The Pixel 3 XL proves Google still doesn't know how to make phones for the masses

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The Pixel 3 XL proves Google still doesn't know how to make phones for the masses
Google's Pixel 3 XL is not out yet, but its fugly design is no secret

When the first #MadeByGoogle smartphones were unveiled back in the fall of 2016, many so-called Android purists probably experienced instant mixed feelings. On one hand, Google was clearly taking own-brand mobile devices more seriously than ever by going after Apple in a number of obvious ways.

Then again, the expansion of the Pixel program, which actually started years earlier with laptops and tablets, meant the Nexus line was grinding to a halt. That wasn’t at all shocking, but it still saddened some folks who may have fallen in love with Google’s earlier hardware experiments, despite major shortcomings.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Nexuses are indeed dead and buried, although cash-strapped fans of stock Android have plenty of solid options to choose from. As for the Google Pixel family, a concerning number of people are worried about the direction in which the program is heading, as proven by a recent poll where the Galaxy S10, iPhone XS Plus, and even LG V40 ThinQ handily defeated the upcoming “notchy” beast.

It’s not about the notch


What is that abomination at the top of the Pixel 3 XL screen?

What is that abomination at the top of the Pixel 3 XL screen?


Okay, it’s a little about the notch. For some, perhaps more than a little. Personally, while I prefer symmetrical bezels like the ultra-thin ones on the LG V35 ThinQ or at least the partial symmetry of Samsung's gorgeous Galaxy Note 9, I have no problem with the display cutout on the OnePlus 6 or Huawei P20. The “water drop” execution is even better, sleeker, and subtler, even though one could argue it draws more attention to the “empty space” on your screen.

But the fundamental problem with the Pixel 3 XL (and the Pixel 3) is that it looks nothing like its forerunner. In turn, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL substantially revised the design of their own predecessors.

Insecure much, Google?

Insecure much, Google?


That doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, as Google continues to play around with different ideas, features, and concepts just as it did back in the Nexus days. Even worse, the company seems unable to decide what's truly important here. Remember when Apple’s headphone jack-killing “courage” was mocked during the original Pixel phone’s introduction?
 
The Pixel 2 then inexplicably joined this infuriating current, and now the Pixel 3 XL is ready to jump in with both feet on the notch action. That kind of indecisiveness and incoherence in strategy would be acceptable for a startup, but not someone that’s been designing phones for eight years now. 

Take Samsung. In spite of unimpressive Galaxy S9 sales numbers and calls for a drastic Note 9 redesign (or an altogether cancelation), the company chose to refine (read rehash) the Galaxy Note 8, resisting the temptation to blindly follow the no-jack and screen cutout trends.

What’s the target audience?


It’s easy to answer that question with Android purists, but what exactly is that? Who are these “purists”, where are they, and most importantly, how many of them are there around just waiting for Google to release a new “vanilla” phone?

"Pure" software is not everything

 
We don’t have a lot of public stats to help us assess the box-office results of the original Pixel and Pixel 2, but those that are available paint a pretty disheartening picture for Google. Some not-very-reliable data suggested 2016’s Pixel and Pixel XL had barely crossed one million unit sales back in the summer of 2017, while a trusted analyst claimed overall Pixel scores last year doubled from 2016... to a modest 3.9 million units.

Exactly how modest is that? Well, the Galaxy S9 and S9+, which haven’t exactly been considered smash hits, sold twice that number in their first month in global stores alone.
 
That’s an obviously unfair comparison, but the fact of the matter is Google badly needs to appeal to a wider audience. There’s a reason Nexus phones were never box-office champions, and that’s because not enough people care about a clean, bloat-free software experience.

Fast updates are also nice, but it would be even nicer if Google actually squashed some bugs before delivering both minor and major OS revisions.

What can be done


First of all, don’t despair. There’s definitely a chance the Pixel program will suffer the same fate as the Nexus initiative, dying a slow and painful death. But they say third time’s the charm, so maybe Google does need another fresh start after the easy to foresee Pixel 3 XL fiasco.

The Nexus 6P was not a bad phone, but its sales numbers weren't great

The Nexus 6P was not a bad phone, but its sales numbers weren't great


This is a phone that’s become a running gag before even being officially released, and a slightly prettier, smaller, and cheaper Pixel 3 probably can’t save the duo from mediocre sales.

