Despite trying the Cadillac of camera phones and Moto’s delightfully customizable modular phone, no Android system that I’ve tested this year has been compelling enough to make me seriously consider switching from my beloved iPhone 6S. But that all changed once I got my hands on the Pixel 3.
Google’s forays into the smartphone market have been lukewarm thus far, and its handsets have yet to make an impression in the United States market: A second-quarter report by CounterPoint revealed that Google is being eclipsed by the its industry competitors. This weak market share and the Pixel 3 XL’s criticized notch made me skeptical, but the smaller Pixel 3 finally showed me Android’s capabilities.
Of course, in some ways coming from a iPhone 6S means even the first Pixel would be an upgrade. The Pixel 3’s vivid 5.5-inch OLED screen, speedy Snapdragon 845 processor, and much slimmer bezels are all several echelons above my 2015 Apple phone specs-wise. But it was ultimately the attention to detail that made me obsessed with this phone, as opposed to the expected yearly upgrades.
Google’s roster of hardware design choices, software features, and combinations that make the using Pixel 3 the smoothest experience of any of the smartphones I’ve test driven in 2018.
- Product: Google Pixel 3
- Price: Starts at $799
- Perfect for: iPhone defectors that want an optimized Android experience.
Friday: Haptics and Fingerprint Reader
After briefly testing the Pixel 3’s camera, the time was right to make the switch full-time. I dove into the green-bubble life headfirst. I was an Android user now.
I was probably a little too hyped about the back panel fingerprint reader. My index finger just naturally fell exactly where it needed to every time I picked it up, unlike the 6S’s home button. And it was accompanied by a slight vibration that felt like the Pixel 3 was fist bumping my fingertip every time I unlocked it. Nice.
I was immediately struck by how satisfying the phone’s haptic feedback was and I proceeded to spam the keyboard.
I fumbled around the OS trying to edit the contact information, already starting to regret my decision go green. Getting used to this was going to be a process.
Saturday: Google Assistant and USB-C Pixel Buds
I was far from enamored with Android 9, but I began to turn around once realized how far Google Assistant surpasses Siri. And I was even more delighted that the Pixel 3 comes with with a pair of USB-C earbuds instead of forcing me to use a dongle if I don’t want splash out on wireless buds.
The Pixel buds cost $30, exactly as much as Apple’s EarPods, though they also isolate noise marginally better. They’re the same shade of white as Apple’s, but are easily identifiable by the adjustable wire loops that act as wingtips to make sure they don’t fall out. But the real selling point is its Google Assistant capabilities.
Halfway up the cord of the right bud lies a three-button remote with the microphone. Summon the Google Assistant by holding down the middle button, similarly to how the AirPods enables one to invoke Siri with a double tap. But the Assistant and the buds really came into their own when I had my phone in my pocket.
I was walking to a friend’s apartment and instead of pulling out my phone to text her I decided to go hands-free. Every time she texted me the Google Assistant would read me the message and enable me to reply by holding down the top button on the microphone remote.
No forced dongle and voice assistant capabilities for the same price as EarPods? The Pixel was starting to win me over.
Sunday: A.I.-Powered Camera and Google Lens
i had made some pre-Halloween plans to visit the ruins of the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital with a few friends, which was the perfect field test for the Pixel 3’s much-talked-about camera.
Portrait Mode: I had a friend take a few photos of me using the 12.2-megapixel rear camera and then took a couple of selfies with the 8MP standard and wide-angle lenses on the front.
I was floored by the shots the rear camera was able to capture. It made certain colors pop for vibrant images and used natural light to bring out subtle details on my skin, like smile creases and forehead wrinkles.
The front camera was hit or miss depending on the lighting. With harsher white lights, like the ones in the subway, I noticed it was able to capture a lot of details, down to my pores. But softer natural light resulted in selfies with a notable smoothing effect as if they were passed through a beauty filter.
The day ended with me taking some crisp photos of the Smallpox museum, which I used to revitalize my Instagram account that I had been ignoring for weeks. The iPhone 6S’s camera simply didn’t really have me itching to take pictures, but with the Pixel 3 I stopped my friends multiple times to take random shots, my love for smartphone photography had been re-kindled.
Monday: Text Suggestion and Call Screening
By now I have fully embraced the green-bubble life, even though a handful of my friends had hit me with the expected, “Wait, why are your texts green now?” This would have been slightly more annoying if the texting app wasn’t shockingly good at predicting what I wanted to write next.
Just like iOS, Android 9 gives you three autofill options directly under your text box. I instinctually wanted to turn this off when I first got the Pixel 3 because of how lackluster the feature is on the iPhone, but Google made me eat my words.
At first, it was pretty terrible at anticipating what I wanted to type. But by Monday it had learned that I like beginning or ending certain texts with “my dude” and it would use context from my past conversations to make surprisingly accurate guesses as to what I wanted to say next. Google is doing pretty much the same thing for Gmail, but the predictive compositions were even more useful for everyday texts with people I chat with on and off throughout the day.
The Pixel 3’s A.I. features also changed the way I deal with spam calls, thanks to Screen Call. This feature lets the Google Assistant pick up the call and begin transcribing it live so I can see who’s on the other line.
I screened around five to six calls by Monday and at this point the phone was able to warn me if an incoming call was illegitimate before I had a chance screen it. Needless to say, it felt good making spammers go through my A.I. secretary.
Just don’t subject your friends to this. I’d be personally offended.
Tuesday: Have I Been Fully Converted?
The answer is yes, the Pixel 3 made me a proud green-bubble person. I thought ditching iMessage make me miss being able to text using my MacBook, but now I’m less distracted at work. I was skeptical about learning a whole new operating system after exclusively using iOS for years, but it only took a couple of days to learn to love the Pixel 3’s camera, A.I. applications, and its look and feel. However, one area where Apple still has a hold on me in the music department.
During my time testing the Pixel 3 I was able to use my free Google Play Music account for all of my daily listening, but I still missed having free access to the thousands of songs saved on my iTunes along with an Apple Music subscription. I guess I won’t fully be a convert until I import those playlists to Spotify or Google Play Music. This, of course, is a minor inconvenience.
But as I gear up for the switch, at least I know now that the grass can be greener on the Android side.