Hands on: Google Pixel 3 XL review

A focus on Assistant and the camera

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

An accomplished smartphone that doesn't dazzle with headline-grabbing features, but one that's set to delight with all-round performance and a strong camera offering.

For

  • Large, bright, colorful display
  • Plenty of power
  • Decent stereo speakers

Against

  • Design feels a little old
  • No headphone jack

The Google Pixel 3 XL arrives with Google making a couple of bold claims on its behalf. The search giant says this – along with its smaller sibling the Google Pixel 3 – is the world's most helpful phone with the world's best camera.

We won't be able to provide you with a definitive answer on whether those claims are true in this hands-on Google Pixel 3 XL preview, but we've spent some time with the handset at the Made by Google launch event to bring you our early thoughts.

Keep an eye out for our in-depth Google Pixel 3 XL review in the coming weeks to find out just how helpful this phone is – but for now here's what you need to know, and what we make of the handset so far.

Watch our video hands on of the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL below

Google Pixel 3 XL release date and price

The Google Pixel 3 XL release date is set for October 18 in the US, and November 1 in 12 more countries including the UK and India. Google Pixel 3 XL pre-orders open today in the US, UK and a number of other countries.

The Google Pixel 3 XL price is $899 (£869, AU$1,349) SIM-free for the 64GB storage variant, and $999 (£969, AU$1,499) if you fancy 128GB of space.

Design

Google Pixel 3 XL

The Google Pixel 3 XL looks pretty similar to the phone it's replacing, the Google Pixel 2 XL, with the search giant opting for subtle design tweaks rather than a completely re-imagined handset.

You do get a tall display, complete with notch at the top, which keeps the look modern, but there's still a sizable chin at the base of the screen.

You also get dual front-facing speakers, which at least provides an obvious reason for the bottom bezel existing, and they're 40% more powerful than the stereo speakers on the Pixel 2 XL.

What's good though, is that the Google Pixel 3 XL keeps the same form factor as its predecessor while increasing the size of the screen. This means the Pixel 3 XL still sits pretty comfortably in the palm, and it isn't difficult to use one-handed.

Round the back, the dual-contrast glass design remains, but Google has reduced the size of the glossy glass section at the top of the device, for a cleaner look. The muted finish which takes up the majority of the rear actually feels like rubber, providing a highly grippy – and fingerprint-free – surface, while remaining glass. It looks, and feels, great.

Google Pixel 3 XL

Google has resisted making the jump to a dual rear-facing camera, with a single snapper residing in the top-right corner alongside an LED flash.

You get a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner which is easy to find with your forefinger, while the power/lock key on the right of the handset is pretty easy to locate – although some will find it a little high up the side to reach instinctively.

You'll be able to pick the Google Pixel 3 XL up in three colors: Just Black, Clearly White and Not Pink.

Display

The Google Pixel 3 XL has a 6.3-inch OLED display with HDR support, and Google says this is the best Pixel screen ever.

It has an 18:9 aspect ratio and a QHD (1440 x 2960) resolution, ensuring everything looks crisp, clear and generally very good.

Google Pixel 3 XL

Camera

The Google Pixel 3 XL main camera is just a single-lens 12.2MP offering on the rear of the phone – rather than the dual (and even triple) setup that's popular on flagships at the moment.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as the single camera on the rear of the Google Pixel 2 XL was very impressive, and we have high hopes for the Pixel 3 XL camera.

There's a new camera mode too, called Top Shot. This sees the Pixel 3 XL automatically capture a burst of shots, and pick the best of the bunch – you can scroll through all the shots if you want a different look.

You'll need to ensure 'motion' is turned on for this to work – it's one of the icons at the top of screen when in the standard camera mode – which sees the handset capture three seconds of video with each shot. It will then highlight what it believes to be the best shot in the gallery – and during our brief time with the handset it worked well.

You can edit the depth of field (background blur) in a portrait shot, and you can also opt for a color pop effect, which makes the background black and white while keeping your subject in color for a more striking shot. 

As the Google Pixel 3 XL only has a single rear camera the background effect is applied digitally through the camera software, and it works impressively well.

Round the front you’ll find two 8MP cameras, with the second a Group Selfie cam with a wide-angle camera, giving you more room to fit in more landscape and/or more of your buddies. There's a zoom slider on screen, allowing you to easily jump between the two lenses.

Google Pixel 3 XL

Battery and performance

Unsurprisingly, the Google Pixel 3 runs pure Android 9 Pie, the latest operating system from Google. It feels smooth and fast under the finger, but we'll put it through its paces more thoroughly during our in-depth review.

Under the hood you'll find a Snapdragon 845 chipset with 4GB of RAM, which delivers a decent slug of power and should keep everything ticking along nicely.

The Google Pixel 3 XL battery has a 3430mAh battery – that's a little smaller than the 3,520mAh pack in the Pixel 2 XL, although efficiency improvements brought by Android Pie will hopefully mean improved battery performance overall.

The Pixel 3 supports wireless charging, allowing you to top up the handset with any Qi wireless charging pad (sold separately).

Google Pixel 3 XL

Early verdict

The Google Pixel 3 XL is an incremental upgrade over the Pixel 2 XL, with a slightly improved camera, display and design, along with new software and more power under the hood.

It looks and feels like an accomplished smartphone, and while it won't dazzle with any show-stopping, headline-grabbing features, it's set to delight with all-round performance and a strong camera offering.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.