On October 4, 2016, when Google announced the first Pixel smartphones, it did so with the intention of bringing to an end the decade-old dominance of its biggest rival, Apple, over the premium segment of the smartphone market.
The idea was simple – To bring to life a top-of-the-line device that marries best in class hardware and goodness of stock Android for an experience that not only beats the one promised by an iPhone, but also sets a benchmark to follow for Android’s many partner OEMs.
Two years down the line, its Pixel line-up of phones has proved to be a great success in showcasing the true potential of the Android platform. Google's efforts have spurred many partner OEMs to come out with smartphones powered by stock or close to stock Android across multiple price points.
Yet, even as Google has found success in its attempts to curb the once fractious fragmentation within the Android space, it has achieved little success in establishing the Pixels as the go-to phones for buyers in the premium segment of the market. However, what's worse is the fact that the Pixel and the Pixel 2 phones even fell little short when faced with the flagships from the bigger names in the Android space – let alone to its ultimate rival, Apple's iPhone.
But not all is lost.
Google is back with the third generation of its Android flagships – the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. Though appearing to be cut from the same cloth as the previous generation devices, the two are in fact Google’s first phones with in-house designs, and represent as such, a renewed attempt by the tech giant to challenging the might of the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Today, we review the smaller, Pixel 3 to figure out if the device is indeed worth its salt.
(Photo: Sanket Vijay/DailyO)
Design and display
In a market that is slowly accepting over 6-inch displays as the norm, the Google Pixel comes with a small-ish frame with a 5.5-inch display on the front. Now, if you're going to be migrating from a giant phone – for example, a device from the Samsung Note series or even one of OnePlus' latest flagships – the Google Pixel 3's lack of display real-estate will definitely stick out like a sore thumb during the first few days of the move.
For me, the decision to ditch the Samsung Note 9 in favour of making the Pixel 3 my daily driver proved to be quite a transition as the former's expansive display made the Pixel 3 feel even smaller in size. However, once I spent a few hours with the Google-branded phone, its diminutive form factor quickly became one of my favourite things about the device. The phone feels light to hold, and because of its size is extremely pleasant to use.
Now I know, this may not be the same for a lot of people, and for them, Google has the larger Pixel 3 XL with its immersive – yet notch-ridden – 6.3-inch display. But, if you're one of those who doesn't mind a smaller panel on their phones, or rather, even prefers a phone with a compact size, then the Pixel 3 should definitely be high up the list for you.
Held together by a metal frame, the Pixel 3's glass body looks and feels very premium. Building on the elements from the previous generation device, the phone's design scheme keeps things clean and simple. The rear panel of the device has Pixel's trademark two-tone texture to where the base colour is repeated on the top of the phone using a glass shade of the same colour.
While the upper part of the phone is covered using a strip of glossy glass, the rest of the back is covered by a sheet of frosted glass. Both are covered by a layer of sturdy Gorilla Glass 5. However, that does little to make the glass back scratch proof.
(Photo: Sanket Vijay/DailyO)
At the edges, the glass curves to melt into the phone's frame which further melts into the front of the device that sports an OLED panel. Apart from being an upgrade in terms of display technology, the panel used on the Pixel 3 also comes with a more modern aspect ratio.
Because the Pixel 3 comes with an 18:9 aspect ratio the phone also achieves a FHD+ resolution (2160 x 1080 pixels) and a vastly improved screen-to-body ratio as compared to the Pixel 2. There still remain bezels at the top and the bottom of the device, but it's nothing that takes away from the looks of it. In fact, they prove to be rather useful as they hide within them the phone's stereo speakers as well as the dual-lens front camera setup.
Talking more about the display, the panel used here by Google is sufficiently bright and has good colour reproduction. Though the resolution may not be the highest for a flagship at the end of 2018, the size of the screen ensures that the lack of pixels will not be an issue for users. Apart from this, another plus for the Pixel's display is that it supports HDR which makes content appear that much more vibrant on it.
Moving on, the Pixel 3 comes with a USB-Type C port but no 3.5mm jack on the phone this time around. There is a SIM tray next to it which can hold a single sim in it. The phone's power and volume rockers are both on the right side of the device. Additionally, the phone's frame also comes with an IP68 rating, making it resistant to water and dust.
In terms of colours, the phone is available in three – black, white and what Google is calling Not Pink.
(Photo: Sanket Vijay/ DailyO)
Specifications and performance
Now even though the Pixel 3 comes with top-of-the-line hardware – Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 paired with 4GB of RAM and 64/128GB storage – the phone does feel a little dated for a device being launched at the end of 2018. With Qualcomm about to announce its next flagship SoC in the coming weeks and Apple, already using its latest A12 Bionic SoC in its 2018 range of iPhones, the Pixel 3 feels like a device that is just waiting to be bested by newer, much faster phones on synthetic benchmarks.
