The Pixel 3 has plenty of competition. However, we'd pick it over the Pixel 3 XL and if you want the best smallish pure-play Android phone around, then this is the phone for you.
Lovely refined design, excellent camera, slick performance
Expensive, only 4GB of RAM, not as flashy as rivals, average battery life.
TO PARAPHRASE THE FASHION WORLD, releasing a large and small version of a flagship smartphone is 'so on trend right now'. We've seen in with the Samsung Galaxy phones, the iterative upgrades to the iPhone X and Google's Pixel handsets.
And it's the same situation with Google Pixel 3 phones this year. We've already taken an in-depth look at the Pixel 3 XL and were suitably impressed if not blown away. Now we have the Pixel 3 to have a proper gander at.
Given there's not a great deal of difference between both Pixel phones other than the display and size, we'll avoid repeating ourselves and refer you back to the Pixel 3 XL review for more details around the camera, performance and Android Pie.
In this review, we'll look at what the Pixel 3 is like to use in comparison to its larger sibling and other Android flagships to see if it can cut the mustard. Onwards reader.
Naturally, the Pixel 3 shares a very similar design to the Pixel 3 XL, only shrunken down. And that design is a solid evolution over the Pixel 2.
The handset holds a 5.3in display, a small increase over the Pixel 2's 5in screen, which has been placed in a nicely rounded chassis that's not a million miles away for the edge aesthetics of the iPhone 8.
While the Pixel 2 was a relatively boxy phone, the Pixel 3's curves are much more pleasing to the eye and nicer to hold. If fact, it's one of the nicest 'smaller Android phones' we've fondled in a while. We say smaller phone in inverted commas as many flagships now boast 6in displays, not that the Pixel 3 is particularly dinky.
Granted, a Samsung Galaxy S9 is more visually striking and feels bloody lovely, but it also gives the impression of being more like a fashion gadget and one that you feel anxious about dropping.
The Pixel 3, on the other hand, feels well-built but also rather utilitarian. It feels like a phone that's ready for hard use and doesn't need to be swaddled in a case, and IP68 water resistance means it can stand a dunk in the drink as well.
At the top and bottom bezels on the phone's front you'll find stereo speakers. These sound punchy and clear, and while the back vibrated a little from the resonating sound, there's no trace of the distortion we encountered with the Pixel 3 XL's speakers.
So you can blast out tunes from the phone if you're so inclined. If not then you'll have to make do with audio through USB-C as there's no 3.5mm jack. Google bundles in a pair of USB-C headphones into the Pixel 3's box, which is handy if you don't have a pair of Bluetooth cans lying around; the headphones sound decent if not up to audiophile level of quality.
Round the back is the rear camera module and fingerprint scanner, which is just as responsive as it was in previous Pixels.
There're no buttons on the left-hand side of the Pixel, but on the right, you'll find the volume rocker and power switch which is different on each of the Pixel 3's trio of colour options: Clearly White, Not Pink, Just Black.
We had the Not Pink version with its bright orange power button, and despite how that sounds the phone looks rather nice and not as in-your-face as the white model.
All in all, we reckon the Pixel 3 is better looking and just easier to handle than its larger sibling. Yes, it doesn't have as much screen space but we don't feel that's drastically missed, as we're going to explain.
As mentioned, the 5.3in display on the Pixel 3 is a tad larger than its predecessor's but it rocks the same 1,080x2,160 resolution. On paper that's barely an upgrade, but the Pixel 3's AMOLED panel is a good step up from that on the Pixel 2.
Colours are more vivid compared to the rather neutral shades of the Pixel 2, and there's plenty of contrast and brightness on offer, and as a bonus the screen supports HDR.
The screen can't compete with some of the best flagships like the Galaxy S9 or iPhone Xs in terms of vividness or brightness and doesn't have quite the same resolution. But you'd need to have the eyes of an eagle on ocular steroids to pick out pixels and notice any lack of sharpness.
But the best feature of the Pixel 3's display is its lack of notch, not that we're against notches per say, it's just we feel the Pixel 3 XL doesn't do enough to justify its ugly display cutout. It doesn't really provide extra levels of information and therefore the notch feels distracting rather than a worthy aesthetical sacrifice.
