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Though my Samsung Galaxy S9 has impressed both me and countless friends with its strong camera, my recent spin with the Google Pixel 3 XL has me even more convinced of the photographic prowess and potential of smartphones today.
The Pixel 3 XL is perfect for photo and Google enthusiasts who like the size, display, and feel of a larger phone. It has its drawbacks and it won't come cheap, but you'll love its sleek design, ease of use, and healthy offering of customisable features.
The phone has a 6.3-inch (16 cm) display and an impressively light, slim body that feels comfortable in your hand. The 2960 x 1440 resolution and 523 ppi display is clear and crisp (great for video streaming), while the glass back, made with Corning Gorilla Glass 5, not only looks attractive but also resists scratches. The phone is also water- and dust-resistant, with an IP 68 rating.
The on-screen notch at the top of the phone is the subject of complaints from many other tech reviewers, but it personally didn't bother me too much. On the back is a responsive fingerprint sensor located as just the right position. Despite the nice look of the rest of the matte back, I'd still recommend getting a case because it can quickly collect fingerprint smudges.
The phone runs on Android 9.0 Pie, so as a long-time Android user, I was able to get accustomed to the operating system quickly. But even if you're jumping ship from iOS, the user experience is intuitive and easy to grasp. To access the main menu of apps, you swipe up from the bottom. You can toggle between in-session apps by swiping left and right, then up to close it.
Since it is a Google phone after all, integration with your Google account(s) is a key component of the experience. Photos, Pay, and Drive are a few apps you'll probably use often, as they all make life a little easier. Your photos and files are backed up in the cloud, and it's okay if you leave or forget your wallet at home. Google Home is also pre-installed if you own a Google smart speaker and want a place to control all your connected devices.
Google Assistant will be your personal voice assistant, accessed by saying "Hey Google" or squeezing your phone, and you can create automatic "subscriptions" such as weather and stock market alerts to streamline your daily routine. Google Lens is also a cool feature. Like a visual Shazam, it makes use of the camera to help you look up products, books, places (landmarks, notable buildings), barcodes, and more.
The Pixel 3 XL (like the Pixel 3) has a 12.2 megapixel rear-facing camera and an 8 megapixel front-facing camera. For those front-facing selfies, there's a wide-angle feature that lets you zoom out and squeeze more people into the frame.
Just on Auto mode, photos turn out crisp and vibrant, but you can also adjust for brightness and lighting conditions, plus make use of Panorama, Portrait, Motion (live photos) and Slow Motion modes. Meanwhile, the special Night Sight mode makes the usually tricky task of shooting in low light a relative walk in the park.
The phone has dual front-firing stereo speakers and three mics, so calls came through clearly and video sound was well-rounded. It comes with Pixel USB-C earbuds, which have good sound quality, but aren't very comfortable. I preferred using wireless Bluetooth earbuds or my wired Samsung ones.
To help you learn about your phone usage and cut down on unnecessary screen time, the Digital Wellbeing feature breaks down how you're using your phone, even telling you how many times you've unlocked your phone today. I didn't initially love being confronted with the realities of my phone usage, but it ultimately helped me put my phone away when I didn't really need it.
Another thing I've always appreciated about Android is how you can make the phone your own with all the different customisable settings and preferences, from widget arrangements to "Night Light" scheduling that makes it easier to look at your screen in dim light. At the same time, the Pixel 3 XL's custom options weren't so vast that they become overwhelming.
Since you use your phone a lot throughout the day, you're probably curious about battery life. The Pixel 3 XL has a 3430 mAh battery (compared to the Pixel 3's 2915 mAh battery) and charges quickly. Depending on your usage, it can last nearly two days. It charges with a USB-C charger.
The phone's singular USB-C port is one of my biggest gripes since it means you must use the included Pixel USB-C earbuds if not for a wireless pair. You could also attempt to find another brand's pair, but there aren't as many high-quality USB-C earbuds currently in the market. Luckily, Google stays practical and understanding of this inconvenience - it includes a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone adaptor in the package.
My other gripe is that the lock and volume buttons are located directly under each other, instead of on opposite sides. Even after some time using this phone, I couldn't seem to recalibrate and remember this arrangement. The reliable alternative, however, is the fingerprint sensor, and that always resolved my lock-button woes.
If you want a larger phone, plan on taking lots of pictures, and hate charging your phone often, the Google Pixel 3 XL is the smartphone to buy. It's powerful but simple and intuitive to use, and it has all the features to make you a Google power user. While large, it's also light and slim, so you won't feel saddled down by it.
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