Google has been making inroads into the smartphone market over the past couple of years, but the company hasn't yet mounted a serious challenge to Samsung or Apple. That could change with the Pixel 3.
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have turned heads with their top-notch cameras and easy access to Google Assistant. In fact, the Pixel 2 is our top-rated smartphone camera overall. But the Pixel 2 XL, in particular, suffered from several quality-control issues and bugs during its launch window and beyond.
Credit: Tom's GuideIn the past, Google has relied on third-party vendors to help make its smartphones a reality. But after acquiring the HTC smartphone team last year, Google now has its own hardware division at its disposal. And the Google Pixel 3, which is slated for release later in 2018, will be the first high-end handset to come from that marriage.
For now, Google has remained tight-lipped on its plans for the Pixel 3. But that hasn't stopped the speculation and early reports. Here's a look at all the rumors surrounding Google's Pixel 3.
Updated May 17
- Android P Clues: The release of an Android P beta for developers is fueling speculation that this fall's Pixel will ship with a notch, thanks to changes to the status bar. We're a bit skeptical, though.
Three Pixels in the works?
According to a report in Droid Life, Google is working on three new Pixel devices for this year. The devices, which were discovered in a source code leak last year, are code-named "crosshatch," "albacore" and "blueline."
Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Credit: Tom's GuideTwo of the handsets will be considered "premium" devices, and the third will fall into the "high-end" category, a source told Droid Life. Exactly what the difference is and what that might mean for features, however, is unknown at this point.
What we do know is at the very least, the Pixel branding will continue. A Google employee working on the Android Open Source Project recently referenced the device as "Pixel 3" in a record of changes to the operating system's framework. The mention was spotted by XDA Developers and relates to improvements in cellular connectivity for the new model. It is unclear whether the particular changes reflect all rumored Pixel 3 variants, the more premium ones or the lower-cost option.
However, a more recent report points to just two Pixel 3 models launching this fall.
Design Possibilities: Notch or no?
Several recent reports have surmised that the Google Pixel 3 line will deliver a true edge-to-edge design. Google's Pixel 2 XL was a step in that direction, but rumors abound that the company will offer a more immersive viewing experience in this year's smartphones.
There aren't any hard details yet on the Pixel 3's bezel size, though many have theorized that the company intends to achieve it by following the industry's move toward notched displays. That theory is getting renewed attention after the release of a new developer beta for Android P. As spotted by Android Police, Google's next OS redesigns the status bar to show a maximum of four notifications; meanwhile the clock shifts to the left corner of the status bar, leaving a notch-sized gap in the middle.
That's causing some Google watchers to speculate that a notch is a certainty. We're not so sure: while Google might go with a notch with this year's Pixel design, it's possible the redesigned status bar could just be part of Google's efforts to fine-tune notifications in Android P. We'd wait for more concrete leaks before jumping to conclusions about notches.
Concept renders of the Pixel 3. Credit: Concept Creator
Still, the lack of information hasn't stopped designers from producing concepts of what they hope the Pixel 3 might look like. One of the more notable examples out there comes courtesy of Concept Creator, which has produced 3D models of Pixel 3 handsets in a variety of colorways, including magenta and cyan. Concept Creator's work picks up where Google's own design team left off: the two-tone metal-and-glass aesthetic is present here, and the front of the phone iterates upon the slim edges and curved corners first seen on the Pixel 2 XL. If the final device looks anything like this, it'll be a win for Google on the design front.
Cheaper Pixel 3
The Pixel line-up is priced to compete with flagships such as Samsung's Galaxy S models and Apple's iPhones, but Google is rumored to be working on an affordable option for emerging markets.
A lower-priced Pixel 3 could be marketed as part of the company's Android One initiative, which guarantees a stock Android experience and two years of software upgrades out-of-the-box. According to India-based Economic Times, the device could launch as early as July or August in India. It's unclear what the device would look like or whether Google plans to launch a lower-priced device in the U.S., too.
While it's unknown exactly when the Pixel 3 will hit store shelves, Valuewalk reported that Google is planning an October launch for its upcoming handsets. If true, that strategy would remain consistent with history. Last year, Google unveiled the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL on Oct. 19. The release window gave Google a decent buffer away from the September launches of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.
Android P inside
The new Android P OS will ship with the new Pixel phones this fall, but it's already available as part of a beta in several phones. Some of the highlights include new power-saving features and digital wellness features to give you a fuller picture of your usage so you can be more present in the real world.
MORE: Hands On: Android P Already Beats iPhone X in Beta
But the biggest upgrades have to do with the interface. Android P will support gestures via its new Home button. Similar to the iPhone X, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see your open apps, but you'll also see the Google search bar and your most-used apps in the same view. Swipe up once more, and you'll see the apps menu with a twist. New predictive Actions will present helpful shortcuts, such as navigating to home via Google Maps or calling a favorite contact.
It's too early to tell what Google is planning in terms of new forms of biometric authentication, like advanced 3D facial recognition or iris scanning. However, a story from Android Police back in February claimed that the company may be at least preparing future versions of Android to more easily integrate manufacturers' own custom authentication methods. That wouldn't mean much for the Pixel 3 specifically, though as we get closer to the devices' fall launch, we may have a better idea if or how Google intends to answer the iPhone X's Face ID.
Improved camera performance, of course
There haven't been any concrete rumors yet about the Google Pixel 3's camera features, but it'd be safe to expect improvements.
Over the past couple of years, virtually every premium smartphone maker has elected to market its devices around their camera capabilities. The difference in the Pixel's case is that Google actually has the game to back up those lofty claims. After all, in our camera shootout between the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X and Galaxy S9, Google's phone came out on top.
Considering both Samsung and Apple are making improvements to their smartphone cameras this year, the onus will be on Google to deliver its own set of improvements.
A concept video that was released in January and published by Android Headlines cited rumors claiming that Google is working on Pixel 3 devices with front-facing speakers. Of course, concepts are by no means smoking guns that point to what the company has planned, but with Apple and Samsung seemingly focusing more on smartphone speaker design, it seems possible.
It's also worth noting that HTC has spent years trying to differentiate its smartphones with their sound quality (remember BoomSound?). Now that Google owns the team behind those HTC handsets, it would only make sense that this year's Pixels would offer improved audio.
At the very least, look for stereo sound on the Pixel 3.
Snapdragon 845 inside
It's perhaps no surprise that Google is planning to bundle the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 into its next generation of phones. The chip is expected to find its way to most high-end handsets this year.
What we don't know is how much RAM or storage Google will offer. The current Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL come with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of storage. But we'd like to see the XL model of the Pixel 3 bump that up to 6GB of RAM standard, as Samsung has done with the Galaxy S9+.
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