Apple is constantly called out for its expensive hardware, but when you hold an iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, they feel every bit of the $1,000-plus it cost, regardless of what angle you view it from. The same can be said of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9.
Pick up an old Pixel, and it was rather underwhelming. For 2018, Google has fixed the Pixel 3 provided you only look at it from the back. The matte finish glass is a masterstroke. It looks great, resists fingerprints, and is suitably different from other phones. The front? Oh dear.
Don’t turn the Pixel 3 over
Before we get right into this, it’s important to put out some fires before they spread. We’re not attacking the Google Pixel 3’s superb ability as a smartphone, the excellent camera, the Android experience, or the much-needed regular software updates. These are awesome. But you’re going to have to stare at one of the more challenging faces to use it.
Put the Pixel 3 XL alongside the Galaxy S9, and the Samsung phone looks more expensive and better designed than Google’s latest. It’s like parking a bright red 2018 Bentley Continental GT next to a 2018 VW Golf, painted in basic blue. Not even a nice blue. The Golf is the complete package as a vehicle, but everyone is going to take pictures of the Bentley because it looks great.
It’s not the back that’s the problem here, it’s the front, and both Pixel 3 phones are afflicted. The Pixel 3 XL has the deepest notch we’ve seen. The notch is hardly winning beauty contests anyway, so to make it even more pronounced is like drawing a big red circle around a nasty spot on your face. “Look at this everyone,” Google says, “isn’t it nasty!” Even worse, the screen doesn’t extend to the base of the phone. It has a chin too.
Turn to the Pixel 3 and the notch disappears, replaced by a lovely big bezel that extends just as deep into the phone’s screen, to match the equally deep one on the chin. We’d almost rather have the notch. Neither of these things are crimes, and the Pixel 3 looks much better than the Pixel 2, but the bezels and the notch are terribly distracting. The pretty minimalism on the back, with a clever mix of textures that avoid the cheapness of the Pixel 2, makes us want to pick the phone up. Look at the front, and we want to put it back down.
With the Pixel 3 range it’s your choice of bezeled, or a bezel with a massive notch.
The worst year to make an ugly phone
There’s never a good time to release a product that makes you think so deeply about the design, but 2018 has given us such a long list of awesome-looking phones: One with gawky looks stands out for all the wrong reasons. Want some examples? That’s easy, and it’s the Oppo Find X right at the top of the list. If the Find X was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, the show would have ended after a single episode. Winner: Found.
It’s not the only stunner we’ve seen this year. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is similarly gorgeous, and Porsche Design took many of the best aspects, made them more symmetrical, and created the stunning Mate 10 RS. If either were any more seductive, poets would be writing sonnets about them. Then you’ve got companies embracing color in 2018. Huawei’s twilight P20 Pro showed how clever use of gradients, light and reflection could create a unique, eye-catching finish, while the impossibly beautiful silk white OnePlus 6 is more strokable than most kittens.
There’s a good chance if you’re a phone fan, you won’t need to look for pictures of these phones, as the design and style made them memorable and desirable.
Why it matters
There are probably a few of you reading this that are already foaming at the mouth, or furiously writing comments about design not mattering, and about the Pixel’s prowess, camera, and software speaking for itself. Calm down. I agree. For many, the Google Pixel is lauded and purchased because it’s a showcase for Google’s Android software, and its ability to show others how cameras are really done, even with a single lens. We love and recommend them for it.
However, there are so many excellent smartphones on sale this year — it’s hard to name a really bad one, actually — the final buying decision often comes down to how the phone looks, and how it makes you feel. The fact is, many people won’t want one that looks like a dog’s dinner. We wonder how many people that were looking forward to the Pixel 3 have been put off by the final design? If you’re a Pixel devotee, we implore you to do some missionary work on behalf of the Pixel 3. It needs it.
Google doesn’t help itself, and it’s very frustrating that the Pixel 3 gets 50 percent of the design right, and then ignores the remaining 50 percent. Seemingly in an effort to convince itself these things don’t matter, Google gives the Pixel’s colors silly, self-deprecating names. They do matter, Google. How about a special edition Pixel 3 where one part of it’s painted? You can call it, “half-finished red,” or something, and it’ll suit the phone perfectly.
We want more people to buy the Google Pixel 3, but it is in danger of being passed over in favor of more attractive options, by those who aren’t really aware of its major selling points. It’s unfortunate Google has decided to take one of the most hated phone design trends of the last year, the notch, and shove it down our throats. Notch-haters turning towards the Pixel 3 can enjoy the bezels instead.
It’s too late for the Pixel 3, but perhaps with the Pixel 4, Google will get 100 percent of the design right.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.