Review: Google Pixel 3

By Jack Hanson
1/8/19
Swap out your old phone for one of the best phones of 2018.
Since Google released its original Pixel smartphones in 2016, the company has worked hard to maintain its devices’ reputations as among the highest quality, best-performing, and most innovative phones on the market. This record may come as no surprise, given Google’s nearly limitless resources and its complete ownership of Android, the operating system present on Pixel phones and their close competitors. However, before Google unveiled the Pixel 3 on October 9th, Android enthusiasts were feeling uncertain about the new device because of numerous leaks which indicated slightly underwhelming specifications and the presence of an upper notch. Fortunately, apprehensions subsided after Google’s launch event, and a majority of Android fans are pleased with the devices’ design and features. Altogether, Google’s achievements with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are nothing short of outstanding, placing the devices clearly among the best Android smartphones of 2018.

The standard Pixel 3 is the smaller and cheaper of the two new Pixels, but features the same industry-leading camera and powerful internals (excluding its smaller battery) as its larger brother, the Pixel 3 XL. Besides the battery, the only other internal difference between the two is the Pixel 3 XL’s larger and sharper 6.3 inch display, which features the notorious notch. Smartphone notches have arisen as part of a controversial trend, first popularized by Apple on the iPhone X, which serves to fill the entire front of the phone with only the screen in the interest of a seamless design. Unfortunately, such a seamless design is not yet possible, so manufacturers come as close as possible by removing physical buttons like the home button and expanding the display upwards into the area where a fine horizontal line once divided the display from the bezel. As a result, a notch interrupts the display in the center of its upper portion, adding an unappealing design element and giving the phone’s display non-rectangular proportions. Google’s decision to follow the notch trend with the Pixel 3 XL while offering a notch-less alternative with the Pixel 3 marks one of several strategic design choices. Others include less-contrasting color schemes which make the phone’s exterior look more premium compared to the Pixel 2’s and dual front-facing cameras which allow it to capture wide-angle selfies. However, both Pixel 3s follow another controversial trend in that they lack a headphone jack.

Since purchasing my Pixel 3 shortly after the device launched, I have only positive thoughts to share about using the phone. I upgraded from an original Pixel, which became my favorite phone over the 1.5 years I used it, for numerous reasons. My Pixel 1 earned my loyalty to the Pixel nameplate through its seamless and uncluttered user experience, fantastic camera, and amazingly sturdy construction. Over my 21 months with it, I took over 10,000 pictures and videos and filled what storage I had left with thousands of songs and hundreds of apps, and never worried much about handling the device carefully. I admire its durability because, in many moments of clumsiness, I dropped the phone and the screen never accumulated a scratch, even when I used it without a case or screen protector. Additionally, in a hilarious fumble, the phone slid out of my pocket into the icy waters of a lake known as Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park. Despite not being rated for any water resistance, the phone recovered perfectly and I began using it again shortly afterward.

After about one month, I am similarly impressed with my Pixel 3, and feel it to be worth the upgrade from any older phone. In contrast to the first Pixels, the Pixel 3 is IP68 certified, which guarantees its resistance to submersion in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. It runs Android 9 “Pie” seamlessly, with fast response times for shortcuts like the convenient double-press of the power button to take a photo. On the subject of photos, its top-of-the-line camera snaps gorgeous pictures with ease. Since topping the competition with the Pixel 1’s highest-ever DxOMark camera rating, Google has continued to improve the Pixels’ cameras via hardware and software innovations, culminating in the Pixel 3’s camera again receiving rave reviews from critics. Highlights of the camera experience include a groundbreaking “Night Sight” mode, the presence of two front-facing cameras, and Google Lens integration. Night Sight allows the capture of impressively well-lit photos in dark environments, making all other phones’ photos in the same lighting pale in comparison. The dual front cameras work together to allow both wide-angle and close-up photos, which I’ve found to be legitimately useful. If ever you’ve been with a large group of people that want a group photo taken, you know how complicated friends or family can make the task. The Pixel 3’s front cameras significantly ease this difficulty by allowing wide-angle selfies, sure to please at family gatherings. The feature might even help the rest of your family understand why you’re the only family member without an iPhone. Finally, the built-in Google Lens feature uses AI to identify products, places, plants, animals, and more information from a simple tap on the subject in the viewfinder, pulling up relevant search results unnervingly fast.

In terms of software, I’m again happy with the streamlined Android experience, which I feel is significantly nicer to use than other Android phone manufacturers’ redesigned and bloated software versions like Samsung’s. One of my only gripes with the phone is the lack of the familiar headphone jack. I grew accustomed to using the port on my Pixel 1, and I have not become used to the lack of such a useful port on the Pixel 3. However, the nonexistent headphone jack is, in my opinion, a small price to pay for an all-around fantastic device, which I am quick to recommend to anyone willing to pay its steep starting price of $799.
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