Google Pixel 3 review: Shaping up to be one of the best

Google Pixel 3 review, price, features and specs: With an excellent camera and lovely new design, the Google Pixel 3 is shaping up to be one of the best

Key Features

  • 5.5-inch FHD+ display
  • Snapdragon 845
  • 4GB RAM/ 64GB storage
  • Android Pie
  • 12.2-megapixel camera

What is the Google Pixel 3?

Editor’s Note: We received Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL review units on Wednesday, the day after Google’s event. That means that I haven’t had enough time with the phone to judge its battery life. So I’m not going to award this phone a star-rating yet yet, but that will come in the following days.

Google’s third attempt at a Pixel phone is its most successful yet. The Google Pixel 3 is an excellent device with a nice display, truly stunning camera and the best version of the Android software.

It’s a big jump from the Google Pixel 2 and a worthy rival to Android stalwarts like Samsung Galaxy S9, LG G7 and OnePlus 6.

Google Pixel 3 release date

You can pre-order the Google Pixel 3 now, with devices hitting stores on November 1.

Google Pixel 3 price

Google Pixel 3 prices start from £739/$799 for the 64GB model and £839/$899 for the 128GB version. 

Best Google Pixel 3 Deals

Google Pixel 3 – 15GB of data on O2

A decent amount of data for moderate users. A low upfront and monthly cost brings the TCO down to just £991.

Google Pixel 3 – 100GB of data on Vodafone (cashback deal)

Perfect for heavy data users, especially with absolutely nothing to pay upfront. It's worth noting that this is a cashback deal, so the monthly cost is based on once you've redeemed.

Google Pixel 3 – Design

Previous Pixel devices haven’t been lookers. They’ve been functional rather than fashionable; durable rather than delicate. The Google Pixel 3 is the first entry that feels like a match for the iPhone XS and Samsung Galaxy S9.

From a distance, and especially in pictures, the Pixel 3 looks just like the Pixel 2. Pick it up, hold it and then you’ll notice the difference.

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google pixel 3 back

The back is now smooth, constructed completely out of glass and almost soft to the touch. It has the finish of a heavily polished pebble and slips comfortably into your palm. Instead of just putting glass on the back and stopping there, Google has split the look of the glass: the top portion is shiny, with the lower area matte.

I love the matte finish here – it’s most noticeable on the white and pink versions – as it reduces smudges and adds some of the grip often lost when glass is switched to metal. This is still a slippery phone though, especially if you’re coming from a Pixel or Pixel 2, and being glass means it is less resistant to drops. I’ve seen some other Pixel 3 users report issues with the rear scratching, something I have yet to see. However the soft back does feel like it would scratch easily and I will keep an eye on this over the next few days. 

Switching to glass also allows Google to introduce wireless Qi charging and it helps retain the IP68 water-resistance rating.

A USB-C port is the only connection here – there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack – and that’s flanked by a SIM card tray. Along the right hand side there’s a clicky volume rocker and power button that, on my white version, has a contrasting mint colour. I love this hit of vibrancy even though I would prefer it was orange like the Pixel 2 XL.

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google pixel 3 side

Having all the buttons on one side isn’t for me and I much prefer having the lock switch on its own. This is how it’s done on the iPhone XS and it means you don’t accidentally alter the volume when you want to turn the phone on. It’s a minor quibble, but one that has frequently frustrated me during my time with the Pixel 3.

Flip the phone over and you’ll notice the biggest difference between this and the Google Pixel 3 XL – the screen. Aside from being smaller (this has a 5.5-inch display, as opposed to a 6.3-inch one), the Pixel 3 doesn’t have the deep notch cutting into the display. Instead, it’s an 18:9 panel with a thinner border running around it than the Pixel 2. This makes it feel a lot more modern and so much better looking.

This isn’t a completely edge-to-edge display though, as two front-facing speakers sit above and below the display. You’ve also got dual selfie cameras too.

google pixel 3

A 5.5-inch screen might sound intimidating if you’re used to the older Pixels (both had 5-inch screens) or an iPhone (typically with a 4.7-inch screen) but thanks to the slimmer bezel the Pixel 3 is just about the same size overall as those two phones. It’s comfortable to use in one hand and small enough to slip into the pocket of tight jeans or a handbag. I’d say it’s the perfect size for a phone.

