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MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL
If you want the absolute best Android experience as Google chooses to define it, you can't do much better than the Pixel 3 XL.
Pros
  • Top of the line performance
  • Pure Google experience
  • Remarkable camera capabilities
Cons
  • Only 4GB of RAM
  • Overly aggressive video stabilization
  • That notch though
9Overall Score

A lot has changed since the days of the HTC Dream and the HTC Magic. Those phones represented Google's official foray into the smartphone world with Android way back in 2008. For starters, they started making their own hardware (sort of). And what started out as reference designs have become highly sought after flagships in their own right. That's how we arrive today at the Google Pixel 3, or more specifically, the Google Pixel 3 XL.

Features and Box Contents

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

Announced earlier this month, the Google Pixel 3 XL didn't exactly have much more to hide. Nearly all of its specs and features were leaked ahead of the event, including a glass back for wireless charging, a single 12MP camera on the back, and the return of Active Edge for squeezability.

Something that I will say is that it's great how the smaller and larger versions of phones now largely come with the same specs. You don't have to sacrifice features if you want the smaller display. The regular Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch, 1080 x 2160 pixel (18:9 ratio) display with no notch, whereas the Pixel 3 XL shown here has a 6.3-inch, 1440 x 2960 pixel (18.5:9 ratio) display. The other difference is the size of the battery: 2915 mAh on the Pixel 3 and 3430 mAh on the Pixel 3 XL.

Aside from that, the two phones are basically the same and tick many of the same boxes as other 2018 flagships. There's a Snapdragon 845, Adreno 630 graphics, 4GB of RAM, 64/128GB of storage, dual 8MP front-facing cameras, USB-C 3.1, rear fingerprint reader, and your choice of Clearly White, Just Black or Not Pink. There is no headphone jack and no microSD expansion slot.

I suppose this is something I would've known if I actually read the official product page. As I was going through the unboxing in the video embedded above, I was surprised to find the new Pixel USB-C earbuds included in the box. They're only about $30, but this is very much a nice inclusion.

The design is a bit of a hybrid between Pixel Buds and Apple EarPods. With the inline remote, a long-press of the middle button launches Google Assistant, and a long-press of the volume up button reads you your notifications. Handy! I found sound quality to be decent enough for a set of $30 earbuds, though the low-end is definitely lacking. I never quite got the fit feeling just right either, but they never popped out of my ears. Google also includes a USB-C to USB-A female adapter and a USB-C to 3.5mm female adapter in the box.

Does It Pass the Slip Test?

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

So, how does the Google Pixel 3 XL actually feel in the hand? Here's the strange thing. Its outward dimensions (158 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm) are actually almost identical to that of the Pixel 2 XL. In fact, it's actually about 10 grams heavier due to the full glass back and possibly for the upgrade to IP68 from IP67.

But it feels better. More premium even.

And I'm not really sure how to explain it, but even though it's the same size as last year's flagship, it doesn't feel as cumbersome to hold. But there is that glass back and a great concern that many people have is that glass is, well, slippery. There is a definite risk of slippage here, especially given the larger size. I wouldn't trust myself with it.

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

The camera picks up on the dual texture back a bit better from this angled view. The top portion where the camera is placed is a glossy glass, whereas the lower three-quarters or so is a "matte" glass. The color difference is nowhere near as obvious when seen in real life, especially straight on. I am really digging this mint green power button, though.

Below the power button is the usual volume rocker along the right side of the phone. The SIM tray has been moved to the bottom next to the USB-C port, and the top has the secondary microphone. The left side is completely blank.

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

But yes, because of the risk of slippage, I would recommend getting some sort of skin or case to protect this thing. Google would like it if you picked up one of their official fabric cases, like this one, which appears to use the same fabric as the Google Home speakers.

At first, I wasn't sure how I'd feel (no pun intended) about a fabric case, but it has really grown on me. The texture makes for a confident grip and it doesn't add nearly as much bulk as one of those dual-layered Live Cases. Keeping it clean is a bit of a mixed bag. Dust and such doesn't really show up. However, I put my phone down on a table that had a tiny bit of spilled yogurt on it. And it's been virtually impossible to get that out completely.

Let's Talk About That Notch

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

Okay, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room. You can't miss him. It's right there at the top of the new screen. After all those leaks about a massive notch, the Google Pixel 3 XL does indeed have a massive notch. I get that notches are totally a 2018 thing to do and you're supposed to get used to them after a while.

Realistically, the thing that bothers me the most about the notch is its height (almost a full centimeter by my crude measurement). And how different software handles it or works around it. In effect, most of the time you end up with a split status bar that feels a little too tall. I know the notch houses the earpiece and the dual cameras, but couldn't they have squished it a little tighter to the top?

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

While it's true that I could (almost) overlook the notch as I made my way around social media apps and such, it's harder to overlook in an app like YouTube. By default, a regular 16:9 video plays in the center of the screen in landscape. What this means is that you get a black bar the same size as the notch (approximately 1.25:9 aspect, if you will) on both sides to crunch that 18.5:9 screen into 16:9.

