Google Pixel 3 review: the world’s best Android smartphone is coming to Asia

A fanboy’s hands-on review with Google’s latest Pixel 3.

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Google Pixel 3 review: the world’s best Android smartphone is coming to Asia

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I’m going to come out and say it right at the start. I think the Google Pixel 3 (and specifically the XL) is the best smartphone Google has made, and I actually think it’s the best Android smartphone available in the market today.

All told, the Pixel 3 represents a sublime combination of ultra sleek hardware and fast, reliable software that is just more satisfying and smarter than the competition – and now equally notch-ey. It’s that smartness that gives Google an edge, and it’s why I ultimately switched over from my iPhone 7 to a Pixel 2 last year (and a Pixel 3 this year, rather than going for an iPhone XS).

Artificial intelligence is taking over the world (and probably my job, soon), so I figure I might as well be along for the ride. Google does AI services and the whole assistant thing better than Apple (sorry Siri!) and even Amazon (sorry Alexa, you’re close but no cigar), and coupled with an all-glass finish and delicious software it packs a truly potent punch. Just look at the new call screen feature powered by Google Duplex (US-only for now)!

The Pixel 3 is a cocktail of exquisite destruction (to other Android smartphones that dare challenge it) residing in my pocket, and a cocktail that when consumed makes me laugh in a slightly maniacal, evil way.

Super premium design meets the world’s best camera, and it’s all smarter

OK, seriously though, let’s go through the things I like, because there’s literally nothing I didn’t like about this phone. But first, here’s what Neil Shah, Partner at Counterpoint Research, had to say about the Pixel 3 launch in an email to KrASIA:

Google has its work cut out in Asia, especially in the premium segment with competition being fierce [from] Chinese rivals such Huawei, OPPO, Vivo and OnePlus. Google had less than 1% share in smartphones in Asia and less than 3% share in the premium segment at end of Q2 2018. Also, limited reach in terms of distribution and sales compared to Samsung and others limits the total opportunities for Google to grow and make a mark. In Asia, Japan, India, Australia and Singapore remain the key markets for Google Pixel 3. The pricing for Pixel 3 is a little bit competitive when compared to iPhone XS but on par with Galaxy S9 as an Android alternative.

The Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 3 XL (centre) on display by Google.

And here’s Bryan Ma, Vice President at IDC, also in an email to KrASIA:

Similar to the U.S., I don’t expect the new Pixel to make a big impact in terms of unit share in Asia, as the product caters to a niche audience of high-end Google-centric users. Moreover, it’s actually in Google’s interests *not* to ship too many units, lest it alienate its Android partners. That said, it is a very well-done product with some unique differentiation particularly in computational photography… but that might not be obvious to mass market users who are getting bombarded with pitches from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and Apple every day.

OK, so as we can all see, the Pixel 3 is still very much an underdog. But a small dog can inflict maximum damage when it bites in the right place. And Google is biting in all the right places here.