Google Pixel 3 – Screen

At 5.5 inches, the screen on the Pixel 3 is the biggest of the non-XL Pixel phones. It’s also the best.

Colours are punchy and bright, with none of those murky whites that ruined the display on the Pixel 2 XL. Blacks are deep and inky too, thanks to the decision to stick with an OLED panel rather than an LCD one. OLED screen allows for pixels to be individually lit, meaning they can be turned off completely to display perfect blacks. It also means you won’t drain too much battery by using the always-on display.

Resolution of the panel is FHD+ (2160 x 1080), which might cause some concern for those wondering why it’s not been beefed up to Quad-HD+ (2960 x 1440) like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and LG G7. Honestly, at this size I struggle to decipher any difference between the two resolutions unless I get unnaturally close and really look for individual pixels. This is a perfectly crisp, detailed panel and one that wouldn’t be much better with a higher resolution.

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google pixel 3 display

Google has also added HDR support here, with compatible videos on YouTube looking truly stunning. Apparently these phones will support HDR Netflix streams too, but this wasn’t available at the time of review. Actually, Netflix won’t even play in HD on either of my Pixel 3 review devices, so that’s slightly odd. I assume an update will rectify this.

Viewing angles are excellent and there’s enough oomph in brightness to see the screen outside. To my eye it’s not the brightest display around though, and you’ll probably find yourself manually altering the brightness levels a lot more than, say, with an iPhone.

Google is going for an accurate representation of colours of the screen of the Pixel 3 and there’s noticeably less saturation in reds and green than you’ll find in a Samsung phone. You can tweak the screen setting slightly with Boosted, Natural and Adaptive options available. Adaptive is the default and I haven’t felt the need to change it.

Google Pixel 3 – Performance

A very obvious theme ran throughout Google’s unveiling of the Pixel 3: specs were barely mentioned. Its thinking is that the software optimisation and how things work are far more important than flashy numbers and huge amounts of RAM.

If you are interested in the internals though, here’s a quick rundown: Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM and 64GB of non-expandable storage with a 128GB model available for £100 extra. It’s the standard spec-sheet for a 2018 flagship phone.

4GB does seem slightly meagre when there are more and more phones with 6 or 8GB, and the Snapdragon 845 is likely to be replaced in the coming months by a rumoured Snapdragon 855 with 5G support. Yet, having used the Pixel 3 for an extended period, I am not worrying about performance.

google pixel 3

This thing is fast, churning through everything I can throw at it without lagging or feeling bogged down. Games play smoothly and open as fast as any other Snapdragon 845 phone. It is, however, slower than the iPhone XS when opening the same game or app – but then comparing iPhones and Android phones is virtually impossible as there are so many different factors.

The real test for the Pixel 3 will come 12-18 months down the line. That’s when the amount of RAM could become an issue. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Audio quality from the stereo front-facing speakers is truly excellent. As the sound is aimed towards you, it’s not blocked by hands when you’re watching a video and Google Assistant queries can easily be heard across a room. There’s no headphone jack here, but Google does include both a 3.5mm headphone jack adaptor and a pair of perfectly fine USB-C earbuds in the box.

These earbuds look a lot like the Pixel Buds from last year and they boast some of the same translation functions too. There’s Bluetooth 5 support too, if you’re more a fan of wireless headphones.

A feature often forgotten about on Android phones is haptics: that vibration buzz you get when a message or call comes through. The vibration on the Pixel 2 was very weak and the one used here is a big improvement. Google seems to know this and as a result you’ll get a lot more small haptic responses throughout the OS. There’s one when you pull down the notification panel and another when you flick through apps.

With lots of other phones switching to the face unlock systems, it seems a bit odd Google is holding steadfast with fingerprint authentication. The rear sensor is ridiculously fast and I would take this any day over an in-display option that doesn’t work to unlock apps, but some form of face unlock would have been nice.

Google Pixel 3 – Software

The Google Pixel 3 runs Android 9 Pie with the Pixel launcher on top, and it’s the best software experience on any Android phone. It’s certainly missing some features; a deep and customisable battery-saving mode being the most obvious to me, but the general experience is fantastic.

The UI is clean and simple; fast to navigate and never overbearing. There’s the essential Google apps pre-installed and absolutely nothing else. As a user of Google services, the way everything works and syncs together is nothing short of fantastic.

