Saturday, May 21, 2022
Smart Phones

Google Pixel 3 XL review: Winning the game by rewriting the rules

After spending nearly a week with the Pixel 3 XL, my three first impressions of Google’s newest handset haven’t changed: It’s the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used. The cameras are awesome. The notch is an eyesore.

Thankfully, the first two qualities make up for the third. Mostly. If the Pixel 3 XL didn’t have such an ostentatious notch, it would still be an ugly phone, but after a couple days I wouldn’t have cared anymore. Six days later, the notch is still the first thing my eyes go to every time I unlock my phone. It would be one thing if there was some next-generation camera or sensor that demanded such a large notch. But as it stands, there appears to be a lot of unnecessary space around the twin cameras, ambient light sensor, and speaker that live inside it.

pixel 3 xl notch Christopher Hebert/IDG

You’ll find two front cameras and a speaker in the notch. It sure looks like these components have excessive breathing room.

But I don’t want to waste too many words debating the merits of the Pixel 3 XL’s notch. Google has already signaled that it will be adding a way to black it out via software—which may or may not improve things—and it basically comes down to preference. If you can deal with it, get the Pixel 3 XL. If not, get the notchless Pixel 3. It’s that simple.

Because otherwise, the Pixel 3 is more than just another great Android phone. It’s the emergence of the Pixel as a bona fide smartphone platform. There are features of other phones that may be better—the Galaxy S9’s design, the Huawei P20’s camera hardware, the Note 9’s battery—but no single Android phone can top the end-to-end performance that the Google delivers with the Pixel 3.

A nice back, a great screen

The back of the Pixel has always looked better than the front, but that stark juxtaposition is amplified to an absurd level on the Pixel 3. The all-glass back of Google’s new phone is one of the nicest I’ve ever used, even in Google’s relatively pedestrian assortment of colors.

pixel 3 xl button Christopher Hebert/IDG

The green poewr button is the Pixel 3’s most distinctive design feature—other than the notch.

The new Pixel doesn’t need the reception-friendly glass window anymore, but the Pixel 3 nonetheless retains the trademark two-tone look of its predecessors. The corners of the square are now curved to match the phone’s shape, giving the design a natural flow it didn’t have before.

To mimic the aluminum look and feel of the first two Pixels, the bottom of the Pixel 3 XL is made of frosted glass, and it’s difficult to describe how luxurious it feels. Back when it created the iPhone 7’s “jet black” color, Apple developed a new manufacturing process that gave the aluminum a glass-like feel. Google’s frosted glass has the opposite effect: It makes the Pixel’s glass back feel like smooth aluminum. The result is a texture that’s less slippery and fingerprint-prone than most other glass phones. I’ve picked up a couple of scratches during my first case-less week with it, but they generally wiped off and aren’t nearly as noticeable as they are on other all-glass phones.

The sides of the Pixel 3 are aluminum to match the back color, with the non-black models once again featuring a colored power button to break up the monotony. And of course, there’s no headphone jack, though Google is finally bundling a pair of Google Assistant and Translate-capable USB-C Pixel Buds in the box.


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