Pixel 3 XL Complete Walkthrough: Still The Best Camera Out?

Another year, another Pixel and since I managed to get my hands on a Pixel 3 XL, I figured I’d do a complete walkthrough for you guys on it.

If you aren’t familiar, a complete walkthrough on my channel is where I try and go through every feature on a new device so you guys are more prepared with all the info you could need should you be in the market to buy one.

Design

With that said, there’s a lot to go through, so let’s start with the design.

The design is definitely getting more refined every year with this year being the nicest we’ve seen yet (besides the notch, but we’ll get to that in a sec). The front and back are now made out of Gorilla Glass 5 with an aluminum frame. But the back has been machined in a way that they’ve managed to get two different textures out of the same piece of glass. The top is smooth as you’d expect but the rest, where your hand usually rests, has this silky, soft texture to it. You honestly have to hold it to understand, but it feels remarkable, I think.

Because of this glass back though, we do now have Qi charging. It’ll even support fast Qi charging but apparently it only seems to work on Google’s own $79 Pixel stand as people are reporting. Now, I have a feeling that it’s because there is a proprietary tech that is needed to do fast Qi charging and Google doesn’t feel like paying for it, but regardless of why keep in mind you’re wireless charging won’t be fast.

On the left of the device, we have nothing.

On the right, we have our volume rocker and our different colored power button (on the white it’s this mint color).

On the top, we have nothing.

On the bottom, we have our USB-C port that supports Power Delivery of USB version 2.0 at 18W and we have our SIM card slot. It also supports eSIM if your carrier does. This means you can just call the carrier and activate the phone instead of having to use a physical SIM card. We also have a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter that is included in the box.

On the front, we have our 6.3″ P-OLED 18:5:9 aspect ratio 1440×2960 resolution screen and while it’s got great contrast and saturation it’s not the brightest screen out there coming in around 360 nits versus the iPhone XS Max’s and Note 9’s 600 or so. The Pixel 3 has a similar screen but just in a 5.5″ variety.

Which bring us to the notch. I’m not a person who honestly minds notches on phones, but this one, in particular, is the strangest looking one out. There’s something about the deepness of up that’s off-putting as well as the fact that if you look closely, there is a different angle for the top curves compared to the bottom ones (OCD kicking in hard). Honestly, it’s not a deal breaker for me as again I don’t mind notches but I can see why people are particularly rubbed the wrong way by it.

One more thing to note about the notch though that I just think is just a bit of an oversight on Google’s part is the fact that if you don’t want it, there’s no way to currently hide it in the OS (like most other manufacturers do). Normally, you can just turn the status bar that surrounds it black and then it’s much less noticeable but here we don’t have that option even. You can, however, go into settings, and enable developer options and turn off the notch in there, but instead of making the status bar black, it actually pulls the entire display down which completely negates the larger screen and makes it basically a Pixel 3 sized screen. Other than that there are some options in the Play Store that can help but I haven’t found one that works well honestly. Maybe Google will add this in an update, but for now, know that if you get the Pixel 3 XL, you need to be okay with the notch.

In the notch though, we have two front-facing cameras, a normal angle and a slightly wider angle for wider selfies (groupies as Google calls them). One is an 8MP f1.8 28mm equivalent lens with Phase Detection Auto Focus and the other is an 8MP f2.2 19mm equivalent ultrawide with no PDAF.

 

Also in there, we have one of our two dual front-facing speakers with the other being below the screen. And they are properly loud and clear honestly.

Moving to the back, we have a fingerprint scanner and that is our only option for security, no facial recognition despite the notch (and the fact that Android has this ability even with just a front camera now), etc. Regardless, it’s super fast as we’re used to from Google.

You can also squeeze the device like the last Pixel to get to Google Assistant and even adjust the strength of the squeeze needed if you find it going off too much accidentally.

The device is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor paired with 4GBs of RAM and it feels super snappy and responsive (as it the usual for Pixel devices, of course).

We have Bluetooth 5.0, AptX HD for higher quality Bluetooth audio streaming, Wifi 802.11ac, Gigabit LTE, and a 3430mah battery (the Pixel 3 has a 2915mah one).