Whatever comes next has to escape the iPhones’ shadow while carefully choosing which industry trends to embrace and what fads to ignore. Maybe a commercial debut earlier in the year would be a good idea. Definitely, lower prices as well.

There’s nothing wrong with favoring profit margins over volume, but the search giant can definitely afford to settle for lower per-unit gains for a few years in order to boost market share. After all, that’s precisely what Huawei has done, gradually increasing the prices and improving the quality of its flagship devices as the brand’s mainstream relevance was progressing.

2010's Nexus One was the first and only HTC-manufactured Nexus handset

2010's Nexus One was the first and only HTC-manufactured Nexus handset


Last but not least, Google needs to make better use of the design talent it recently acquired from HTC. It’s okay to focus on software, but the Pixel hardware has to be improved in keeping with (some) trends while also taking risks from time to time. Wasn't that what made HTC so great back in the day? 

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38 Comments

1. panrt321

Posts: 100; Member since: Aug 23, 2018

Only best design LG NEXUS SERIES.

8. worldpeace

Posts: 3092; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Nexus 6 (by Moto) is the best IMO, slim bezels (on it's era) but still enough to house FF stereo speakers, ring flash, curved back (sure it got many problems, but I love the design)

11. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1504; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

What problem does curved back makes? I still have Moto X 2014 which has similar design and it has no problem, actually it’s ergonomically better.

20. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Design is one thing, but what about the things inside, and what it can actually do. That is what truly matters, which I know Adrian never touches upon that one. As it stands today the current Pixel 2 has an AI processor that operates at 3 trillion operations per second. Where as Apples current A11 SoC AI operates at 600 billion operations per second. That means the Pixel 2's are 5 times faster than Apples current A11. No mention of that stuff. What about the superior camera image quality of any iPhone? What about the VR aspect like Daydream? The real multitasking, and split screen multitasking which no iPhone can do? But alas stuck on design, really?

21. Sakeem

Posts: 856; Member since: Sep 05, 2012

Shhhhhhhhhhh....none of that matters. I hope you don't get banned for this comment. /s

26. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1504; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

My question has nothing to do with all this s#!t you posted right now.

24. worldpeace

Posts: 3092; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

It's not about the design problem. This phone is kinda buggy (random reboot, battery drain, etc)

2. Whitedot

Posts: 704; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Spot on. 3 Pixel phone iterations three consecutive uninspiring designs. I expect more then a generic slab for the price they ask. Just look around , you can get amazing value for money these days and you don't have to break the bank. NO. High end department of any OEM has to offer something really exceptional to be worth spending $700-$1000. For one thing I justify spending that money on Iphone X ( not a fan of apple at all) . Why justify? BEcause there will be updates, maintenance of software for another 5 years. You save a lot investing a grand. Just get your self a screen protector and case. And, now, look if Google is going after Iphone they not only have to do best camera, software but also offer appealing hardware aesthetic. You can't fool people, consumer loves beauty no denial here. I don't know what's wrong with Pixel saga but it seems like some sort of experiment to me.

3. meanestgenius

Posts: 21345; Member since: May 28, 2014

Fugly is an understatement, and Google doesn’t know what it takes to produce a smartphone that the masses will adopt. The main selling points of the Pixel line are its camera and its fast updates, but as I’ve always said, what good is being first with the updates if keeps producing more bugs that another update is needed to fix, only to have that one produce more bugs? That negates one of the two main selling points of the Pixel line. The Pixel line is just one continuous beta project. And don’t even get me started on the premium pricing of the Pixel line for it be such a beta project. It’s ridiculous. Why can’t Google just learn from Android OEM giants like Huawei and Samsung about what it means to have smartphones that the masses adopt? Hell, even Xiaomi can teach them. Even better still, Google just needs to focus on making the Android OS better and better, and leave the smartphone hardware (design and all) to Android OEM’s. Just my thoughts on the matter.

13. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1504; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

I think Google was like “We want to show how much Android OS is capable” by making a phone which is total bloat free, no skins, direct updates etc. But as always “First impression is the last impression” and that’s where Google missed with OG Pixel/XL. They had worst design, hundreds of hardware & software defects. Even the Pixel 2 is horrible as one of my cousins Pixel 2 keeps restarting continuously for no reason. And after I saw that issue I was like I’m reconsidering my decision of buying Pixel 3 now. Hope that Pixel 3 would be better than last iterations.

