Ever since the first Pixel, these phones have been known for their exceptional photo-taking capabilities, and the Google Pixel 3 XL certainly doesn't disappoint in this area. Like its predecessor, the Pixel 3 XL goes with a single-lens, In short, you'd be hard pressed to find a phone that takes better pictures than this one — some of the results it gets really are breathtaking, especially in low light. As on the Pixel 2 phones, the Pixel 3 handsets combine several snaps taken in a burst to produce an end result, but over the last 12 months Google's software has got better at the job. That means more detail, brighter colours, and improved sharpness.
It's not a huge jump from the Pixel 2 phones, but it is noticeable in a side-by-side comparison. Google has also added some very nifty tricks to the default camera app some of which are rolling out to older Pixel phones too. You can take portrait photos with a background that's automatically smoothed and blurred a so-called bokeh effect , for example, even though there's just a single lens. There's also a really neat feature called Top Shot, which captures images before and after you hit the shutter button, and lets you pick the best one of the bunch.
This activates automatically and can really help in getting a perfect picture. We're expecting good results from the AI-enhanced Night Sight mode too, but as yet this hasn't been pushed out. Photography is one area where the Google Pixel phones really do lead the pack, and if photos are important to you, this phone should be near the top of your list when you go shopping.
The Pixel 3 XL, like previous Pixels, gives you three years of unlimited photo and video backups to Google Photos too. You can see some of the snaps we've taken with the Google Pixel 3 XL embedded in this article. The phone was even able to do a good job with a fireworks display, something that's notoriously difficult for a smartphone to capture. Here's another shot below from the same fireworks party. We can assure you there wasn't much light coming into this garden scene, just a few fairy lights and lights from the house behind the camera, but the Google Pixel 3 XL has done a tremendous job in illuminating it — and without the flash.
Out in the daylight the Pixel 3 XL proves its worth again. If anything the colours can be a little too punchy, but most of the time you're going to come away with really impressive results. Look at the detail the phone picks out in the shadows on the bridge. Close-up shots are no problem for the Google Pixel 3 XL, with background bokeh blur applied as and when needed the shot below was in normal Photo mode, not Portrait. Detail and colour reproduction is superbly handled again. The shot we've included below includes a lot of extremes when it comes to dark and light colours, but the Pixel 3 XL takes it all in its stride.
It doesn't pick out every single detail from the trees in shadow, but it does do a commendable job, applying its HDR processing to make sure everything in the frame is well balanced. Something you do miss out on with just a single lens is optical zoom. Google offers a feature called Super Res Zoom instead — it uses slight variations in camera movement caused by hand shake to calculate where more pixels should be as you zoom in, but it's not as good as true optical zoom.
We found the 3,mAh battery in the Google Pixel 3 XL to be decent enough for a day's use but nothing beyond that.
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If you put your phone through a lot of calls, GPS use and gaming in a day, you're likely to be hunting for a charger by the evening. The phone does seem to keep its charge well in standby mode, so if your job means your Pixel 3 XL mostly sits in a drawer all day, you should have plenty of juice left for a full night out in the evening as well. If you're putting a lot of demands on the phone though, that battery level can sink quite quickly — it's that huge screen that does it. Of course you can dial down the brightness and reduce the screen resolution if you like, which does help.
Even with the adaptive battery features of Android 9 Pie in play, we never felt fully confident about getting a full day's use out of the Pixel 3 XL. We always ended the day with some charge left during our week with the phone — sometimes as much as 20 percent — but we weren't on it non-stop. This seems to be an area where phone makers are struggling to make improvements.
New this year is wireless charging for extra convenience, and if you fork out for the official Pixel-branded charging stand, you can use the Pixel 3 XL almost like a Google Home speaker: setting alarms, playing music and so on with your voice. And we can report the audio performance is actually better than average, both from the built-in, dual front-facing speakers and from the USB-C headphones you get in the box.
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Only the real audiophiles will need to upgrade to a better pair of headphones — for the rest of us, what you get in the box is going to do just fine. That's not to say the Pixel 3 XL can blare out the tunes as well as an Apple HomePod but it's perfectly fine and even quite impressive for podcasts, gaming and movie audio.
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Music played through the bundled headphones, meanwhile, sounds rich and balanced. Besides the camera, perhaps the next-best reason to buy the Pixel 3 XL rather than any other Android phone is the software. This is stock Android with a few Pixel bells and whistles on top, like the calendar widget that tells you when your next appointment is coming up, and the animated lock screen mode.
Google has had more than 10 years to get Android right and it shows — this is a stable, mature operating system, and with Android 9 Pie Google has sensibly decided to adopt a gesture system similar to the one on the newer iPhones, with swipes replacing buttons. We particularly like the "Flip to Shhh" feature — currently in beta — that lets you turn your phone over to activate Do Not Disturb mode very handy for meetings and dinner times.
As on the Pixels, you can squeeze the sides of the Google Pixel 3 XL to launch Google Assistant or another app — it works very well but it's not something we particular found ourselves using an awful lot. Speaking of Google Assistant, the Pixel phones can't be beaten in terms of Google Assistant integration. You can see this in the included photos.
The AR effects on the new Pixel have been upgraded as well. Now the company is doing pretty remarkable AR tricks on standard phone hardware, something Apple has also achieved. This dispatches a version of the Google Assistant to answer incoming phone calls in your place. Then it keeps them on hold to give you time to make a decision about whether to answer the call.
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I had initially thought this feature was just there for unrecognized numbers, but while I was testing the Pixel 3, the Assistant screened even my known contacts when they called. Some people are rightfully concerned that dispatching robots to answer phone calls for us is the next step toward a cold, unfeeling future. However, I also found it vastly satisfying when an unknown number called my Pixel 3 and, after the Google Assistant asked the caller to state their business, the caller promptly hung up.
Good riddance to spam callers!
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I, for one, welcome this particular robot overlord. Call Screen will eventually come to Pixel 2. The Pixel 3 phone, more than any other Google-designed phone before it, is an example of what sophisticated software can do when the hardware it runs on is incrementally improved.
Great camera with AI-assisted goodies. Great battery life. Wireless charging adds convenience. Google Assistant is elegant, and it knows more about you than Siri ever will. Call-screening feature is remarkably satisfying.
Wear OS by Google
Lack of futuristic details in the hardware. The fingerprint sensor on the back of the Google Pixel 3 or 3a does more than just unlock your phone. You can swipe your finger down or up on it to pull the notification drawer down or push it up. You can also turn it off completely if you want to just rely on pressing and holding down the home button, or on tapping the Assistant icon in the Google Search bar. You can squeeze the phone to silence an alarm, timers, notifications, and incoming calls, and you can toggle this off in the same screen.
There are several ways to have your phone bypass the lock screen. But there may be a few moments when you may want to quickly lock down your phone to make sure no one can access it without your lock screen password. Tired of your screen constantly rotating when you shift orientation? Auto-rotate is a handy feature, but it can be a bit too sensitive. A new smart rotation tool in Android 9 Pie makes it so that you can leave the auto-rotate toggle turned off all the time.
How does it work? Well, first you actually do need to turn screen auto-rotate off.