Google Pixel 3 XL Review: Best camera smartphone of the year 2018

Google Pixel 3XL 64GB variant is priced at Rs. 83,000 and the 128GB variant is priced at Rs. 92,000 in the Indian market

    If there's any flagship smartphone series that has got me excited in the year 2018, it has to be Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The new Pixel smartphones, despite the numerous leaks and rumors, offered a lot to test and evaluate in real life scenarios. The company has made some notable refinements in camera, which without any discussions is the highlight of Pixel series handsets. There are some subtle design changes, new selfie camera setup and flagship Snapdragon 845 CPU chipset working in conjunction with the latest Android 9 mobile OS.

    I have used Google Pixel 3 XL to the point where I can comment on its performance and would really like you to know how it feels and works as a daily driver. Moreover, as I have also rigorously used the Pixel 2 XL, I can clearly tell what has improved in over last one year in terms of overall performance. Having said that, let's find out what the new Pixel 3 XL brings to the table with the help of the following review.

    Looks similar but feels more premium now

    Pixel 3 XL is built on Google's well-known dual-tone design format; however, there are some noticeable changes in the overall outlook that makes the new phone slightly more premium than its predecessor. Unlike the last year's part glass and part matte finish metal, the new Pixel 3 XL boasts a two-tone glass rear, part polished and part frosted. The soft-touch glass at the back feels really good in hands and gives the handset a unique finish. You will feel that you are carrying a metal phone which is actually made up of glass. The glass finish also makes it possible for new Pixel phones to support wireless charging, a feature which is gradually becoming a standard for premium flagship devices.

    The front and the rear of the Pixel 3 XL is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 and the two sides are firmly held by an aluminum frame which has been given a glossy finish. The right side of the frame houses the power button and volume rockers, which fails to offer a good clicky feel that I usually expect from handsets priced this high. The power button boasts an unusual radium mint colour. The left side is completely plain and the Type C port sits at the bottom along with the SIM card slot. Sadly, there's no microSD card slot and the phone supports dual-SIM via e-SIM and only in limited markets for now. These are two big compromises that you have to make if you are planning to buy the new Pixel phones.

    Big phone that feels surprisingly handy

    At 6.22-inches tall and 3.02-inches wide, Pixel 3 XL is a big device but feels surprisingly light and easy to use during everyday tasks such as calling, texting and simply navigating throughout the UI. It is also slightly heavier than the Pixel 2 XL but the difference is totally unnoticeable. The company has announced the new Pixel smartphones in three different color variants. You will have the option to choose from-Just Black, Clearly White, and Not Pink color schemes. Overall, Google has worked in the right direction to improve the already established flagship design language. They might come out as the most eye-catchy phones, but their minimal outlook and practical design approach make them the most easy-on-hands flagship phones in the market.

    Water-dust resistant

    ALSO READ: Google Pixel 2XL review

    Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL costs a bomb and offers the required durability that you would expect from any premium flagship smartphones. The devices are IP68 dust/water resistant up to 1.5m for 30 minutes. So you have the flexibility to use the handsets with wet hands and can even take a dive in the pool to capture some stunning shots.

    Bigger OLED display with an ugly notch

    If there's anything that seems out-of-sync here, it is the big ugly notch at the face of the Pixel 3 XL. Unlike other notch-displays in the market, the notch on Pixel 3 XL is huge and still doesn't house any 3D facial scanning module. Instead, it has been placed to hold a big earpiece that also doubles up as a speaker and a newly developed dual-lens front-facing wide-angle camera setup. This makes Pixel3 XL the first Pixel phone to boast a dual-lens camera module, but at the front and not at the rear panel. If you are a no-notch person, you can hide the notch by selecting ‘Hide' in display cutout tab in developers' option. For this, you first need to enable the developer options within the settings menu.

    Gorgeous 6.3-inches Quad HD+ OLED screen

    Google faced a tough time last year with the controversial pOLED displays. Some software updates were rolled out to address the issues but the overall screen performance of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL devices was still not up to the flagship standards. Fast forward to 2018, the new Pixel handsets completely beautifully addresses the problem by offering the all-new Quad HD+ OLED panels. The Pixel 3 XL flaunts a 6.3-inch screen with 18.5:9 aspect ratio. The contrast ratio is rated at 100,000:1, and pixel density rests at 523ppi. The display is vibrant and feels super responsive. It is also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 coating. The default color tone is now set to a new "Adaptive" mode, which punches out vibrant color tones. If you prefer slightly natural colors, enable ‘Natural' mode. The ‘Boosted' mode sits somewhere between the first two modes.

