Google Pixel 3 XL review: Two months in…

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The Pixel 3 XL two months in.

I’ve spent my time with the larger 3 XL. From its notch to its performance, how does it hold up still after two months?

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Just recently, we dropped our review for the Pixel 3. The XL’s smaller sibling, our editor Jason heralded it as a great device in a small(er) package. I was quite excited for the Pixel 3 phones before they debuted. While some rumors didn’t pan out, others did.

I’ve spent my time with the larger 3 XL. From its notch, to its performance, how does it hold up still after two months? Am I still as excited about the device now that I’ve had it for a while? Let’s find out.

Set up

When I first set up the phone, I was coming over from a Galaxy Note9, and before that an iPhone X. Flagships in their own right, both had amazing performance, cameras and good software experiences. Yeah, I know the Note9 had the Touchwi… er… Samsung’s Home Experience overlay, but the phone performed well. And love it or hate it iOS, has its own level of polish. But I digress.

Moving over to the Pixel 3 XL from the Note9 was easier than moving over to the Note from the iPhone. The included transfer dongle Google includes made transferring user data a snap. I was set up and ready to go in minutes and the only thing that took a bit was for my apps to finish downloading. Thank you slower Montana internet.

First Impressions

One of the first things I noticed about the Pixel 3 XL was how Google’s flavor of Android Pie was clean and polished. The Note 9’s UI is polished but I find myself preferring Google’s take on it. The screen itself is beautiful if you can get past the notch — more on that later.

Everything on the phone seemed to hum right along, and I didn’t notice any issues in performance with my apps and the 4gb of RAM. Again, more on that later. It didn’t really take too long before my phone was set up the way I wanted it.

Performance

When I first started using the Pixel 3 XL, performance seemed fine. Reviewers and tech sites we’re critical of its 4gb of RAM but I didn’t seem to mind. I’m a heavy user of Spotify and when I started using that regularly I noticed a small dip in performance.

It then surfaced that the Pixel 3 devices were struggling with memory management. I didn’t notice it too much after first except for once or twice where I had to restart my phone. It wasn’t until having Spotify open and pulling open Google Maps did I notice a huge performance hit. The phone seemed to seize up and I had to restart the device in order to use it again.

Luckily, Google was aware of the issue. A fix for the issue was promised and in the December update, the search giant delivered. Since that update, the phone has felt like a brand new device. I can use both Spotify and Google Maps at the same time. Hallelujah. Other than that, the device is performing the way any premium flagship should.

The Notch

While I feel this shouldn’t warrant its own section, there’s been a big enough uproar over it. As such, I feel I need to address it. When I first got the Pixel 3 XL, the notch seemed gargantuan. I noticed that it dipped down pretty far into the screen. With the new selfie camera and sensors, I get the need for a notch. Thanks to my iPhone X, I had gotten used to having one on my phone but this did seem a bit excessive.

Even so, two months in I don’t even notice the notch that much anymore. I say that much because there are still a few apps that haven’t added support for the it yet. I’m looking at you Wunderlist. Even with that, the notch makes notifications less of a hassle.

Wunderlist is not optimized for the Pixel 3 XL's notch.
Wunderlist is not optimized for the Pixel 3 XL’s notch.

One of the things I hated about my Note 9 was how cluttered the notification bar would appear after receiving a bunch of notifications. Yes, there is an option to only show the three most recent notifications to remove the clutter, but if you don’t turn that on, the bar looks extremely cluttered. The notch forces the phone to only show the most recent of notifications and it makes the Android notification bar seem less cluttered in my opinion.

Software

Android Pie is an enjoyable experience, though it did take me a little bit to get used to the new gesture system. Not being able to turn that off and go back to the previous navigation system of back, home, and recents, may upset some. I, however, didn’t have an issue with it. Though I’ll admit, it took me longer than I’d like to get used to the new system. But now that I am, it’s not a bad experience. Even if the back and home buttons, seem out of place without the recent apps — or some third button that could be utilized —being on the right side.

The always-on display coupled with Pixel Stand turns my phone into a pretty decent bedside alarm clock and I can easily look at what time it is in the middle of the night without exposing my eyes to full brightness of the sun by turning on my actual phone’s screen. It’s also nice to just glance at my phone and see what type of notifications I have waiting for me. I know other OEMs added that feature before Google did, but the search giant did well with how they implemented it.

