Julie’s gadget diary – The Pixel 3 XL is nice phone, but I sent it back

ARTICLE – After Google’s Pixel 3 XL unveiling a couple of weeks ago, I immediately ordered one because I’m a sucker for newphoneia, that feeling you get when you order a new phone and the anticipation that it will make your life easier, better, and more fun. At least I think that was what was going on in my head when I pressed the BUY button on Google’s online store.

The Pixel 2 XL has been my daily driver for the past year and except for a couple issues with Bluetooth and now with WiFi, it’s been a great phone. I’ll even say that it’s my all-time favorite phone to date. So the Pixel 3 XL should be a great upgrade to the Pixel 2 XL right? That’s what I figured and that’s why I ordered the 128GB version for a wallet shuddering $999.

A few days later FedEx delivered my new phone and my immediate impression was one of deja vu.

One phone above is the Pixel 2 XL and one is the new Pixel 3 XL. Can you tell which one is which? Upon first glance, they look almost identical if you have a black background image as I do. The new phone is the one on the right. The top speaker is narrower and the front-facing camera and ambient light sensor are on either side of the speaker which is in the greatly hyped and also greatly despised notch.

I personally don’t care one way or another about the notch or notches in general. The one on the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t bother me and I don’t think it looks ugly. I’d rather NOT have a notch, but the fact that it’s there doesn’t make my life worse and it doesn’t harm the performance of the phone.

The front of the Pixel 3 XL looks relatively unchanged and so does the back of the phone. But the Pixel 3 XL does feel different. The bottom matte area doesn’t have as much texture as the Pixel 2 XL, it’s smoother and a little more slippery. That’s because the back of the new phone is made of glass to allow for wireless charging.

I used to be a huge advocate for Qi charging and sorely missed it when I moved on from my hacked Samsung Galaxy S3 ages ago and haven’t had that feature since. However, not having wireless charging hasn’t been a hardship now that we have fast USB charging. But congrats to Google for finally adding that feature now that I really don’t care about it any longer.

Right away I was bummed that the Pixel 3 XL was so much like the 2 XL. I even took the Pitaka Aramid case off my Pixel 2 XL and it fit the 3 XL perfectly.

Other than the notch, wireless charging, and a slight improvement with the display which has brighter whites than my Pixel 2XL, it didn’t “feel” much different.

It only took me a few hours of using the 3 XL until I headed back to Google’s online store to start the return process …

Did I give up on this shiny new phone too soon? I really don’t think so. For everyday use, the 3 XL felt exactly the same as using my 2 XL. It didn’t feel significantly snappier, and when I took side by side pics with both phones, I couldn’t tell a major difference between them. Here are some quick examples.

Also, a lot of the updates for the Pixel 3 series are software updates which will come to the Pixel 2 line soon. So that was enough to make me change my mind very quickly about keeping this new smartphone.

I was annoyed that Google is charging a restocking fee even though I was within the 15-day return window. Have they always done that? I don’t remember that in the past. Apple doesn’t do that.

When it comes down to it, the Google Pixel 3 XL is a nice phone and if I didn’t already have the Pixel 2 XL, I’d have no problems buying one. But in my opinion, it is not a worthy upgrade from my Pixel 2 XL and in all honesty, this phone should have been named the Pixel 2 XLs instead of the Pixel 3 XL. Maybe you’ll keep my money next year Google…

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25 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – The Pixel 3 XL is nice phone, but I sent it back”




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  2. I kept mine, but I’m also upgrading from a 4 year old Droid Turbo. I totally agree with your assessment. If I had the 2XL I wouldn’t upgrade either. For me it’s a quantum leap, but coming from a more recent flagship, I have to admit it’s a bit of a disappointment. And it is about $150 too expensive, says the man who bought the 128G version

  3. A nice review and good to relate it back to your previous 2XL reviews from a usability perspective and not regurgitate everything and focus on specs only. As I noted in one of your other reviews though: I would still like to see your definite opinion on the option of buying a old new or old lightly-used phones instead of new. In this case from your review you seem to imply (but do not explicitly state) that consumers should buy a used 2XL rather than a 3XL. Maybe be explicit in your iPhone review?

    1. Keith, If you can find a used phone in excellent condition, then by all means, buy one. The price for new phones is in a word… stupid. I don’t know how we got to this point where the price of a device that many people will only use for a year or two at best costs more than some people’s monthly mortgage or car payments. Maybe I’m just getting old and stingy 😉

      1. I would say wiser; almost certainly you have ‘wised up”. Remember our generation were the same people that made Bill Gates and Steve Jobs super rich in the first place by allowing them to charge ridiculous profit margins based on marketing and the bogus idea that their IP needed “protection” from society. Windows for most emerging nations has always exceeded mortgage or car payments even though the marginal cost of producing a copy was less than $1; as did Apple hardware. So: some are wiser now and are disgusted at the profit margins. Now if we had only got wiser about our use of Anti-Trust laws then we would not be having this conversation.

          1. Perhaps only with a recession and if Lenovo choose to use all of their IP rights gained from the purchase of Motorola.
            Now on to the Apple and see how rosy it is; particularly if you put stickers on it like the Macbook :-).

  4. I too probably would have not upgraded from a Pixel 2XL but I’ve been limping along with my Nexus 6 for the past year because I was holding out for a Qi compatible phone on Project Fi.

    1. Ray, did you get the Pixel 3 XL then? What do you think of it? I need to go update my post to also say that I noticed that the display is a touch nicer looking than the Pixel 2 XL display. But really only in that the whites are brighter and don’t have a blue tint.

