The Google Pixel 3 Review: The Ultimate Camera Testby Andrei Frumusanu on November 2, 2018 11:00 AM EST
- Posted in
- Snapdragon 845
- Pixel 3
The Pixel 3 is Google’s third generation in-house design, meant to showcase the company’s own view of what an Android device should be, whilst fully embracing Google’s first-party software applications and services. The one thing Google’s Pixel phones have become synonymous with is the camera experience. The Pixel 3 continues this focal point of the line-up, and promises to be “the best smartphone camera”, period.
Alongside Google's forte, software, this year's Pixel family has pushed forward with a few hardware design choices, some of which we might have liked to have seen last year. The new units have updated panel technology, integrated wireless charging, and even fast wireless charging. Also now for Google, the Pixel 3 actually looks like a current flagship smartphone, compared to the Pixel 2 which did not at the time.
This year’s Pixel 3 phones hope to maintain the software advantages, doubling down on them with various new innovative features, especially on the camera side, whilst addressing the hardware aspects to be considered a true vendor flagship of a very competitive generation.
In this full analysis of the Pixel 3, we'll cover the hardware, the design, the software, and a detailed look to what makes users rave about the camera. We've tested over 18 current and former high-end smartphones worth of cameras to get to our conclusions, with all the analysis contained within these few pages. Commentary is of course, more than welcome.
It should be noted that for this review, unfortunately we only were able to get our hands on a regular Pixel 3, colored in 'Not Pink'. We do hope that sometime in the future we’ll be able to do a battery update on the bigger Pixel 3 XL once we’re able to source one.
Pixel Hardware and Design
In terms of hardware specifications, the new Pixel 3 family follows the many Android flagships trend of this year: at the heart of the phones, the Snapdragon 845 SoC is powering the devices. 2018 has been an excellent competitive year for Qualcomm and the S845 was able to take the performance lead among its Android competition. One thing to note here if you’re considering a Pixel device is that Google’s release schedule is very much out of sync with the silicon vendor’s SoC lineups - meaning users investing in a Pixel are buying a flagship phone whose silicon is by now 8 months old, and will most likely will be superseded by its successor in just a few months’ time. For those that want the leading edge, the Pixel 3 might be a short lived experience. However that doesn't detract from what is under the hood today.
|Google Pixel 3 Family|
|Pixel 3 (reviewed)||Pixel 3 XL|
4x Kryo 385 Gold (Cortex A75 based) @ 2.80 GHz
4x Kryo 385 Silver (Cortex A55 based) @ 1.76 GHz
|GPU||Adreno 630 @ 710MHz|
2160 x 1080 (18:9)
2960 x 1440 (18.5:9)
|Size||Height||145.6 mm||158.0 mm|
|Width||68.2 mm||76.6 mm|
|Depth||7.9 mm||7.9 mm|
|Weight||148 grams||184 grams|
|Rear Camera||12.2 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm,
OIS, dual pixel PDAF
|Front Cameras||Dual 8MP modules
Regular f/1.8 75° & wide angle f/2.2 97° FoV lenses
|Storage||64 GB / 128 GB||64 GB / 128 GB|
|Wireless (local)||802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.0 LE + NFC|
|Cellular||CAT 16 (1Gbps DL / 75Mbps UL), 5x DL CA, 4x4 MIMO,
LAA, 256-QAM DL and 64-QAM UL
|Splash, Water, Dust Resistance||IPX8
(Water resistant up to 1m)
|Launch Price||64 GB: $799 / £739 / 849€
128 GB: $899 / £839 / 949€
|64 GB: $899 / not avail. / 949€
128 GB: $999 / £969 / 1049€
Google also outfits the Pixel 3’s with relatively conservative DRAM and storage options. Both phones come with 4GB of RAM as well as a base storage variant of 64GB, with the option to buy a higher tier 128GB variant. Most of Google's competition are offering 6GB+ versions at similar pricing it should be noted.