Finally, one of my favorite aspects of the Pixel series is the timely updates. It was one of my favorite parts of iOS and I’m glad to see that the Pixels have it. Though, to be fair, Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus, and a few other OEMs are doing very well at timely updates. Samsung still remains to be quite slow in that process. Times seem to have come down to a few months rather than a half of a year for some devices, though.

Even with that, the Pixel 3 devices are guaranteed to get updates for the next three years. That means two more major OS pushes and all the security updates your heart could desire.

‘OK, Google’

One of the things I missed during my time on iOS was “OK, Google.” Granted, I could have used the Google iOS app but I couldn’t launch it from my phone with just my voice that easy. When I finally got back into Android, picking that up was easy and it’s now a big part of my every day.

I have two Home Mini’s — thank you Spotify promotion — and I love them. They’ve become a big part of my daily routine and I don’t think I would have picked any up if it weren’t for the Google Assistant on my phone. While most modern Android phones sport Google Assistant, I love the Pixel’s ability to open it up with just a squeeze. It’s not one I thought I’d use as much as I do, but it’s a very convenient feature, and one I absolutely love.

I’m a bit miffed as the hot word detection has stopped working on my phone. I don’t know if its from having the Home Minis, using the Pixel Stand, or the December update, but when I say “OK, Google” it doesn’t want to work anymore. Luckily, I can just squeeze the sides as was mentioned before.

Camera

What can I say that Jason hasn’t already said in his Pixel 3 review. The single lens camera in this phone is no slouch. Since the official inclusion of Night Sight, my low light photos are pretty amazing. Night Sight is nothing short of extraordinary and makes the phone worth getting just for the feature itself. That being said, the feature has come to older Pixel devices so if you’re not keen on getting the latest flagship, you can find last year’s model for a bargain.

Also, I didn’t find myself missing the dual camera setups from either the iPhone X or Note 9. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I found that I just didn’t use them all too much.

As companies like LG, Huawei, and Samsung look at adding a ridiculous amount of cameras to their phones, the Pixel 3 XL’s single lens allows me to just open the camera app, point at what I want to shoot, and do just that. I don’t have to worry about an over-abundance of settings to get the right shot. Mind you, the Note9’s camera does take some amazing photos.

I do love that my photos are going to be uploaded at full quality until the end of January 2021. It may not seem that exciting for some, given Google’s unlimited high quality photo uploads. I take a lot of photos of my daughter, my girlfriend, and both my basset hound and American bulldog. Having the full storage means I can make some pretty awesome prints later on.

Wrap Up

Two months in and I have to say the third generation Pixel devices are nothing short of amazing. Following some software growing pains, the flagship has come into its own. With the countless holiday deals going on (currently at least $150USD off the $899 retail price), you can pick up a new Pixel 3 XL (and the smaller Pixel 3) for a decent price, along with a good case for it.

From its camera to its screen, the Pixel 3 XL is a solid phone. Yeah, the notch may have been a problem for some early on. Even so, I don’t notice it much at all anymore. On top of that, the software is straight from Google. If you’re not into frivolous bells and whistles you see on some OEM phones, the Pixel is a good device to own.

Google has done well with the Pixel 3 devices. While the Nexus devices of old were solid choices for phones, Google has finally made the flagship Android device I’ve been searching for. Needless to say, my excitement for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL panned out. And because of that, I think I’ll be sticking with the Pixel series for the foreseeable future.

Google Pixel 3 XL

$899+ USD
9.2

Design

8.5/10

Display

9.0/10

Software

10.0/10

Performance

9.0/10

Sound Quality

9.0/10

Camera

10.0/10

Reception/Call Quality

9.0/10

Battery Life

9.5/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • The camera is the best single lens camera on a smartphone
  • Timely updates
  • Google's flavor of Android Pie is polished and simple with no added frivolous feartures
  • Night Sight is amazing. Simply amazing.

Needs work

  • Some may not be a fan of the large notch
  • 4GB of RAM instead of the standard 6GB of RAM is an interesting choice
  • Forcing people to use the new gesture system may rub some the wrong way.

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