Lets start with the good news. The cameras on the new Pixels look smart enough to beat the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9. The Top Shot, Super Res Zoom and Night Sight features seem particularly impressive.
Google, which has never won raves for the look and feel of its phones, also deserves credit for figuring out how to offer a glass design in a matte finish. This prevents the back of your phone from being festooned with fingerprint smudges after 5 minutes. And the ability to screen calls with Google Assistant is a great use of AI.
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t seem at all interested in getting the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL in as many hands as possible. All you need to do is look at the company’s partners. Make that partner. Again.
For whatever reason, Verizon is once again the only major U.S. carrier who will sell the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. This exclusivity arrangement made more sense when Google was trying to prove itself with hardware on the Pixel and then Pixel 2, but not now. Not when nearly all the experts say Google offers the best camera phone.
“I think the Pixel phones look outstanding as they did last year,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group. “It’s very hard for Google to make a huge volume impact but the phones feel unique to me, which is kind of the point.”
There’s no question that the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL look and feel unique, but Google is fighting the smartphone war against Apple and Samsung with one hand tied behind its back.
It also doesn't help that Verizon is charging $30 more for the Pixel 3 XL than Google is. Why? I have no idea.
Yes, Verizon has a large customer base, with more than 151 million subscribers. And based on our testing, it’s the fastest and most reliable network. But Google’s wrongheaded strategy also leaves customers who turn to AT&T (143.8 million subscribers), T-Mobile (75.6 million) and Sprint (53 million) on the table.
“The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are still effectively Verizon exclusives in the U.S., even though Google and Best Buy also sell them unlocked with support for all the other networks,” said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at GlobalData. “Verizon is certainly a good partner, but I do not understand why Google is not selling at AT&T and T-Mobile as well.”
It’s true that you can buy the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL unlocked, but most in the U.S. still don’t buy their phones that way. A just-released report from NPD found that unlocked smartphones account for an estimated 38 million customers — just 15 percent of the market.
That number is up from 30 million customers in 2017, and awareness levels of unlocked phones are at an all-time high of 74 percent. But the vast majority of phone shoppers still buy their devices through the Big Four carriers.
The bottom line is that there’s simply too many people who won’t be exposed to Google’s new phones. And that’s a shame for a company that has made such big strides toward becoming a major player.