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Google Pixel 3 XL is a thinking person’s flagship smartphone
4.3Overall Score

The Google Pixel 3 XL is the perfect symbiosis of Android Pie and Qualcomm 845 system-on-a-chip (SoC) hardware. Apart from some secret sauce in the camera co-processor and a mysterious Titan M security chip, it is a 100% Qualcomm reference design.

Why is that important?

Many makers wrap other brands of components around a Qualcomm SoC. In some cases, it is for cost competitiveness and in others for supply chain control etc. Often it results in compromises to performance, but you don’t know that – all you see is a Qualcomm 845 SoC. Google Pixel 3 XL does not do that.

Imagine buying a V8 muscle car only to find that massive engine’s power marred by a mishmash of inferior parts and cheaper workarounds – you are never going to get maximum performance or reliability. The Qualcomm 845 SoC is that V8 and it works best with a full suite of Qualcomm parts like its X20 LTE modem, Bluetooth, Adreno GPU, Hexagon AI DSP, Quick Charge 4++ and onboard security.

Then there is the right fuel, and that is Android Pie. Pure unadulterated Pie that exploits all of Qualcomm’s hardware smarts. No ham-fisted chefs cooking up their own UI (User Interface) stew. Google and Qualcomm are a marriage made in heaven.

From that viewpoint alone Google deserves a 10 out-of-10 for effort and sticking to a reference design. Is the Pixel 3 XL (and the smaller Pixel 3) a 10-of-10 too? Read on.

How we rate phones

We use robust paradigms to assess phones in different categories. Price is a major delineator:

  • Flagship >$1000
  • Mid-to-high $500-999
  • Mass-market $200-499
  • Value pre-paid <A$199

Then over a week or so of real-world use we compare specifications to performance, e.g. what is missing or what is punching above its weight.

The Pixel 3 is $1,199/1,349 for a 64/128GB and Pixel 3 XL is $1,349/1,499 – so we review it as a flagship-class device.

There are two issues with the price paradigm.

First, is that Apple has upped the flagship ante to an eye-watering $2,346 for the iPhone XS Max 3/512GB. Is it fair to use the same paradigm on the Pixel 3 XL as a phone costing almost double that?

From a tech perspective, there are now many niche segments of the flagship market, just as there are emerging new segments all down the line. And many makers are selling last seasons flagships at lower prices – there is nothing wrong with them either.

For example, LG’s amazing G7 ThinQ* ($799), LG V30+ ThinQ, HTC U12+* ($1199), Sony Xperia XZ premium ($799), Sony XZ2* ($949), OPPO Find X* ($1,099), Huawei P20 Pro ($1,099), Apple iPhone 6 ($979), Apple iPhone 8 Plus ($1,149) , Samsung Galaxy S8 ($997), Google Pixel 2 XL ($999), and Nokia 8 Sirocco* ($999).

So, for this review, we are going to leave price out of the equation and look at it as a Qualcomm 845 based device. We identify these as * above.

Why mention all the competition in a Google Pixel 3 XL review?

Apologies to Google for mentioning all the fierce competition. But it makes the point that a phone needs to rise above the others and appeal to a market that the others don’t address.

The Pixel 3 XL is a thinking person’s phone.

For the right person it is a unique phone – bar none. That person appreciates pure Android Pie and three year’s operating system (OS) upgrades (Android Q, R, and S) as well as guaranteed timely security updates. Linux and Nexus users rejoice!

Let’s explore the OS upgrades. Android O was good; Android P is even better with a raft of new AI features, battery management, screen management, background app management, faster performance, gesture interface, digital wellbeing (tells you if you are addicted to the phone) and multi-point Bluetooth – to name a few.