Change is the only constant in life that defines progress, but Google believes why fix something that isn't broken. Instead, the company, which has one of the world's best R&D, improves what matters the most to its users and that's how the Pixel 3 XL came into being. At least that's how it feels after having used Google's 2018 flagship that challenges the iPhones and Galaxies out there.
Google Pixel-series marked the end of the Nexus-line, but the evolution that started with it barely keeps us from wanting to go back. At the end of the day, Google's software is at the heart of it all.
Google Pixel 2 XL was an excellent phone with the best camera we had seen in a smartphone. It was impossible to think Google would top that, but then there were rumours about a dual camera set up at the back, which challenged our intellect. To my surprise, Google decided to play a googly and went with a single lens at the back.
I was taken aback, but I'm a strong believer of never to judge a book by its cover. I held my breath until I finally got my hands on the Pixel 3 XL soon after its launch in its white glory. As I unboxed the device, I recall getting an adrenaline rush. After setting up the device by taking a back-up from the Pixel 2 XL, I started using the Android Pie-powered Pixel 3 XL.
My initial thoughts were, "Why such a big notch?" "Is it really clearly white?" "Oh, the chin is staring right at me". As I continued using the Pixel 3 XL through one of the busiest times of my life, all those thoughts started to fade away. The notch didn't bother me anymore, the chin was justified by the speaker and the notch (yes, the notch) became natural as it stored two camera sensors to deliver some of the best selfies I've ever taken in a phone. Let's get to that bit in a while.
Design & Display
Overall, Pixel 3 XL is a well-designed phone and some might argue that after seeing the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Quite frankly, the premiumness of the latest iPhones is hard to match and Apple has really gone overboard with the new iPhone designs to thoroughly justify that hefty price tag. But let's get back to the Pixel 3 XL and I still find the phone's design practical for day-to-day use.
My favourite part of Pixel 3 XL is the attention to detail, the seamlessly rounded corners that make holding the phone comfortable, the matte glass finish at the back, and how can I miss that mint green power button that adds a contrasting touch to the clearly white design. But if you happened to pick "Not Pink" model, then you get an orange power button, which looks quite neat but not as great as the green against white. Well, black is just black – all black.
But the beauty of the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL's design is all in the back cover. For so long, I've complained about glass back phones being fingerprint magnets and even scratch magnets, but Google seems to have a solution here. The matte finish on the glass back is a boon as it doesn't attract fingerprint smudges. And what's better is that it doesn't even let those scratch marks you picked from keeping keys and coins in the same pocket as the phone.
Wash off your Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL if it gets dirty or the back matte surface shows signs of scratches and you're good to go. Just absolutely love that and I sort of wish the new iPhones had that.
With these pointed-out facts, I feel Pixel 3 XL design is perfect for every user who fails to maintain that pristine condition of their phones and still prefer the shiny avatar. I've been using the Pixel 3 XL without a back cover or a screen guard to check its durability and surprisingly the phone hasn't picked up any scratches.
The screen, however, picked up minor scratches, but they are not deep and barely visible. The Pixel 3 XL's QHD+ OLED display makes those scratches practically invisible and you can enjoy every photo, video or any operation on the phone in its best clarity and detail. I've binge-watched Netflix, played PUBG Mobile, edited photos with Snapseed for perfect detail corrections and all of it is done without an issue – be it in a pitch dark room or broad daylight.
Reviewing Pixel 3 XL was essentially testing the camera, both front, and back, for stills and videos. I detailed my experience with the Pixel 3 XL's camera in a previous post with camera samples to show the phone's real potential. Am I impressed? Absolutely. But let's get deeper into that assessment.
The camera of the Pixel 3 XL is the defining factor and the reason why anyone should switch to this beauty. From portraits to landscapes, Pixel 3 XL captures the best visuals with perfect dynamic range, exposure, colour balance, and temperature.
The details Pixel 3 XL picked during random photo shoots is unbelievable. But what has truly been an unmatchable experience with the Pixel 3 XL is the capability to shoot in low lights. And that's without the upcoming Night Sight feature, which is proving to be quite amazing by the looks of its beta appearance.
I also did quite a lot of testing with the camera's new HDR+ enhanced feature, which really brings out the details that one may miss in the HDR or HDR+ mode. The only setback with the HDR+ enhanced is that it would take a microsecond to process the image, which is also the case with Night Sight, but the end result makes more than up for it.
Pixel 3 XL also comes with two new features, Photobooth and Playground, both are fun to use. The Playground puts AR stickers in the line of camera sight and lets you shoot fun images while the Photobooth is perfect for taking hands-free selfies with friends or even solo with different expressions.
While my shoots, I also noticed the autofocus has vastly been improved both in still and videos as compared to the Pixel 2 XL. I found the videos to be better on the iPhone XS, but you can play around with the video settings, like bumping the resolution to 1080p or 4K at 30fps on rear camera to get the best output. However, the audio picked up during video shoots was better on the iPhone XS and so was the transition of light.
Looking at the Pixel 3 XL's overall camera, it takes the lead hands-down. We have some photo samples taken directly from the camera roll to show you that Google means serious business here.
As for the selfies, the dual cameras do contribute a great deal. The secondary wide-angle lens lets you shoot wider selfies without stretching out the corners or distorting people's faces in the sides with sort of a fish-eye lens effect. The portrait and normal selfies couldn't have been better on the Pixel 3 XL and by extension the Pixel 3. The details are impressive and the software retouches bring photos to life in the most natural sense, which is like nothing you'll ever see.
