Google has just announced the brand new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. It comes on the heels of what may well be the biggest and most unprecedented leaks in industry history, with devices not only showing up in blurry cam pics and sketchy videos but actually being sold underground and given the full-on hands-on treatment in the days and weeks leading up to the event.
Worse, especially for hard-core Google users — the ones most predisposed to lust after and covet the new pixel, the announcement comes just one day after Google finally admitted to a Cambridge Analytica style data exposure all its own, and one that it had failed to disclose for months.
Yeah, #$%&ing ouch.
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I'm not worried about Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, though. It's never been positioned or sold as a mass-market brand like Galaxy or iPhone, and the people who love Google and the Pixel love Google and the Pixel in a way that makes Apple's old Steve Jobs reality distortion field seem kinda tame and tepid by comparison.
And when you take the drama out of it, Google does field some amazing technology in Pixel, including some I'd love Apple to strongly consider for iPhones next.
Now, it's important to say up front that this is very much an S year, in iPhone parlance, for the Pixel. Google isn't making any radical redesigns or changes. It's' fixing some things that badly need fixing, like the tragedy that was the Pixel 2 XL display, and making a lot of already good things great.
Which, as someone who buys the new Google phone almost every year, going back to the Nexus One and continuing through both the original Pixel and the 2 XL, I'm totally cool with.
1. That camera
This one is obvious, right? Maybe not. Google has always had one of the best cameras in the business — many would argue the best — despite not having the best camera hardware. It's never been bad hardware, big sensors, good lenses, and all that. But the original lacked OIS, the 2 lacked dual cameras, and the 3 hasn't done much to address anything on the optics side. Because, for Google, it's always been about those AI bits, both in the software and the silicon of the Pixel Visual Core.
Apple's going with a single camera on the back of the upcoming iPhone XR, so once I get a chance to shoot with both of them, it's going to be really interesting to see what the respective computational photography teams have been able to deliver.
And that might be trickier to judge than you think, given what the astonishingly talented Jonathan Morrison pointed out earlier this week — trolling pretty much the entire Pixel Selfie community with iPhone XS selfies.
Make sure you check that video out. It's perspective shattering.
Ok, so, what looks interesting on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL side is Night Mode where, like HDR, it takes a ton of pictures but instead of trying to get the maximum dynamic range, it tries to pull out the best, most detailed picture possible from the darkness.
It also uses optical image stabilization — OIS shake — to collect more data and produce better quality images when digitally zoomed in. iPhone can already do optical zoom up to 2x, but anything that could improve greater than 2x is a huge win.
The crazy part here, of course, is that Google could ship all this for iPhone or Galaxy phones or any phone tomorrow if they wanted to. Because so much of what's being done is with software, Google could ship a new Camera app for iOS and Android that exposes almost all of the Pixel tech for almost any user.
That Google isn't doing that is super interesting, especially since it would give them a much bigger and more compelling data harvesting hose to stick in front of Google Photos.
Tragically or heroically, I can't tell which yet, while Google has been steadfast in not adding a second camera to the back, it's added one to the front this year. Not a TrueDepth system like Apple, but a wide angle so you can turn more easily your selfies into groupies.
I love wide angle lenses and, front and/or back, even if it takes a second or third camera, I'd love to see that come to iPhone.
2. Those speakers
If you'd asked me a month ago if I'd want a bottom front-facing speaker on the new iPhone, I maybe would have thought about it. After hearing the new, wider stereo on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, it's clear the current positions are more than fine.
It's so good, it kinda makes you wonder if Google made the chin to hold the speaker, or stuck the speaker there to cover up for still needing a chin.
It's clear the only thing that stands between us and a truly bezel-less future is cost and engineering talent. And that damn notch.
So, yeah, scratch this one from the list.
3. Fast Charging
Last year it was easy to dunk on both Apple and Google. Apple didn't include a fast charger in the iPhone box and Google didn't include headphones in the Pixel box. This year, Google does indeed include the headphones and Apple… still crickets on the fast charger.
Where Apple's stuck at 5 watts, Google has 18 watts in the box. And, while, yeah, it's tough to dissect individual parts pricing out of overall package value, and Google did bump up Pixel by $150 to $799 and $899, Apple starts iPhone XS at $999 and $1099, and going to 12 watts will cost you $19 and 30 watts, $49, plus a $35 Lightning to USB-C cable.
Speaking of USB-C, it's still thicker than Lightning, and we're still heading towards a wireless world. But, if we're not getting there soon — and quickly transferring future video formats like 4K HDR 60fps, never mind 8K — might still make more sense over wires — USB-C in the box, on one or both ends, starts to make the kind of sense that does. Especially if Apple, as rumor has it, is switching iPad Pro over this year.
One cable to rule them all… until Wi-Fi 7 or whatever rules it all out.
There's this other aspect of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL that sounds interesting: The back glass is etched with a fine texture that makes it feel — and grip — more like metal. At least that's what my colleagues at Android Central who've had a chance to go hands-on with it have said.
iPhone 8 and, to a similar extent, iPhone X and iPhone XS aren't like Nexus 4 slippery. We used to put those at the center of conference tables at CES and time how long it would take them to slide off an almost perfectly level surface and hit the floor. But they're closer to that than any aluminum-backed iPhone in recent memory.
If Apple could figure out a way to increase the frictional coefficient of the back iPhone glass, I'd be super happy. And so would everything from the armrests on my sofa to the wood on my floors.
And that's about it this year. S is going to S, right?
Both the Pixels and the iPhones XS have 4 GB of RAM, so its what they manage to do with it that'll count. Pixel goes up to 128 GB of storage and iPhone XS, 256 or 512 GB but Google often offers more data harvesting subsidized cloud storage, so digital pack rats can maybe offload some via upload… if you still trust Google's servers that is.
And that's honestly becoming a bigger and more important story than the phones, where both companies are again converging and we're moving from a race of atoms and bits to one of computer vision and machine learning.
And you know what, that's inspiring.
So, that's the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL. Not new, not revolutionary, but with a few features I'd love to see Apple consider for the next generation iPhones.
We'll have lots more coverage of both new Pixel phones over on Android Central, links below, and you know Mr. Mobile is going to be weighing in, so check out his channel as well.
So, hit like, hit subscribe, and then hit up the comments and let me know what you think. And thank you so much for watching!