      1. I’m still waiting in delivery of my Pixel 3XL. It should be here in the next week or so. I ordered the white unit with maxed out storage.
        Sure, it’s expensive but Project Fi lets me make interest free payments to spread that over two years and I generally get 2 to 3 years out of a device.

          1. I already have a case, the charging stand, and a screen protector just waiting for the phone to be delivered. 🙂

            I’ve retired all my devices in working condition going back to my first Palm Pilot III because I slap a case and a screen protector just about everything on as soon as I take it out of the box.

          2. I’ve had the Pixel 3XL for a couple of days now and I definitely won’t be returning it.
            Though it’s a bit of a bump in screen size over my Nexus 6 the phone itself is smaller and lighter. I have a Ringke Onyx TPU case and a tempered glass screen protector but I’m shopping around for something like the Rinke Max I had on the Nexus 6 (I liked the port covers).
            The camera is just as amazing as everyone has reported; even more so to me since I’m skipping several generations of intermediate phones.
            One neat thing that I’ve noticed that I haven’t seen reported is that power saving mode works differently on Pie than I’m used to on Nougat. When I put my Nexus in power save mode it’d come out when I set the device on a charger and then I’d have to re-enable it. With Pie, power saving mode is persistent and goes back on when I pick the phone up.

          3. Hi Ray,
            Glad to hear that you’re loving your new phone. I can imagine how much of a difference the 3 XL is over the Nexus 6! Even small things like always on display and how you can see the name and title of songs playing nearby must be pretty fun for you. I’ll be interested to hear if you notice any issues with WiFi connections dropping out. I’ve had that issue intermittently for awhile now.

  5. I think if you have a 3-4 year old phone, or the original pixel, it might be a worthy update, but, from the 2 to the 3 is more of a sideways at best update. And on XDA, they’ve already ported the low light camera app, to the 2 & the Essential, which from what I have heard, made a HUGE difference in low light photos.
    Now that my Huawei experience is sadly coming to an end (I’ve had the Mate 2, 8, 9) thanks to the FCC pretty much tossing any chance of updates or support in the USA, I’ve been looking at an alternative. I prefer NOT to pay “premium” pricing, so may opt to get a Pixel 2XL, when I’m sure they start coming down in price, to reduce the inventory of left over phones. At least the updates will continue.

    1. If Jeanne wanted a new phone, I think the 3 XL would be a worthy update to her original Pixel. But in general, she could care less about phones and probably has no idea what brand/model she has now 😉
      I’m bummed about Huawei too. I really want to get my hands on the Mate 20 Pro. I still use the P20 for 95% of the product review photos.

  6. Or miss the Asus 5z. No plans to release for US LTE-A frequencies. Wonder who is constraining them (FCC or US carriers?).

  7. Hi Julie,
    You iphonoclast (what? You said newphonia. I seem to recall you abandoned Android for Apple)
    Personally, other than the guarantee of timely OS updates and the storage of photos in their original format, I don’t quite get the appeal of the pixel series. I am a strictly Sony xperia guy so I long for when you will review the xz3 and later versions. That said, l love the new “shop related products” section.
    I still would love to see prices in the rss feeds before I open full posts. Sometimes I only open post to see price or author (if writing and product have blown me away).

    1. I haven’t successfully made the switch from Android back to Apple although I’ve tried a few times. There’s always some small reasons why it doesn’t work for me.

      You forgot to mention another reason why Pixels are popular – stock Android. Not bloatware.

      I’m not sure how I would put prices in the RSS feeds before you open the article without adding them to the titles, which would make them pretty ugly. Sorry.

  8. I would have been someone who “had” to have a new phone when my contract expired. Had to have a new shiny toy – but of late have been having much more satisfaction picking up “premium” handsets on ebay that are maybe 6 months old.

    If I like it, I keep it for maybe a year, then sell it on again (accepted for less than I paid). If I don’t like it, I sell it on right away and make a small loss.

    A recent revalation was the Essential Phone EP1. A handset that was slated by reviews, but 6 months later, with firmware updates and a immediate update to Android 9.0 stock when I powered it on – perfection !

  9. Even though I was a Pixel 2 XL user, I love the Pixel 3 XL. There were too many irritating little things about the 2 XL. From the weirdly curved edges of the screen (like a bad Samsung clone) to the lack of wireless charging, the list went on and on. It was the best phone I ever used and one of the most frustrating because of questionable design decisions. Other people had problems with color reproduction and blue shift, but for me, they were just minor irritants. But the Pixel 3 XL is the phone that the Pixel 2 XL hinted at. The screen is amazing, I can drop it onto any of the Qi cradles around my home and office. Now I just need wireless charging in my car. It is, at least seems to me, noticeably faster in both complex image processing and in everyday tasks. For me, it’s definitely worth the upgrade. I even dug out the 2 XL, a few days ago to make sure. After about two hours, it was back in the drawer.

    I am probably due for some flack about buying a new feature phone every year. It’s expensive, but as somebody pointed out recently, your phone is the single electronic device that is with you during every waking hour, and that is in constant use. Based on that, get the best and upgrade when you feel the need (YMMV).

    1. Brad, as a Pixel 2 XL and 3 XL user, have you noticed any issues with Wifi connections? I think it started the Pie update, but my 2 XL and the 3 XL (while I had it), would often not be able to connect to my home WiFi. It could see the router, but it would not be able to connect until I would reboot the phone.

  10. No problems with Wifi but then again, I’m probably not the best person to ask since I’ve been using Google mesh WiFI for over a year. And oddly enough, they’re all very compatible with each other. BTW – I tried a couple of mesh systems before settling on the Google solution, and all of them are better than monolithic access points with extenders.

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