Google Pixel 3 initial review: Pocket powerhouse

Google has released a pair of new Pixel phones, the larger Pixel 3 XL and this, the regular Pixel 3.

As with previous Pixel pairings, the small phone matches the large in many ways, offering much the same power, but in a smaller package – and with a few other changes along the way. 

But is there really a demand for smaller handsets when everyone is going big?

Dinky design doesn’t bust bezels
145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9mm, 148g
Aluminium and glass design
IP68 protection

Embracing the shift to 18:9, the Pixel 3 differs from the Pixel 3 XL in that it doesn’t have a notch in the design. Yay, you might shout, but instead the Pixel 3 has a rather retro look, retaining a forehead and chin that you might have expected to be designed away.

It’s a step forward from the older 16:9 display of the Pixel 2, but we get the feeling that Google was focused on evolving the previous handset design, rather than creating a bezel-busting compact phone. As such, at first glance it looks as though it could have done more to give you a little more display. 

pixel 3 review

That first impression will likely fade into the background once you get your hands on this phone, because the texture from that “soft touch” rear imparts a feeling of quality. With Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, on the Pixel 3 that division between matte and glossy finishes is rather remarkable. 

But what we do wonder is how strong the demand for these smaller devices still is – with most phones getting bigger, there’s also the feeling that you’re not getting a (physically) large amount of phone for your money: at £739, this is flagship territory when it comes to price.

pixel 3 review

Compare it if you will to the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Pixel 3 has a smaller display in a body that’s pretty much the same size – and it’s more expensive too.

A display that’s small, but perfectly formed 
5.5-inch 18:9 OLED display
2160 x 1080 pixels, 443ppi
HDR support

What you do get, however, is an OLED display with an 18:9 aspect, rolling out 2160 x 1080 pixels, for a pretty sharp 443ppi. It measures 5.5 inches on the diagonal, with curved corners and first impressions of this display are good: it looks punchy, viewing angles seem good and there’s plenty of vibrancy.

The Pixel 3 sticks to 2160 x 1080 pixels – or Full HD+ – which at this size is actually perfectly adequate. What’s important is that the ppi – pixels per inch – remains high so that the display is capable of showing fine details.

pixel 3 review

It’s also HDR compatible – something that’s becoming fairly common now in high-end devices – potentially offering better results when playing compatible HDR video, like some movies offered by Netflix. 

Exactly what the long-term performance will be link we can judge from the limited time we had with the phone at the launch of the new Google devices, but we’ll bring you a full breakdown as soon as we can.

Pixel 3 vs 3 XL vs iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max: Go Google or Apple?
Compact power 
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM
64 or 128GB storage, no microSD
2915mAh battery, Qi wireless charging

What you do get for your money, is a compact phone powered by 2018’s top hardware, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 platform. We’ve been impressed with all the Snapdragon 845 devices we’ve seen in 2018, but we’re acutely aware that the next generation of hardware is just around the corner.

That’s an inevitable side effect of Google’s launch cycle and while Californian rival Apple put out its iPhone XS with new hardware, Google’s new phones are a generation behind, relatively speaking.

In real teams that might not make a huge difference to your day-to-day experience with the Pixel 3, but as we progress into 2019, this phone might begin to feel a little more dated. Whether that matters to you or not probably depends on how much you crave the latest hardware.

pixel 3 review

What is new in the Pixel 3 is wireless charging. That’s behind the new glass design and when paired with the new Pixel Stand – which is actually pretty slick – you have a great wireless charging experience. It turns the phone, when docked, into bedside experience with Google Assistant ready to assist, and clever things like the colour tone changing wake-up routine. 

Of course, we’ll be fully testing the Pixel 3 for stamina closer to launch and we’ll bring you the full results. 

A boosted camera experience 
12-megapixel, 1.4µm, f/1.8 camera
Dual front 8-megapixel cameras, wide angle

Ask any smartphone fan what the best camera is on a phone and if they don’t mention the Pixel in some capacity, then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about. Avoiding the temptation to load the back of the phone up with cameras, the Pixel 3 sticks to one camera on the rear that promises to be more potent than the last.

pixel 3 review

What’s really new here is the Top Shot mode that Google is bubbling up to the surface. This will let you take a burst of photos and automatically offer the best photo. It’s not a new technology in reality as many recommend the best photo – but we can’t wait to try it out in the real world.

Another addition is the ability to change the “aperture” in portrait shots. It’s not totally new to phones, but Google is very good with its bokeh effects and the chance to tweak the results will be appreciated. 

Where Google has made a hardware change is on the front camera, or cameras. There’s the regular 8-megapixel selfie camera that’s now joined by a second wide-angle front camera. This will let you pinch zoom to a wider view, so you can get everything into the frame.

First impressions suggest this is going to be a lot of fun – and there’s a drastic difference between the regular front camera and that wide view. Trust us, when it comes to taking group selfies, whoever is holding the Pixel will be doing the honours, and we’re expecting great things here.

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