Google Pixel 3 XL hands-on review

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GOOGLE HAS DONE AN APPLE with its Pixel 3 XL by essentially taking the Pixel 2 XL, tweaking it a bit, and shoving a notch on top of the display.

All this might seem a bit ‘meh’ to Android phone fans, but we got our grubby mitts on the Pixel 3 XL to give it a quick whirl to see if it’s worth your attention.

Design and display
Google has clearly decided it’s onto a good thing with its Pixel design, so it hasn’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater with the new, larger Pixel phone.

The two-tone rear remains intact but this time eschews the textured back of its predecessor for glossy or matt glass finishes in a selection of three colours: Just Black, Not Pink (er, pink) and Clearly White.

Around the front, the display has been upped from 6in on the Pixel 2 XL to 6.3in on the new XL handset. But the phone still has the same footprint of its predecessor; that’s because it has pushed the display right up to the top edge of the chassis and has opted to use a notch to house cameras and the handset’s earpiece.

Expectedly, there’s no 3.5mm jack as was the case with the previous Pixels, so you’ll either need to opt for wireless headphones or adopt the dongle life.

With a 1440×2960 OLED panel, the Pixel 3 XL’s display looks rather pleasant, with none of the odd colour shifts or muted shades that blighted the pOLED screen of the Pixel 2 XL.

We’d need to spend more time the handset to see if the display is up to scratch but photos, websites, and other content looked nice and clear on the screen, and the extra nugget of display real estate was appreciated.

What wasn’t appreciated was the chunky notch. We’re getting used to display notches by now, but by all the gods of tech, the Pixel 3 XL’s notch is not a pleasant thing to behold.

While some notches, like that found on the OnePlus 6, are small enough to not be intrusive, the shape and depth of the Pixel 3 XL’s notch is the opposite. We couldn’t help but feel our eyes drawn to it. That’s probably because it’s holding a pair of cameras but we don’t feel it has been as well implemented as some other notches.

Still, if we had longer with the phone we may be able to get used to it, and overall the display is nice enough, at first glance at least, to warrant the inclusion of the notch.

And despite the larger display, the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t feel too big in the hand though it isn’t exactly small either. A slightly more rounded design and the smooth back makes it feel more comfortable to hold, though it feels a bit more slippery than its predecessor.

The front-firing speakers, which were one of the Pixel 2 XL’s better features, remain intact in the Pixel 3 XL but we couldn’t really test the speakers in the new model as a load of chittering media types and other folks in the room make it difficult to hear ourselves think let alone get any aural pleasure from the phone.

Performance
Out of the box the Pixel 3 XL – surprise, surprise – comes running Android 9 Pie, with the Pixel Launcher interface popped on top.

Much like the last-gen Pixels, the new phone cuts through Android like a lightsaber through warmed butter, all thanks to a lack of bloatware and Google’s optimisation.

The Pixel 3 XL uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, which is a suitable flagship chip for a flagship phone, and 4GB of RAM, which gives the handset more than enough grunt to power through all manner of Android tasks.

The chipset could age quite quickly given Qualcomm is likely due to reveal a new flagship SoC at some point in early 2019, but the Snapdragon 845 should keep ticking along for a good few years all the same.

Storage weighs in at 128GB, which is a healthy amount for a phone, particularly when Google offers a mass of free cloud storage as well.

Camera
Both Pixel 3 models feature a single lens rear camera rather than opting for a dual-camera array. That’s because the Pixel 3 makes use of Google’s AI tech that once again snaps multiple pics at the press of the camera button, crunches some data, and combines the best bits of the snapped photos to present users with the best shot.

The Pixel 2 had one of the best smartphone cameras around, and unsurprisingly, from our quick fiddle with it, the camera delivers impressive results. We’ll have to reserve proper judgment until our full review, but once again it looks like Google is leaning heavily on its smart tech rather than multiple lenses and other occasionally over-the-top lens hardware.

Round the front, there are now two front-facing cameras that can capture more people in selfie shots if your the type of narcissist that has equally vain friends who want to document their hollow lives and post that s**t on Instagram – OK, maybe we’re a bit jealous as we’re not a photogenic bunch.

The dual front snappers do put in some decent results so we can’t throw too much shade at Google for popping them into the Pixel 3 XL’s notch. There’s also a suite of camera modes like automatically capturing a photo when you make a funny face or change the depth of field in Portrait mode.

All in all the camera setup looks to be yet another hit for the Pixel 3 XL.

First impressions
Thanks to all the leaks, which to Google’s credit it acknowledged in its presentation, the Pixel 3 XL gave us no surprises.

But it’s shaping up to be a decent flagship phone that will present Android in its best guise; with a price tag of £869, it needs to do that.

While pre-orders are live now, we’d suggest you wait for our full review as we’re not sold on the Pixel 3 XL’s notch, and with such strong Android competition in the form of the OnePlus 6 and Samsung Galaxy S9 and Note 9, some careful thought is needed before you spaff cold hard cash on any flagship Android phone. µ

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