Ah yes, here we are. It’s October, and that means it’s the time of year where we get to play with the newest phones from Google.

For 2018 we’ve gotten our hands on the Pixel 3 XL, the 6.3-inch flagship with all of Google’s exciting new features. Given we’ve literally only had the phone in our possession all but a couple of days so we are nowhere near ready to provide a review.

On the other hand, we have had enough time with it to get a feel for what’s going on here. What’s more, having used the Pixel family as our daily driver for much of the last two years, we can already draw a few early conclusions.

We’ll publish a full review later, but for now we would like to share the initial thoughts and first impressions.

We were provided with a 64GB Just Black model from Google.

Similar, but uniquely different

Although we’ve been there, done that with the black phones from Google, we couldn’t help but feel a little different about the Pixel 3 XL. It’s softer and more inviting than its predecessors.

There are curves everywhere and the phone is really fun to hold. It’s not a departure from the first two generations at all, and we weren’t excited about seeing “Just Black” on the box.

Taking it out, though, we immediately noticed it to be smooth and sturdy. In pictures this one looks like the same old utilitarian, and uninspired approach. In person it’s so much nicer. It’s softer to the touch but we do expect it might be easier to scratch.

Going through the initial setup is as easy as ever. Whether you’re new to Android altogether or migrating from another phone, Google makes it simple.

Looking through the box we find Google has thrown in a pair of USB Type-C headphones. These were not included with the predecessor and we appreciate that we don’t have to go wireless only. Well, there is that dongle adapter but nobody looks forward to toting one of those around.

Display

Big and beautiful. At 6.3-inches there’s not much on the market that’s going to be bigger, nor is it really necessary. We can distinctly recall 7-inch tablets feeling spacious and sprawling for reading, web browsing, and gaming. This isn’t far off, and it’s much more pocketable.

Yes, there’s a notch. And, yes, you probably feel a certain way about it, or them in general. While we were initially hardcore against the idea, and look, of them, we’ve since warmed up. Today it’s easier for us to see the top of our displays as having extra space for notifications instead of a chunk missing.

If you’re worried that you are forced to stick with the cutout around the camera, don’t be. It only takes a few moments to dive in and change the setting that removes it.

The picture is incredible on the Pixel 3 XL and we can see why DisplayMate awarded it with such distinction. Whether you’re just a casual user, 3D gamer, or VR fan, the image is great. Get up close and personal with it and you see the fine details.

Sound

We can already tell that the Pixel 3 XL is louder than the previous models. It takes all but a few songs and YouTube videos to understand things are turned up a few degrees — or is that decibels?

The dual, front-facing speakers promised to be 40% louder than their predecessors and we have already found it to be noticeable. Whereas we tend to watch most clips around 2/3 of the way up on the Pixel 2, we’ve stuck to about half thus far.

Camera

Google has done it again. We had maybe ten minutes with the camera out in the field before we understood this was something special. In an age where so many competitors are tapping dual-cameras and more, Google is sticking with one.

The auto-focus is incredibly fast and the shutter speed is instant. We’ve found that we’re getting the moments we hope for when tapping the button. What’s more, the camera grabs a handful of pics before and after you press the shutter. That, combined with AI, brings about a prompt which asks if we’d like to check for a better pic.

Click here to see a gallery of pictures taken with the Google Pixel 3 XL

We took the Pixel 3 XL to a high school cross country meet on a somewhat dreary Ohio day. Lighting was less than ideal and the subjects literally run past the camera. Nevertheless, we were impressed with how quickly pictures were taken and how clear they were — especially when compared to pictures grabbed by other attendees.

Playing with the various modes is a blast and we find ourselves using the portrait mode quite often. Given we’re not using any add-on equipment, lenses, or special apps, we were really pleased with the results. Look for more feedback on these options in the full review.

Performance

The hardware hasn’t changed much from last year’s model so we aren’t looking for a huge step forward in terms of performance. We’ve slowly begun adding our accounts and daily apps to the review unit as it’s our goal to make it the daily driver.

With much of the difference coming in the form of software, things shouldn’t too unlike what we’re getting with the Pixel 2 and Android 9 Pie. To that end, the year-old flagship runs just as good today as it did when it arrived. Thus far the Pixel 3 XL handles everything we’re throwing at it without so much as a stutter.

As much as we like to personalize our phones and customize them with apps, configurations, and effects, we relish the opportunity to start fresh. Rather than cloning our current phone and its suite of apps, we like to push the reset button.

Starting fresh on a Pixel gives us a chance to see what Google has in mind and find out how things are set up. One thing we noted from the first Pixel, and which continues to the Pixel 3 (XL) is the cohesive feeling. It’s an excellent blend of hardware and software.

One of the biggest gripes we’ve had for the last two generations, wireless charging, has been addressed. In other words, there’s one less box left unchecked when it comes to creating the perfect phone.

Our team was provided with a Pixel Stand which we’ve left at the office for the first few days. It’s really refreshing to have wireless charging and the new Google charger is actually quite cool. Cool enough, really, that we’d like to have them in other places like the kitchen counter or bedside stand.

Early Conclusion

It’s really hard for us to justify spending upwards of $ 1,000 for a phone, regardless of the brand. Not from Samsung, not from LG, and not from Google. Having the luxury of testing other “flagship” models from different brands that run a fraction of the cost tells us we can certainly live without the big-name stuff.

On the other hand, we have a very difficult time walking away from the Pixel line. Once you’re in, you’re in. We really like what we see in the Pixel 3 so far and expect to it will stake its claim for best of the year.

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