Having said that, this is a conundrum that exists only on paper, as the 845 SoC to date remains a more than capable chip for handling any and everything you throw at it. If anything, the only gripe if one could have with the device's hardware is Google equipping the Pixel 3 with only 4GB of RAM when some flagships these days are going for 8 and even 10 Gigs of RAM.
However, Google is relying heavily on OS level optimisations and to help the phone run flawlessly using only a 4GB chip. And to be honest, it does succeed in its efforts.
Though there are have been some reports of Pixel 3 phones running out on memory and closing background apps as a result, we personally didn't notice any such occurrence during our review of the device. We encountered no performance issues while putting the phone to test against graphic and memory intensive games such as PUBG and Tekken Mobile.
Other applications too ran well on our Pixel 3, with OS animations too feeling buttery smooth. As such, in terms of overall performance, the device left us completely satisfied.
Now full marks to Google for how its integrated pure Android with the available hardware to eke out every last bit of performance from the phone. Yet, what remains to be seen is how well the Pixel 3 will age. After all, Google's Android OS is notorious for becoming more and more RAM hungry over time.
As such, we're not quite sure if the decision to not put in extra 2 Gigs of RAM would not prove itself to be a bad decision in the long run.
(Photo: Sanket Vijay/ DailyO)
Moving on to the optics, the Pixel 3 surprisingly only sees a minor sensor upgrade to the camera setup used on the Pixel 2 last year. Instead of the Sony IMX362, we now have picture clicking duties delegated to the latest generation IMX363 sensors. However, the rest of the details of the sensors remains the same – 12.2MP with 1.4µm pixel and f/1.8.
Does it turn out to be a bad move? Not at all.
Much like its predecessor, the Pixel 3 is arguably the best camera-phone of its launch year, and again this is largely down to the software tricks that Google uses for post-processing the pictures clicked using the phone. The company has introduced a whole host of new features, such as the Super Res Zoom – a new AI backed digital zooming feature – which effectively replaces the need for a secondary lens on the rear camera module.
While using the Pixel 3, I managed to click possibly the best pictures I've clicked all year. Be it under heavy sunlight, or in dark situations, the Pixel 3's single-camera setup backed by Google HDR+ technology and all new Night Sight proved to be a delight as it impressed with every shot it clicked.
Though relying heavily on post-processing, the shots clicked using the Pixel 3 came out with good detail as well as colours that were very close to what we saw with our naked eyes.
Portrait photos too are better than ever. Though unlike the Samsung smartphones, you still cannot adjust the level of blur on bokeh shots. However, what Google does right again is the basic – brilliantly distinguishing the object in focus from the background.
On the front, the phone comes with two lenses – an 8-Megapixel f/1.8(28mm, wide), and another 8-Megapixel f2.2(19mm, ultrawide) lens. This camera module too performs to expectations.
Coming to the battery, the Pixel 3 comes with 2,915mAh non-removable battery that supports up to 18W wired and Qi wireless chargers.
Now, on paper, this may seem a bit thin. Especially if you consider the fact that most modern day phones come with above 3,500mAh battery packs. However, considering the fact that the battery pack on board only has to run a 5.5-inch 1080p OLED panel, even the sub 3000 mAh pack ends up doing a good job.
Further helped by software optimisations and Android 9 Pie's battery saving mode, we usually got a full day's work out of our phones on a single charge. But that was on days of moderate to low use. If you plan to play a lot of games or watch a number of movies on your phone through the day, then it'll be advisable to carry the phone's fast charger with you.
The charger bundled in the box tops up the Pixel 3 to 100 per cent in less than two hours. The phone also supports fast wireless charging but only with the Pixel Stand or other Google-licensed 10W wireless chargers.
(Photo: Sanket Vijay/ DailyO)
In all honesty, the Pixel 3 is what a phone should be. It's isn't flashy, but rather delightfully simple. From its minimalist design to how it performs, the phone is crafted for convenience and performance. Its form factor is pragmatic and practical and one that you may not fall in love with at the first sight, but are sure to fall in love with later.
It's true that the phone does not come packing anything out of the ordinary in terms of specs, but the Pixel 3 shines through in the seamless integration of Google's core strengths in Machine Learning and AI with the hardware available at hand. In line with Google's vision for the Pixel devices, the phone is a smartphone first and then anything else.
Add to it the fact that that the Pixel 3 has arguably the best cameras currently on a phone and you have a real winner in hand.
Our only concern is how the phone will fare a year down the line. Despite all evidence to prove otherwise, I feel the presence of only 4GB RAM on the phone may come to haunt buyers later.
Yet, that's for the future, and even then a big maybe. For the now, starting at Rs 71,000 for the 64GB variant and Rs 80,000 for the 128GB one, Pixel 3 is the most expensive Pixel smartphone ever. As such its a really good phone that comes at a premium. But if you're willing to shell out that premium then the Pixel 3 is definitely a great option, one that may even be a better deal than its bigger sibling, the Pixel 3 XL.