Pixel 3 XL Review: The New Camera Phone King Has Arrived

The Pixel 2 XL was the ultimate big-screen camera phone, and we're crowning the Pixel 3 XL the new king.

I've been testing the 6.3-inch Pixel 3 XL ($899 from Google, $929 from Verizon), and this flagship is a formidable foe for the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9, thanks to its superb camera quality, amazing AI smarts and smooth performance. Still, the design doesn't wow and the display--while improved--could be brighter. If you're looking for a smaller screen, check out our Pixel 3 review.

Editors' Note: Updated Oct 18 with battery life testing, camera comparisons and benchmark results. 

Pixel 3 XL Cheat Sheet

  • The 6.3-inch OLED display looks gorgeous, but the display could be brighter and the notch is pretty deep.
  • The AI camera features make it easier to get the best photo with less fuss, including Top Shot, Super Res Zoom and Night Sight.
  • The dual front cameras feature a wide-angle lens so you can fit a lot more scene into your selfies.
  • The Pixel 3 is smart enough to screen your calls for you. It works amazingly well.
  • You don't get facial recognition or an in-screen fingerprint sensor.
  • The Pixel Stand accessory delivers wireless charging while turning your phone into a mini Google Home.

Design

The Pixel 3 XL doesn't look radically different than before, but you do get a bigger 6.3-inch display with QHD+ resolution (up from 6 inches on the Pixel 2 XL). The screen looks colorful and immersive, though I'm not a big fan of the swooping notch. It's narrower but deeper than the one on the iPhone XS Max.

Around back, Google has delivered a glass back with a matte finish, which is a pretty great feat. Not only does it provide a good grip, but it resists fingerprints. I tested the Just Black Model, but you can also order the Pixel 3 in Clearly White and Not Pink (which is more like a blush hue). Some have complained about the back easily scratching, but I have not found that to be the case so far.

The Pixel 3 XL has a fingerprint reader on the back, too, so you can forget about facial recognition or an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is a bit of a bummer.

Google Pixel 3 vs Pixel 3XL Sepcs Compared


Google Pixel 3
Google Pixel 3 XL
Price
$799
$899
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Screen
5.5-inch
6.3-inch
Cameras
Rear: 12.2MP f/1.8 aperture with OIS and EIS
Front:  Wide-angle lens with f/2.2 aperture, second lens with f/1.8 aperture
Rear: 12.2MP f/1.8 aperture with OIS and EIS
Front:  Wide-angle lens with f/2.2 aperture, second lens with f/1.8 aperture
Battery
2915 mAh battery, with 18-watt fast charging and Qi wireless charging3430 mAh battery, with 18-watt fast charging and Qi wireless charging
Memory
4GB
4GB
Storage
64GB or 128GB
64GB or 128GB
Damage Protection
IPX8
IPX8
Audio
2 front-firing stereo speakers
2 front-firing stereo speakers
Software
Android 9 Pie
Android 9 Pie
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 5.0
Bluetooth 5.0
Special Features
Wireless charging, up to 10 watts
Wireless charging, up to 10 watts
Materials
Aluminum frame, hybrid coating
Aluminum frame, hybrid coating   
ColorsClearly White, Just Black, Not Pink
Clearly White, Just Black, Not Pink
Weight
5.2 ounces
6.5 ounces
Size
5.7 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches
6.2 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches

Display: Colorful but could be brighter

The Pixel 3 XL is one of the better looking OLED displays on a phone this year, and it looks like Google has taken the criticism to heart on the Pixel 2 XL. This panel is colorful and accurate.

When watching an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the 1971 Ferrari in Fly Yellow looked downright luscious, and the picture was so sharp--right down to the fly on the hood--I felt like I was driving around with Jerry Seinfeld.

On our lab tests, the Pixel 3 XL's screen turned registered a very good 170.2 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's in between the iPhone XS Max (123 percent) and Galaxy Note 9 (224 percent). The Pixel 3 XL's panel also turned in a Delta-E score of 0.35 (0 is perfect), which means you should expect accurate hues.

However, the brightness could be better, as this panel emits only 362 nits. The iPhone XS hit a whopping 606 nits and the Galaxy Note 9 604 nits in our testing.

AI Cameras Steal the Show

Based on our testing, the Pixel 3 XL is now the best camera phone you can buy. And it's also the smartest.

Google is leveraging AI in ways that Apple and Samsung are not. A new Top Shot feature on the 12-MP rear camera automatically snaps a bunch of photos in succession and attempts to choose the right one. This worked well when I snapped a photo of my colleague, Adam. I just swiped up and could easily see which pics Google had picked out.

Super Res Zoom is also very impressive. I shot a photo of text on a wall from across the room, and I could easily make out the words, even though the Pixel 3 XL doesn't technically have an optical zoom. The camera is smart enough to reframe the photo and fill in the details.

The Night Sight feature might wind up getting the most attention, when it arrives about a month after the phone's launch. This will significantly boost the brightness in photos via AI.

