Let me preface my entire review with this; myself and Lemacks Media are Google Cloud Partners, I am a fan and user of Google/Alphabet products across the spectrum, I am not being paid for this review, and I plan to use the Google Pixel 3 XL as my daily phone until the Pixel 4 (or otherwise) comes out in 2019.
Google Pixel 3 XL is familiar
So, yea, the Pixel 3 XL is a very familiar device coming from the Pixel 2 XL. It’s familiar down to the point that if you disable the notch in Developer Settings it actually is nearly indistinguishable from the Pixel 2 XL. Coming from running nearly all of my devices on beta channels of Android nearly year round I tend to forget what features the previous generation phone didn’t truly have publicly available until the OS official launch, so the software, aside from items like Night Sight and other incremental items I am typically already using.
The Pixel 3 XL feels the same, but slightly refined on the back plate. It feels slightly, but not noticeably heavier, and just generally feels like the same phone in the hand. For me having large hands, it’s comfortable and easy to use even with the increase in overall display size.
Google Pixel 3 XL Hardware
I really enjoyed the Pixel 2 XL’s design, and the Pixel 3 XL did nothing but improve on it. I know people are up in arms about the notch, but honestly it doesn’t bother me. It reminds me a lot of the LG V10 with how it utilized a second display for a quick launcher and notifications next to the front cameras. Function over aesthetic is never lost on me.
Even the boxes and the unboxing experience are identical!
The camera’s are nothing short of excellent, I won’t dive too deeply into the additional software features, because they aren’t officially baked in yet, however, here are a few examples from the standard camera, no settings changes right out of the box.
The inclusion of USB Type-C headphones this iteration was definitely welcome! They are serviceable, nothing super fancy or special, I likely would only use them when traveling so not to need to keep my PowerBeats Wireless set charged all the time. Otherwise, I prefer the wireless headphones from pretty much everything as it means I can sit my phone down in places that make sense for example at the gym. I do, however, prefer the feel of the Pixel USB-C Earbuds, they fit nicely, and definitely have me considering getting the Pixel Buds now as a replacement for the PowerBeats.
As with the Pixel 2/2 XL and Pixel 1/1XL Google included a USB-A to USB-C dongle for transfer from 1 device to another. I also find this useful to carry around for various applications like: charging other people’s phones, viewing data on USB drives, and even using in conjunction with my USB to Ethernet dongle to make network changes over LAN rather than playing the WiFi game.
Google Pixel 3 XL Features & Software
Android 9.0 “Pie” is a great follow-up to Android 8.0 “Oreo”. The emphasis on more Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence features augment what is already good hardware for a flagship device. As with all of the Google Pixel branded devices, the frequent monthly updates and patches will serve to keep the phone feeling new and quick for at least 1-2 years. My personal experience with the Pixel 2 XL was nothing short of excellent, and if it weren’t for the fact I like shiny new things, I likely would have stayed on the Pixel 2 XL at least another device generation for these reasons.
Google Assistant Call Screening is probably the biggest and best software feature on the device in my opinion. I have already used it a number of times, and the appreciation I have for it isn’t really measureable!
I have experimented with the Night Sight feature in an unofficial build of the Google Camera App, here are the resulting photos:
Google Pixel 3 XL Final Thoughts
Pixel 3 XL is a great incremental improvement over the 2 XL. Over the next few months I will loop back here to update and the remaining software features are officially baked in and supported. I would recommend the Pixel 3 XL purely based on the camera and Google Assistant.
Buy yours by visiting store.google.com .
2 Month Update
Now that additional features like Night Sight are officially supported I wanted to revisit this review. The Pixel 3 XL is my daily driver, and as I noted above will be my device until the Pixel 4 comes out in 2019. That being said, the Pixel 3 XL has some great qualities, like Night Sight, and others I am not as pleased with like Top Shot.
Having now used Night Sight in its official form for the better part of a month, I now understand it’s use and application. It really is meant for no-light to barely any light situations, but performs well when the subject is front-lit. Back-lighting the image or trying to capture something like the moon as the subject results in poor images.
Here are 2 pictures I took of a friends home. The first is in HDR+ Enhanced, the second is Night Sight, you pick your preference. The Night Sight Image definitely collects a lot of surrounding light as you can make out the mailbox, neighbors houses, trees and more.
Next are pictures taken of my backyard during sunset. This is a great application of Night Sight’s abilities.
So, that’s all fine and dandy, Night Sight is an excellent feature! However, Top Shot is not, at least in it’s current form. Top Shot is billed as being capable of capturing the moment without needing to retake the image, specifically when the moment might not be something that can/will be repeated. Photo blurry? Just swipe thru the available versions in the gallery to choose the default image!
However, there are a number of issues first of which is that there’s no “Top Shot” mode as it instead relies on the Motion setting in the camera to be turned on. Cool, no big deal, right? Nope! In order to enable Motion Auto/Motion On you cannot have HDR+ Enhanced Enabled, only HDR+ On or HDR+ Off.
Worst yet, that doesn’t even guarantee Top Shot will do it’s magic! In order to guarantee Top Shot is used every time you hit the shutter button you must have HDR+ On/Off AND have Motion On set as Auto can be hit or miss.
I wish Google would make Top Shot a standalone feature in the camera app like Night Sight is, as I generally leave HDR+ Enhanced on, and I am sure others who prefer the shots they get with it do as well. Having to turn things on and off to catch the moment fly in the face of the entire purpose of the feature.
Then of course you’re never told how to actually change the preferred/default image. To do so, you need to go to the image in the gallery and swipe up on the image. This reveals a roll of thumbnails stored from the motion option being used to capture a short video clip.
So, Google/Android Team, if you read this please make Top Shot easier to use!