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Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL: Everything you need to know

If prior releases are any indication, Google will unveil their new hardware line-up during October and will most probably be 4th of October because the original  pixels were launched on the 4th of October 2016 and the Google Pixel 2’s were launched on the same date in 2017.

There are rumors that three Pixel devices are in the works with the codenames “crosshatch”, ” albacore” and ”blueline” and two of them are rumored to be premium and one to be a high end device. Something that resembles Apples product strategy of having a high-end iPhone X at the same time as their two other flagships, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Codenames are names of fish and it’s not a surprise as using fish names as codenames for phones can be dated to the Nexus line. Codenames of the last generation Pixels were walleye (Pixel 2) and taimen (Pixel 2 XL) and the first generation Pixels were Sailfish (Pixel); Marlin (Pixel XL) and the last 2 Nexuses were angler (Nexus 6P) and bullhead (Nexus 5X). Google is clearly sticking with the tradition here.

Google might end up releasing just two phones as usual and if we look back, there were rumors of a 3rd Pixel device last year too and indeed a third one had been in the works, codenamed muskie which was designed by HTC and eventually, Google ended up cancelling it and it ended up being rebranded by HTC as HTC U11+.

The 128GB variant of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were priced at $749 and $949 respectively and we can safely assume that this year’s devices will be around the same prices.

Design – Notch or no notch?

The Pixel 2’s design, specially that of the XL, was one of the iconic designs of last year. It didn’t have an all glass back, but it was one of the unique designs. When most other manufacturers flocked around all glass designs, Google sticked with the design of the original Pixel and refined it further with the inclusion of the black glass stripe and it made the Pixel 2 stand out from the rest.

Google may have hinted us about the design of the Pixel 3 with the latest Android P beta and from the looks of it, it will be one of the few phones to achieve an edge-to-edge display without having to resort to an ugly notch in the display. Details on how they achieved this is scarce at the moment and it’s not even confirmed that this is indeed the real design of the Pixel 3, but there’s a high probability of that being the case.

When you go into Settings>Sounds>Shortcut on the new Android P beta, you’ll be greeted with the following screen:

Google Pixel 3

Image credit: SlashLeaks

Now last year, the Android O beta showed off an early Pixel 2 design which ended up being very similar to the real Pixel 2 and if that’s any indication, we might be looking at the design of the Pixel 3.

Google Pixel 3

Image credit: SlashLeaks

If Google can pull this off, it will be a very interesting design achievement which will surely make other manufacturers to get away from their ugly notch implementations.

Google Pixel 3

It is highly possible the “Active Edge Squeeze” which allowed the user to squeeze the sides of the phone to launch Google Assistant, will be included with the Pixel 3. One disadvantage of this feature in the Pixel 2’s implementation was that it wasn’t remappable. You couldn’t make it do anything other than launching the Google Assistant and it would have been great if we could remap it to take a screenshot or launch a certain app when we squeeze the phone. Hopefully, this will be the case with the Pixel 3.

Google Pixel 3

Another admirable design decision that Google made with the Pixel 2 was sticking with front-facing stereo speakers. Most other manufacturers have moved away from front-facing stereo speakers and instead, most devices have a speaker at the bottom and the earpiece acts as the 2nd speaker when playing content. While this is usable, it is in no way close to having 2 dedicated front firing speakers that will give out the best balance and deep sound. It will be harder this time for Google to place stereo speakers in the front because of the rumored edge-to-edge display but hopefully they’ll be able to achieve that in style.

Due to the absence of a glass back, last year’s Pixels didn’t feature wireless charging and if Google decides to go with Aluminum back this time around too, there will be no wireless charging on the Pixel 3. Another subjectively important omission with the Pixel 2 was the headphone jack. Looking at the trend that except a few OEMs like Samsung and OnePlus, excluding the headphone jack, it’s highly probable it won’t make a return with the Pixel 3. So, if you have traditional headsets, you’re going to need a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor if you’re planning on using those.

Speaking of headphones, Google will release an upgraded version of their Pixel Buds with the new Pixels. Pixel Buds were the first Google made Bluetooth earbuds that were intended to compete with the likes of Apple’s AirPods and other wireless earbuds.

The Specs

The Pixel 3 will come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset which includes Adreno 630 as the GPU just like flagship this year. It will also come with an updated version of the Pixel Visual Core which is a chip that’s custom designed by Google which enabled the Pixel 2 to process HDR+ images 5 times faster than it could with the main CPU while consuming 1/10th of the power. It will most probably come with 4GB of RAM and 6GB at maximum because it is more than enough and any more is really overkill and pure marketing for Android as it stands today.

Pixel Visual Core

There are already components inside the Qualcomm 835 SoC that are made to do image processing tasks. Their dedicated Image Signal Processor(ISP) and Digital Signal Processor(DSP) are used by the most phones for their image processing needs. However, Google opted to use a custom-built chip to process their image processing algorithms including their signature HDR+ algorithm.

