It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about the Google Pixel 3. It launched in October 2018, and since then we’ve seen some really impressive smartphones hit the shelves. The Galaxy S10 series impressed us in more ways than we thought it would, and Huawei is pulling out all the stops with its P30 series this year.
But how does the Pixel 3 fit into all of this? Google is still charging borderline enormous prices for the Pixel 3 series, and many of you are probably wondering how well it’s held up over time.
I’ve been using the Google Pixel 3 since launch, and here are my thoughts after five months of use.
At launch, the Pixel 3’s camera was heralded by many as the best camera on any smartphone. I’d say that’s still true today, even after we’ve reviewed the Galaxy S10 Plus and Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
I’m not going to retread all of what Kris and David said in their full review, but my thoughts more or less line up with theirs. The Pixel 3 is probably the simplest camera experience that gets you the best pictures. Night Sight continues to blow my mind every time I use it, and I’ve found Top Shot to be mighty helpful, too.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the Pixel 3’s camera might be the best, but it’s not the most versatile. I don’t think Google’s Super Res Zoom feature is a 1:1 alternative to an actual telephoto lens, and with companies offering massive 40MP sensors and wide-angle lenses, the Pixel 3’s single 12.2MP sensor can’t really keep up with the versatility others are providing.
Still, I have no problem saying this is the best smartphone camera, period. You point, shoot, and get either a good or great photo every time. Speaking of which, if you’d like to see some full-size Pixel 3 samples, head here.
Software and updates
Aside from maybe the Essential Phone, the Pixel 3 is one of the first devices to receive monthly security patches. Google has recently improved the software update process, too. The Check for update button actually, really, finally checks for software updates. If one is available, your phone starts to download it.
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As for the software itself, I quite like most everything in Android 9 Pie. It’s remained pretty fast for me (more on that later), though I, like many of you, am not too fond of the way gestures work. I’d have to agree with Vlad Savov’s (The Verge) sentiment here: Google’s app switching gesture is a drunk version of Apple’s app switching gesture. Thankfully, it looks like Google is fixing gestures in Android Q, which will arrive first on the Pixel 3 in Q3.
This may be a contentious point, but I’ve had zero issues with the build quality of the Pixel 3. Many Pixel 3 owners have reported that the devices are easily scratched on the matte portion on the back. My phone does have a couple scratches, but it’s not any more scratched than any other device I’ve used after five months. My Clearly White model hides those scratches pretty well though — the Just Black version tends to show more scratches than any other color option.
If you’re thinking about buying the Pixel 3 anytime soon, I’d still recommend using a case. This phone is so slippery.
What’s not so good
Battery life is my least favorite part of the Pixel 3. Google’s never been close to providing Huawei or Samsung levels of endurance, but I was hoping the Pixel 3’s 2,915mAh cell, coupled with the lower-res display, would at least be able to last me an entire day. Perhaps I should’ve checked my expectations at the door.
I am by no means a power user. I work from home and answer all emails and phone messages from my computer. I only use my phone to check social media sites and stream podcasts throughout the day. Even with my limited usage, my Pixel 3 is running on fumes at the end of the day.
Like I said, I’ve been using the Pixel 3 almost exclusively since October 2018, and performance has changed from month to month.
The entire time I’ve used the Pixel 3, switching between apps, scrolling through social media — you know, normal phone stuff — has been a breeze. The phone isn’t without its quirks though. I was one of the unlucky folks who had their podcasts stop playing if they had too many apps open at once. Google ended up fixing that issue a few months later, and I’m happy to report I haven’t run into that problem since.
Up until March of this year, my Pixel 3 has suffered from lag when double-tapping the power button to launch the camera. The camera app would occasionally lag after taking photos as well, and I know lots of users have noticed a drop in camera speed after installing the March 2019 security patch. I’ve actually had the opposite experience — my Pixel 3 is running beautifully after the latest update.
Some of my other colleagues haven’t been so lucky. Andrew Grush has been dealing with general sluggishness, especially in Chrome, for months now.
This is why I have a hard time saying the Pixel 3 is a great performer. A lot of the bugs I experienced weren’t resolved for months, even though now everything is working just fine. I can’t tell you whether or not the performance issues are solely due to the paltry 4GB of RAM, but I’m sure some of these issues would be resolved if there were at least 6GB.
The thing is, Google intentionally doesn’t build smartphones with over-the-top specs — you won’t see a Pixel device with 12GB of RAM for a long time. The company puts in just enough to get by.
I’ve talked to a few Googlers about this — the fact that Pixel phones give you just what you need and not much in abundance. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I can’t say, but it will attract a certain type of user: not the people going after the Galaxy S10 Plus or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
I still very much agree with Kris’ sentiment towards the Pixel 3 in his initial review: It’s the iPhone of the Android world. It’s a phone that works well, and in my opinion offers the best Android experience on any phone right now. It’s not flashy, it’s not for everyone, but it’s still damn good.
Okay okay, this is just one person’s thoughts on the Pixel 3. Tell me what you think in the comments!