18. yalokiy

Posts: 884; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Perhaps if your cousin contacts google support they'll replace his Pixel 2 with a new one.

23. Venom

Posts: 3015; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

I think the whole problem with the Pixel line is that Google isn't used to a yearly phone release. The Nexus launches weren't always a year from each other, so they didn't experience a ton of issues. Well that is until they "learned from Huawei" with the 6P. I think Google does need to get better and stop trying to beat the competition out first. They are losing focus on what the Nexus and Pixel is all about. Nice to see a reasonable response from someone who actually has experience and knows what they are talking about.

32. meanestgenius

Posts: 21345; Member since: May 28, 2014

“Nice to see a reasonable response from someone who actually has experience and knows what they are talking about.” That definitely couldn’t be you, as: A) You aren’t reasonable. B) You don’t own any Pixel device to have any experience with them.

22. Venom

Posts: 3015; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

Yeah, why doesn't Google learn from Huawei. It's not like the 6P doesn't exist, the high point AND low point of Huawei. But of course I could explain it to you, but you're not going to listen to reason obviously.

31. meanestgenius

Posts: 21345; Member since: May 28, 2014

Yeah, Google can learn from Huawei about how to make smartphones that the masses want. They are, after all, the 2nd largest smartphone vendor, and growing. I could explain it to you further, but of course, you’re obviously beyond reasoning with.

34. rabramson2443

Posts: 44; Member since: May 12, 2018

Unfortunately, the "masses" couldn't differentiate their asses from a hole in the ground.

35. meanestgenius

Posts: 21345; Member since: May 28, 2014

If that were the case, then the Pixels would be breaking sales records.

36. epdm2be

Posts: 815; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

No they wouldn't. 1) they aren't available everywhere 2) where they are available, they're ridiculously expensive for what they offer. 3) they have too many bugs for a supposedly show-case device

38. meanestgenius

Posts: 21345; Member since: May 28, 2014

I was being sarcastic.

4. surfacegoon

Posts: 8; Member since: Apr 26, 2018

The worst of it all is it's not even that difficult, like... In 2018 it's not that hard to know what people truly want

37. epdm2be

Posts: 815; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

As if these idiots read these comments and/or pols :-(

5. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

With all issues pixel xl got 9.6? I am shocked

6. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

With all issues pixel xl got 9.6?

7. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3089; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Society is losing the forest for the trees. So much is being made about notches that consumers don't realize they're being sold an inferior product. I'm not just referring to the Pixel line. There are way too many bugs and QC issues on top-dollar handsets than should be permitted. But as long as people care more for the latest (certainly not the greatest) gizmo and not hold OEM's feet to the fire, this will go on unabated.

30. shoreview

Posts: 6; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

In some cases literally, given how much in the way of scarce natural resources get consumed by electronics manufacturing and how short software support is on Android. Something like 5 year support ought to be a high priority with Google, but they seem to be content with letting Samsung, Qualcomm and the phone carriers cripple everything.

9. worldpeace

Posts: 3092; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

They should just go back with nexus.. They could ask Xiaomi to make nexus for them, Xiaomi can deliver flagship specs at $300 (they just need to upgrade the camera). If they sell Xiaomi's nexus for $350 (and $400 for XL) they can start world domination (seriously).

10. okinalex

Posts: 19; Member since: Feb 02, 2017

expensive and ugly. The Chinese companies are dominating the biggest markets

12. yalokiy

Posts: 884; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

My only concern for Pixel 3 XL is 4GB RAM. If it had 6GB I would have no complaints. Don't get me wrong. 4GB is enough today, but in 5 years it's going to be a la 2GB RAM today. And I strongly believe that devices should be usable for at least 5 years. I have OnePlus One with 3GB RAM and it was quite a lot back in 2014. Today it's still running strong on LineageOS 15.1 and it will be still ok for next year at least.

14. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1504; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

My Moto X 2014 runs nice and even handles some intensive task smoothly on that 2GB Ram so your OnePlus One will easily pass 2 more years.

15. yalokiy

Posts: 884; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

I had Pixel 5X and it was quite slow with it's 2GB RAM and hardly managed to keep apps in background. Perhaps it has smth to do with SD808, as the older pixel 5 was faster in speed tests (youtube).

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