What I love about the Pixel 3

  • Top-NOTCH: I actually like the notch! After seeing my friends using their shiny new iPhone X’s, I resigned to the view that the notch did have a place in the future (at least near future) of smartphones. More screen real estate is a good thing, and I like relegating the status bar up top to notch terrain, freeing up everything below for whatever content I’m consuming, or task I’m working on, at any given time.
  • All-glass design: Super sleek, feels ultra premium, and the screen is edge-to-edge in the same way as the iPhone X’s is. Allows for wireless charging. It’s a light device, but critics would be hard-pressed to say it feels any less exquisite in the palm than an Apple or Samsung (something that wasn’t quite as true for the Pixel 2). It comes in three colours: white, black, and an off-white pink. The volume rockers and power buttons have been improved, and the fingerprint scanner round back is lightning fast. As before, no headphone jack. USB-C.
The Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 3 XL (right) side by side and face up on a work top, showing the default wallpaper Google is shipping them with.
  • Camera: As you would expect from the successor to the Pixel 2, these cameras (front and back) are the best in the world bar none. Enough said, seriously. Google has actually done a lot on the software side of the camera experience on the Pixel 3 that I’m not going to get into here in any depth, but it’s stuff that I actually use. As two examples, you may want to read up more on Google Lens (ie copy text straight from a photo) and Top Shot. Not essential by any means, but stuff that is actually useful and leverages Google’s lead in AI and machine learning. I also liked the front-facing cameras’ (there’s two of them) new option to pan out for wider capture mode that is great for group selfies. Oh yeah, and Google is giving unlimited storage for photos backed up to its cloud service.
  • Performance & sound: This thing is lightning fast in daily use, with 4GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 845. Yummy! The sound is rich and loud thanks to the front-facing speakers, and doesn’t muddy when turned up. Small details of using the Pixel 3 are oddly satisfying: specifically, the improved taptic engine can’t be over-emphasised. It’s small and perhaps some would say insignificant, but I think it’s delightful and shows extreme attention to detail that is present in spades across the device.
  • Display: Let’s talk a little bit more about the 6.3-inch OLED display (XL). It’s gorgeous  – again, not something that can be claimed of the Pixel 2, which did look quite washed out. The colour reproduction here is far more accurate than its predecessor. For those that want a more saturated look, you have the option to boost colours in settings. But let me just skip the specs and say this: this is a screen that won’t disappoint (and the Gorilla Glass 5 means it will be more resistant to drops).
  • Software: Android P shows us that Google can go toe-to-toe with Apple on software. The whole operating system has got to the point where I’m genuinely satisfied with it through and through, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. Android has matured in a beautiful way, and it’s now so polished smartphones that Google is turning to other devices (ie the Slate) for new challenges. I think here it’s also worth mentioning that with this being a Pixel device, it will get Android updates first, as soon as Google releases them. That puts it on par with the iPhone in terms of reliability, longevity, speed and performance, and frankly security, too.
Martin Geh, Managing Director of APAC Partnerships at Google, announces the Pixel 3 on stage in Singapore.
  • Price: Look, you get what you pay for (this starts at US$799 and US$899 for the 3 and 3 XL respectively). Sure, you could go with something like the OnePlus 6 for a bit less, but you’re not getting the world’s best camera or as nice hardware. Also, I’m pretty sure this screen looks better and is more reliably supported by software updates (see the point above). In terms of competing at the same price point, you can find as good hardware (minus the camera) but not really superior in any obvious way – and certainly not among Android alternatives.
  • Battery: I found the battery on the XL (3430mAh) didn’t last as long as my Pixel 2, but it still got me through a full day of regular use. If it doesn’t last quite as long, that’s not surprising given the larger OLED display. I suspect the Pixel 3 (non-XL version) actually lasts longer than the Pixel 2.

Conclusion

Well folks, that’s it! I never said this would be the most in-depth or thorough review out there. There are plenty of places you can go to read the nitty-gritty. But it gets across my main impressions having come from the Pixel 2 and iPhone 7 before that – and I hope it gets across that I love this device a heck of a lot.

Just before we end, I asked Martin Geh, Managing Director for APAC of Hardware Partnerships at Google, how important the Asia market is for the new Pixel 3 line up. This is what he had to say to KrASIA:

“Our goal is to offer the best Google experience to more people around the world. We are committed to making our family of Made By Google products more available in Singapore and around Asia. This year, we launched the Pixel 3 and 3 XL in 13 countries including two new countries in Asia – Japan and Taiwan.”

The Pixel 3 is available for pre-orders starting 10 am today on the Google Store and will be officially launching in-stores at Singtel and StarHub on 1 November. Singtel and StarHub customers will be able to purchase the Pixel 3 phones with plans from their carriers directly. Pixel 3 starts at S$1249 and Pixel 3 XL starts at S$1399. The Pixel Stand is priced at S$119.

The new Pixel Stand, launched alongside the Pixel 3 for wireless charging and docking.