Pixel 3: A Worthy Upgrade But Far From Perfect

I've had the original Pixel since it came out in 2016. Up until the announcement of the Pixel3, I didn't really feel the need to upgrade. Android was always up-to-date, the camera was still better than any new iPhone, and the battery was still holding up for most of the day. I always said "I'll keep this phone 'til it dies on me", but boy did I eat my own words.

If you're an iPhone user, you probably upgrade every major update (6 to 7, 7 to X etc.), or upgrade when the S-series come out. Pretty normal even up to this day when smartphones cost nearly twice what it did just a few years before. That's basically what I did when I got the Pixel 3, upgrading from the original 2yrs after. Now before you think that I upgraded because the Pixel1 was not keeping up with the times, you're gravely mistaken. The original Pixel is a solid and capable phone in 2018. The fact that it's a Google device means that Android is always updated and optimized. I never felt like it was an old phone when doing the most common things on a phone. It's not like an iPhone where, just in case you've been living under a rock these past few years, the battery and CPU we're being throttled down by software - a big no-no for the millions of iPhone users around the world.

The original Pixel was a great phone, but it lacked critical things that made me upgrade. Let's get down to those biggest changes that swayed me.

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CAMERA

The biggest flaw of the original Pixel in my opinion was the lack of OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). Though you barely needed OIS for photos because the camera was so great, taking video was obviously losing most of its quality. Google is great with its stabilization algorithms with the original Pixel that it didn't really need OIS, but to do this, there had to be some crop-factor with the video. This resulted in very pixelated videos whenever you zoom in even just a tiny bit. Even when you are not zoomed in, you weren't getting everything the camera could give because its continuously calculating for that shake.

Now with the Pixel 3, we get that OIS capability, coupled with the same great camera software. Do I like it? Well, of course! Do I hate it too? Maybe a little. Now things are a bit TOO smooth. Unlike the original Pixel, when you're taking photos, because of the lack of OIS, I found myself faster to frame because the camera just reacts to my hand movement. Using the camera on the Pixel 3, it almost feels like the camera is trying to catch up with my framing. I get it that its trying to keep itself steady, but when you're a PowerButton-double-pressing-shooter, that extra stabilization feels more like lag to me. I don't mind it as much as when I take videos, but quick-snapshots doesn't seem quick enough for my taste.

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Most of the camera upgrades are also just software like Night-Sight, Top-Shot, Super-Res Zoom to name a few. These upgrades would most likely see the older models as well. One upgrade though that is exclusive to the Pixel 3 is the Wide Lens "Groupie" camera in front, and I must say it was a feature that I didn't think I would like. Not being a selfie person, I didn't find the need for it in the beginning. I think that's why its being called a "Groupie" camera, because that's exactly how I ended up using it, and it blew me away! I'm a tall guy, and my arms could sometimes act like a selfie-stick, but the wide-angle camera on the Pixel 3 just made things much, much better. I believe the camera software also took into consideration the distortion that the wide-angle lens made, so things didn't get weird when everyone was looking at themselves in the groupie.

All these camera improvements are welcome, but as many of you may have read/watched, RAM management is a disaster when using the camera. The Pixel 3 got a lot of bad reviews when using the camera because it crashes or restarts almost all other apps in the background and its a big deal considering this particular phone has the "best" camera out there. Not gonna dive much deeper into that, but basically, the camera for the Pixel 3 needs some fine tuning before it can be the fast-shooter that the original Pixel was.

SCREEN

When I was thinking of upgrading, my thoughts were "should I get in to the whole notch era?". It was a quick "Nope", followed by a "Why Not", and upon receiving the phone I was already at "I dunno man." Right now, I'm probably at the "it's not too bad and I can live with it" phase.

Coming from the original Pixel, with its massive chin and forehead, I was intrigued at the idea of having a bigger screen (I also jumped from the small Pixel to the Pixel 3 XL). For me, it wasn't a deal breaker to have a notch, considering the iPhone has a huge one, and most phones out there had a notch of some kind as well. The screen technology is great - brighter, crisper, bigger! I tried to love the notch for what it is, but it turned out to be really hard.

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See the problem wasn't the notch itself, but how Google is treating the notch. You can dig around the developer settings to hide it, and make it look like the Pixel2 screen, which is great if you just want a clean look. I on the other hand would want to see more creative ways to use the screen. Nacho Notch is a great alternative to the developer settings fix where you can keep the notifications and clock beside the notch over a black background, a feature we have yet to see come from Google. I believe that once everybody gets a chance to optimize their apps, and Google gets their head into the alternate-screen modes, the Pixel 3 XL's notch wouldn't be such a big deal to most people. Bottom line - happy with the bigger screen, but some modifications must be made!

DESIGN + ACCESSORIES

Let's be honest and say that Pixel phones are almost a ripoff of the iPhone. From the original Pixel, which is a dead ringer for the iPhone 6, we now have the Pixel 3 which is like the Pixel 2 and iPhone X's lovechild. Luckily were only talking about the front of the phone, and setting that aside, we can focus on that sweet looking matte-glass back of the Pixel 3. Even though it is a matte glass, frosted on the outside, it is smoooooooth! I can't express how good the new construction is on the hands. It's like you're holding silk in the shape of a smartphone!

Yes it doesn't feel very metallic, and it doesn't have the same heft as an iPhoneXS, but I think that's how Google phones are just going for. When I started using Android with the Nexus5X, I felt like I was using a toy phone. It was very plastic and light. Fast-forward to the Pixel3, we still have that same plastic-feel (mostly because of the thick coat of paint on the frame) and lightness but with a more premium vibe to it. From a design perspective, this works well with Android, and the whole Google look, which is big, bold, primary, solid colors. Having a phone that looks too serious would kill the aesthetic of stock-Android. Also, sorry for those who bought the Just Black Pixel 3's, but my Clearly White Pixel 3 wouldn't show scratch marks as much, so take note new-buyers!

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The Pixel 3 also lacks the nearly extinct headphone jack, but this year, a pair of USB-C headphones are in the box! Unlike the Pixel Buds which were introduced alongside the Pixel 2, Google has provided us with a more practical alternative. For me, its a great additional accessory for the phone, but I think that's as much use as its going to get. Most people still use 3.5mm headphones for their laptops and older gadgets, and honestly, I'm not a fan of carrying more than 1 pair of headphones on me. The headphones, as cool as they are, might be left at home though considering that Google also put a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box.

Last but certainly not least is the Google logo and #teampixel stickers! I don't know about you readers out there, but I am tired of getting Apple stickers, and even more tired of seeing them around. This is probably the best move Google made for the Pixel 3 in my opinion. A little surprise that is sure to turn the tide because a little sticker-marketing move would do wonders for the Pixel's popularity in the smartphone world.

WRAP-UP

I am happy to have upgraded from the original Pixel to the Pixel3 XL, but saying everything is better is kinda pushing it. Yes, the hardware improvements are welcome, and even the notch is acceptable, but I sure do hope that Google isn't rushing into things just to get a new phone out. As the leader of the best camera on a smartphone, Google should be focusing on making that experience a great one. The memory issue is a big way to discourage people from trying out a Pixel, and is bad for older Pixel users, so I'm looking to expect a massive fix on the next update. I also hope that Google doesn't just let app-makers figure out the best way to use the screen's real estate. They should be the ones optimizing and designing how things should look on screen.

I think the Pixel 3 is a tough phone to beat, regardless of all the new hardware found in new Android phones. Google should stay on top of what made their phones great - the camera - so all bugs and weird design choices aside, we should be seeing more #teampixel stickers out in the wild.

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