In order to combat this low memory, one new hardware/software feature is an application memory management 'lowmmemorykiller' background application/daemon which applies various settings to keep certain software in memory for fast app loading times. Whilst in general I don’t put as much value into this as some other people do, I did however notice that in everyday use the phones did need to reload applications more often. There have been user reports already that the phones are struggling to keep things open and alive in memory. No doubt additional tuning of the memory management will be done through updates and the lifecycle of the unit.
Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 2 (right)
Design-wise, the Pixel 3 is a big upgrade over the Pixel 2. Gone are the 2015 top and bottom bezels, and instead we find a more contemporary design with an elongated 18:9 (or 2:1) aspect ratio screen, vastly increasing the screen-to-body ratio of the phone. The screen is still an OLED with an FHD+ resolution (2160 x 1080 pixels) – though this year it seems that Google has split suppliers between the small and XL variants, with the Pixel 3 panel now being manufactured by LG while the Pixel 3 XL uses a Samsung panel.
On the front of the device, we luckily don’t need to go into any big controversial discussions about a notch as the small Pixel 3 (As opposed to the 3XL) doesn’t have one. What is new for both of the Pixel 3 smartphones is a secondary wide-angle front-facing camera, allowing for wider selfie shots or simply a wider field of view when doing front video recording or communications, which is actually quite handy.
Pixel 3 (left) and Pixel 2 (right)
On the back of the phone, we also see a big design change: Google has switched over from a metal unibody design with a top glass cut-out, to a full glass back panel. Google still maintains the same contrasting glossy glass design feature at the top of the phone, and achieves this by chemically etching the bottom part of the glass to a matte finish.
The matte feel of the glass is extremely similar to the design of the OnePlus 6’s etched models, and it does stand out as a completely different feel than one might be used to from glass phones. It really helps with the grip, and totally avoids fingerprints. My only issue here is that Google didn’t extend this finish to the very edges of the glass back, as well as leaving out a 1mm ring around the fingerprint sensor, the latter whose shadows on the glass looks very odd and a bit cheap.
Going for a glass back allows Google to now adopt wireless charging, and supports the Qi standard. The phone also supports fast wireless charging up to 10W. Unfortunately again, it seems that Google is only allowing this on certified chargers, thus not really adhering to the Qi fast-charging standard. This means almost all existing 'fast' wireless chargers will be limited to 5W.
Google bundled its own Pixel Stand wireless charging pad with the reviewer kits (It's not bundled with commercial units), and it works as well as it says on the box. One big hiccup I noticed is that the Stand will only accept certain USB-C chargers with PD at certain voltages – so users are restricted to the bundled power supply as well as a limited number of USB C PD chargers to even power it on at all.
It should be noted that the glass on the rear has some flex even under light pressure, and I can hear it touching the internals (charging coil and battery). This was one of the first things I noticed when unboxing the phone, and it makes it feel a lot less well built as for example glass backs from Samsung or Apple.
The camera on the Pixel 3 sees a minor sensor upgrade from the Sony IMX362 to the IMX363 – both units are 12.2MP sensors with 1.4µm pixel pitches. The aperture is also the same at f/1.8. There are no secondary modules here, and Google prefers to fall back to software innovation for improving zoomed in pictures: the Pixel 3 exclusively ships with a new “Superzoom” mode that promises to improve digital zooming, more on this later in the camera section where we’ll have a very big comparison with most of this year’s flagship devices.
The left side of the phone is bare of any buttons, and we find the power and volume rocker on the right side. Google accentuates the colour of the power button, on my “Not pink” pink unit this is a very neon orange that just doesn’t pop up in images as much as it does in real life.
On the top of the phone we find a microphone hole.
