Google Pixel 3: The 5 features that matter most

If the Pixel 3 “Made By Google” launch event reminds us of anything, it’s that basic hardware specs don’t mean much in Googleland. We’ve long known that the Pixel 3 (starting at $799) and Pixel 3 XL (starting at $899) would have 5.5-inch and 6.3-inch displays respectively, along with dual front cameras. And all that was confirmed today.

But when it comes to Pixel phones, the real magic lies in how Google marries algorithms and machine learning to its hardware choices. And, as expected, these software features lead the pack in the Pixel 3’s most exciting features. Let’s dig in…

Top Shot

Top Shot is Google’s machine-learning strategy for making sure you never miss the perfect photo. In a nutshell, the 12.2-megapixel camera takes multiple HDR+ images in rapid succession, and then applies all it’s discovered from machine-learning analysis to suggest the perfect shot from the group.

top shot pixel 3 Google

By taking a burst of images and recommending the very best, Top Shot is designed to make sure you never have to settle for an eyes-closed photo again.

This should help eliminate all those images of people with their eyes closed, dogs who turn away from the camera at the last moment, and even some bird photo-bombing your frame. You can also scroll through alternate images, and save that particularly awkward image of your spouse in mid-duckface. Should you choose to do so.

Super Res Zoom

For years and years, we tech journalists have warned of the compromises of “digital zoom,” a software technique that approximates the mechanical zoom of a telephoto lens, but always ends up in crap-looking images with lots of noise. But now Google says that by using machine learning via its Super Res Zoom feature, you can in fact get a clean, noise-free image with what is effectively digital zoom.

super res zoom pixel 3 Google

Will Super Res Zoom really reinvent digital zoom? We can’t wait to test this feature.

This feature also taps into a burst of multiple images, and then uses Google’s Pixel Visual Core chip to composite a blur-free photo. On paper, this is a big promise—so we can’t wait to test Google’s claims and study some Super Res Zoom images very carefully.

Night Sight

Night Sight completes the triumvirate of fancy new “computational photos” that Google is ushering in with the Pixel 3 (and will supposedly trickle down to earlier Pixel models). To some degree or another, all smartphones struggle with low-light environments, and if you know anything about photography at all, you know turning on flash is never the answer.

night sight pixel 3 Google

Now here’s a Google burn! But let’s see how Night Sight performs during testing.

Enter Night Sight, which uses machine-learning to choose just the right pixel information, and push up brightness, detail, and color in whatever final photo Google’s algorithms have prescribed for the shot at hand. Google side-by-side demo images look breath-taking (and burn the iPhone Xs), and if the real-world results can meet this standard, Google will really have a breakthrough.

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