Google Photos remains the single best way to back up and store snaps, with the Pixel 3 offering unlimited full-resolution uploads to the cloud.

google pixel 3 photos

We’ve already got an in-depth look at Android 9 Pie so I won’t go too much into the specifics here, but here are a couple of the standout features…

Related: Android 9 Pie features

The big Pie addition is Digital Wellbeing. This lets you not only monitor your phone usage – including seeing how many times you unlock the phone a day and how many notifications you get – but helps you curb it by blocking out certain apps during selected periods and halting notifications when you’re sleeping.

Digital Wellbeing remains in beta and a full release should come later in the year. It’s quite basic, but visually it’s easy to quickly glance at your usage, and being able to limit, say, my Instagram time to an hour a day is much needed.

google pixel 3 digital wellbeing

Pie also tweaks notifications, grouping more important ones together and making them more visible, plus it ditches the traditional soft-keys for gesture-based navigation.

Pixel 3-specific features are kept to a minimum, and the majority of them are not yet available or restricted to the US. There’s a call-screening feature, for example, coming to certain areas of the States later in 2018, which will use Google’s Duplex AI to actually answer spam calls for you. I’ll be sure to try this out when it comes to the UK.

Google Pixel 3 – Camera

If your smartphone is your main way to take photos, you’re going to seriously want to consider the Google Pixel 3. Even after taking hundreds of pictures with this phone I’m constantly astounded by the quality, the dynamic range and the way taking stunning shots is completely effortless.

google pixel 3 back

If you’ve used a Pixel phone before, none of this should come as a surprise.

The majority of what makes this camera so special is Google’s software – its computational knowledge, the auto-HDR features and the Pixel’s Visual Core. If you just look at the specs you’re missing the point.

On the back of the Google Pixel 3 is a 12.2-megapixel sensor, with an f/1.8 aperture. There’s no secondary sensor here at all, with all the portrait mode stuff taken care of by the main camera. On the front there are two cameras, both 8-megapixel sensors, with one acting as a wide-angle camera.

The pictures I have captured with this phone are, simply put, stunning. Shots of food are so packed with detail you can see flecks of salt; pictures of people’s faces showing intricate detailing in hair and skin that is sometimes beyond what my eyes can see.

Even though detail is packed into these photos, nothing looks artificial or oversharpened and colours have a natural finish. Where the Samsung Galaxy S9 or even iPhone XS boost reds and greens to almost neon levels, the Pixel 3 manages to ensure colours look appealing without being over-saturated.

Dynamic range (the range between the light and dark colours) has been a strength of previous Pixel phones and once again it thoroughly impresses here. This gives photos a real depth and professional finish, ensuring nothing looks flat.

Dynamic range is excellent and there’s a real depth to pictures

Colours look realistic

Introduced with the Pixel 2, Portrait Mode makes a return here. Most cameras that do this well require two sensors, but the Pixel 3 manages it with just one. This is the best and most reliable portrait mode I have ever used: silkily blurring the background and keeping the subject in sharp focus. It does struggle with glasses and hats, but it does an excellent job at perfectly cutting around hair. You can also alter the intensity the blur after the photo has been taken.

The portrait mode works very well at night too

The portrait mode on the Pixel 3 is excellent, picking out huge amounts of detail

With Pixel 3, Google is introducing a couple of new camera software features. One is Night Sight, a dedicated low-light mode that seems to heavily boost brightness similarly to the Huawei P20 Pro. Sadly this feature isn’t live yet, so I will add my thoughts about how successful it is once the update arrives.

While Night Shot might not be available yet, the Pixel 3 still takes very good low-light photos. Unlike other phones – notably the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS Max – it doesn’t boost the brightness in the sky to artificial lengths. Instead, you get inky black skies and strong details. Lights aren’t overexposed and there’s almost no noise. It truly is very impressive.

Night shots look great

Super Res Zoom is another new feature and one that looks to offset the lack of a secondary, slightly zoomed-in sensor. In the camera app you’ll notice four distinct zoom points that you can quickly jump to, and Google is combining multiple shots together to try and improve the notoriously bad digital zoom. I do have to say the results are better than other iterations of digital zoom, but for me it still doesn’t match a dedicated zoom lens. See below for an example of the different levels of zoom.

