Backwards. While most mobile phone players are waging a merciless war over technical specifications or the number of photo sensors, Google is taking the opposite tack with its Pixel 3 and 3 XL. The firm is obviously partly aligned with the current guns with among others an OLED screen or a Snapdragon 845, but only one sensor, because Google bets on its software to get the best pictures. And the good news is that both terminals offer exactly the same thing, with one exception: the notch at the top of the screen, present on the XL.
This 2018-2019 vintage is also taking a very special turn in France as it is the first Pixel to be offered in France. So Google is trying it, after some reluctance, and we must understand them well. As the Pixel experience relies heavily on Google services, the latter must be available in French. Now that Assistant speaks the language of Molière, we can indeed estimate that they are ready for France. But Assistant isn’t everything. This year, the Gallic Pixel 3, is not yet the identical transposition of the American Pixel, since it is deprived of Screen Call which allows the telephone to pick up the phone for you, and transcribe in writing what your interlocutor says to you.
Still, we can be happy to finally see these products “Made by Google” in our countries to enjoy an immaculate Android experience. But is that enough for a market where competitors have had plenty of time to set up shop without fearing the Mountain View ogre? We’ll see it in the test.
No frankly renewed design, the Pixels 3 take up the aesthetic codes of the previous generations. The back side is made of glass, the upper part of which is made of glossy glass, while the lower part is matt. It’s very soft under your fingers, and it’s very pleasant.
Our white XL model has an apple green light button for a little more fun. This one is placed above the volume knobs which naturally fall under the fingers … understand therefore that the standby button is very badly placed. The number of times the volume has been pressed to put the phone to standby is now countless. This is a gross mistake on Google’s part.
At the front, things change a little depending on the model: the XL version will have a particularly thick, but not too wide notch. While the small model will have a full forehead. In both cases, the bass part is also thick compared to its main competitors, Google fortunately uses it to place a loudspeaker. We would have preferred the fingerprint sensor, but it’s in the back.
The pixels are therefore aesthetically set back from competing terminals such as the Galaxy S9 or the Mate 20 Pro and their sexy curved edges. On the other hand, they are not ugly, far from it and the matt glass is very pleasant.
At the end of 2018, Google had no choice but to use an OLED slab, and as with the competitors, there is not much to complain about. The colours are right, the viewing angles wide and the contrast infinite. The package also supports HDR.
It displays QHD+ 2960 x 1440 by 6.3 inches (in 18.5 / 9 format), this gives us a density of about 523 ppi. The Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch screen, this time displaying FHD+ (2160 x 1080), a 18/9 format with a resolution of 443 ppi.
Note the possibility to slightly adjust the color rendering in the preferences, via three small presets. It is impossible to set this “by hand”. A little software plus on the other hand with the “Now Playing” display that will make your album covers stand out when you listen to music, and thus show off your dubious musical tastes to everyone.
As for the screen, Google is in line with the rest of the market in terms of processor. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is therefore a natural choice for terminals. It’s proven to be the best, we don’t need to go on and on, it’s the best at Qualcomm. Nothing to be afraid of. One will simply notice a slightly more limited amount of RAM than the competition with 4 GB where 6 or 8 GB are more commonly found without any impact on overall performance in use.
The real novelties of this CPU part are actually based on two satellites: the Pixel Visual Coreand the “Titan M security module”, an HSM as we say in the jargon. The first one will allow to calculate everything related to the capture of photos locally, without the need to use Google’s cloud. The second one secures the boot sequence and stores encryption keys for increased security.
You will find in these Pixel 64 or 128 GB of storage that you will not be able to extend, choose wisely, but be aware that with a Pixel the storage of pictures on Google Photos is unlimited. No slots for a second SIM to report either. Smartphones, on the other hand, are IPx8 certified and can therefore be submerged for 30 minutes without damage at a depth of less than 2 metres.
