The Pixel 3 is Google’s third generation in-house design, meant to showcase the company’s own view of what an Android device should be, whilst fully embracing Google’s first-party software applications and services. The one thing Google’s Pixel phones have become synonymous with is the camera experience. The Pixel 3 continues this focal point of the line-up, and promises to be “the best smartphone camera”, period.

Alongside Google's forte, software, this year's Pixel family has pushed forward with a few hardware design choices, some of which we might have liked to have seen last year. The new units have updated panel technology, integrated wireless charging, and even fast wireless charging. Also now for Google, the Pixel 3 actually looks like a current flagship smartphone, compared to the Pixel 2 which did not at the time.

This year’s Pixel 3 phones hope to maintain the software advantages, doubling down on them with various new innovative features, especially on the camera side, whilst addressing the hardware aspects to be considered a true vendor flagship of a very competitive generation.

In this full analysis of the Pixel 3, we'll cover the hardware, the design, the software, and a detailed look to what makes users rave about the camera. We've tested over 18 current and former high-end smartphones worth of cameras to get to our conclusions, with all the analysis contained within these few pages. Commentary is of course, more than welcome.

It should be noted that for this review, unfortunately we only were able to get our hands on a regular Pixel 3, colored in 'Not Pink'. We do hope that sometime in the future we’ll be able to do a battery update on the bigger Pixel 3 XL once we’re able to source one.

Pixel Hardware and Design

In terms of hardware specifications, the new Pixel 3 family follows the many Android flagships trend of this year: at the heart of the phones, the Snapdragon 845 SoC is powering the devices. 2018 has been an excellent competitive year for Qualcomm and the S845 was able to take the performance lead among its Android competition. One thing to note here if you’re considering a Pixel device is that Google’s release schedule is very much out of sync with the silicon vendor’s SoC lineups - meaning users investing in a Pixel are buying a flagship phone whose silicon is by now 8 months old, and will most likely will be superseded by its successor in just a few months’ time. For those that want the leading edge, the Pixel 3 might be a short lived experience. However that doesn't detract from what is under the hood today.

Google Pixel 3 Family
  Pixel 3 (reviewed) Pixel 3 XL
SoC Snapdragon 845

4x Kryo 385 Gold (Cortex A75 based) @ 2.80 GHz
4x Kryo 385 Silver (Cortex A55 based) @ 1.76 GHz
GPU Adreno 630 @ 710MHz
DRAM 4GB LPDDR4X
Display 5.5" AMOLED
2160 x 1080 (18:9)
6.3" P-OLED
2960 x 1440 (18.5:9)
Size Height 145.6 mm 158.0 mm
Width 68.2 mm 76.6 mm
Depth 7.9 mm 7.9 mm
Weight 148 grams 184 grams
Battery Capacity 2915mAh 3430mAh
Wireless Charging Qi
Rear Camera 12.2 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm,
OIS, dual pixel PDAF
Front Cameras Dual 8MP modules
Regular f/1.8 75° & wide angle f/2.2 97° FoV lenses
Storage 64 GB / 128 GB 64 GB / 128 GB
I/O USB-C
Wireless (local) 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.0 LE + NFC
Cellular CAT 16 (1Gbps DL / 75Mbps UL), 5x DL CA, 4x4 MIMO,
LAA, 256-QAM DL and 64-QAM UL
Splash, Water, Dust Resistance IPX8
(Water resistant up to 1m)
Dual-SIM nano-SIM
Launch Price 64 GB: $799 / £739 / 849€
128 GB: $899 / £839 / 949€
64 GB: $899 / not avail. / 949€
128 GB: $999 / £969 / 1049€

Google also outfits the Pixel 3’s with relatively conservative DRAM and storage options. Both phones come with 4GB of RAM as well as a base storage variant of 64GB, with the option to buy a higher tier 128GB variant. Most of Google's competition are offering 6GB+ versions at similar pricing it should be noted.

In order to combat this low memory, one new hardware/software feature is an application memory management  'lowmmemorykiller' background application/daemon which applies various settings to keep certain software in memory for fast app loading times. Whilst in general I don’t put as much value into this as some other people do, I did however notice that in everyday use the phones did need to reload applications more often. There have been user reports already that the phones are struggling to keep things open and alive in memory. No doubt additional tuning of the memory management will be done through updates and the lifecycle of the unit.


Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 2 (right)

Design-wise, the Pixel 3 is a big upgrade over the Pixel 2. Gone are the 2015 top and bottom bezels, and instead we find a more contemporary design with an elongated 18:9 (or 2:1) aspect ratio screen, vastly increasing the screen-to-body ratio of the phone. The screen is still an OLED with an FHD+ resolution (2160 x 1080 pixels) – though this year it seems that Google has split suppliers between the small and XL variants, with the Pixel 3 panel now being manufactured by LG while the Pixel 3 XL uses a Samsung panel.

On the front of the device, we luckily don’t need to go into any big controversial discussions about a notch as the small Pixel 3 (As opposed to the 3XL) doesn’t have one. What is new for both of the Pixel 3 smartphones is a secondary wide-angle front-facing camera, allowing for wider selfie shots or simply a wider field of view when doing front video recording or communications, which is actually quite handy.


Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 2 (right)

On the back of the phone, we also see a big design change: Google has switched over from a metal unibody design with a top glass cut-out, to a full glass back panel. Google still maintains the same contrasting glossy glass design feature at the top of the phone, and achieves this by chemically etching the bottom part of the glass to a matte finish.

The matte feel of the glass is extremely similar to the design of the OnePlus 6’s etched models, and it does stand out as a completely different feel than one might be used to from glass phones. It really helps with the grip, and totally avoids fingerprints. My only issue here is that Google didn’t extend this finish to the very edges of the glass back, as well as leaving out a 1mm ring around the fingerprint sensor, the latter whose shadows on the glass looks very odd and a bit cheap.

Going for a glass back allows Google to now adopt wireless charging, and supports the Qi standard. The phone also supports fast wireless charging up to 10W. Unfortunately again, it seems that Google is only allowing this on certified chargers, thus not really adhering to the Qi fast-charging standard. This means almost all existing 'fast' wireless chargers will be limited to 5W.

Google bundled its own Pixel Stand wireless charging pad with the reviewer kits (It's not bundled with commercial units), and it works as well as it says on the box. One big hiccup I noticed is that the Stand will only accept certain USB-C chargers with PD at certain voltages – so users are restricted to the bundled power supply as well as a limited number of USB C PD chargers to even power it on at all.

It should be noted that the glass on the rear has some flex even under light pressure, and I can hear it touching the internals (charging coil and battery). This was one of the first things I noticed when unboxing the phone, and it makes it feel a lot less well built as for example glass backs from Samsung or Apple.

The camera on the Pixel 3 sees a minor sensor upgrade from the Sony IMX362 to the IMX363 – both units are 12.2MP sensors with 1.4µm pixel pitches. The aperture is also the same at f/1.8. There are no secondary modules here, and Google prefers to fall back to software innovation for improving zoomed in pictures: the Pixel 3 exclusively ships with a new “Superzoom” mode that promises to improve digital zooming, more on this later in the camera section where we’ll have a very big comparison with most of this year’s flagship devices.

The left side of the phone is bare of any buttons, and we find the power and volume rocker on the right side. Google accentuates the colour of the power button, on my “Not pink” pink unit this is a very neon orange that just doesn’t pop up in images as much as it does in real life.

On the top of the phone we find a microphone hole.

The bottom sees the single nanoSIM slot as well as the USB-C charging port. Like on the Pixel 2, the Pixel 3 units do not offer any headphone jack. One argument for the removal of the headphone jack, beyond the by now debunked claim that it offers larger internal space dedicated to batteries, is that it allows for better audio quality. Indeed if headphones have their own DACs built-in, then they can be calibrated to the sound profile of the individual headphones, instead of relying on the phone to serve a correct frequency response. That being said, unfortunately the USB-C earbuds bundled with the Pixel 3 are among the worst I’ve ever listened to and can be easily described as complete rubbish. I would easily choose USB-C earbuds from any other primary smartphone vendor.

