Pros: The Pixel 3 takes brilliant photos, even in super low-light, with its single rear lens and it can capture wider selfie photos. It’s water resistant, has wireless charging and it can screen unwanted calls.
Cons: The phone doesn’t have expandable memory or a headphone jack. The shot-to-shot camera delay can be sluggish in certain modes.
In General: The Pixel 3’s truly exceptional cameras and AI-powered call screening give it an edge on the other great phones in 2018’s crowded winners’ circle.
Seven months after its launch, the Pixel 3 was the best Android phone of 2018 and remains one of the top phones you can get nowadays. It truly is awesome, and along with the Night Sight update, it includes the best camera you can currently get in a phone.With only a single rear camera, the Pixel 3 pulled off photo tricks that its competition at the time, including the OnePlus 6T iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9 needed two cameras (or at times even more) to pull off.
But the other half of the Pixel’s draw is Google’s software and the entire ecosystem it’s ingrained with. Google wants you to use Assistant and it wants you to integrate it with other Google services like Gmail and Calendar. At times it’s useful — particularly Assistant’s new ability to answer calls on your behalf. The constant notifications and tips and prompts get annoying, but fortunately you can turn these functions off.
If you do want extra storage though, things get more complicated. The S9 ends up being the better value since it can hold up to 400GB of extra data, and the 256GB iPhone is actually cheaper than the Pixel 3 at any capacity in terms of price per gig. At any rate, if all these phones are out of your budget, but you love the Pixel 3’s camera, consider the Pixel 3A instead.
But if you are willing to pay up, the Pixel 3 is outstanding. It may not look as luxurious as the iPhone XS or Galaxy S9, but it enjoys the extra perks that come from being a Google phone, which include unlimited cloud storage and timely software updates. And with its superlative, easy-to-use camera, the Pixel 3 is top-notch.
Keep in mind, too, that the Pixel 3 is available in a larger 6.3-inch model (compared with this model’s 5.5-inch display). The Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 (£869, AU$1,349) and offers a bit more battery life and a hideable notch on its display. But features, including the cameras, are otherwise the same.
Pixel 3 design: Not refreshed, but refined
While this year’s Pixels look similar to last year’s, subtle design tweaks add more polish to the phones this time around. There are slimmer bezels, especially on the smaller Pixel, and a smooth matte texture on all the color variants including the black one. The phones are surrounded by a glossy lining around the phone and the signature glass shade on the back dips down on the bottom corners all help to elevate the aesthetics.
Other design takeaways
- Google brought back wireless charging. New to the Pixel line (but not to older Google phones like the Nexus 5 is wireless charging. Instead of plugging in a cord, the phone can juice up on any Qi-compatible charging mat. Google’s selling its own Pixel Stand wireless charger too. When it charges on that cradle, the Pixel’s lockscreen switches to simplified interface that emphasizes hands-free voice commands. This mode gives you quick access to Assistant, music players and notifications, and you can set up a screensaver with photos.
- It comes bundled with earbuds. Though Google still left off the headphone jack, the company did include wired USB Type-C earbuds with the Pixel 3 for the first time ever. They’re meatier than Apple’s earbuds, but they’re quite comfortable and fit snugly in my ears. And unlike Apple, Google is including an adapter for standard 3.5mm headphones in the box.
- It’s water resistant. The Pixel 3 is rated IPX8, meaning it can survive in about 3 feet underwater (1 meter) for 30 minutes. In my dunk tests, the phone kept on ticking after I placed it in a 3-gallon bucket for 28 minutes, twice.
- Active Edge still mainly does one thing. Like its predecessor and the HTC U11 before it, squeezing the Pixel 3’s sides launches a specific action. In this case, it opens Google Assistant and it can silence an incoming call. But that’s pretty much it. Annoyingly, you can’t reprogram the gesture to do anything else. Squeezing the U11, for example, could turn on the flashlight or Wi-Fi.
- Fingerprint sensor remains on the back. The center-rear placement of the fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone is on the back of the phone. That location is ultimately better than Samsung’s, which is still too close to the rear camera. But Google missed a chance to embed the sensor in the screen, like the upcoming OnePlus 6T, or add an iPhone-like Face ID method.
Pixel 3 software: So helpful it’s almost creepy
Running Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, the Pixel 3 uses gesture navigation to get around. For recent apps you’ll need to flick up at the bottom of the screen and slide apps upwards to quit. A quick flick used to take you to the app drawer, but now that requires either a second flick or one long swipe upward. This is the hardest gesture to unlearn and I still need more time to get used to it. At least there’s still a small home and back button.
Google Assistant, the company’s voice-activated majordomo, is embedded throughout the Pixel’s user experience. There are myriad ways to access it: Active Edge, saying “OK, Google” or long-pressing the home screen. Even if you don’t consciously launch it, you’ll inevitable interact it with it somehow.
But that’s what you get with a phone so deeply integrated with Google’s ecosystem. Fortunately you can turn off notifications or opt out of Assistant altogether if it all starts to get too much.
One compelling new Assistant feature is Call Screen, which answers calls on your behalf using the Duplex technology that the company unveiled earlier this year. As the conversation unfolds between Assistant and the other line, you can read a transcript of the conversation in real time. From there you can decide to block the call or answer it.
More Pixel software tidbits
- As part of Google’s Digital Wellbeing initiative, the Pixel gives you info about how you’re spending your time on the phone. It lets you limit app usage and switches the screen to grayscale around bedtime to reduce eye strain.
- The Pixel 3 and 3 XL come with a free YouTube Music subscription for six months.
- You’ll get unlimited cloud storage for photos, saved at full resolution.
- The phones are usually the first to receive software updates as they roll out from Google. If you bought your phone through a carrier though, you may experience some delay.
- The phone is available on Google’s own Wi-Fi first network, Project Fi. For a limited time, if you buy two Pixel 3/3XL phones you can receive service credit.