These days it generates almost as much excitement and press as the launch of another big name phone; Google’s newest Pixel phone is now available, and Google has made some significant changes with its Pixel 3.
I recently received a white Pixel 3 XL along with Google’s new Pixel Stand, a wireless Xi charging stand, as well as one of Google’s chic new fabric-wrap cases to test and review in advance of the public launch.
Review: Google Pixel 3 XL First look
The Pixel 3 XL is a beautiful phone. With soft lines and smooth edges, and a punchy green power button (the Pixel 2 was Orange) it looks modern and sharp. The screen is bright and vibrant and seems much larger than before, reaching more edge to edge than the Pixel 2. There’s also pink and black available.
This version adopts the ‘notch’ design that’s becoming common (iPhone X) and it’s now all glass front and back, though it feels much softer and nicer than glass. The all glass design means it’s ready for wireless Qi charging, and Google has helpfully included its lovely minimalist Pixel Stand in my test kit. (More on that later)
The phone runs Android’s new Pie OS.
What’s new with Google Pixel 3?
There are a few significant upgrades on the Pixel 3; the camera has numerous improvements, which we’ll get to. The screen size is bigger, though in the same size body, and the resolution has increased to 2,280×1,080 pixels from 920×1,080 pixels and it’s now an OLED screen.
The processor’s been improved and the battery has a marginal upgrade.
Plus, the phone is now IPX8 which is practically waterproof, it’s got wireless charging support, and, there’s Pixel Buds USB-C headphones in the box.
There’s also plenty of returning features that I like; the always-on display, easy-access fingerprint scanner and Now Playing which listens for music around you and shows the title on the screen.
What new with Pixel 3 camera?
The camera seems to be the big story with Pixel 3. The camera on Pixel 2 was already pretty great, and to be honest, it’s long been my favourite thing about this phone. The Pixel too takes outstanding photos, selfies and can do wicked bokeh shots, so I’m never without it if I need to take some pictures.
While you can continue to double press the power button for fast camera access, and double flick your wrist to swap from front to rear camera, there are some organizational updates that make the Pixel 3 look new. The Camera Modes are now (thank you!) always on screen. With the Pixel 2 you had to tap a hamburger menu to access Panorama, Portrait, Video, Slo-Mo, Photo Sphere, and Google Lens, but now most of the settings are there for quick access.
New photo features on Google Pixel 3
The Pixel 3 camera has a few new photo features. There’s something called Photo Booth and another dubbed Playground.
What is Photo Booth on Pixel 3?
Photobooth Mode allows you to snap a photo automatically when you smile. To use it, launch Pixel camera, then on the right side of the Mode switcher select “More” and then “Photobooth.” After you press the blue button to start, Photobooth
recognizes smiles, poses, and funny faces (along with lighting, motion, and more) to capture photos automatically..
You can also ask the Google Assistant to “Open Photobooth Mode” and keep things hands-free.
There’s also a setting for group selfies that helps get more people in thew frame, while correcting the Fish Eye effect that can sometimes warp wide angle photos.
To take a Group Selfie, open your camera and “Zoom” out to the wide angle lens to get more people in. You can pinch out, tap the slider, or clicking on the zoom slider at the bottom of the viewfinder. Again, you can ask Google Assistant to take the photo after you’ve opened Group Selfie.
What is Playground on Pixel 3?
Playground seems to be a re-named version of what was called “AR Stickers” on the Pixel 2. Using the camera you can add Augmented Reality characters, text bubbles to your view. The AR interface though appears much stronger, since with the Pixel 3 the camera doesn’t ask you to search for a surface, it just places the characters correctly in space automatically. Then you can take photos or videos with your characters.
The camera also adds Motion Auto Focus helps to keep your main feature in frame and focused. It will continue to keep a face or object in focus while you move the camera around the frame up the shot.
To use it, Launch Pixel camera, front or back facing, camera or video mode, and tap on the subject you want to stay in focus. A white circle will appear around it and will stay locked to the subject as the subject moves or as you move to find the perfect angle.
Pixel 3 adds an improvement to zoomed in photos, called Super Res Zoom. It promises to take better and more detailled shots on zoom and professional photographers may now be pleased to know you can now save RAW files in addition to JPEG.
Video improvements on Pixel 3 XL
For video shooters, the new Fused Video Stabilization means you can shoot better and less shaky footage.
Fused Video Stabilization works only on the rear camera, but “digital video stabilization” is
now enabled for the front camera and will lock onto faces. It’s possible to have stabilization in resolutions up to 4K, but shooting in 1080p will yield the best stabilization results. Now your videos will look silky smooth whether you’re walking, jogging, or otherwise moving around.
What is Top Shot?
There’s also a new feature called “Top Shot” which actually takes several shots all at once then recommends the best one using on-device machine learning. It detects when people eyes are closed for example, blur, your gaze, and focus to pull the best shots. I need to play around with this some more over the next few weeks so I don’t have a definitirve review of this feature yet, but if you have questions, just ask.
What is Google Lens?
Google Lens was available on the Pixel 2, yes, but it’s supposed to be even better. I haven’t found a tonne of real life uses for Lens yet, but maybe I’ll give it another go. I’d love to hear from you guys about if or how you use Google lens to give me some ideas. It’s supposed to be able to identify objects, and find similar things, or to copy or translate text, identify landmarks, plants and animals.
To use it you can long press on the camera on the object you’re trying to ID and Lens should pop up. You can also load it from the “more” menu in the camera.
When I tried it, it correctly identified a coffee mug, and my dog, but couldn’t translate a Chinese character or read a mailing label, or copy the text i’d tried to pull from it. I’ll spend some more time with it this season.
Battery life and charging: Pixel Stand
I’ve always thought the battery on the Pixel phone was outstanding and though there’s been no massive leaps in the battery power on the Pixel 3, it is meant to last a bit longer with a 3,430mAh battery.
The Pixel Stand is a nice new accessory for Pixel 3, and one I think you’re definitely going to want. It’s a small easel design with a soft, almost rubberized finish. You can sit your phone against the easel and leave it to charge, but it also turns the phone into a mini home hub and virtual digital assistant. You can invoke Google Assistant for help or use it as a bedside alarm clock and info centre. I’ll post more on this feature in the coming weeks also.
New feature: What’s Digital Wellbeing?
A new feature on the Pixel 3 called Digital Wellbeing. It’s basically your mom keeping tabs on how much time you’re on your device, but to the second.
This feature shows how much time you’ve spent on your phone, how many times you’ve unlocked it, and how many notifications you’ve received. You can also view trends over time.
To use it, open Settings, select “Digital Wellbeing” and view your app dashboard.
Overall review: Google Pixel 3 XL
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the Pixel is one of the best phones out there. The camera alone is one reason I always have it with me even though right now my primary phone is another brand.
The smart functionality this phone comes with and the beautiful design and screen are big plusses, along with the outstanding battery life. I’ll be testing out more of the specific features over the next couple of weeks, but if you’re looking for a brand new Android phone, I can definitely recommend the Pixel 3 XL. I also love the wireless charging stand, and think it’s a nicer option than a lay-flat charger; it makes the phone more functional and visible.
As I said, I’ll be testing out some of these features in more depth coming up so post your questions for me either hewre on at TGC.com and I’ll dig in.
The Pixel 3 sells for $999CAD and the Pixel 3 XL is $1129CAD from Google, or most smartphone retailers.