Well, we have reached the last of the 2018 phone offerings. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL were released by Google in October. I have been a fan of the Pixel line since the first one came out and Google just keeps making them better. Both phones grew a little bit this year. The Pixel 3 is up to 5.5″ (from 5″) and the XL is up to 6.3″ (from 6″). But you can hardly tell the size difference.
The phone has a gorgeous display and has no problem with being used on a sunny day, provided you have the brightness all the way up. And they just feel great in the hand. They kept the fingerprint sensor in the center of the back of the phone, right where your finger wants to land when you pick up the phone. After a few tries, by the time you’ve got it settled in your hand, it’s already unlocked and ready to use. A nice design features Google added for the music lover is the Pixel 3 features dual front-facing speakers which are easily able to fill up the room with sound — Google says they are 40% louder than the Pixel 2. And when you aren’t wanting to blast your tunes to the neighborhood, Google was also kind enough this time to give both USB-C earbuds in the package — they look just like the Pixel Buds, but are not wireless — as well as a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter for those of us that prefer our existing headsets. The dreaded notch that started with the iPhone X pops up on the larger 3 XL to accommodate the dual front facing 8 MP camera, but you’ll hardly notice it after the first day. The back cameras check in at 12.2 MP this time. Other hardware upgrades to this model are the wireless charging (about time!) and the IP68 water resistance that can now go deeper at up to 6 feet for longer up to 30 minutes.
But what makes this phone standout is the software. Google added AI to the phone for many purposes. The first is how it adapts the camera to get the best shot. Top Shot allows you to backup or advance a photo after it has been taken to find the best option on the photo — right before someone blinks, or the kid goes running off, etc. The dual front 8 MP cameras allow for a wide angle to fit more people into a selfie. Combined, these are some of the best cameras in a smartphone yet. It also has a 2x digital zoom that the AI stabilizes the picture before snapping it. And finally, Motion Auto Focus, which when turned on will follow a moving object to keep it in focus.
Android 9.0 Pie adds a slew of cool new features — a few of the most used is the ability to swipe up to display open apps, then swipe them up to close them. It is a much faster way to close apps. And you can scroll all the way to the left to close all. Also, the ability to long press on an app to see options for shortcuts, like press the Phone app and see the first 3 favorites to quick call, or Messaging to respond to recent texts or launch a new conversation. You still have Google Assistant available by voice or with a quick squeeze at the bottom of the phone. But now with Duplex, the advanced Assistant, it can make calls for you to get information, book appointments and reservations, and a lot more that aren’t quite ready to test yet.
Finally, the best AI feature on this phone is the Screen Call. When you get a call from an unknown number, you have the option to Screen Call. When pressed, Google answers the call and reads a script saying that you are using a Google Screen Calling app and asks them to state their name and the reason for the call. Then, when they respond, it types out their response in a very accurate transcript. You have the option to ask for more information, ask for a call back, answer the call, decline the call, or report as spam. In real life usage, though, I have noticed a lot of people don’t pay attention to the initial recording and think they are leaving you a voicemail — and since there is no record of it after they disconnect, getting a call back number can be hard if you didn’t answer the call. That is not a fault of the phone, but is certainly a downside to the feature. However, I’ve found that if it is a robo call, they either disconnect immediately, or when I read that they are calling to reduce my credit debt or offer insurance, I can easily decline. And if it is a real person, I have usually picked up before they get done with their “message”.
All told, late 2018 brought us a slew of great phones. Google being the last to the party allowed them to put out a near perfect phone. Now, how about some truly wireless headsets and a watch, Google?