Review: Google Pixel 3 adds an AI assist to photos

By Adam Turner, October 16 2018
Review: Google Pixel 3 adds an AI assist to photos

Combining an exquisite OLED screen with impressive camera tricks, Google's new flagship Pixel 3 smartphone aims to ensure that every happy snap is a masterpiece – even if the rest of the phone fails to make a solid case for upgraders.

At first glance the Pixel 3 – which will $1,199 with 64GB of storage, and $1,349 with 128GB – doesn't appear much of an upgrade on its predecessor.

Look a little closer and you'll see Google has bumped up the screen from 5 to 5.5 inches without adding any extra bulk, or resorting to a notch at the top like on its big brother, the Pixel 3 XL.

The larger display is in part thanks to the switch from an AMOLED display to "flexible OLED", which allows for thinner bezels although it's still not quite an edge-to-edge picture. OLED also delivers the deep blacks and impressive contrast that we've come to expect from the best OLED televisions.

The Pixel 3's 2160x1080 resolution obviously isn't enough to do Ultra HD video justice, but few phones can at this size. Even so, OLED's contrast means you can still make the most of High Dynamic Range video – revealing more detail in the brightest highlights and deepest shadows.

On this size screen, the benefit of HDR is more striking than extra resolution of Ultra HD. For now the Pixel 3 supports HDR only with YouTube and Google Play Movies, with Netflix soon to follow

Modest muscle, better battery

As for processing muscle, the Pixel 3 is no slouch, packing Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 845 power plant and 4GB of RAM. The larger 2915mAh battery should be more than enough to get you through a busy day, thanks to personalised power optimisation based on how you use your phone.

The phone's lock screen doesn't just reveal the percentage of battery life remaining, when running low it even estimates what time the battery will die based on your current usage. Thankfully the supplied USB-C fast charger grants you another seven hours after just 15 minutes drinking from the nearest AC socket.

You've also got the benefit of wireless charging using the Qi standard. If you opt for Google's own $119 Pixel Stand wireless charger on your bedside table, the Pixel 3 can sit upright and act like a mini version of the new Google Home Hub smart screen.

As you'd expect, the Pixel 3 runs Android 9.0 "Pie" and many of its key improvements are thanks to Google's machine learning tools, especially around the camera. Google Lens is now built into the main Camera app, making it easy to search for objects, scan barcodes, copy text from images and click on URLs.

Better photos through AI

When it comes to photography, Google continues to hold out on adding a second rear camera. Instead, it's sticking with a single 12.2 megapixel lens and relying on software to create effects like a shallow depth of field in portrait mode in order to blur the background.

Instead, the Pixel 3 introduces a dual lens 8 megapixel front camera, not to assist with depth of field but rather to extend the field of view so you can squeeze in more people when taking a selfie. The downside is that when you zoom right out it can slightly stretch people's faces if they're on the edge of the picture.

To help you get the best shot, the Pixel 3 starts capturing images before you even press the shutter button. "Top shot" mode goes through them and picks out the best image of the bunch, which is handy when it comes to photographing children and pets who don't tend to behave for the camera.

Perhaps the Pixel 3's most impressive camera improvement is Night Sight, which uses machine learning to brighten and colourise dark images without the need to use the flash at night. Night Sight won't be enabled until November, so we can't put it to the test yet, but the sample shots from Google look impressive if you're after a great smartphone camera which won't let you down after dark.

But it's not for everyone

All up, Google’s latest flagship smartphone is a solid all-rounder, although you'll find better options if you're focused on any one particular aspect like raw grunt, screen size, screen resolution and photo quality. Other phones can best the Pixel 3 in each of those areas.

Instead, the Pixel 3 is aimed at people who want to make the most of Google's AI-powered features like the smart assistant and image processing, along with the benefit of stock-standard Android which you know will get a few years worth of software updates.

Adam Turner

Adam Turner is a seasoned Australian technology journalist and a frequent traveller to the world's biggest tech expos – so you'll pry his noise-cancelling headphones from his cold, dead hands.


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Nov 2017

Total posts 55

Any dual SIM yet?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1378

Very basic looking for a flagship.

Each year Google seems to push the Pixel upmarket and sell less.

That style and say a mid-range 710/636 Snapdragon chip, a HD only screen and decent camera for half the price would sell well. Very few people need the processor capacity and HD+ screens just waste battery.

Seems only the new Nokia with its AndroidOne devices understands this.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Review: Google Pixel 3 adds an AI assist to photos