But how does the Pixel 3 XL camera perform in the real world right now? Very, very well.

Take the above challenging scene, which was taken around 6 p.m. in Herald Square in New York City. The Pixel 3 XL's HDR+ camera does a superb job of exposing the people in the foreground while still delivering detail in the sky. You can also make out the reflections in the glass building on the left.

When we compared the Pixel 3 XL against the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9, Google’s camera performed best overall, but it didn’t win in all cases.


In this shot at Bryant Park, the Pixel 3 XL’s image delivered more detail in the tree trunks and there’s better contrast overall. The photo from the iPhone XS Max looks great, but everything just pops a bit more on the Pixel 3 XL, including the leaves.


When we pointed both phones toward a building, the Pixel 3 XL’s shot came out overly warm, and the iPhone XS Max did a better job with the light in the foreground. So perhaps the HDR was working better in this case. It’s a more balanced image from the iPhone.

Click image above to expandClick image above to expandThe Pixel 3 XL jumped back into the lead with this shot of Monica and Phillip. Everything is sharper, and the shadows come across the best here. With the iPhone XS Max, Philip’s face takes on a yellow cast. The Galaxy Note 9 delivered a crisp shot, but there’s a bit of a green-blue tint that’s off-putting.


To test low-light performance, we shot this photo of a hat and other objects on a shelf. The Galaxy Note 9 produced a brighter image than the Pixel 3 with more realistic colors and sharper details. The Pixel 3’s pic is much darker, and it’s hard to make out the “Ryzen” text. The upcoming Night Sight mode for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL could change things, though.

Last but not least, we used the Pixel 3 XL’s portrait mode to snap a shot of flowers. The Pixel 3 XL’s shot nails a more accurate purplish-pink, while the iPhone XS Max’s pic had a much warmer cast. I actually prefer the look of Apple’s photo in this case, but the Pixel’s is more realistic.

Wide-Angle Selfies

Google isn't the first to do this, but I like the dual front cameras on the Pixel 3 XL. The company says the wide-angle lens captures 184 percent more of the scene than the iPhone XS, and the results are impressive.

The standard lens captured pretty much just me and my colleague Adam, but switching to the wide-angle lens fit in much more of the background. We could have easily squeezed a few more people in.

Call Screen

As spammers get better and more sophisticated, it can be all too easy to fall for a telemarketer when answering your phone. Google is fighting back with a new call screening feature.

Google Assistant will step in and transcribe the call in real time, so you can decide whether it's worth answering. I tested this feature by calling the Pixel 3 from my iPhone XS. With a tap of the button at the top of the display, I selected Screen Call and Google Assistant got to work, introducing herself and then taking down every word as I spoke.

This is one of the best implementations of AI that we've seen, and I could see other companies trying to copy this feature.

MORE: Best Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL Deals

Performance and Benchmarks

Featuring a Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Pixel 3 XL delivers silky smooth performance in everyday use and specific tasks, but its benchmark scores trail some other Android phones.

When transcoding a 4K video clip to 1080p in the Adobe Premiere Clip app, the Pixel 3 XL took 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The Galaxy S9+ was a bit faster at 2:32, while the A12 Bionic-powered iPhone XS took only 39 seconds.

On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the Pixel 3 XL scored a surprisingly low 7,684. The Galaxy Note 9 hit 8,876 and the OnePlus 6 9,088. The iPhone XS Max reached 11,515.

We also ran 3DMark Slingshot Extreme to measure graphics performance. The Pixel 3 XL reached 4,396, which is comparable to the iPhone XS Max (4,339) but not as high as the Note 9 (4,639).

Battery Life

The Pixel 3 XL packs a 3,430 mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the 3,520 mAh battery in last year’s Pixel 2 XL. On the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over T-Mobile’s LTE network at 150 nits of screen brightness, the Pixel 3 XL lasted a lackluster 9 hours and 30 minutes. That’s not terrible, but it’s below the 9:48 smartphone average.

Strangely, this time is a lot less than the 12:09 the Pixel 2 XL turned in last year on the same LTE network, and the somewhat small difference in battery size doesn’t seem to account for the delta in endurance. We will be running additional tests to confirm our results and will be adding anecdotal battery life data after a few more days of use.

MORE: Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

It’s worth noting that the Pixel 3 lasted a similarly short 8 hours and 27 minutes, which was well below the Pixel 2’s runtime of 11 hours and 7 minutes. The iPhone XS Max (3,174 mAh) lasted 10:38 on our battery test, and the Galaxy Note 9 and its 4,000 mAh battery endured for a considerably longer 11:16.

Software and Interface

If you haven't used Android 9 Pie yet — and most of us haven't — get ready for a new way to interact with your phone. The Pixel 3 runs the new Google OS, and you use the Home button to go back home and swipe up to show recent apps. It's fairly intuitive, and there's haptic feedback when you press the software-based Home button.

