Google Pixel 3: More than Just a Phone
Google Pixel 3: More than Just a Phone
We’re used to thinking of our phones as physical devices, but that’s not the whole picture. We still call them phones, even though we are way past the point where making telephone calls was the primary function of these things. These slabs of glass and metal are now a symbol of how we move through the world; from literally navigating from one point to another and communicating with each other, to capturing moments and experiences. With the Pixel 3, Google has really begun to demonstrate its awareness of the role of the modern smartphone with a surety, confidence, and cleverness that should worry Apple and Samsung.
Made By Google
It’s important to begin by talking about the #MadeByGoogle launch event where the Pixels were officially unveiled. The gold standard for these events has always been Apple’s Keynotes — with their slick, dark, minimal theater to match their slick, dark, minimal presentations. From the moment the Google event began, the Apple model instantly felt outdated; stuffy and corporate. The #MadeByGoogle presentation was held in a room with windows, colors, and plants. In a world where people are becoming more aware of how the Silicon Valley tech giants are taking over our lives, it doesn’t hurt from a PR perspective for Google to steer clear of a Darth Vader aesthetic.
What About The Notch!?
As always with the Pixel line of phones, their beauty is only skin-deep, but let’s talk about the physical design anyway. They’ve got a glass back that finally enables wireless charging, rounded edges that make the device more comfortable to hold, and yes, the XL has a notch. The notch has become the lightning rod du jour for internet hate, but it’s not something you notice unless you’re specifically looking at it. Like the last Pixels, these phones have no headphone jack, but that loss is at least slightly mitigated by the inclusion of the totally-serviceable wired Pixel USB-C earbuds.
Google’s Superior Software
With all that said, the hardware doesn’t matter — and by extension, none of the leaks mattered. At this point, the physical device is a feature of Android, rather than the reverse. Even the camera is more ghost than shell, with Google’s software making this single-lens, 12-MP system better and more feature-rich than Apple’s dual-cameras or even Samsung’s absurd quad-cameras. It’s not just about how many features the camera has or even how good they are, it’s the accessibility of the features that make the Pixel 3’s camera important.
Google’s design team has minimized the friction between the user and getting the best possible photos. You’re not digging around to find the Top Shot module; you just take a picture of your friend, swipe up on it, and Google’s AI recommends a version when they’re not blinking. The portrait mode is stellar, except when the subject is wearing glasses. Phone manufacturers appear to be completely baffled by glasses.
Other impressive camera features include the focus tracking, the as-yet unreleased Night Sight, and Google Lens. Again, all of these are software-enabled tricks, and it really makes you think about how necessary the multi-lens setups are on the Pixel’s competition. The surprisingly-good digital zoom uses the small movements from users’ hands and takes multiple photos to give a clear, sharp image from far away. If you’re looking for the best smartphone camera out there, this is it.
And the call screening. This seemed like the most out-of-left-field, futuristic part of the Pixel announcement. Having a robot screen your calls to make sure they’re urgent before you pick up is very cool in theory, but it’s probably a lot less rude to just let the call go to voicemail.
Google’s Vision for the Future
This isn’t a picture-perfect Pixel. The Google Lens functionality is cool in theory, but sometimes it isn’t reliable. In our tests, it struggled to identify the same plant. The Photo Booth in the camera is super gimmicky. And with all new smartphones, some users have identified bugs that Google will need to patch.
There are other features on the Pixel 3 this year, but this isn’t a comprehensive review, and if you’re reading this or watching the video, you probably already know about all that other stuff. Our point here is that Google’s vision for the future of smartphones is starting to coalesce, and it’s absolutely worth paying attention to.
We’ve touched on this before elsewhere, but as the physical form of the smartphone as we know it approaches its fundamental design limits, the long money is on software leading innovation. Google blends software and hardware more harmoniously and employs the result more effectively than any other phone manufacturer today.