Quick First Impressions of the Pixel 3

My phone died on me the other day, which was no good, but it gave me the excuse I needed to get a Pixel 3, which I wanted anyway. So while the phone death was inconvenient, happening as it did on the first day of my book tour, I was also not entirely displeased. This is what happens when you’re a tech geek: “My phone exploded! Oh boy, new toys!”

The primary reason I wanted the Pixel 3 was that its camera is supposed to be even better than the one on the Pixel 2, which was far and away the best phone camera out there, thanks to Google’s devotion to “computational photography,” in which the physical aspects of the camera take a backseat to how Google manipulates the information that comes in. The Pixel 3 does more of the same.

And does it work? I’ve taken a few pictures now and it seems to me that indeed the photo quality has improved a bit. I was in a Mexican-themed bar last night and took several pictures in low light, and they all came out pretty impressively (for example, the one above, which is as shot, right out of the phone). Other folks were hauling out their phones and taking comparison shots, and were agreeing the Pixel 3’s photos just looked better.

I also tested the portrait mode, which computationally blurs the background, and it seems to do a pretty good job, although it can still find things like clothes edges and eyeglass frames and arms a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless the blur looks natural, and also you now have a slider, so you can have more or less of it. Here’s what it looks like behind my friend Jon Shestack (I turned this one black and white):

There are some new features of the camera (like “Top Shot,” which helps you pick the best shot of the thing you were taking a picture of), mostly because I just got the phone and haven’t had time to run it through all the paces. But for straight-ahead photo shooting, it really does look like it’s better than the Pixel 2, which was already great.

Is it so much better that someone who owns a Pixel 2 (or other high-end smartphone) should rush out to get it? Probably not? Most flagship phones at this point take generally excellent photos, and for Pixel 2 owners, some of the new tricks are going to be ported into that phone as well. So you’ll probably be fine! That said, I’m glad I have a Pixel 3, because I really like taking photos, and it does an excellent job. And if you have a phone a couple of generations back and are looking to upgrade, with an eye toward picture taking, I definitely can recommend.

Otherwise so far it’s a perfectly good phone. I got the smaller one, which has the same physical form factor of the Pixel 2, although a bigger (and taller screen). It looks great and works fine so far. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later. But: So far, so good.

10 Comments on “Quick First Impressions of the Pixel 3”

  1. Really nice photo of your friend. I could have the DaVinci of cameras and still take crap pictures.

  2. I just got the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the camera is great for a phone. I use my actual camera most of the time a Sony Cybershot with 50 zoom. Im too lazy to have to change lenses so this is a dream.

  3. I use a cell phone to take pictures more often than I take calls, so when I dropped and ruined my old phone I ordered a Pixel 3, the smaller one, in the color Just Black.

    However, being much further south, mine will not be delivered until next week.

  4. Here’s a thing (which could be just me). The picture looks absolutely 3-D to me – like the old ViewMaster toys. It looks like Shestack is reaching right out of the pic. That truly is an amazing camera! Phone. Thingy. Also, nice shot.

  5. ” it gave me the excuse I needed to get a Pixel 3″

    Me: you’re saying your old phone just died?
    Scalzi: it fell down an elevator shaft and landed on some… bullets.
    Me: ah…

  6. I just got my Pixel 3 XL and I really love it. I thought the notch would be a big problem but I hardly notice it. They use the space around it really well. The integration with the AI is amazing and the photos are the best I’ve ever seen. I do wish they had pushed the hardware specs a bit higher (like the battery).

  7. Whereas, this is what happens when you’re a *poor* tech geek: “My phone exploded! Oh… Let’s look at the new toys I could get if I could get new toys.”

  8. Yay top end toys! Unfortunately, I don’t care to pay that kind of money for a phone. I know what happens to my phones unfortunately after a couple of experiences.

    So, mid-range for me. My Sony Xperia XA2 seems to be holding up pretty well these last few months in the things that it does. Camera isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but far from the worst by any means.

    Computational photography? I like to make my own adjustments. If it’s from my phone, it’s usually a spur of the moment thing that I usually slap on Facespace or Bitter. If it comes to computationally manipulating a photo I prefer the method of taking the pic with my Nikon, transferring it to my PC, and playing around with my softwares. Besides, the Nikon route means I get to have me time with the 55-300mm lens. ;-)

    You have the monies for fancy phone gadgets and pricey cameras and I hope the new addition works well. BUT I know I speak for not just myself but others in saying that the TRUE test will be a kitten pic. Until then, this is the figurative studio demo.

  9. I’m sure the 2 and 3 are great, but I’m keeping my Pixel 1 XL until it breaks. This is the first phone with which I’ve been 100% happy.

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