The bottom sees the single nanoSIM slot as well as the USB-C charging port. Like on the Pixel 2, the Pixel 3 units do not offer any headphone jack. One argument for the removal of the headphone jack, beyond the by now debunked claim that it offers larger internal space dedicated to batteries, is that it allows for better audio quality. Indeed if headphones have their own DACs built-in, then they can be calibrated to the sound profile of the individual headphones, instead of relying on the phone to serve a correct frequency response. That being said, unfortunately the USB-C earbuds bundled with the Pixel 3 are among the worst I’ve ever listened to and can be easily described as complete rubbish. I would easily choose USB-C earbuds from any other primary smartphone vendor.
In the rest of this review, we cover the following:
- Introduction and Design (this page)
- System Performance
- GPU Performance
- Display Measurements and Calibration Testing
- Battery Life and Power
- Camera pt 1: Daylight with SuperZoom and Scenic
- Camera pt 2: Daylight with Dynamic Range
- Camera pt 3: Low Light and NightSight
- Camera pt 4: Video Recording and Speaker Evaluation
- Pixel 3 Conclusion
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Impulses - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - linkThey're not using bad sensors, I mean, they often manufacture everyone else's, the post processing is often horrid for Sony tho. You think they could get someone from their dedicated camera division to better tune that (they don't have the greatest JPEG engine either but it's gotten better every year).
Edwardmcardle - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkAwesome review as always. Will there be a mate 20 pro review? Have one and am considering returning because of odd screen issue. Also the new performance mode seems to suck battery, but animations seem laggy when not engaged...would be great to have a professional insight!
luikiedook - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkExcellent review, and comparison photos galore! I think a lot of the day light photos is a matter of opinion. Personally I find the iPhone Xs and Samsung photos over exposed and less pleasing than the pixel photos. The outdoor seating area for example, the black table tops look reflective and almost white in the iphone Xs and Samsung photos.
Most of the time the Pixel photos are darker, but I'm not convinced there is less detail, most of the time.
The p20 pro seems to crush everything in 5x zoom.
melgross - Sunday, November 4, 2018 - linkThe shadows on the Pixel are all blocked up. It’s pretty obvious. Some people mistakenly equate black shadows with better contrast, as Google apparently does, but that’s wrong. You can always darken the shadows later in a quick edit. But if the detail is killed on the photo, you can never retrieve it.
Dr. Swag - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkHey Andrei, you got the displays mixed up. The 3XL uses a Samsung amoled panel whereas the 3 uses a p-oled from LG. The table on the first page says the opposite.
warrenk81 - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkhaven't even read the article yet, just want to say i'm so happy to see smartphones review return to Anandtech!!
spooh - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkPixel XL used in the review has optics issue affecting corner sharpness, and light fallof. I think it's also slightly less sharp than good unit.
I've had one with the same issue, but returned it.
id4andrei - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkThe Verge reviewer Vlad Savov is a big fan of Google's computational photography. He makes it seem like the Pixel is clearly above the latest flagships. Your expansive review paints a different picture, that of a phone that tries to keep up with a single camera module.
On a personal level I have a dilemma. Isn't computational photography basically post-processing? Even if it produces a subjectively better outcome out of stitching several shots, isn't it "fake" somehow as it is not an accurate representation of a frame?
Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link> Even if it produces a subjectively better outcome out of stitching several shots, isn't it "fake" somehow as it is not an accurate representation of a frame?
Not really. If a sensor fails to have sufficient dynamic range by itself, then even with no processing that's also going to lead no an "inaccurate representation".
Impulses - Friday, November 2, 2018 - linkIt's a little fancier than the post processing you could (easily) manage yourself, mostly cause of the way they chop up frames in tiles to then stack them intelligently... You could say it's "fake" in instances where their algorithm just decided to drop a tile to avoid artefacts or movement etc., but wouldn't you just clone those out yourself if you were anal about the overall end result?
It's an interesting question without a straightforward answer IMO. It's just gonna vary by shot and usage case, if you're getting consistently better DR then you're consistently closer to "what you see", but all photography is ultimately an interpretation.