Google Pixel 3 photo sample

Super Res zoom aims to offer better digital zoom

This is the 2x zoom

Google Pixel 3 photo sample

This is 4x zoom

Google Pixel 3 photo sample

6x zoom

Top Shot is another new feature and it aims to ensure a photo isn’t ruined by a rogue head or someone accidentally blinking. Every time you take one photo, the camera is capturing multiple shots and by swiping up on particular picture you can scroll through them all. This works exceptionally well and is truly useful when you don’t have much time to properly set up a shot.

It’s not only the rear camera that takes stunning photos. Two front-facing 8-megapixel sensors take some of the best selfies I have ever seen, with lovely realistic skin tones and none of the putrid beautifying effects that blighted the iPhone XS. In fact, some of the selfies I took were so detailed it picked up colours in facial hair that I couldn’t see with my own eyes.

The ultrawide selfie camera retains detail and lets you fit more faces in

The front camera is excellent, and features a portrait mode too

Drag the zoom bar down in selfie mode and you’ll switch to the ultrawide secondary f/2.2 camera. This lacks the auto-focus, but lets you cram a lot more into your shot. I love the ability to either focus up close on a subject or zoom out and get more faces in.

Video capture is impressive too, even though the lack of 4K at 60fps remains a missing feature. The stabilisation at play on the Pixel 3 is excellent and gives footage a very shake-free look.

Google Pixel 3 – Battery life

One of the biggest reasons to go for a ‘big’ phone is the improved battery life. Having a larger device naturally means there’s more space to stick in a sizeable cell. The Huawei P20 Pro, for example, has 4000mAh, as does the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

In comparison, the 2900 mAh battery tucked inside the Google Pixel 3 seems, well, paltry.

As with specs, just looking at battery size doesn’t tell the whole story, With its 1080p display at 5.5 inches, the Pixel 3 doesn’t use as much juice in regular tasks as some of its bigger rivals and comparing it to something with a similar sized screen, like the Samsung Galaxy S9, you’ll notice the battery sizes are more comparable.

google pixel 3

What I will say though is that if you want a phone that’ll comfortably last the day then go with the larger Pixel 3 XL. I still have battery anxiety with the Pixel 3, and while it gets me through the day, it’s not quite as reliable.

Full disclosure: We received Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL review units on Wednesday, the day after Google’s event. That means that I haven’t had enough time with the phone to confidently judge its battery life. So I’m not going to award this phone a star rating yet yet, but that will come in the following days. Below you’ll some of my initial tests on the battery life.

Streaming an hour of video on Netflix ate through between 11-13%, with about 30 minutes of Asphalt 8 taking the battery down approximately 10%. These are similar results to an iPhone XS and slightly better than the Pixel 2 I was using for comparison.

Wireless charging makes its Pixel debut here and I think should now be a requirement on high-end phones. It’s so handy just being able to plonk the phone on a pad and top up the charge. Alongside the Pixel 3, Google is selling Pixel Stand, a slick, vertical charging pad that not only charges the Pixel 3 wirelessly at 10w (the iPhone XS, for example, can only wirelessly charge at 7.5w) but enables some clever features too.

You could say docking the Pixel 3 into the Pixel Stand makes it like a Google Home Hub: it can give a briefing in the morning, makes the time more visible and there’s a nifty alarm feature that’ll try and wake you up slowly through bright colours on the screen. At £69/$79 it’s not cheap, but it’s a nice addition that does what it’s meant to do very well.

Why buy the Google Pixel 3?

I’m completely taken with the Google Pixel 3. The camera is incredible, design lovely and the software experience makes other Android phones feel antiquated. It’s not as packed to the rafters with as many features as some of the competition, but the simple approach and making sure everything works as well as it should is, for me, more important.

The Google Pixel 3 is the nicest Android phone to actually use and live with on a day-to-day basis. And if you take a lot of pictures, not wanting to faff too much with them in the process, this is the phone for you.

No phone is perfect though, and there are some parts of the Pixel 3 that annoy me. 64GB of storage feels a bit meagre when there’s no expandable slot and I miss the simplicity of unlocking the phone with my face.

There’s also the question of whether you should get the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. I think, currently, the smaller phone is the better pick. It doesn’t have the notch, and while that doesn’t bother me visually, this feature does cause some software inconsistencies.

Stay tuned for the final Google Pixel 3 verdict in the coming days

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