Update: Google has just announced and released the Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, mid-range alternatives to the Pixel 3 flagships. These new phones keep some of the impressive features of the high-end phones, like Active Edge and some of the camera tech, but they've also got some lower specs to account for a price tag that's roughly half of what you'd be paying for the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. If you're on the market for a big Google phone, consider what the Pixel 3a XL offers after you've checked out this review.
The Google Pixel 3 XL is the big-screen, best-camera phone combination of 2019, a one-two punch that offers an expansive, color-rich display that takes photos your friends won’t believe came from a smartphone. While other handsets are rising to take the crown away, like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and the Huawei P30 Pro, the Pixel 3 XL is still arguably the best camera phone.
The 12.2MP rear-facing camera is the first reason to consider this Android Pie-touting handset, and the two front-facing cameras – the extra lens is for group selfies – are the second and third reasons. Google’s phone has an edge in picture-taking over everything we’ve tested so far, and still holds its own into 2019.
The Pixel 3 XL has the same cameras, dual front-facing speakers, Snapdragon 845 chipset, and 4GB of RAM as the one-hand-friendly Google Pixel 3. But the XL version has the edge on its younger sibling with a larger 6.3-inch bezel-reduced OLED screen and higher-capacity 3,430mAh battery.
Normally, we prefer the bigger screens outright, but the Pixel 3 XL has a hard-to-ignore notch cut out at the top of the display, which is noticeably deeper than the iPhone XS Max notch. That's a design quirk – controversial among Pixel fans – which is meant to offer a little more room for notification icons, the time, and the battery life percentage, in snippets flanking the selfie cameras and speaker housed in a cut-out in the display's top-center.
It does give you more screen, sure, but not to the extent that the 6.3-inch diagonally measured spec suggests. To us, the 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and 6.4-inch Note 9 screens feel a bigger and more immersive, and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus promise to mainstream the punch hole camera for even more screen real estate.
Google’s design approach is more functional than fashionable, favoring its selfie twin cameras with a bit of asymmetrical screen distraction.
The Google Pixel 3 XL ends up being the best option for people who want photos as flawless as they come on a smartphone, and are already used to a wielding sizable handset. It’s hard to downsize, even if the tighter dimensions of the 5.5-inch Pixel 3 are a better fit for most people. It doesn’t have everything – there’s no microSD card slot or headphone jack – but if you’re willing to embrace the notch design, you’ll get consistently great photos paired with a fairly big screen.
Watch our first impressions of the Google Pixel 3 in video form below...
Release date and price
The Google Pixel 3 XL release date was Thursday, October 18 in the US, and November 1 in the UK and Australia, and it launched thereafter is Canada, France, Germany, Japan, India, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and Taiwan. Pre-orders started on October 9, right after the New York launch event.
The Pixel 3 XL price is $899 (£869, AU$1,349) SIM-free for the 64GB storage variant, and $999 (£969, AU$1,499) for the maxed-out 128GB configuration. If you want more space, you’ll have to turn to cloud storage because there’s no microSD card on Pixel phones.
The Google Pixel 3 XL doesn’t push smartphone design in a revolutionary new direction like the new Huawei View 20, but it does see some satisfying change over last year’s Pixel 2 XL. Gone is the glass-and-aluminum back in favor of an all-glass two-tone look. It’s made of shiny glass at the top and a textured matte glass finish for the lower 80%.
You get a more seamless transition between the two textures with the soft-touch glass back made of the same Corning Gorilla Glass 5 that protects the front screen. There’s an aluminum frame that binds the front and back pieces of glass together – the only bit of metal you’ll see.
The Pixel 3 XL fits into one hand, but takes two hands to operate and it’s a little more slippery to hold than the Pixel 2 XL. The difference isn’t Earth (or phone) shattering, though we did end up preferring the tighter dimensions of the standard Google Pixel 3 for this reason.
The all-glass design has two benefits. First, LTE signals travel more easily through a glass phone than an aluminum-backed smartphone. That’s going to become important as phone makers and carriers try to claim superior 5G speeds in 2019. Second, wireless charging is a part of Google’s hardware ecosystem again, something we haven’t seen since the plastic Nexus 6.
You’ll find smoother corners on the Google Pixel 3 XL – everything has been rounded off and flattened, giving Google’s Material Design software ethos a foothold within real life hardware. The frame edges are polished and the rear fingerprint sensor is flatter.
The smoother design won’t be enough to wow you next to other big phones. This doesn’t have an elegantly curved screen like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and the bottom chin stands out next to the iPhone XS Max. Notch or no notch, Google’s design isn’t winning any awards.
But the Pixel 3 XL is more functional: It has two selfie cameras, dual front-facing speakers, and Active Edge, allowing you to squeeze the sides of the frame to trigger Google Assistant. We prefer this over a dedicated AI button, something that annoys us about Samsung and LG’s new phones with dedicated, often-mispressed AI buttons.
Just know that the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack (exactly like the Pixel 2 XL), though it does come with USB-C earbuds in the box this year. You’re also not going to find a microSD card slot anywhere within the design. The 64GB and 128GB internal storage sizes are set in stone once you order them.
There are three muted Pixel 3 XL colors: Clearly White, Just Black and a pinkish Not Pink. We got two reactions from our Clearly White review unit: that it was the most sophisticated hue or that is looked a little cheap and plasticky. Everyone liked the hint of fresh mint color on the power button, a pleasing dab of color that’s exclusive to the Clearly White version.
Screen, notch and bezel
The Google Pixel 3 XL has a sizable 6.3-inch OLED screen with a 18.5:9 aspect ratio, a QHD+ resolution, and HDR Support with true black levels. It’s a higher-quality screen compared to the problematic P-OLED Pixel 2 XL screen we found to be desaturated and leave ghosting burn-in.
There’s also more display here and less bezel, with an 83% screen-to-body ratio (up from 76%), thanks to a 6.3-inch screen (up from 6 inches). The bigger screen fits in basically the same dimensions of 158 x 76.7 x 7.9mm. That’s some nice progress from the engineers at Google.
It’s two steps forward and one step back when you see the notch cut out at the top, however. No one we talked to liked it. A few people said they didn’t mind it too much. That’s as positive as things got. For us, when testing it day-to-day, we found it harder to ignore the deep notch when browsing websites and watching videos. It’s not as easy to overlook as the iPhone X notch.
But wait, we found some software tricks to fix this issue: Google’s hidden developer tools menu offers the ability to hide the notch, though the notification icons, time, and battery life percentage are pushed further down. A third-party app, Nacho Notch, is better. It puts all of that information within the blackened notch space. Why this isn’t a part of the phone by default is perplexing.
The notch cut out shouldn’t be a dealbreaker if you want the best-in-class Pixel 3 camera and desire your phone at the biggest size possible. The software tricks certainly help.