You still swipe down from the top of the screen to access settings. I like that the Recent Apps menu puts a Google search box from and center. Other welcome Android Pie features include App Slices, which allows you to get things done without opening the app itself. For instance, you can start booking a Lyft right from the search results menu on the phone.

If you're concerned about your phone addiction, there are Digital Wellbeing features offered, including the ability to set timers for app usage. Check out all of the top features of Android Pie.

Pixel Stand

Out of the box, the Pixel 3 supports fast charging via an 18-watt charger, but you can also go the wireless route with the optional Pixel Stand ($79).

With this accessory, you can enjoy looking at your photos, control smart home gadgets and listen to music via the Pixel 3 XL's dual front-firing speakers. It's kind of like a mini Google Home dock.

Pricing and Availability

The Pixel 3 XL is available for pre-order now, and it starts at $899. The device will go on sale Oct. 18. That price is about $100 less than the Galaxy Note 9 and $200 less than the iPhone XS.

Unfortunately, the Pixel 3 XL is a Verizon exclusive, so you can't get it directly through other carriers, although you'll also be able to buy it unlocked through Google and other retail channels. For some reason, Verizon is charging $30 more than Google for the same phone, so you'll pay $929 for the full retail price or $38.74 per month.

Bottom Line

Among big-screen phones, the Pixel 3 XL is the one to beat when it comes to camera performance and AI. The iPhone XS has a nicer design and more pure performance through its A12 Bionic chip. And the Note 9 has the Pixel 3 XL beat for productivity with its S Pen. The new Huawei Mate 20 Pro and its three rear cameras also show a lot of promise.

But, for those serious about photography, the Pixel 3 XL is an excellent value.

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12 comments
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  • edward.strattoniv
    You guys need to proof read your articles...."For starters, Google is leveraging AI in ways that Apple and Google are not" Fix it, please :)
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    You guys need to proof read your articles...."For starters, Google is leveraging AI in ways that Apple and Google are not" Fix it, please :)
    @edward.strattoniv Thanks. This has been corrected.
  • mikerichardson60
    Didn't even mention the best smartphone camera with the Huawei P20 Pro. DxO rates that Huawei #1 as do many actual photographers.
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    Didn't even mention the best smartphone camera with the Huawei P20 Pro. DxO rates that Huawei #1 as do many actual photographers.
    @mikerichardson60 Fair point. We love the P20 Pro camera, but very hard to get that phone in the U.S. I hope the upcoming Mate 20 Pro has wider distribution...
  • mikerichardson60
    Aww that's right I forgot about the US ban on Huawei. Here in Canada the P20 Pro is rather popular and pretty easy to get. You see all those American YouTube reviews of the Huawei and you forget it's actually not sold in the states.
  • bobdupuu
    Has there been any such head-to-head comparison between these two camera phones?
  • cbassett1
    Verizon is not charging an extra $30 for the phone. They are including the $30 activation fee in the price. One of their asterisks.
  • mikerichardson60
    Surcharge or activation fee.. What's the difference? You're still paying extra for it from Verizon
  • cbassett1
    Anonymous said:
    Surcharge or activation fee.. What's the difference? You're still paying extra for it from Verizon


    You are paying extra for the phone, but you are not. Even if you bought the phone at the activation-less price at Best Buy, Google Store, (Insert favorite retailer here), when you take the phone to Verizon to connect it to a number, old account or new--boom, $30 activation fee. Do I agree with the fee, not hardly, but it's something they do because they know they can get away with it; because in my area they are the only provider to still have quality service away from interstates. They prey on people in my area because other providers won't build.
  • dmillfree
    I just got my pixel 3 and while I think it's a nice phone some of the features like the missing led indicators and the missing headphone jack are annoying there is something more annoying. People are focusing on how great the camera is. This is a phone first and foremost. The dialer app has an issue with opening the call forwarding settings and the additional settings where (caller id and call waiting settings are in that tab) it says "Network or Sim Card Error" it's more like "software error". I can take this same sim card and put it in My Samsung S7 and those features open up just fine. This bug has been around since Pixel 2 and it's still not fixed, seems they would rather focus on the camera rather than give us a fully functional phone. A phone that costs 800 dollars. Google should really be embarrassed about purposely shipping software that's not 100% functional and charging 800 dollars for something that does not work as intended.
  • kewlx
    You guys didn't even tap on the phone screen to give it different contrast areas for it to change the amount of light intake. I usually can have the phone facing an area and then you can tap different areas of the photo before you take it to change the amount of light intake which other phones do not do as well as the pixel
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Anonymous said:
    You guys didn't even tap on the phone screen to give it different contrast areas for it to change the amount of light intake. I usually can have the phone facing an area and then you can tap different areas of the photo before you take it to change the amount of light intake which other phones do not do as well as the pixel


    Hi @kewlx. Thanks for your note. We actually do tap on the screen but usually just the subject that we are focusing on. We're aware that the exposure for different parts of the frame can differ based on where you tap the display and are open to feedback on how we test.