If you wanted, the Pixel 3 could be the last phone you ever buy.
Is that dramatic? Maybe so. After all, we’ve been conditioned to upgrade our phones every two years now – or, for some people, every year.
At this point, though, I have to assume that we’ve gotten about as far as we will for the foreseeable future in terms of technological advancements. Future smartphones might be slightly faster, might have slightly longer battery life, or maybe they will have slightly improved cameras. The design might change a bit – see: the notch – and tech companies might remove features you thought were a given, like the headphone jack.
But will the smartphone really be revolutionised anytime in the next few years? Or will we just keep seeing similar iterations on the same idea until the smartphone is replaced altogether? If you ask me, it’s the latter.
Which is why you could buy the Pixel 3 today and tune out for the next two years, or the next five years. This phone is about as good as it’s going to get.
Let’s start with the design, which is probably the least exciting thing about the Pixel 3.
Design-wise, the Pixel 3 is just about the same song-and-dance as the Pixel 2, and the Pixel 1 before it – with a few notable exceptions.
The most immediately obvious design change is the coating on the back, which has a softer feel this year. I don’t know any other way to describe it other than silky, and sort of pleasing. It was the first thing I noticed when I took it out of the box, and I’m still loving it.
Otherwise, the rest of the design alterations are less thrilling. This year’s model has a shiny finish along the outer edges, and it comes in slightly different colours: all black, white with an aqua power button, and a pale pink that Google is calling, for whatever reason, “Not Pink” (for what it’s worth, Not Pink is easily the best colour and the one I would choose).
The overall size of the Pixel 3 isn’t much different from the Pixel 2, and for that, I am grateful – it’s the perfect size for my hand.
There are two other new aspects of the Pixel 3 that are worth mentioning: wireless charging and USB-C earbuds.
Google added wireless charging to the Pixel 3, and it feels like the final necessary change to make the device your long-term phone.
Google built its own wireless charging stand for the Pixel, but it’s an extra $US80 and, to be honest, feels like an extravagance. It’s nice-looking, it works well, and it enables some nifty Google Assistant features, but you can also just … use a phone charger? Still, I appreciate that Google is being forward-thinking here, and if you’re passionate about wireless charging, you’ll be pleased with the Pixel 3 and the Pixel Stand.
The second change – or, should I say, addition – is USB-C earbuds. Google now includes them in the box when you buy a Pixel 3. They look great, and they fit significantly better than the Pixel Buds – in fact, they’re actually pretty similar to the wired EarPods that come with an iPhone. They don’t sound particularly amazing, but they don’t need to – they’re the perfect earbuds for taking a phone call or just walking around. And not for nothing, but they really stay in your ears.
The Pixel 3 has a gorgeous OLED display that perfectly showcases Android 9.0.
Like the Pixels before it, the standard-size Pixel 3 has a bright, beautiful (notch-less) OLED display – the better to showcase Google’s Android 9.0 “Pie” operating system.
I know that hardcore Android fans will probably disagree with me, but I loved the fact that the changes to Android make the Pixel feel more iPhone-adjacent.
I know, I know – classic iPhone user wanting everything to be more like an iPhone. But there’s a reason iPhones are so popular: they’re incredibly easy and intuitive to use. The changes to Android make the Pixel feel more approachable, and may even encourage more iPhone users to make the switch. Now, learning a new operating system doesn’t feel like such an intimidating proposition. Plus, the version of Android running on the Pixel 3 (which is stock Android and therefore, the best Android) is just plain better-looking than ever before.
The Pixel 3’s battery life is solid — but no better and no worse than before.
I’ve long found that Pixel phones have solid battery life, and the Pixel 3 is no exception. I was simultaneously using the Pixel 3 and the iPhone X, and found that they got about the same amount of life – somewhere between 15 and 18 hours on a single charge. Of course, I had enabled the “always on” display on the Pixel 3, which certainly had an impact on battery life.
All of this is to say, you won’t be disappointed by the battery life, but you won’t be wowed, either.
Now, to the best part: the camera. Let’s start with the front-facing camera(s).
Google made a big change to the selfie camera with the Pixel 3: it added a second lens, which is unheard of in Google’s hardware world.
For as long as it’s been making phones – three years, to be exact – Google has offered a gorgeous, high-end camera that requires only a single lens. That hasn’t changed, at least when it comes to the rear camera (more on that in a minute).
But adding a second lens to the front-facing camera was actually sort of genius, because you can literally see the usefulness before your eyes. The Pixel 3 now has a wide-angle selfie lens, which you can see in action when you try to take a selfie. You can zoom way out, which allows you to take ultra-wide selfies. This means you’ll be able to fit more people in the frame, or more of the background scenery, or both.
Here’s my first (and best) attempt at an ultra-wide selfie. It’s pretty neat!
I loved the ultra-wide selfie feature on the Pixel 3. I’m not a huge selfie-taker, but I think I’d actually take them more often if I had this phone. The wide-angle lens captures so much of the background that it makes the selfie camera infinitely more useful. Plus, there wasn’t too much distortion besides the arm-lengthening, which I actually appreciated.
The rear camera is fantastic on the Pixel 3, just like always.
Something Google has done well since the beginning, and continues to excel at, is its camera.
Let’s take a moment to really lay out what’s going on here: in only three years of selling smartphones, Google has built the best smartphone camera you can buy – better than Samsung or iPhone – that uses only one camera lens and costs less money. That’s an incredible feat.
Some anecdotal evidence for how good the camera is: my boyfriend is a professional photographer, and also a lifetime iPhone user. Now, whenever he pulls out the iPhone to take a photo of something, he immediately changes his mind and asks to borrow the Pixel 3 instead.
The iPhone takes beautiful photos, and houses a fantastic dual-lens camera system. But what Google has accomplished with the Pixel 3 is something that’s just … better.
That being said, I haven’t been able to truly put the camera through its paces just yet. My colleague Tony Villas-Boas and I will be snapping more photos in the coming weeks that showcase what the Pixel 3 can do. But in my first few days with the phone, I’ve been delighted by the results – and all the new features haven’t even arrived yet.
You can look up the specs of the Pixel 3 camera here, but that won’t do it justice – you need to use it for yourself.
Here’s a photo I snapped with the Pixel. What most impressed me was how it captured the detail of the building on the left, as well as the cloud details in the sky.
And portrait mode on the Pixel 3 remains super impressive. Here, it made my cookie look almost professionally shot (and especially delicious).
At $US800, the Pixel 3 is a little bit more expensive than I want it to be, but it’s easy to justify the price.
Google bumped the price of the Pixel 3 this year, making it $US150 more expensive than the Pixel 2.
It’s slightly disappointing that Google increased the price – the Pixel 3 is $US50 more expensive than the upcoming iPhone XR, and no longer feels like quite as good of a deal as it has in the past.
But if you frame it as the smartphone you could have for years to come, the Pixel 3 becomes a lot easier to stomach. Rather than spending upwards of $US1,000 every year or every two years, you could buy the Pixel 3 right now and just be done.
No, the Pixel 3 isn’t fancy, and it may not win any awards for design innovation. But it feels capable and durable, has an outstanding camera, and – whether you’re used to iPhone or Android – is surprisingly easy to adjust to.
The best way I can describe it is that the Pixel 3 doesn’t exactly feel exceptional to use because it feels like what you should have been using all along.
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