Here's how the portraits are different from normal selfies on the front camera:
I cannot stress further on how great the Pixel 3 XL camera is, on both sides. Just to note, I haven't used the Pixel 3 but the cameras on both phones are the same so you're not missing out on anything here. If I have to complain about the camera, I'm disappointed that the phone does not support 4K at 60fps and limits to just 30fps.
The Pixel Experience
Performance of smartphone matters, even more so now that we have so many apps and games that utilise high power and graphics. I did not shy away from pushing the limits on the Pixel 3 XL and the results were impressive.
Starting with day-to-day operations, the Pixel 3 XL seamlessly handled all my tasks without freezing or lagging. The latest stock Android Pie delivers the best user experience as those tiniest gestures and features add greatly to the overall experience. For instance, the phone mildly vibrates when placed against the ear while on a call.
The most-loved feature is the built-in song identification feature that picks up feeble music playing in the surrounding and tells you before you know it. This works offline so there's no chance you'd miss this one. Then, there is seamless switching between apps, adaptive display colour modes, notification dots, live wallpapers and much more.
Google Pixel 3 XL is built to deliver the best Android experience there could ever be. The Active Edge wakes up Google Assistant by squeezing the sides of the phone, which helped a lot when I had to silently chat with the Assistant.
Google also borrowed an iOS feature to reduce smartphone addiction. Since my job revolves around phones, Google's Digital Wellbeing (beta) worked as a gentle reminder to tone down my smartphone addiction. I effectively managed to stay away from the Pixel 3 XL in bed as it is disappointing to use a phone in black and white, which is what the Wind Down feature does to the phone.
Google Assistant is at your beck and call. I loved the fact that Google included Type-C Pixel Buds in the box, which does most of the work via Assistant without having to take the phone out. But I would have been happier if the Pixel Buds had a better fit. They would just refuse to fit in my ears during physical activities like running and such. They're free and they're in the box, so no complaints there. I wouldn't have spent my money on them anyway.
For those who love to use their phones on speaker while watching something (as little as I do that publicly or privately), Pixel 3 XL has dual speakers that you'll absolutely love.
Now for the real performance bit, the Pixel 3 XL seemed to handle binge-watching online TV shows and graphics intense games pretty well. PUBG Mobile has become like a standard game for me to test a phone's potential and with the Pixel 3 XL I found the game couldn't have been played better. I did not notice any frames drop during the entire gameplay, even if I was playing 2-3 games in a row. In fact, the phone didn't heat much during the gaming sessions as well, unless I was charging the phone while playing. Even then, the heating was not unbearable.
Overall, Pixel 3 XL delivers flagship-level performance, which can be expected from users spending the top dollar. For some reason, my Pixel 3 XL did not behave in a bizarre fashion with all those random notches appearing on the side or even the apps closing in the background. Luckily, Google is always improving the software and the small number of people affected by such issues will be at peace once the bugs are patched.
But I did notice the camera's shutter button would freeze while constantly shooting in HDR+ Enhanced. But my research did not reveal such instances reported by others, so I'm guessing it's a one-off glitch. However, I did manage to get the camera to work normally simply by re-launching the app or shooting in HDR+ mode.
Battery and its life
The bigger sized Pixel 3 XL has its own benefit of packing a bigger battery. The 3,430mAh battery pack in the phone saves the day for most. If you're a power user like me with all the gaming, video streaming, social networking, messaging and calling, the Pixel 3 XL will easily last a day.
In fact, I primarily relied on the Pixel 3 XL for all communications and entertainment on a busy day and it managed to save some juice even towards the end of the day. With screen time of 4 hours and 30 minutes, the Pixel 3 XL survived a full day with 2 hours of Netflix runtime, calls, messages on WhatsApp, Slack and Gtalk, extensive social media usage and a game of PUBG as well as music streaming on Apple Music and Saavn using the Pixel Buds.
Do note that I did not have the always-on display during my review, but I did use a live wallpaper and other gestures like tap-to-wake or lift-to-wake. Give the adaptive battery feature some time, and it will get better.
I did not test the Pixel 3, which comes with 2,915mAh battery, but I bet the battery life on Pixel 3 XL is much better. I noticed the battery on the Pixel 3 XL was better than that of the Pixel 2 XL. The Adaptive Battery feature in the Pie saves the day by turning off power-hungry apps that I didn't use to give those extra hours. I did not feel pressured by the QHD+ display as the battery performance remained its best self in the Pixel 3 XL.
But my only concern was with the fast charging. The 18W charger in the Pixel 3 XL box is certainly a great addition from last year. But it doesn't match OnePlus' Dash Charging or Oppo's VOOC fast charging solutions. Nevertheless, the phone charges from 0 to 100 in 2 hours. Sometimes, it would be more but spare the full two hours if your phone is completely dead.
Pixel 3 XL does support wireless charging for those who are curious, but I was unable to test it during my review.
The final say
Is Pixel 3 XL worth spending Rs 83,000? That's the question I've been hearing and my answer is it depends on what you seek from a smartphone. If you do not want to compromise on the camera even a bit, then look no further than the Pixel 3 XL. In fact, you get the goodness of stock Android, swift updates, solid battery, and a bright and crisp display to go with it.
But you get all of that with other phones like the iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 9, which are just as expensive or more. It all comes down to choosing from the favourite brand. I don't see iPhone fans switching to the Pixel 3 XL for its camera alone as the new XS's are not too bad themselves. But for Android fans, Pixel 3 XL brings you a whole new experience with the best camera there is to be offered by a smartphone.
It all boils down to whether you need a truly amazing camera and a solid smartphone that can survive splashes and scratches better than the delicate iPhones with the goodness of pure Android. Yes? Go for the Google Pixel 3 XL.