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Pixel 3 XL redux: It hasn't aged well...
Google’s recent Pixel 4 release has divided the tech community thanks to the company’s controversial decisions. The device’s lack of an ultra-wide camera, the diminutive battery size, and the relatively high price have all made for a bumpy launch.
Although, saying that, whose launch has been watertight this year? That got me thinking — how’s the Pixel 4’s predecessor doing after 12 months? Is the Pixel 3 XL still worth buying, or should you instead opt for one of the many great-value smartphones on the market today?
Visually, the Pixel 3 XL hasn’t aged incredibly well, since most phones in 2019 have either a small notch, a punch hole, or a pop-up selfie camera. The sizable cutout, on the front, dubbed the “bathtub notch” by some, while utilized well, stands out like a sore thumb even more so now than a year ago. Even the most affordable smartphones on the market are going to lengths to maximize perceived quality when it comes to hiding the selfie camera, often superseding the Pixel 3 XL.
The Pixel 3 XL certainly stands out in 2019, and not for the right reasons. From the unorthodox rear backing, to the use of a single rear camera, to the lack of a high refresh rate display, all the way to the physical capacitive fingerprint reader. It pales in comparison to the current crop of flagship killers and, of course, the more up-to-date Pixel 4 and 4 XL.
The story, unfortunately, continues to performance and battery life. Simply put, 4GB is not enough RAM, and 3,430mAh is not a large-enough battery. It’s not an unbearable experience — far from it — but it’s not up to 2019 standards, and it shows. RAM management is quite aggressive, so background apps quickly close when piled up.
The phone falls short of a full day of usage more times than not, on top of the slow (by today’s standards) 18W charging. If you’re an avid gamer or a power user, the Pixel 3 XL really isn’t for you, and you’ll be topping it up more than once a day. The Pixel 3a XL, in our testing, was far superior in battery life due to its lower-resolution display, bigger battery, and more efficient SoC.
In our battery testing, the Pixel 3a XL comes out far superior.
The Pixel 3 XL doesn’t feel as quick as the same-generation OnePlus 6. That’s important because the OnePlus 6 costs significantly less on the used market, with more RAM, an arguably nicer design, and faster charging. The issue isn’t necessarily the Pixel 3 XL’s current performance, but rather how long it’ll be before the inevitable performance problems.
Continue reading: OnePlus 6 and 6T redux
It’s no surprise that the device is running Android 10, and that it will likely get the next two versions of Android. The software still feels clean and smooth, with many of the latest features being available here. In fact, I’d say that along with the camera, the software is the reason to buy the Pixel 3 XL in 2019, going into 2020. As a previous Nexus user, I’m certainly partial to clean skins of Android, and the Pixel gives me all that I need when it comes to software experience.
The Pixel 3 XL is known for its great computational photography performance, and that’s still an undeniable reason to buy one over the competition. This camera hangs with all but the best of what 2019 has to offer, and is even known to beat the likes of the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7T Pro.
The Pixel 3 XL is certainly still a fantastic camera, though not nearly as versatile as what we’ve come to expect from smartphones in 2019. The single rear 12MP camera produces some great images with superb dynamic range and sharpness, though its software skews the color temperature towards warmer tones. Portrait mode and night mode are as great as you’d expect from a Pixel, too, with Google’s Astrophotography mode expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Continue reading: Google Pixel 3a XL camera review: Category leader!
Having the option to go wide or ultra-wide on the front camera is an awesome feature that I miss on other smartphones. Selfie portraits are still top of the game in my opinion, even after a year down the line. It’s just a shame that the lack of versatility is a real concern and why I’d not even consider a Pixel as my personal phone — I need that ultra-wide rear camera.
Even before comparing the price of the Pixel 3 XL to the 3a XL, I’m recommending the 3a version. Looking at Google’s and Amazon’s pricing, both sit just below £500, and despite what you might first assume, the 3a XL is the better phone in my opinion. I prefer the design, the battery is better, and the cameras are so close that it’s not worth picking the regular 3 XL over the more budget-oriented option.
If you’re not looking for a Made By Google device, for this price or cheaper you can pick up a Mi 9T Pro, realme X2 Pro, or OnePlus 6T. I’d take any three of these over the 3 XL, thanks to their more feature-packed designs and better value for money.
So with all that said and done, is the Pixel 3 XL worth buying in 2019? Not unless you get a really good deal. It sacrifices so much, with its camera and software being the only redeeming factors, both of which can be had on the better and cheaper 3a XL.
What I’ve learned from my time with the Pixel 3 XL is that it’s nothing special when it comes to hardware, and is sometimes even less than average for its price class, meaning that Google relies on software to keep it feeling fresh. That’s all well and good, but competing phones have great software and great hardware. You need both, to compete in 2019, and Google hasn’t got it.