What We Know So Far About Google’s Pixel 3

Extensive leaks have given us a good picture of Google’s next smartphone. Will it live up to its predecessors?

A Pixel phone made up of parts of previous Pixel models.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Google.

While most attention is on Apple and its impending iPhone launch, Google also has a high-quality smartphone line with a new model coming soon. Its Pixel 2, which debuted last fall, has proven a critical success. Popular Science wrote that the Pixel 2 “made me consider ditching [the] iPhone,” while CNET concluded in July that it was a “better upgrade” than the iPhone X. It has yet to emerge as a true competitor to Apple commercially. In 2017, Google sold 3.9 million Pixel and Pixel 2 devices—a far cry from Apple, which sold more than 220 million iPhones—but its sales are steadily improving. In October, we can expect Google to debut the next generation of its smartphone, the Pixel 3. From what we know so far, it sounds like a solid follow-up to an already well-received phone—unfortunately, Google doesn’t look to be taking many risks with the handset.

The phone will come in two variants: a Pixel 3 with a 5.4-inch display and a Pixel 3 XL with a 6.7-inch display (far larger than the 6.0-inch Pixel 2 XL). Like Apple, Google is getting into phablet territory, delivering a phone that blends the benefits of a tablet and a smartphone and aims to make productivity easier with a roomier screen. The other noteworthy news about the Pixel 3 XL, according to leaked images, is that the display will be notched, much like the iPhone X. The move follows publicized changes to Android’s design guidelines, which outlined the number and positioning of notches on Android devices. It makes sense that after establishing the rules, Google’s next smartphone would act as a model for that type of display, which allows greater use of the front screen area by minimizing the size of the top bezel area. However, the smaller Pixel 3 will not have a notched display, marking the first time Google is differentiating the two models by something other than size.

Leaks suggest the two Pixel 3 phones will largely be identical, with top-of-the-line parts that will rival those in Apple’s upcoming iPhone. Inside, the Pixel will feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor along with an Adreno 630 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. The XL will reportedly have a 3,430 mAh battery on board—the smaller Pixel could have a smaller battery, as its exact battery specs haven’t been leaked yet. Both devices will feature dual 8.1-megapixel cameras on the front and a 12.2-megapixel camera on the back. Like many other Android phones, its fingerprint sensor will also be situated on the back of the device.

Speakers are often a weak point for smartphones. Trying to cram a quality audio system into such a small space is a difficult engineering feat. The Pixel 3 looks to be taking an unusual approach by having dual front-facing speakers on the device. This should improve audio quality when the phone is laying on its back compared with phones that have speakers directed out the bottom of the device. Many phones with higher quality audio, such as the Razer phone and the Pixel 2, have front-firing speakers. It’s good to see Google continuing this tradition.

While leaks have detailed many of these phones’ hardware specs, far less is known about the software experience other than it will run Android P. Google could include some special touches, such as new camera features, augmented reality or biometric authentication updates, or other software nuances, but none of them have been reported yet. (Google is reportedly working on a health and fitness A.I. coach, for example, but it may be too soon to see that debut on hardware just yet.) Some reports have also suggested that, like Apple, Google could come out with a third Pixel phone model, but little is known about this possibility. It could be a cheaper option, like Apple is reportedly working on, or it could be a more expensive premium variant.

Google’s phones are set to launch Oct. 9, according to Bloomberg. From what we know so far, they build nicely on the foundation set by the first- and second-generation Pixel phones. But we have yet to hear about any earth-shattering developments. This could be a ruse. Companies have been known to strategically leak some information about upcoming products and hold other developments under tight security. By tempering our expectations, we might be extra wowed by whatever Google unveils. If not, the Pixel 3 has a solid spec list, looks good, and will run Google’s well-reviewed new smartphone OS. It will be one of the most highly anticipated new phones of the year, even if it is mostly more of the same.