Software

For software, since it is a Google device it is running the latest version of Android, Android 9.0 Pie and there’s no real bloatware. Nothing from the carriers, nothing from Google besides the Google Suite that is super popular, etc. And along with this, it’ll get updates for Android and security updates faster than any other device out, as is the usual with Pixel and the older Nexus devices.

Since it is similar to most Android 9 devices, I won’t go too much into the software, but there are a few things Google has added that we need to discuss.

Firstly, there is no longer our normal three navigation buttons we’re used to in Android for back, home, and multitasking. Instead, we have a gesture system that is based on a small pill at the bottom of the screen. You tap it to go home, tap and hold it to get Google Assistant, swipe to the right on it to go back through your apps (but you oddly cannot swipe the other way to go the other direction as the carousel animation would suggest), there is a back button that will appear whenever you have the need for it, swiping up on it will get you to your multitasking card view and either swiping up twice or swiping up slowly and deliberately you can get to your app drawer.

The odd thing here is that on other devices you have the option to swap back to the three button navigation again but on the Pixel, you don’t. I feel like it’s Google’s way of setting the stage for people to get used to gestures and the ultimate degradation of the buttons, but we’ll see.

I don’t mind the gestures, they aren’t the most intuitive honestly, but you do get used to them eventually.

Another neat party trick Google added to the Pixel that other devices don’t have, is a smart call screening feature. When you get a call you have an option on the call screen to let Google Assistant answer it for you. When it does, the person will hear the familiar Google Assistant voice and you’ll see the entire conversation transcribed (in near real time actually) on the screen and choose from actions there. This is actually really cool I think and is the beginning of what will ultimately lead us to the Google Duplex feature we witness at I/O this year that has Google making calls to restaurants to make reservations for you that is supposed to be coming eventually.

Now besides that, there isn’t much to the OS that isn’t very similar to any other version of Android for the most part so let’s move on to the camera.

Camera

Ah yes, the Pixel camera. The main selling point of last year’s model that, even to this day, still takes some of the best photos on a phone. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL continue this thankfully.

The camera on the rear is a 12.2MP f1.8 camera with 1.4-micron pixels, dual-pixel autofocus which is incredibly fast, and optical stabilization. And while compared to some other devices that have recently launched that might not sound terribly impressive on paper, but it’s the software behind that that makes this camera what it is.

The device can use the software and their incredible Auto HDR to take a bunch of photos at differing exposure levels and combine them to make a super sharp, well-exposed image. And while we’ve seen other devices do this to some degree, there’s something about the final image that Pixel gives you that is just contrasty, accurate, and sharper than most. One person once described it to me as the Pixel camera does the edits that a photographer might do to make an image look better as soon as you take the photos. I tend to agree to some degree–the Pixel 3 XL is a phone you need to be good at framing a photo and that’s it, it’ll do the rest.

In addition to the crazy image processing that the Pixel 3 XL can do, Google added some other little software camera tricks that seem useful.

  • Top Shot
  • Night Sight
  • Panorama
  • Portrait
  • Playground
  • Slow-Motion
  • Photobooth
  • Photo Sphere

Then in the camera settings we have:

  • Save Location
  • Camera Sounds
  • Google Lens Suggestions
  • Gestures
  • Grid
  • Dirty Lens Warning
  • HDR+ Control
  • RAW+JPEG
  • HEVC/H.265
  • Video Stabilization

Conclusion

Honestly, I like this phone a lot. The camera, while it isn’t as big of a gap in quality as the Pixel 2 was compared to other devices out (as other manufacturers are slowly catching up), it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t still take the top camera phone spot. It also is super snappy and feels amazing in the hand. My only big complaint is the battery life. It just needs a much larger battery, even if that meant making the phone a few millimeters thicker.

Let me know what you guys think and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (@theunlockr) for more photos from the Pixel 3 XL and other devices as well as behind the scenes on my travels in the tech world. Regardless, thanks for reading!

Here are some more sample photos:

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