In the rest of this review, we cover the following:

  1. Introduction and Design (this page)
  2. System Performance
  3. GPU Performance
  4. Display Measurements and Calibration Testing
  5. Battery Life and Power
  6. Camera pt 1: Daylight with SuperZoom and Scenic
  7. Camera pt 2: Daylight with Dynamic Range
  8. Camera pt 3: Low Light and NightSight
  9. Camera pt 4: Video Recording and Speaker Evaluation
  10. Pixel 3 Conclusion
System Performance
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  • Rmrx8 - Saturday, November 03, 2018 - link

    I actually like the ear buds. I bought them for my pixel 2 and I enjoy them just as much as Apple EarPods. Too bad more time wasn't spent on this on the review. Reviews of these have been mixed with people either loving them or hating them. I do lots of recording and the cut in on the mic is much less aggressive than the apple buds, which is a good thing for me. The higher frequencies on googles buds are attenuated a bit. But otherwise I like them and they don't fall out. Also age matters. I'm 51. Undoubtedly a younger person will have better hearing and maybe find more problems, as you age the differences start to disappear. Reply
  • TidalWaveOne - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    My Pixel 2 will do just fine... hopefully the Pixel 4 will be good enough to justify an upgrade. Reply
  • Genspirit - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    Also did i just miss it or was there no mention of the selfie camera or numerous camera features like top shot? Or live google lens integration. I love the in-depth testing on performance and the camera but I do feel like a lot of what makes the pixel a pixel was left out. Reply
  • BNSFguy - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    " I would easily choose USB-C earbuds from any other primary smartphone vendor."

    That's pretty comical statement seeing that there are very, very, few choices for "USB - C" headphones, and most, if not all, are significantly more expensive than the $30.00 Google USB-C Headphones included for FREE with the phone. I mean, just go shopping for a pair of USB-C headphones. You won't find a single pair at any retail store such as Best Buy, and very few online anywhere.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Saturday, November 03, 2018 - link

    THat is why most people use bluetooth Reply
  • papoose34328 - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    Hi Andrei,

    Thank you for your very thorough review! Very informative
    Reply
  • cfenton - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    My take away from this review is that it's probably better to try to get a cheap used Pixel 2. Google have lost their edge in daylight photo quality, and the Pixel 2 looks almost as good using Night Shift.

    Also, since Night Shift seems to be mostly a software feature, is there any reason it couldn't be ported to other Android phones? Obviously Google won't do it, but is there any hope that some clever XDA person will. I remember the Pixel camera was ported to other S820 devices, with varying degrees of success.
    Reply
  • arayoflight - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    It's already been ported to many Nokia and Xiaomi devices, and active work is being done to make it work on OnePlus devices as well. Reply
  • bull2760 - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    I made the switch to the PIXEL 3 from Apple iPhones. It's very interesting to see that a hardware testing site has not mentioned any of the cellular signal issues that are plaguing iPhone XS and XS Max users. I had the iPhone 10SX Max for 4 days and returned it due to extremely poor cellular service I was getting. From my research it is due to the 4x4 antennas that are being used. FCC testing shows that the new iPhones have signal issues when not in a strong signal area. I experienced this with the short time I had the phone. 4 dropped calls/call failed within minutes of each other. I'd be sitting next to my wife her on her iPhone 7 me on my MAX and my phone would have no service. I looked at her phone and she is pulling almost 3/4 antenna signal. Why is Tom's not diving into this? Anyway I got tired of Apple's crap and decided it was time to try my first Android phone. I looked at the Galaxy Note, and while I like the phone I'm not a fan of the curved edge screen. Plus the key point for me with buying the Pixel 3 is pure Android no UI installed on top of it so as Google roles out the next version of Android my phone will get the update automatically. So far so good, I'm really liking the Pixel 3. I should mention I am not a heavy gamer, I didn't buy a cell phone to game. I use it primarily for business answering email on the fly and calling customers. Reply
  • pjcamp - Friday, November 02, 2018 - link

    "In order to combat this low memory, one new hardware/software feature is an application memory management 'lowmmemorykiller' background application/daemon which applies various settings to keep certain software in memory for fast app loading times. Whilst in general I don’t put as much value into this as some other people do, I did however notice that in everyday use the phones did need to reload applications more often. There have been user reports already that the phones are struggling to keep things open and alive in memory. "

    That's because software never compensates for skimping on the hardware. They could include more memory, but Google wants to push you into the cloud for everything. They could include removable storage but Google thinks people who use USB sticks every day will be confused.

    If it weren't for the fact that every other vendor seems to be dumber than a sack of doorknobs, Pixels would be going nowhere fast, but that isn't saying much. Lenovo essentially killed Motorola, Nokia won't sell anything of significance in the US, and everyone else can't resist product positioning by skinning the life out of Android.
    Reply

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