So while you don't get any extra screen space with the Pixel 3 and its bezels are present and correct, you don't feel like you're being shortchanged on display real-estate.
And given many Android apps don't play nice with notches, the lack of one on the Pixel 3 means Android and its apps can be viewed without display anomalies, thereby giving the best presentation of Google's mobile OS, which for a device that's meant to showcase it, that's a good thing.
Finally, the use of a bezel to house the Pixel 3's dual-lens front facing camera array means it doesn't gawp at you from a notch, like it does in the Pixel 3 XL, but rather sits subtly in the top left-hand side of the handset.
Speaking of snappers, the Pixel 3's camera setup is identical to that of its sibling. The rear module holds a 12.2MP lens with a f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation, and Google's Visual Core processor.
As such, it performs just as well. Thanks to Google's artificial intelligence (AI) chops, the camera delivers detailed, colour and contrast-rich images that are equal to or superior to anything the other flagship phones can deliver with their dual or triple camera arrays.
Portrait modes and augmented reality features are all handled with aplomb, and Google's smart Lens feature can extract info from a picture is neat if a tad hit-and-miss.
As good and smart as the camera is, photography nerds will still want to opt for a DLSR to get the most convincing bokeh and other swish camera things. But for everyone else, the Pixel 3 will deliver stellar results.
The front-snappers are very decent as well, delivering nice portrait pics and wide-angle selfies, though the latter can feel a tad gimmicky.
We found the easily-handled size of the Pixel 3 makes it better at snapping pics moment-to-moment than the more unwieldy XL model, which means we feel it offers the better smartphone photography experience.
Performance, software and battery life
Much like the camera setup, the Pixel 3 shares the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset and 4GB of RAM as its bigger brother. So it's pretty much the same story of delivering slick performance despite using a somewhat ageing SoC and not having as much RAM as other flagships.
In Geekbench 4.the Pixel 3 racks up a multi-core score of 8,098, with the single-core score of 2,337. It's by no means a class leader but that's beside the point as everything runs silky smooth. Over time, with apps getting more demanding, 4GB of RAM might feel a tad lacklustre but at the moment it's plenty.
This slick performance is again partly down to how optimised Android 9 Pie is on the Pixel 3. Again, it's the same setup as the Pixel 3 XL, so check out that review for the nitty-gritty.
But suffice to say, this is the best presentation of Android to date. We also feel the neater size and look of the Pixel 3 does a better job at showcasing Android Pie than the Pixel 3 XL, and not just because of the notch - the gesture-oriented interface is better handled on the smaller handset.
The Pixel 3's squeezable sides, which activate the Google Assistant, also feel nicer to use on the Pixel 3 than the XL, and said virtual assistant pops up and handles various requests with gusto.
The only major difference under the hood between the two third-gen Pixels is the Pixel 3 has a smaller battery. With a capacity 2,915 mAh, you're going to struggle to get beyond the evening without reaching for the charger and that's with medium use and the adaptive display enabled.
Google has its Adaptive Battery feature which uses deep learning to figure out how to optimise battery life, but it didn't deliver the goods in our testing; that's probably because it needs a little longer to tune in.
Rapid and wireless charging is present and correct, especially through the Pixel Pad accessory, so juicing up the phone enough to survive a commute home isn't a big deal.
Given we rather like smartphones with big displays, we were expecting the Pixel 3 XL to be the Google phone to recommend, but we were wrong. While the larger phone doesn't quite live up to our lofty expectation, the Pixel 3 surprised us.
It feels lovely, it's excellent to use and has all the features of its larger stablemate but with £130 off the price tag. However, at £739 for the 64GB model and £839 for the 128GB handset, the Pixel 3 isn't cheap.
Were talking flagship pricing which puts it against the likes of the iPhone XR, Huawei P20 Pro, and Galaxy S9, which all hit the high notes in terms of features, performance, cameras and build quality.
Suffice to say the Pixel 3 has plenty of competition. But we'd pick it over the Pixel 3 XL and if you want the best smallish pure-play Android phone around, then this is the phone for you. Even if you don't, the Pixel 3 is well worth considering as your next smartphone.
Lovely refined design, excellent camera, slick performance.
Expensive, only 4GB of RAM, not as flashy as rivals.
Battery lacks endurance.