Google has announced its new handsets, the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL, looking to take the fight to Apple and show the rest of the Android fraternity how it's done.

Of the two phones, the Pixel 3 XL is likely to be the one that gets the most attention: big phones are in and the 3 XL swings in with a mighty notch to match, increasing the usable screen space, but giving you a whole load more besides.


 

Premium design comes with a notch

  • 158.0 x 76.7 x 7.9mm, 184g
  • Aluminium frame with hybrid glass rear
  • Display notch

Looking to evolve the Pixel 3 XL over the Pixel 2 XL, the entire rear of the handset is now glass - allowing wireless charging - but sticking to the two-tone feel of the phones from the previous generation.

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It is Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and the back. That rear coating is described as "soft touch" and you really wouldn't think you're holding glass - it feels like a nicely anodised finish. It's not as premium as the Apple iPhone XS Max with its stainless steel core, but it's also nowhere near the price.

Thanks to the adoption of a notch design, there's more display and less bezel, although arguably other manufacturers have done more to reduce bezel and fill more of the front of the phone with display. We actually like the balance on the 3XL, however. It looks good. 

The notch will probably garner some attention. It's deeper that most, and while companies like Huawei are reducing its size on equivalent handsets, Google has unashamedly thrown in two cameras and a speaker. Yes, it looks like a little face and that might almost make it forgivable.

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Let's talk about that display

  • 6.3-inch, 18.5:9 OLED
  • 2960 x 1440 pixels for 523ppi
  • Supports HDR

The Google Pixel 3 XL offers up a 6.3-inch display that Google is calling "flexible OLED". We're guessing that means it comes from LG - a pOLED display rather than Samsung's AMOLED.

Google is rivalling the top phones out there in terms of resolution, sticking to a sharp 2960 x 1440 pixel display, resulting in 523ppi. That's the sort of resolution to compete with Samsung's Note 9 and sharper than Apple's new big phone, but the story doesn't really end on the spec sheet.

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The display appears to be rich in colour. There's likely to be some trepidation from some, following the weird colour calibration on the previous Pixel. But we'll have to wait until we get the Pixel 3 XL in our hands in the real world to really put it through its paces.

Things certainly look good on first impressions - it was nicely balanced at the launch event and the viewing angles look pretty strong too. This display supports HDR, so it should be good for your movies and viewing those great photos from the camera. Google says it has an adaptable colour profile - we'll see how that works out.

Certainly, it's nice to see Google moving into the notch space, which has very much become the trend. 

Pixel camera returns 

  • 12.2-megapixel, 1.4µm, f/1.8 rear camera
  • 8-megapixel dual front cameras 

The Pixel camera has a reputation - and it's a reputation that has been gained without splurging on dual or triple camera lenses. It's just a single camera that works hard, boosted by some very clever AI and consistently giving you great photos.

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Well, that was the case for the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 3 XL is looking for a repeat performance. The camera specs on the rear look very much the same as they did before, but Google is talking about the new features that it offers. 

One of those things is adjustable aperture effects, which isn't hugely exciting - if you don't want bokeh, don't use the portrait mode. But the Top Shot feature is a little more interesting. This uses burst photography to capture a series of snaps and picks out the best of the bunch.

Again, it's not new and shooting a burst on many phones will see it offer up the best picture. We'll have to see it in action to see how well it works. There's also a new night mode and with Huawei throwing down the gauntlet with the Huawei P20 Pro, it looks like Google is coming out fighting.

Again, there's a lot of testing to see how well this all works, but we have high hopes.

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As for the front camera system, there's a hardware change with the inclusion of a second cam with a wide-angle lens. This gives you a 107-degree view, so you can fit in a lot more people in selfie shots. That should mean that they can be much better, including more people or more of the scene - and without having to move the phone around. 

The two cameras are linked together, so you can pinch to zoom and switch between them naturally. First impressions are that this could be a really popular feature. It's worth noting that the wide-angle camera has a smaller aperture than the normal selfie camera, so low light performance might not be as good. 

Once again, there's the Pixel Visual Core boosting the processing power for the cameras. 

It's 2018's hardware 

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM
  • 64 or 128GB storage
  • 3430mAh battery, fast Qi wireless charging

On the hardware front the Pixel 3 XL gets itself flagship internals in the form of the Snapdragon 845 with 4GB RAM and the option of 64 or 128GB of storage. There's no microSD option.

While we're sure the phone will fly, the late launch window for the Pixel 3 XL sees it sitting on the same hardware as phones that are now six months old - and soon to be updated in 2019. Is that a problem? In reality no, but you're sure to hear it as a downside.

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It's impossible to judge the performance of this pure Android handset - or its 3,430mAh battery - without using it for a couple of weeks. We expect it to fly, because we've been impressed with Snapdragon 845 phones in 2018. Check back in a few weeks and we'll have a full assessment for you.

There's now also Qi wireless charging, with Google announcing the Pixel Stand. This adds convenience, but there's also an 18kW charger in the box for fast-cabled charging via USB Type-C.

One of the nice things that the Pixel Stand offers is that it can turn your phone in to a mini Home Hub, offering access to Google Assistant and changing the display to suit the conditions through the evening. It looks like a great bedside stand. 

First Impressions

The Google Pixel 3 XL launches with Android Pie, the latest version of Android, which adds a range of slick interaction points and tweaks to the OS.

From a hardware point of view, the phone looks like the more interesting of the new pair - although the notch might divide opinion. Some will argue that this could have been more aggressively designed but, at the same time, there's no lack of quality in the feel.

We suspect for those interested in the Google Pixel, it's going to be all about that clutter-free Android Pie, strong camera performance, power and battery life. The Pixel 3 XL gets off to a great start and we'll be bringing you a more detailed account of its performance as soon as we can.

The Google Pixel 3 XL is now available for pre-order and will hit the UK from 1 November.

 
Price when reviewed:
£869