Google’s Pixel 3 XL gives the iPhone XS Max a serious run for the money at the start of 2019.
Review Backgrounder: two months with both the 6.3-inch Google Pixel 3 XL (128GB) and the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (256GB).
(This is a brief review that touches on highlights of the Pixel 3 XL.)
AI: The Pixel 3 XL has some novel AI — via Google Assistant — that the iPhone can’t match.
That includes impressive AI to help you screen calls: Google Assistant takes the call, asks who’s calling and why, and generates a real-time transcript of the caller’s response.
And, overall, I’ve had better luck with Google Assistant as an intelligent assistant compared to Apple’s Siri (the latter I don’t use anymore and I turn off to save battery life).
Camera: Here, Google gets the more-with-less award.
The Pixel 3’s single rear camera renders amazing photos. Amazing because other phones like the iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 require two cameras to do more or less the same thing — like taking portrait photos and zooming. Low light performance is also outstanding courtesy of features such as Night Sight. And the Pixel 3’s video is at the top of the smartphone heap.
Performance: for what I do, performance is pretty much a draw between the Pixel 3 XL and iPhone XS Max.
That said, Google’s pure Android experience is smooth and feels a little faster than iOS. But that’s probably a subjective thing because Android feels more intuitive to me than iOS.
Battery life: the iPhone XS Max tops the Pixel 3 XL here.
It helps that on the iPhone I turn off Siri, turn off the cellular connection (turn on Wi-Fi calling instead), and turn on Do Not Disturb (contacts only) when I’m at home. That has proven to stretch the battery life on the iPhone.
But all things equal (and all things turned on), both phones are pretty close. Bottom line: battery life is not a deal breaker.
Weight: the Pixel 3 XL is lighter (by 0.8 ounces) than the iPhone* XS Max. Little things like this matter when you’re handling a phone dozens of times over the course of a day.
Price: this can be the deciding factor for buyers not wedded to a single platform. The Pixel 3 XL can be the better deal, especially if you can grab one at a discount.
The Pixel 3 XL price starts at $899 for 64GB. iPhone XS Max starts $1,099 for the same 64GB.
The top of the line 128GB Pixel 3 XL is $999, while the mid-range 256GB iPhone XS Max is $1,249 (per gig favors the iPhone in this case).
But wait. The Pixel 3 gets fairly regular discounts. The Google Store has already had two big sales on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL (despite being on the market for only a few months). The first time both Google phones were discounted $200 (bringing the 128GB Pixel 3 XL down to $799), the second time both phones were discounted $150. I don’t recall the Apple Store ever doing that.
I’d take a $799 or $849 Pixel 3 XL 128GB over a $1,249 iPhone XS Max 256GB.
Summary: the Pixel 3 XL is an improvement over the already-very-good Pixel 2 XL. If you’re patient and buy it at a discount (and if you’re not partial to iOS), it’s one of the best high-end smartphone deals on the planet — and cheaper than the iPhone XS Max.
*However, the iPhone XS Max is a more efficient design: the two phones are roughly the same size but Apple squeezes a 6.5-inch display into more or less the same space.