ANDROID SMARTPHONES are getting better each year, so Google's newly revealed Pixel 3 has to come out swinging to have a change at the Android crown.
And, well, it has and hasn't. The Pixel 3 is but an incremental upgrade compared to the Pixel 2, a rather well-received handset, albeit one with a rather dated design.
At the same time having the phone slipped into our hands we can't help but feel that warm 'oooh, this is nice' feeling all over again.
One of the first things we noted about the Pixel 3 is how its design has received a pleasing refresh. It's pretty much the same size as its predecessor but now sports a larger 5.5in display fitted into a more rounded chassis that feels bloody lovely to hold.
While Google stuck with its shrunken semi-iconic two-tone rear design found in the Pixel 2, the search giant has done away with the textured back opting instead for smooth glass in a gloss or matt finish. Again this feels lovely to the touch but will likely suck up fingerprints faster than US border control.
The stereo speakers remain a feature so the Pixel 3 still rocks noticeable top and bottom bezels.
Google has also stuck with shunning the 3.5mm headphone jack in favour of audio over USB-C, so sorry analogue headphone fans but you're all outta luck if you hate dongles.
There's a trio of colour options: Not Pink, Just Black, and Clearly White - the latter of which looks rather pleasant.
Again, the design is not revolutionary but the Pixel 3 just feels right in the hand and gives the impression of a utilitarian handset that can be used and abused as opposed to something that's more of a fashion accessory like the Galaxy S9.
While the Pixel 3's display is slightly bigger than its predecessor it's still rocking the same 1,080x2,160 resolution. That's fine by us as the display is still nice and sharp with rather balanced colours, decent contrast at first glance, and a good helping of brightness when cranked. HDR support is also present and correct.
Viewing photos and looking at this very website you're reading, the Pixel 3 puts in a sterling performance with everything looking crisp and clear.
There's no hint of muted colours or strange colour shifts when viewing the display off-axis, so that's all good news.
Software and performance
Guess what? Yep, the Pixel 3 comes running Android 9 Pie out of the box. It's a straightforward evolution of Android 8 Oreo and that's no bad thing.
With the Pixel Launcher interface on top, the Pixel 3 is arguably offering the best take on Android around. And it feels lively and slick to use, likely thanks to the use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chipset and a healthy 4GB of RAM.
It perhaps isn't as silky smooth as the OnePlus 6 which sets the standard for a greased weasel-like slick running Android. But it's still very lovely to flit through. We didn't notice a big difference in performance to the Pixel 2, but then we haven't had enough time to really dig into the handset.
The Pixel 3 comes rocking a 12.2MP F/1.8 aperture rear camera with optical image stabilisation that means it sticks a little out of the handset's rear. Hardware wise, it's the smallest of upgrades over the Pixel 2, which has one of the best smartphone cameras around.
But Google made a song and dance about the smart capabilities of the snapper, which now come with enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) abilities, allowing the camera to take a flurry of snaps at the press of the shutter and then use machine learning smarts to stick bits of them together to produce the best pic.
It also has enhances low-light capabilities that can automatically tweak the lighting in poorly lit scenarios without requiring the user to mess with settings. It all looks rather smart.
The AI-centric camera in the Pixel 2 produced excellent shots, and it's no different here, as, from our quick fiddle with the phone, the snaps we took looked detailed, clear and had decently balanced colours.
Flip to the front and you now have a pair of front cameras squeezed into the left-hand side of the phone's top bezel. This brace of 8MP lenses work in tandem to provide wider-angle shots than you'd normally get with a single front snapper.
Google touts the setup as good for groups selfie-snapping. Given we have no friends, we tested the cameras on unsuspecting tech journalists and hangers-on in the background and were suitably impressed, though we're not big selfie-takers so what do we really know.
Overall the camera array on the Pixel 3 looks to be a small but nevertheless impressive step up from the capabilities of its predecessor. But we'd need to give it a full review before we cast proper judgement.
For a price that starts at £739 for the model with 64GB of storage and hits £839 for the 128GB version, both of which you can pre-order now, the Pixel 3 is offering flagship features for a flagship price.
Its design is not the most cutting-edge, but it's pleasing nonetheless. And it offers a nice slice of pure Android Pie than no other flagship phone at this level can provide.
If you have a Pixel 2, then you won't be overly excited about the Pixel 3. But if you're due an Android upgrade then the Pixel 3 is looking worthy of your consideration. Pop back here for our full review once we get more time to really drill down into the Pixel 3, figuratively speaking; we're not animals. µ