These phones aren’t cheap, just good enough devices, either; Google positions its Pixel line as an absolute best-in-class offering of Android smartphones. The software is finely tuned and regularly updated, the camera crushes most competition, and it offers some unique features that you don’t tend to see anywhere else.
But are the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL worthwhile upgrades from their predecessors?
Google knows camera software, period. Maybe it was the years of building AI and machine learning backend, but when the original Pixel dropped it set a new standard for smartphone photography. That trend continues with the Pixel 3 and its slew of new camera features, including ways to improve your low light photos, correct botched shots on the fly, and more. It’s not all just the hardware, either, as a lot of this stuff is all done via software (and is coming to older Pixel phones to boot). Icing on the cake? The Pixel 3 is also eligible for unlimited high quality photo backups through Google Photos.
It’s also getting timely updates for longer than just about any other Android OEM. Google promises updates for three years and generally does a good job of pushing out new software quickly. That means you get fast security updates, new features, and actual support that you pretty much don’t get anywhere else in the Android world.
Buying a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL is also a relatively painless process. You can walk into Verizon and make a purchase, buy it directly through Google for any carrier you’d want, or get it through Google’s own Project Fi. Assuming we don’t see any shipping issues this year, Google is pushing tons of avenues for getting your hands on a Pixel 3, which you can get in either screen size, in three colors (Just Black, Clearly White, and Not Pink), and either 64 or 128GB of storage. That’s a good amount of customization that you don’t always see.
I don’t mind notches, but man, Google, what is that design? The weird gigantic forehead is the easily the worst part of the Pixel 3 XL, and Google didn’t even try to justify it during their keynote. The smaller version doesn’t even have it, which is just weird.
And aside from the notch, there really isn’t anything significantly different as far the Pixel 3 hardware is concerned. It’s not that it isn’t faster than last year’s models, but you’d be hard pressed to find any significant improvements. Most of what Google even talked about during their event was done through software, like the call screening, many new camera features, and Google Lens integration. That’s a tough sell for Pixel 2 owners, especially at Google’s asking price.
Oh, and speaking of, Google’s following everyone else’s lead and charging quite a lot of money for all variants of the Pixel 3 this year. You’ll be shelling out $799 for the 64GB Google Pixel 3 or $899 if you need the biggest 128GB storage configuration. Add another $100 for the bigger screen size, so the 128GB Google Pixel 3 caps the pricing out at $999. For that price you’d think Google could have matched Apple and Samsung and thrown in more storage, too, especially since there’s no microSD card slot.
That lack of expandable storage support and no headphone jack are also probably going to be drawbacks for anyone coming from a non-Pixel 2, too. Google’s also sticking with their exclusive Verizon partnership, so while you can buy it directly from the Google store, AT&T/T-Mobile/Sprint customers won’t be able to just walk in anywhere and buy one.
Should you buy it?
The Pixel 3 is a tough call. If you’re neck deep in Google’s ecosystem and use Google Photos, Google Drive, and whatever else, this is easily going to be one of the nicest, best supported phones on the market for the next several years. It’s the best screen Google’s ever used (and honestly looks like one of the best smartphone displays ever) and it’s one of the best examples of Android as an OS that you’ll find.
But if you’re a mix and match kind of user, there are a lot of really good Android devices out that are going to be just as good as the Pixel 3, if not better in some ways. Samsung phones are an obvious choice, with stellar hardware, tons of extra features, and Android and Google services included, anyway. You can also find pretty good deals on the Galaxy S9 family right now, and there are some killer handsets on the market with close-to-stock Android software that will only cost a few hundred bucks.
And we can’t forget about the Pixel 2, which is still a really good phone that’s going to be much cheaper now that it’s a year older and technically replaced. It will get many new features, it’s still guaranteed another couple years of software support, and it doesn’t have the ugliest notch we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.
Personally I’d recommend an older Pixel 2 or a different Android phone altogether, unless you’re willing to wait it out and see if you can snag a crazy holiday deal on the Pixel 3.