Google Pixel 3

A magnified image of Pixel Visual Core

The chip on the Pixel 2 has eight IPU cores, each of them having 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs) enabling it to perform 3 trillion operations per second. There’s also onboard LPDDR4 memory to reduce the latency when accessing the main memory, a PCI Express bus to talk to the main Snapdragon 835 processor and a Cortex A53 core to handle all the communication tasks. The visual core is designed to perform mass math operations across the millions of pixels available in a picture. Another thing that sets apart this chip in the integration between hardware and software. The software for the chip is custom designed only to the chip and hence it is heavily optimized, and developers can make use of this chip with Halide for image processing and TensorFlow for machine learning.

From an end user perspective, the Visual Core leads to faster image processing with a fraction of the power consumption. Another important thing is that earlier, when you took a picture with the built-in capture mode of apps like Instagram and Snapchat, you wouldn’t get the same image quality as using the Google Camera app because the image processing happens in the app. Now, developers can use the Visual Core in their apps and the photos captured in-app will be of the same quality.

We will see an updated version of the Visual Core with the new Pixels which will have more computing power and a higher efficiency.

The Camera

Let’s talk about the Pixel line’s headlining feature, the camera. Yes, I said “camera” because it’s highly probable that this year’s Pixel 3 will have a single camera setup like the Pixel 2. When it comes to cameras, the more is not necessarily better as we saw with the Pixel 2 which has the best camera in any smartphone to date and the trend will continue with the Pixel 3.

A multi camera setup is often used to achieve a fake bokeh effect popularized by the term “portrait mode”. To put it in a simple way, the difference in the perspectives from the shots from the two cameras are used to create a depth map and the subject in the foreground will be distinguished from the background. A blur effect will be applied to the background afterwards. In Google’s case, their algorithm doesn’t need those extra details from a second camera to create this depth map because it’s so good at differentiating the subject from the background with the details from a single camera and that algorithm is only going to get better with the Pixel 3. A second telephoto lens or a wide-angle lens can be useful at times, but the statistics suggest they are rarely used.

Google Pixel 3

Portrait Mode on the Google Pixel 2. Source: Google

 

Last generation Pixels had a 12.2 Megapixel primary sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and a pixel size of 1.4µm. It was optically stabilized and used Dual Pixel Phase Detection Auto Focus. The front shooter was an 8 Megapixel sensor with an f/2.4 aperture and the same pixel size as the primary sensor.

We can expect the Pixel 3 not to deviate much from this hardware and the focus will be on the image processing algorithms as is the case with every smartphone these days. The hardware will only get you so far and if your software is garbage, the whole experience will be subpar.

The display

Even though Android P added support to the display notches, I’m a little skeptical about Google adding a notch to the Pixel 3. It will most probably have a display with an 18:9 aspect ratio like we saw with the OnePlus 5T without a notch.

Last year’s Pixels had 1080p and 1440p AMOLED displays on the 2 and 2 XL respectively. The Pixel 2 Xl’s display was criticized for having some issues like screen burn-in at early stages and color shift when viewing off axis. Some issues like burn-in weren’t present on all devices and the color shift was visible only when viewing off axis, which isn’t an accepted used case anyway. The XL’s display was an LG made P-OLED unit and while it wasn’t a bad display per say, Google could have done better by using Samsung made OLED panels which are the best displays that are on the market. Hopefully we’ll get to see a Samsung panel in the Pixel 3.

Google will most probably stick with a 1080p AMOLED panel for the Pixel 3 and a 1440p AMOLED panel for the Pixel 3 XL and Always on Display with burn-in protection will make a return. Based on what we know so far from the Android P beta, the display will be of the edge-to-edge variety whilst not having a display notch and in my opinion, it is a step in the right direction.

Although there’s only a small chance of this happening, it will be interesting to see a 120Hz display like we saw with the Razer phone, on the new Pixels, at least on one of them. In the Razor phone, it made a huge difference on smoothness and being the smoothest phones out there with the 60Hz panels, the Pixels will do wonders with a 120Hz display.

What about those under-glass fingerprint sensors?

We first saw an under-glass fingerprint sensor on an unreleased Vivo phone and now they have released their X21 which will be commercially available and features an optical under- glass fingerprint scanner from Synaptics.

Google Pixel 3

These under-glass sensors are still in the early stages and slower compared to the traditional fingerprint sensors and Google doesn’t usually adopt hardware features that are this early in their development and hence it’s safe to say that an improved “Pixel Imprint”, which is what they call the fingerprint recognition system on the Pixels (Nexus Imprint on the Nexus 6P and 5X), will make a return. Pixel Imprint anyway resides on the back of the phone and it’s not actually a hindrance to the display size.

 The Battery

The Pixel 2 had a 2700 mAh battery while the Pixel 2 XL had a 3520 mAh battery to accommodate it’s large 6-inch QHD display. However, the battery life of the two were similar. Google will focus on improving the battery life rather than just going for a higher battery capacity (mAh value). That doesn’t mean we won’t see an increase in the battery capacity, but Google’s focus will be on improving the battery life instead of going for a higher mAh count. Last year’s Pixels reflect this. While there were many devices with 4000mAh and some with more, the Pixels had excellent battery life enough to last a full day and frankly that’s the best we can expect from a flagship today considering the push for thinner devices which reduce the physical size of the battery. Of course, once could build a phone with a whopping 5000mAh battery that lasts 2 days, but it will also be bulky and ugly.

 

Are you excited about the new Pixels? Let us know in the comments..