Google Pixel 3 And Pixel 3 XL Review: Killer Camera, Android Refined

Google Pixel 3: Software, User Experience, And Camera

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL run a clean, unadultered installation of Android Pie 9 with Google Assistant, so there’s no funky skin or customization to speak of . The phone’s run Android as Google intends it. Google did, however, make a number of changes to the OS versus Android 8 Oreo...

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At first glance, Android Pie doesn’t have any glaring visual changes; the default home screen is pictured here along with the Google News feed that’s present if you swipe right. There have, however, been some tweaks made to the OS all around. The adaptive screen brightness algorithm to smooth transitions between brightness levels has been improved, HDR support is now native, and the adaptive battery technology of Android Doze is tuned to better balance performance and battery life. Of course, all of the little features of Oreo are also present, like squeezing to bring up Google Assistant, etc.

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There are new always-on screen options to display various data and notifications when the phone is locked and a new Slices feature shows relevant data for supported apps. For example, you could do a search in Lyft, and get prices and driver ETAs right within your results.

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Android Pie also has some navigation and app tweaks that will take some getting used to, if you’ve been riding along with phones from most other manufacturers. For example, the main home screen has the typical shortcuts at the bottom. Swipe up, and at first, you’ll be presented with the app switcher and another groups of shortcuts that dynamically change, based on your usage to show the apps you’re most likely to run. Swipe up again and you’ll get the full app tray. Volume adjustments now pop out from the side, near the volume rocker, and the soft buttons at the bottom will also adapt based on the app that’s running or where you are in the OS.

There is a new Dashboard feature that allows you to see which apps you're using most and gives you the ability to set timers. There’s also a new Do Not Disturb mode that can be activated by simply flipping the phone over and placing it on a surface face-down. For the enterprise, multiple users can now share a single device, work-related apps can have their own dedicated tabs, and IT managers also have the ability to postpone OTA updates.

Google Pixel 3 And Pixel 3 XL Camera Performance

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The Pixel 2’s camera array was considered the best of the previous-gen smartphones by many users and Google has optimized things even further with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The phones are outfitted with a 12.2MP dual-pixel camera with dual pixel phase detection autofocus, optical and electronic image stabilization, and a spectral and flicker sensor. The Pixel 3’s camera has an f/1.8 aperture and 76° FoV and can shoot 720p video at up to 240FPS, 1080p video at up to 120FPS, and 4K video at 30FPS. It is tuned for better low-light performance as well.

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The camera app looks just like what was offered in Oreo on the Pixel 3, but Google has made quite a few additions as well. The Pixel 3 has better portrait mode support, a new “color pop” feature for adding some style to portrait shots, and a “top shot” feature that leverages Google’s AI and face recognition technology to recommend the best images from a burst of photos. There is also a new motion auto-focus algo that'll track subjects in-frame and keep them in focus, Playground AR has some new models to play with, the Super Res Zoom improves digital zoom performance by leveraging multiple images captured as the phone moves in your hand, and a Night Shot mode is in the works to brighten up dark images, but it's not quite ready just yet -- Night Shot will be coming in a future update.

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Portrait mode worked exceedingly well for us. The software-based bokeh effect will never be perfect, especially when there are similar colors between the subject in the foreground and whatever is in the background, but it produces excellent effects nonetheless.

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The new Color Pop mode available when taking portrait shots has some similar limitations and may convert areas of the image to black and white that shouldn’t be (notice the wispy hairs on the top of my daughter’s head), but it too worked well for us. The background in images are converted to greyscale / black and white, while the subject is left in color. Because this is a software effect, you can tweak the final shot after the fact and alter background blur and focus point as well.

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Since most users are likely to simply use the camera in auto mode, we have a number of sample shots for you here. To put it simply, the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL take fantastic photos in auto mode. In this first shot, the detail and sharpness of the wires captured in the distance is impressive. The overall color/white balance, sharpness, and saturation also seems spot-on to us.

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Whether inside with incandescent lighting or outside with plenty of natural light, the Pixel 3 produced excellent photos. These samples have been reduced in size for the web, but are otherwise untouched. Notice the detail in the shot of the tree-tops, despite the sun shining through right into the camera. The pink flowers were shot during an overcast, and windy day, and still appear sharp and naturally lit. Small details and sharpness in the other shots looks good as well.

Of course, there are plenty of manual options users can tweak and modify as well, but even with minimal fuss, the Pixel 3 takes great photos. If camera performance is a top priority for you in a smartphone, definitely check out the Pixel 3. It may just be the best smartphone camera on the market currently.

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