    Premium HDR Support

    Additionally, Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are also certified by the UHDA as Premium HDR devices to offer better color accuracy and improved brightness levels. The sunlight visibility of the new OLED panel on Pixel 3 XL is impressive. I did not face any difficulty while using the handset in under direct sunlight. The OLED display also makes for an excellent screen for streaming high-resolution videos and to play graphically intensive games. The colors look vibrant, yet very natural. Viewing angles are also excellent making Pixel 3 XL a great device for multimedia consumption.

    Single-lens rear camera that blows all other cameras out of the water

    Google is still banking upon its software expertise for camera performance on new Pixel smartphones. Unlike other smartphone makers who are pushing the hardware limits by incorporating two, three and even four camera sensors at the back, Google is still going strong with just one main camera sensor. And trust me on this when I say this is the best smartphone camera you can buy today in the market. Like the Pixel 2 devices, the 3rd generation Pixel smartphones still flaunts a 12.2MP single-lens camera set up at the rear panel. But there are some noticeable improvements in the picture quality. The 12.2 MP rear camera works on F/1.8 aperture and supports both optical and electronic image stabilization.

    The functionality of the camera app has also improved multifold.

    Easy-to-use Camera app

    The new camera app is smooth and easy-to-use. Google has also added RAW image support but sadly, there are some pain points. There's no Manual mode, no hyperlapse, and no extra filters. On the other hand, Google has added three really cool features- 'Top Shot, Super-resolution zoom, and Night Sight'. We could only test first two for now as Google's hasn't rolled out the Nigh Sight mode officially. I couldn't stop myself to install the camera APK to test the Night Sight mode, and it seems Google is going to change the low-light camera game once again very soon with the official rollout of the feature.

    Select the best picture with Top Shot

    Top Shot comes handy in selecting the best frame while capturing a moving subject and Super Res. Zoom lets you capture distant objects with much less pixelation.

    Simply Love the HDR+ enhanced mode on Pixel 3 XL

    The HDR+ mode is still ruling the charts here and captures up to 8 frames and merges them together for impressive photos in any light situation. It reduces the shutter speed and ISO to capture more detail. But then the camera also takes its sweet time to process the image. Overall, HDR+ enhanced is a powerful alternative to Manual mode on Pixel 3 XL.

    Super clear shots and natural colour tones

    Talking about the picture quality, the detailing is brilliant. The camera captures impressive dynamic range and has very fast and accurate autofocus. The final output is slightly on the warmer side, something we have also noticed in the last year's Google Pixel devices. But still, Pixel 3 XL captures natural colour tones.

    Best-in-class Portrait pictures

    The portrait mode is certainly the best on Pixel 3 XL even though there's no secondary camera to create depth of field. Google has made some changes in the backend algorithms that improve the edge detection to ensure realistic bokeh shots. Pixel 3 XL delivers the best-in-class portrait shots in daylight and even during in-door shots. The edge detection takes a hit in low-light but it is still better than dual-lens cameras that fail to create the bokeh effect in the absence of good light. Talking about the video quality, the camera records crisp 4K videos with stereo sound; however, the camera is unable to record 4K at 60fps which is a letdown. The 1080p and slow-mo videos also look amazing on this handset.

    Dual 8MP Selfie cameras

    Google has also changed the selfie game with the flagship Pixel 3 XL. The smartphone comes with a dual-lens selfie camera. The big notch at front houses two 8MP cameras; a wide-angle lens that works on F/2.2 aperture and standard lens that works on F/1.8 aperture value. The 8MP wide-angle lens offers a good 97-degree field-of-view to let you capture group selfies. The image quality is once again a notch above from the competition.

    Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU and 4GB RAM and stock Android 9.0

    There are very few Android phones in the market that manage to offer the best of hardware and software in one single device. Pixel 3 XL is surely one of them but sadly not the best of them. Like most of the flagship devices, the new Pixel smartphones are also backed by the Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 845 CPU and Adreno 630 GPU. There's 4GB of RAM that feels quite restricted when you compare it with the likes of OnePlus and Samsung devices; however, the performance is smooth and multitasking is lag free. Some of my fellow tech enthusiasts have experienced issues with the Pixel 3 XL's memory management; however, this particular unit hasn't given me any reasons to complain so far.

    Smooth gameplay but phone tends to heat up

    I also played some of the most resource intensive games and the experience was entirely glitch-free. The 3D graphics render beautifully on the OLED panel and there's virtually no lag whatsoever even when games are set to play at the extreme settings. Pixel 3 XL does get slightly warm from the upper mid-section with continues gaming session. Thankfully, it doesn't affect the overall performance of the device. PUBG ran smoothly even while setting game graphics to render in HDR. Overall, Pixel 3 XL is one of the fastest phones I have got to test in the year 2018. It is also worth mentioning that the new Pixel smartphones are protected by Titan Security chip, which as per Google makes the new devices the most secure phone ever built by Google.

