Google Pixel 3XL hands on: A lot of phone, a lot of notch, and a lot of money

Let’s just get this out of the way: The Pixel 3 XL is not a pretty phone. It’s got a canyon for a notch, a valley for a chin, and thick bezels around its screen. Put it in a Pepsi challenge with any 2018 phone—and even some 2017 models—and nearly everyone will pick the other handset based on looks alone. The smaller Pixel 3 may look slightly less homely, with a smaller Pixel 2 XL aesthetic, but you can pretty much throw a rock and hit a better-looking Android phone.

But while it might not be much to look at, the Pixel 3 XL is a joy to hold, with an incredible matte glass back that feels like metal to the touch and won’t pick up nearly as many fingerprints as other phones. Seriously, you’re not going to want to put this phone in a case—it feels that good. Someone else will have to test the durability compared to other glass-backed phones, because I don’t want to get a scratch on mine.

The three colors of the Pixel 3 are fine, though I miss the two-tone “tuxedo” option of the 2 XL. The new Not Pink color is neutral to the point of being sanitized, and it looks more beige than pink to my eyes. My favorite of the three is white, which has a nice mint-green accent on the power button.

pixel 3 xl buttonsAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The white Pixel 3 has a subtle shot of color on the power button.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the notch. I don’t know why Google didn’t put one on the 5.5-inch model, but it only makes the 3 XL stand out more. And not in a good way. It’s big. And deep. Where other phone makers are trying to shrink and hide their notch behind software tricks, Google seems to be very proud of the “extra useful space at the top” at its phone (seriously, they said that.)

I don’t know how useful it is, but the space around it is definitely noticeable. Whether you’re watching full-screen videos or just using an app, the depth of the notch pushes the screen down way lower than on other phones. People are going to have feelings about it, I can tell you that much.

Pretty on the inside

But the beauty of Pixel 3, as they say, isn’t skin-deep. It’s about what’s inside the notch, under the bezels, behind the screen. Google has loaded the Pixel with a ton of helpful AI and camera tricks along with some go the best specs you can get in an Android phone.

Like always, both phones have the same processor (Snapdragon 845), RAM (4GB), and storage (64GB or 128GB), as well as the same front (dual 8MP) and rear (12.2MP) cameras. Despite having a larger screen, the Pixel 3 XL is remarkably similar to the 2 XL, with the 3 XL adding just a tenth of a millimeter to the height. That means old cases should work fine. The Pixel 3, on the other hand, is much smaller than the 2, mostly due to a serious trimming of the latter’s bezels. The 5.5-inch Pixel 3 feels downright tiny compared to the sea of 6-inch-plus phones out there.

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pixel 3xl backAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The back of the Pixel 3 XL is nice to look at but even nicer to touch.

The headphone jack hasn’t made a return, though this time around Google is bundling a pair of USB-C Pixel Buds in the box along with a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter, so your non-Bluetooth needs are covered. And both phones still have front-firing speakers as well, which Google says are 40 percent louder than before. To test them out, all Pixel buyers get a free six-month subscription to YouTube Music.

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