3400 mAh is the capacity of the Pixel 3 XL. In the norm here again for a result which is however above average, even if in reality you will not last 2 “effective” days on a single load, but rather a day and a half. It’s good enough, but Google is not reaching new heights. On the other hand, we appreciate the quick charge, about 1h30 to recharge the batteries.
The Pixel Stand is a very nice accessory
Even better, the Pixel Stand wireless charging dock is particularly efficient (for wireless charging) with 50% of the battery recovered in about an hour. The Dock (sold separately) also provides access to Voice Assistant or with a button and a summary of his day. Kind of like a mini Google Home, with the clock on top. It’s pretty nice on his nightstand. The dock is offered for the sum of 79 euros.
As we said in the introduction, Google hasn’t given in to the multi-sensor fad (at least on the back). A single 12.2MP sensor opening at f/1.8, but it works wonders in almost any situation. The magic of “Pixel Visual Core” works almost systematically to offer us pictures of a rare quality on smartphone. Even the current tenor Galaxy Note 9 is not resistant to this in almost all situations.
Overall, the Pixel 3 XL is doing better. Notice especially the sky, overexposed at Samsung
Pixels offer higher contrast and more accurate colors and better HDR handling. On the other hand, the smartphone picks up a little less light. Samsung’s f/1.5 aperture retains a slight advantage in low light in some situations (such as on our vinyls). Note 9 is outdated in others again on contrasts and colour accuracy. It’s when you zoom in that Pixel will start to have notable problems, especially beyond 2x, where the image will become coarser and where the colors will noticeably lose their fidelity.
On this 100% crop, the grain is more marked on Pixel 3 XL
On the other hand, on a whole panorama, the Pixel 3 XL is much better
In addition, smartphones offer a bokeh effect that is currently unrivalled on the market for portraits of rare quality. More anecdotal, we also find augmented reality which allows various characters to appear in the shot. It works, but once you get past the fun of the discovery, it’s hard to find any real interest in it. Finally, let us note that a forthcoming update will also bring a very low-light mode more efficient and whose anticipated results are simply amazing, it should finish to consecrate the Pixel 3 as the best photophone on the market.
At maximum zoom, Galaxy Note 9 does much better
At the front, however, we have a duo of 8 mpx sensors, the primary at f/1.8, the secondary at f/2.2. The latter has the particularity of being wide-angle, at 97°. It is therefore ideal for group selfies… or for capturing larger panoramas behind you. It’s nice, but we’ll retain some very satisfying shots. In the end, therefore, the photo part is clearly the biggest success of the Pixel and is at the top of the podium at the moment.
Who says Pixel also says pure Android experience and priority for new Android Updates. So we can find Android 9 “Pie” on this Pixel with all the new features. The most visible change is in the navigation. If there is still a “home” and return button, the multitasking button has disappeared.
It is now accessed by dragging up, which reveals suggested applications, the Google search bar, and multitasking panels. It’s practical on a daily basis and the suggestions for application are often the right ones, so much so that it’s sometimes surprising, not to say frightening.
On the other hand, there is one thing that is still missing on these Pixels: facial recognition. Now standard on all high-end phones, it’s surprising that Google didn’t integrate it on Pixel, forcing us to use the fingerprint sensor on the back to unlock the phone. It’s exhausting when you get used to using facial recognition.
Finally, there remains the sound part which, despite the double loudspeaker, did not particularly impress us, even if it is true that they allow to reach an appreciable volume. This can help. If you prefer headphones, please note that you will need to use the USB-C to jack adapter provided in the box. There is also a USB-C to A, by the way.
In the end, these Pixel 3s are especially convincing for their photo part and do not disappoint elsewhere or almost. The only real reproach we can give them is the lack of facial recognition. It’s a shame, because with this small defect Google seems immediately behind the competition, which today offers little extras (under-screen fingerprint sensor, triple photo sensors, etc.) that, when put together, give an advantage. So, it looks a bit like those Pixel 3s are coming in a little bit late. This is all the more true since at 959 euros, the tariff is not frankly contained. On the other hand, if you are looking for a high-flying photo experience first, don’t hesitate.