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Should You Buy Or Upgrade To A Pixel 3?

Google just announced the newest members of the Pixel family, but as always there’s a looming question: should you buy one? Per the norm, the answer depends on what you’re using now. Let’s talk about it.

What’s New with the Pixel 3

The biggest aesthetic change with the Pixel 3 comes in the XL model. Google is joining all new modern flagships by adding a notch to the bigger of the two phones. Otherwise, both handsets look strikingly similar to last year’s Pixel 2 and 2 XL. There’s even an option on the 3XL to “hide” the notch, which makes it look almost identical to last year’s big Pixel.

Otherwise, both phones are incremental upgrades over their predecessors. Both phones pack Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon processor, the 845, as well as 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage. The 3 XL has a 6.3-inch, 523 PPI panel, while the smaller of the pair sports a 5.5-inch 443 PPI display. All of that is pretty much on par with last year’s Pixel phones.

Otherwise, there are little tidbits of newness sprinkled throughout these phones, mostly in the cameras. That’s always a heavy focus from every smartphone manufacturer, and this year is no different—though most of the Pixel’s tricks are software mods (many of which will be backported to the Pixel 2), save for one: the dual front-facing lenses. In a time where most manufacturers are going for dual rear lenses, Google decided to throw a pair on the front. It makes sense, though, because this allows the phones to take wide-angle selfies without the need for a selfie stick (or eerily long arms).

There’s also a super cool Assistant feature on the Pixel 3 in call screening. If you get a call from an unrecognized number, you can use this feature to let Assistant do the dirty work of answer the call for you, while you listen in. It’s brilliant. And it’s also coming the Pixel 2.

The only major change in the 3 is the return of wireless charging. This is something that Google effectively helped bring to the mainstream with the Nexus phones back in the day, only to abandon to adopt the aluminum exterior starting with the Nexus 6P. If you’ve used wireless charging, then you know what an incredible convenience it is. If you haven’t, well, then you don’t know what you’re missing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Otherwise, there isn’t a whole lot different this year. For the sake of comparison and completeness, here’s the pricing breakdown:

  • Pixel 3: 64GB, $799; 128GB, $899
  • Pixel 3 XL: 64GB, $899, 128GB, $999

So easy.

If You Have a Pixel 2/XL: Keep Your Phone

This will be short and sweet: if you have a Pixel 2, there’s not much of a reason to upgrade. In fact, this might be the smallest gap I’ve ever seen between a phone and its successor—the Pixel 2 and 3 are so similar it’s barely even worth consideration, especially once you consider the fact that many of the 3’s camera features will also be coming to the 2.

There are two main features that may sway your decision: wireless charging and the dual front cameras. Those are both what I would consider minor updates and not a good reason to drop $800+ on a new phone right now. It’s just not worth it.

If You Have a Pixel 1/XL: It Might Be Time to Upgrade

The gap between the Pixel 1 and 2 wasn’t huge (though it was still bigger than the one between the 2 and 3), but there’s a reason to start looking at the Pixel 3 if you’re still carrying the original Pixel phone.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, the Pixel 1 is still a great phone. It still gets updates, has a good camera, and generally continues to be nice and snappy in most cases. If that pretty much describes your experience, then you may not want to jump ship to a Pixel 3. The gap is larger between the 1 and 3 of course, but that doesn’t automatically mean an upgrade is the right choice.

That said, if you feel like your Pixel 1 is getting long in the tooth, it may be time for a change. And if that’s the case, the Pixel 3 is a great choice—but it’s also not the only one. If you can’t imagine life without stock Android, the Pixel 3 is the way to go. But if you want more bells and whistles, the Note 9 is also worth your consideration.

If You Have a Nexus Phone: It’s Time, Dude

If you’re still sporting a good ol’ Nexus phone—I honestly don’t even care which one at this point—it’s probably a good time to abandon ship. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re into stock Android, so guess what? The Pixel 3 is going to be a great choice for you.

If you’re using an older phone, like a Nexus 6, then you’ll even get to keep using your wireless chargers. That’s cool.

But seriously, yeah. I know that some of the later Nexus phones aged fairly well, but I’m sure you’ll still be shocked at how much better the Pixel 3 is.

If You Have Something Else: Galaxy S, Note, iPhone, or Whatever

The decision to move away from one manufacturer to another one is often tough. To change operating systems entirely is even harder. But if you’re reading this section, you’re probably at least considering it.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t generally as straightforward as it is for a phone’s predecessor (in this case, Pixel 1, 2, and Nexus phones)  because there’s a much bigger gap between the phones. Here’s a general rule though: if your phone is a couple of years old, it may be time to start looking at an upgrade.

So if you’re currently using a Galaxy S7, it’s may be starting to feel a little long in the tooth. And if that’s the case, you’re probably looking for a new phone. The natural path here is the S9 or Note 9, but perhaps you’re holding out for the S10. All good choices.

Here’s the deal: if you’re tired of the clutter on your current, non-Google phone and are looking for a cleaner experience, go Pixel. If you want the latest version of Android, go Pixel. If getting security dates promptly is important… go Pixel.

The same applies to current iPhone users: if you want Google’s version of the iPhone, get a Pixel. The update system works similarly, with Google’s phones getting updated early and often.

If you’re thinking about changing phones, I’d be remiss not to mention the non-obvious things—the things you don’t realize that you’ll miss until they’re gone. That’s where you have to pay attention to how you use your current phone and the features you love. If there’s something you heavily rely on but isn’t available on a Pixel phone, you may not realize it till its too late (after the upgrade). Of course, you can probably adjust to the change if you want to, but it’s still a crummy feeling to buy drop $1000 on a new phone only to realize it’s missing a key feature.

If you’ve already decided it’s time to move to a Pixel 3, you can pre-order it directly from the Google Store.

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is Review Geek's former Editor in Cheif and first started writing for LifeSavvy Media in 2016. Cam's been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. In 2021, Cam stepped away from Review Geek to join Esper as a managing Editor. Read Full Bio »