The Pixel 2 XL was the ultimate big-screen camera phone, and we're crowning the Pixel 3 XL the new king.
Editor's Note 11/11/2018: The holiday season is here. Make sure to check out our guide to the best Google Pixel3 and Pixel 3 XL deals of the season as well as the best photobook deals of Black Friday.
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.
Updated Nov. 6 with details about Google's fix for the phone's memory management bug.
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.
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|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|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 charging||3430 mAh battery, with 18-watt fast charging and Qi wireless charging|
|Storage||64GB or 128GB||64GB or 128GB|
|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 |
|Colors||Clearly 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.
To test low-light performance, we tried the Pixel 3 XL's Night Sight Mode (which is coming soon). The phone captures a succession of frames to simulate a long exposure time, and then stitches those frames together to return color to spaces where it's been lost with the help of AI. The results are simply amazing.
So how does the Pixel 3 XL camera perform otherwise? 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 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.
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.
Some Pixel 3 owners have encountered a bug that prevents photos from saving, but Google says that an upcoming update will address the issue.
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.
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.
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).
However, there have been reports of the Pixel 3 XL (as well as the smaller model) occasionally halting background processes abruptly. Initially, many theorized this was an indictment of the phones' 4GB of RAM compared to the 6GB and even 8GB in other flagships, but it turns out the problem may actually have more to do with a glitch in the Pixels' memory management code.
To get around that, Google confirmed to 9to5Google that it will distribute a software update "in the coming weeks" which will hopefully address the issue. For what its worth, our in-house units have sporadically closed background apps, like Spotify while streaming music — though that's only happened two or three times after nearly a month with the devices.
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.
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.
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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