If you take the latest report from Bloomberg on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL at face value, Google’s next flagships face a steep uphill battle against the iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and upcoming Galaxy Note 9.
These are the most troubling tidbits:
- It looks like the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will continue to be Verizon exclusives, although you’ll still be able to buy them unlocked.
- Google will stick with a single rear camera on both handsets while putting two lenses on the front.
- The Pixel 3 will look similar to the Pixel 2.
Let’s start with the availability aspect of the Pixel 3. As IDC has reported, Google shipped less than 4 million Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL units in 2017. That’s better than the Essential Phone (RIP), but it’s nowhere near the 216 million iPhones Apple shipped.
Most U.S. shoppers continue to buy and upgrade their phones directly through their carrier. And, for whatever reason, Google decided to go with Verizon as its only partner for the Pixel 2 launch. By potentially continuing down that same path for the Pixel 3, Google is ostensibly walling off its flagships.
Yes, Google has its own wireless service in Google Project Fi, but most people don’t know about it.
Moving on to the camera, based on our testing the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have the best cameras on any smartphone. They beat out the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X in a three-way shootout. Google showed that it didn’t need a second rear lens to create portraits with a bokeh effect.
However, having a second telephoto lens has another key benefit, and that’s optical zoom. The iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy S9+ all sport dual lenses, which enables a true 2x optical zoom. Whether you’re sightseeing, trying to record your kid’s soccer game or covering a press conference like I do, having that second lens really comes in handy.
What will Google do with the second lens for the front camera? It could be used for unlocking the device with your face, similar to Apple’s Face ID, for augmented reality apps or both. That’s nice, but I’d rather have a 2x or higher zoom.
Lastly, Bloomberg’s report says that the Pixel 3 XL will have an edge-to-edge screen and a notch at the top, but that the smaller Pixel 3 will “look similar” to the Pixel 2 and won’t sport the edge-to-edge look or notch. I can live without the notch, but I really hope Google trims the bezels back on the Pixel 3, because the Pixel 2 looked positively dated looking next to the 18:9 display on the Pixel 2 XL.
To be fair, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will likely boast many other compelling features that will help it vie for the title of best Android phone and possibly best phone overall. And it will be the first phone to ship with Android P, which brings with it intuitive new gestures and time-saving features like App Slices and App Actions.
But for the Pixel 3 to really break through, it will need broader distribution at a minimum. And having optical zoom and a smaller phone that looks at least as sleek as the Galaxy S9 will also be key.