in-display fingerprint sensors which are going mainstream.

The bottom of the phone has USB Type-C port which will also double as your headphone jack as a majority of smartphone brands including Google are omitting the traditional 3.5mm jack from their handsets. But thanks to Google, they are shipping Pixel 3XL with USB Type-C wired Pixel buds along with an adapter to connect with 3.5mm headphones.

Next to the USB port is a single-SIM tray. Volume buttons and power button are on the right side. Google’s Active Edge feature is still there, which lets you activate Google Assistant or silence incoming calls by squeezing the phone’s edges. Unluckily, you can’t assign any other functionality to this feature.  

Software and Performance

The single-SIM handset runs on the latest Android 9.0 Pie software version. Day-to-day usage with Pixel 3XL is as snappy as you would expect it to be; after all, it is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor, coupled with Adreno 630 GPU. The handset has 4GB RAM and comes in two storage variants of 64GB and 128GB, without any MicroSD card slot.

However, we find it odd when a phone this expensive only has a 64GB of internal storage. This year, Google should have kept the base models at the same price with 128GB storage and another one should at least have 256GB of storage. The specs this phone offers are often found in mid-range segment of the Indian market. Pixel phones are more about software rather than the hardware which is why Pixel 3XL only has 4GB of RAM and high-level optimization is done on software level.

On Geekbench, Pixel 3XL achieved single-core score of 2,253 and multi-core score of 7,973. AnTuTu gave it a score of 2,23,283.

Pixel 3 XL has a 3,430mAh battery which Google claims can deliver up to 7 hours of battery backup within 15 minutes of charging. The handset is also capable of wireless charging. When it comes to battery life, this phone’s performance was satisfactory but it is not one of the best phones with amazing battery life.

Pixel 3 XL takes 45 minutes to reach from zero to fifty percent and another 45 minutes to reach hundred percent, which means it gets fully charged within 2 hours. For increased battery life, there is a feature called Adaptive Battery which limits battery for other infrequently used apps.  

The only lag I found in this phone was in Camera app. Pixel 3XL takes a few seconds to process Portrait images after you click them, which is because it has a single lens and uses machine learning to process blur effect.

Google has also included Titan M security chip in the Pixel 3, which is said to protect most sensitive on device data by securing your lock screen and strengthening disk encryption.

This year, Google has trimmed three-button navigation system and instead you’ll be using the Pixel through gestures only.

There is a small pill-shaped on-screen button at the bottom, on clicking it, you’ll reach Home, Swiping it up will open Recent Apps, and Swiping it up all the way to top will show you the App Drawer. For going back, there is a tiny on-screen button.  

Google’s Now Playing feature is still present this time which detects music played nearby. Whenever there’s a song playing in the background (for example car or room), its name appears on the display automatically and this feature also works offline.

Connectivity features include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac with 2X2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, Location, USB Type-C, Qi wireless charging and NFC.

Camera

When it comes to camera, Google again showed everyone that you don’t need multiple camera to click good quality images. Camera is the most glorified feature of Pixel phones and this year too with the Pixel 3 XL, Google has ticked all the boxes of making best camera in a phone. 

The new Pixel 3 XL sports a 12.2-megapixel single rear camera with optical and electronic image stabilisation, f/1.8 aperture, dual phase detection autofocus, HDR+ mode, and Portrait mode. It records 4K videos @ 30fps, 1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, and 120fps.

On paper, the camera hardware looks similar to that of a mid-range phone but thanks to Google’s Pixel Visual Core processor, the Pixel 3 XL is capable of taking pictures which no other phones can capture. 

On the front, Google has gone with two selfie cameras, 8-megapixel (wide-angle, f/2.2 aperture, 97-degree FOV and fixed focus) + 8-megapixels (normal, f/1.8 aperture, 75 degree FOV, and autofocus). The wide-angle selfie camera comes in handy when you want to fit in your whole group in the frame. To switch to wide-angle and normal camera is as easy as zooming in or zooming out. 

The camera app comes with Portrait mode which works with both front and rear camera. Thanks to the phone’s software prowess, Portrait mode works like magic.

The HDR+ is always on but you can disable/enable it from the camera settings. There’s also HDR+ enhanced mode which is useful in difficult lighting conditions. When using the camera of this phone, I would prefer you not to change anything and let it work on HDR+ mode.

There is also a feature called Top Shot which detects and recommends the best photo taken. Thanks to HDR+ the camera takes alternate shots.

Google also introduced a new feature called Night Sight which Google claims is the best low light camera. This feature isn’t available right now in this phones and Google will make this feature available through an update. However, we were able to click some images using a modified Night Sight APK and the results were astonishing. We look forward to seeing how Google can improve Pixel camera’s low-light capabilities by releasing Night Sight. Playground is another hidden feature inside the Camera app which is an AR mode where you can use characters from Marvel, Stranger Things and more in your photos. This feature is fun and you’ll be able to impress a lot of people with this. 

Final Thoughts

Pixel 3 XL is the manifest of what Pixel phones have always stood for- great camera and a smooth performance with less reliance on hardware. Pixel 3 XL isn't just a phone which amalgamated features of every phone present out there. Instead, Google is offering a unique experience to consumers who look beyond Samsung and Apple. 

Talking about the difference between last year's and this year's Pixel phones, there aren't many noticeable differences other than the notch. Pixel 3XL offers best cameras, amazing display, subtle design, but the battery is pretty average. 

Also, Google isn't luring anyone with its hardware specs like OnePlus (OnePlus 6 Review) or Xiaomi (Poco F1 Review). For example, third gen Pixel XL only has 4GB of RAM with price starting from Rs 83,000, other Android handset brands offer way more than these specs at a much cheaper price. It is clear that Google is doing it the Apple way, which means Pixel phones are more about user experience than specs on paper. 

Pixel 3 XL is more about software than hardware, even being an Android phone (which every eighth phone out of tenth is) it delivers a premium user experience. This phone is clearly the benchmark for every other Android phone, only if we forget about some downsides. Pixel 3XL doesn't offer the greatest (or one of the greatest) battery backup in a phone, there is no face unlock, and why is there still a 64GB storage variant in a phone this expensive?


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