    Great audio performance

    In addition to the new vibrant OLED display, the new Pixel 3 XL also offers impressive audio performance. The phone's stereo speakers throw loud and super clear audio that makes it one-of-the best multimedia device in the market to stream videos and play music even when you are not carrying a pair of headphones. The call quality is solid and the new earpiece (that also works as a speaker) offers much better in-call audio delivery.

    Android never felt this good

    The new Pixel handsets run on stock Android 9 in its purest form and it's the best Android can get. If there's any other Android skin that comes closer to offer this kind of user experience, it is the OxygenOS from OnePlus. The UI on Pixel 3 XL is free of unwanted bolatwares and is designed to offer seamless user-experience. Right from the new Pixel launcher to the neatly designed settings menu, everything feels at the place, except the notch and the effects it has on the video playback and the gameplay.

    AI enabled dynamic learning for seamless user-experience

    The gestures are intuitive and Google's haptic feedback is brilliant. Google has also added ‘Digital Wellbeing', a phone manager that gives an overview of your phone's usage. You can check important statistics such as individual app's usage time, a number of times you have unlocked the phone in a day, notification count, etc. You can even set app timers on individual apps. When the app timer ends, the phone stops the app's notifications for the day to preserve battery and data. The upgraded Google Keyboard now recommends GIFs, stickers, and more, to make your conversations fun and engaging. There are new wallpapers and even a Dark mode tucked inside the settings menu.

    The phone's software is continuously working to understand your usage pattern, thanks to the dynamic AI integration. It suggests and offers the most used features in almost everything you do on your smartphone. You can also enable the 'Always-on' display to have a quick glance at your notifications. It consumes battery but if you constantly wake up your phone's display to check time and notifications, the always-on display mode is a better alternative to preserve battery as it only consumes a fraction of total battery's power. Google's new Android Auto is a nifty app that when enabled brings the most useful apps like navigation, music, calling and messages to a big screen for better accessibility while you are driving. Last but not the least, the screen

    Overall, this is the best version of Android I have used on any smartphone till date.

    Battery capacity maxes out at 3,450 mAh

    We all find it quite annoying to keep power banks and charger handy all the time but it has become a necessity because smartphones just couldn't last long with heavy usage. Pixel 3 XL is backed by a 3,450 mAh battery unit, which also can only last a day with moderate to heavy usage. I charged the device to 100 percent in the morning and had to plug it again during the night as the battery power reduced to 10 percent after a day's long usage that included calling, lots of camera clicks, music and video playback, Instagram, Twitter, and other regular tasks. For the next year, I really want Google to offer a bigger battery, at least a 4,000 mAh battery cell in the Pixel 4 smartphones.

    Both the Pixel 3 variants come with the new Pixel USB-C earbuds, 18W fast charger and a USB-C Digital to 3.5 mm headphone adapter in the box.

     

    What are the compromises?

    There are some big compromises as well. If you have two active SIM cards and are fond of expanding the internal memory of your smartphones, you will be disappointed. Unlike most of the Android handsets these days, Pixel 3 devices only offer space for one SIM card and there's no microSD card expansion slot. You can choose between two storage variants- 64GB and 12GB which again seems quite a letdown. Google really needs to catch up with the competition

    Pricing and Verdict

    After using the Pixel 3 XL to its limits, I am convinced that this is the best an Android smartphone can get. The camera performance of Pixel 3 XL is unparalleled making it the best smartphone for casual and even professional photographers. You also get a much improved OLED screen and better audio performance as compared to last year's Pixel phones. The design is more or less similar but the new Pixel phones feel more premium now, and are better at securing your on-device data.

    But as no phone is perfect, there are some pinpoints. There's no microSD card expansion support and you only get to use one SIM card at a time. Google is also charging a hefty amount for new Pixel handsets making them the most expensive Android phones in the market. If you can adjust with these three things, Google Pixel and Pixel3 XL are worth your time and money.

    The 64GB storage variant of Pixel 3 XL will sell at Rs. 83,000 and the flagship 128GB variant is priced at a massive Rs. 92,000 in the Indian market. For the smaller Pixel 3, you have to spend Rs. 71,000 for 64GB variant. The 128GB Pixel 3 will sell at Rs. 80,000. The smartphones will be made available on Flipkart, Airtel's online store and Google's offline sale partners including Reliance Digital, Croma and other leading stores across India. Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will be available for sale both online and in retail stores from 1st November 2018.

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