After I left the iPhone world, I was a Motorola phone fanatic for many years because, for me, my phone is often my camera. But when the Google Pixel came on the scene, I made the switch. However, after using the Pixel 2XL for a short time last year, the poor battery life had me running back to Moto. So when the Pixel 3XL came out, I was reluctant to give it a try; however, I can say that after using it for many months, it’s definitely the best smartphone for photography — and boasts a much better battery life than its predecessor.
Even if you aren’t taking photos as part of your job like I am, most people these days capture the bulk of their lives on smartphones. And that means you want a camera on your phone that’s responsive and has good automatic capabilities but also provides options for some basic and more advanced manual control as well.
The Google Pixel 3XL does it all with camera features to satisfy everyone:
- 12.2MP dual-pixel cameras that can capture both RAW and JPG files
- “Top shot” will detect the best timing for a photo and snap it
- Group selfies are a breeze with dual front-facing cameras that allow for three different widths (oh, and the camera applies a beauty filter automatically to every selfie!)
- Use the camera to shop or identify different things — just by pointing your lens at something
- “Super Res Zoom” does a solid job of keeping images clear, even when you zoom in
- “Night Sight” can take a photo in the dark and does a relatively good job of brightening details
- Videos are easy to shoot and you can pause for a brief period and continue shooting
- You can autofocus really quickly with the touch of a finger
- There’s a portrait mode that allows you to blur the background behind your subject
- The panorama option is BY FAR the easiest I’ve ever used! It actually takes stunning panoramic photos without needing a surgeon’s steady hand
- HDR+ is auto-on all the time
- Exposure compensation is easy to manage without even going into the manual controls — I use this for nearly every photo and it means much less editing later on
- Manual options include white balance, flash, timer, motion, HDR+ Enhanced and more
- Tap the power button twice in quick succession and your camera launches — without needing a password or fingerprint
- Search for photos in Google Photos using search terms like “baby,” “Tremblant” or “water” when you’re looking for something general OR specific and just can’t recall when you took it
Even unedited photos turn out really well with the Pixel 3XL:
To see how incredible the Pixel 3XL’s photos can be, I’ll direct you to my Intagram feed, where this pic and this pic and this pic and this pic and this pic (and many more!) were all taken with and only lightly edited right on my phone.
Truth be told, I rarely take my big DSLR or even my more compact mirrorless cameras with me anywhere anymore because the Google Pixel 3XL does as good a job in most situations. And in some, it does even better (like low-light food pics in a restaurant).
As a Google Pixel owner, you don’t have to worry about storage space in the cloud for your thousands of high-resolution pics and even 4k videos — because you get free, unlimited storage in Google Photos. This is HUGE for me, because I’m constantly worried about losing the photos on my desktop from when I was an iOS user.
Switching from one Android phone to the Pixel 3XL was dreamy. You press a button during set-up, plug your old phone into your new phone (provided your old phone also takes a USB-C) and that’s it. Everything transfers in minutes to your new Pixel. You’ll have to spend time customizing things like folders, but all of your apps will be there.
The Pixel 3XL charges fast. If I plug it in and TURBOcharge for just half an hour, I’ll get several hours of battery life.
Although I don’t use my phones bareback (they ALWAYS get a protective case — because I have children), if you did want to use a Pixel 3XL without a case, it’s extremely light and easy to grip. Plus it has a matte back so it won’t get all fingerprint-y.
I have the “Not Pink” colour and amp up the pink factor with a pink case and a pink POPsocket, but for those who aren’t as girly-girly as me, you’re still safe with the Not Pink. It’s more like Barely There Blush.
The Pixel 3XL’s 6.3-inch display is edge-to-edge gorgeous. I’ve binge-watched many a TV series on this phone quite comfortably.
I like being able to squeeze the sides of my Pixel 3XL to reach my Google Assistant. It works consistently and usually gets me the information I need or does what I ask easily — from setting alarms to looking up phone numbers and more.
The Pixel 3XL’s speakers are FANTASTIC. They don’t warp music, even at top volume, and they fill a small room better than expected.
There are earbuds in the box, but I’ve never used them, so can’t comment on how they sound, but when I use either my SkullCandy wired buds or my beloved Sudio wireless Bluetooth buds, the sound is excellent.
There are “digital well-being” tools available that can help you spend less time on social media and more time on life. It allows you to cap the amount of time you spend on specific apps, like the almighty Facebook, which may have you in such a trance most nights that you don’t realize you’ve lost two hours until it’s too late.
I can set daily routines, too, that set off a series of events. For example, if I create a morning routine that begins with “Good morning,” my Pixel 3XL will share the day’s weather, expected commute time to work, top news stories and more.
I also want to give a shout out to the Pixel Stand. I love this thing! It essentially acts like a Google Home mini when your phone is on it, plus it wirelessly charges your Pixel just as rapidly as if it were plugged right into the wall. It even makes the phone screen glow gradually brighter as your morning alarm approaches, helping you wake more naturally. There’s just one downside…
And that’s if you have a POPsocket and a protective case on your Pixel 3XL and try to use the Pixel Stand, it won’t work. And that’s a real bummer because most times I’m too lazy to take my phone out of its protective case just to use the Stand. Even though I otherwise love the it!
The only camera function the Pixel 3XL can’t seem to do is a slower shutter speed to capture moving water with the kind of artistic effect I can get with my proper cameras. But, so far, that’s really been it.
Although the battery on the Pixel 3XL is definitely better than the 2XL, I would still love to see some improvement. For a heavy user, it’s rare that I can make it through a full day (e.g. a one-hour train ride, meetings, conference calls, social media posts, event coverage and another train ride home 12-14 hours later). I invariably carry my trusty LifeProof LifeActiv portable external charger with me just in case.
It drives me crazy that the charging cord that comes with the Pixel phones doesn’t have one end that’s USB port-friendly. BOTH ends are USB-C! So if you want to plug your phone into, say, an external battery, you need a converter cord because the one that comes with the phone won’t work.
The built-in Google voice assistant only works haphazardly for me. I have these morbid thoughts of being in a car crash and trying to get my phone to call 911 using my voice commands and, by my calculations, it’ll only work once every 10 tries. Those are not good odds.
4/5 (if the battery life were to be improved, this would easily get a 4.5/5 rating)
DISCLAIMER: Google provided me with a Pixel 3XL and Pixel Stand to facilitate this review. All opinions my own.
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