The thing is that this phone still has a "chin" to accommodate the forward-facing stereo speaker. And so, it feels like the whole video has "shifted" a hair to the left (if you have the notch on the left). It's a minor thing, I suppose, but it feels a little weird. And you're not using the whole screen as a result.

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

Alternatively, you can punch in with a quick "zoom in" pinch gesture to fill the whole screen. Part of the top and bottom of a regular 16:9 wide aspect video gets cut off, and you can quite plainly see the notch obscuring part of the video too. Is this better? I'm not sure.

But I will say this about the display. It appears to be a marked improvement over the Pixel 2 XL. There's no blue shift (as far as I can tell, except when you have night light on) and colors are richer too (without going as far as Samsung does with saturation). In the advanced display settings, you can choose between adaptive (default), natural (more muted), or boosted (more saturation) for your colors.

The Pixel Stand Experience

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

What good is a phone that supports wireless charging without a wireless charger? While you can certainly use any Qi charger, the experience with the official Google Stand comes with some added benefits. This optional accessory will quickly charge up your Google Pixel 3 XL, of course, but you also get two additional features.

First, your phone can serve as a digital picture frame, pulling images from your Google Photos account. You can select albums or it can choose recent highlights. Second, the Pixel Stand grants you easy access to Google Assistant. Just tap the always-on icon near the bottom and chat away. Media controls also appear while charging, whether you're playing locally or casting to a nearby speaker.

I would have liked if the "stand" portion could be collapsed down flat though.

Another thing worth noting is that you do need to use the provided power adapter (and USB-C to USB-C) cable to use the Pixel Stand. When I connected it to the Energen desktop charger, even into the QC 3.0 port with a USB-A to USB-C cable, it wasn't pushing enough juice. The Pixel Stand just offered a faint yellow light to tell me it wasn't getting what it needed.

Sample Photos and Video

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

Given how incredible the camera was on the Pixel 2, we expected nothing less with the Google Pixel 3 XL. In my experience, this is especially true if the lighting is at least halfway decent and you take a moment to steady your shot. The resulting photos can be remarkably sharp and well-detailed.

Portrait mode, both with the front and rear cameras, does a mostly good job with object separation, but it is imperfect. If you look at the example above, you'll see the object just above my ear is not being properly separated from my head. Even so, the actual photo itself is great, and applying the color pop filter in Google Photos afterward really makes for a stylized look.

As a voracious foodie, I was particularly happy with how my food photos turned out. I really wanted to test out the new Night Sight feature, but it doesn't appear to be available just yet and will likely be rolling out as a software update.

Video is much more of a mixed bag. The "jelly" effect (rolling shutter in a regular camera) is prominent as I suspect the software-based image stabilization is working too hard to "fix" the shot. And you don't achieve nearly the same kind of tack sharpness as you do with still photos.

The quick video I chopped together of our visit to the local Halloween ghost train really demonstrates some of these shortcomings. Granted, the conditions were hardly perfect, especially during the train ride itself. To be fair, it was quite dark and the train was moving.

Performance Benchmarks

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Google Pixel 3 XL is among the top of the class when it comes to benchmarks. This is a flagship phone from a top-tier company. Having "only" 4GB of RAM doesn't appear to be a hindrance at all, at least for now.

The phone scored 8820 in the PCMark Work 2.0 test, 286003 in AnTuTu, and 4313 in the 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme benchmark. In the case of the 3DMark benchmark, that places the Pixel 3 higher than 97% of results from all other devices.

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

The results are similarly impressive in Geekbench 4 with a single-core score of 2376 and a multi-core score of 8385. Compare that to the 1870 and 6211, respectively, from the Pixel 2. No real surprises here, though Tom's Guide did get the OnePlus 6 and Galaxy Note 9 clocking in at 9088 and 8876, respectively, for the multi-core.

MEGATechie Third Time's the Charm or MEGATechie Two Steps Forward?

MEGATech Reviews: Google Pixel 3 XL

This is it, you know. We're officially in the age where $1,000 smartphones have become the norm. Here in Canada, the Pixel 3 starts at $999 for the 64GB model and the 64GB Pixel 3 XL is $1,129. And then you'll need to add in an extra $13 if you want to double the storage, since there's no microSD slot. And no headphone jack, but at least you get the USB-C earbuds for free, right?

I wish I was able to test the call screen feature for myself, but it's either not available yet or it's just not available in Canada yet. I'm also looking forward to giving Night Sight a whirl.

At this point, the question isn't really whether the Google Pixel 3 XL is a good phone. It's a great phone. The camera takes amazing pictures, the performance is at the top of the heap, and you get all kinds of Google niceties. There's wireless charging, easy Google Assistant access, stereo speakers that are plenty loud, and a battery that'll get you though a day handily. I was easily able to get about 21 to 24 hours between charges with about 6 hours of screen-on time.

But it's a thousand dollars. If you've got that kind of money to spend on a phone, and apparently a lot of people do, you won't be disappointed with the Google Pixel 3 XL. Aside from switching to Apple, I'd say the main competitor is the Galaxy Note9, but I also feel that offers a different set of benefits for a slightly different kind of user. Now if only they could shrink that notch.


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