The stable Android 10 update started rolling out to the Pixels two weeks ago. Google has been making phones for nearly four years now, and while it hasn't pushed any boundaries in hardware design, it introduced several groundbreaking software features. Google leads the pack when it comes to computational photography, consistently achieving stunning results with average camera hardware when the rest of the industry is moving to bigger and higher-res sensors.
With Android 10 now available on all three generations of Pixels — including the three-year-old Pixel XL — now is a great time to evaluate how the update is performing on Google's hardware. It also gives us a chance to revisit older devices and see how they're faring in 2019.
Benchmarking three generations of Pixels
Before we get to what it's like to use Android 10 on each Pixel, let's take a look at benchmark scores across all three generations. Synthetic benchmarks don't really provide an accurate representation of real-world usage, but they do give us an insight into how the hardware holds up. As a refresher, the Pixel XL is powered by a Snapdragon 821, the Pixel 2 XL features a Snapdragon 835, the Pixel 3 XL has the Snapdragon 845, and the 3a XL is running the Snapdragon 670. Let's get started.
AnTuTu Benchmark v7.2.3 (Higher is better)
|Pixel 2 XL||204410|
|Pixel 3 XL||262312|
|Pixel 3a XL||160650|
AnTuTu Benchmark v7.2.3 (Higher is better)
|Pixel 2 XL||70655||81963||43434||8358|
|Pixel 3 XL||74224||121853||52735||13500|
|Pixel 3a XL||61295||45373||41866||12166|
AnTuTu gives us an interesting insight into how far mid-range chipsets have come in the last three years. The Snapdragon 670 outdoes the Snapdragon 821 at CPU-related tasks, and even posts a better overall score.
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme (ES3.1)
|Pixel 2 XL||2997||3090||2713|
|Pixel 3 XL||3334||3328||3357|
|Pixel 3a XL||1679||1512||2736|
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme (Vulkan)
|Pixel 2 XL||2842||3027||2341|
|Pixel 3 XL||3233||3420||2715|
|Pixel 3a XL||1560||1409||2500|
3DMark focuses on the GPU, and here we see the Snapdragon 670's Adreno 615 GPU fall short. It isn't able to hold up to the Adreno 530 on the Snapdragon 821, and lags severely behind the Adreno 540 and Adreno 630 on the Pixel 2 XL and 3 XL.
GeekBench 4.4.2 (Higher is better)
|Pixel 2 XL||1782||6031|
|Pixel 3 XL||2355||8254|
|Pixel 3a XL||1621||5125|
GeekBench 5.0.1 (Higher is better)
|Pixel 2 XL||363||1455|
|Pixel 3 XL||482||1800|
|Pixel 3a XL||351||1336|
GeekBench is another CPU benchmark that evaluates the single- and multi-core performance, and here again, we see the Snapdragon 670 doing well.
Pixel XL Holding up astonishingly well
I didn't think that the first-gen Pixels would receive the Android 10 update, but Google included the devices in the beta program following user demand, and both phones have picked up the stable update as well. Considering both phones debuted with Android 7.1 and received two platform updates already, Google wasn't under any obligation to deliver Android 10 to the devices.
Android 10 breathes new life into the first-gen Pixel series, and the phone has plenty to offer in 2019.
But I'm glad it did, because the Pixel XL is holding up really well in 2019. The phone launched three years ago, but Google hasn't changed the core experience all that much in three generations: having switched between the Pixel XL, Pixel 2 XL, and the Pixel 3 XL over the last two weeks, it's remarkable how similar they feel in day-to-day usage. The Snapdragon 821 still has a lot left to offer, and you get the same 4GB of RAM across all three generations.
I didn't run into any issues in the week I used the Pixel XL alongside the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3. The Android 10 update installed without any hassle, and I didn't encounter any bugs in day-to-day usage. Animations are just as smooth and fluid as on the Pixel 3 XL, as were the gestures.
The only thing that threw me off when using the Pixel XL is the size of the bezels. The phone has massive top and bottom bezels, and after using devices like the Note 10+ and the OnePlus 7 Pro in recent months, the bezels on the Pixel ended up being a distraction. This isn't an issue if you use the phone as a daily driver, however, after a few days, you just tend to ignore the bezels. Furthermore, the new gesture-based navigation adds a smidgen more real estate to the screen.
Another area where the Pixel XL is missing out on is stereo sound. The Pixel 2 XL and 3 XL feature excellent stereo speakers, and I clearly felt their omission once I switched back to the Pixel XL. The positioning of the speaker isn't ideal either; it is located to the left of the USB-C charging port, and it's easy to cover up the speaker when you're watching a video. Active Edge is also missing on the first-gen Pixel XL.
That said, Google has also done a fantastic job bringing its latest camera features to older devices. Night Sight debuted at the end of last year, but is available on all Pixel phones, including the Pixel XL. That's a big deal as it extends the life of the phone, and with the device picking up the Android 10 update, it should still hold up for another year. Google obviously doesn't sell the Pixel XL anymore, but if you're getting a good deal on a used device, it is still a great phone in 2019.
Pixel 2 XL That display is still annoying
The Pixel 2 series formed the basis for the design aesthetic that has carried onto the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a series. Google added a layer of ceramic finish over the metal body, giving the phone a matte look and making it easier to hold. Although the Pixel 3 and 3a feature glass backs, Google offers the same matte texture at the back. And while there's no major difference in the design between the Pixel 2 XL and the current-gen Pixels, I prefer the former because of that two-tone "panda" design. I'm glad it is making a return with the Pixel 4.
The Pixel 2 XL is still a great option if you can look past the display.
The bezels aren't too big at the front, and you get stereo speakers. But where the Pixel 2 XL falls flat is the display quality. The phone had burn-in issues after launch, and while Google rolled out fixes, the OLED panel itself is sub-par. Using the Pixel 2 XL alongside the 3 XL and even the 3a XL, it's easy to make out just how poor the display is on the device. Colors have a bluish tint, and while you can mitigate the issue by switching to a saturated color profile, it is a low point for the device.
Furthermore, the Pixel 2 XL was also the only device out of the four Pixels that I had an issue with while installing the Android 10 update. It was on the boot screen for over 20 minutes, and while the update finally installed after that, it was an anxious wait. Along with the installation issues, I also noticed a few instances where the phone froze up during browsing and a few app crashes. It wasn't a huge problem, but seeing as how I didn't see any issues on the other three Pixels, I wanted to point it out.
Aside from the errant crashes, Android 10 has been relatively stable on the Pixel 2 XL. If you manage to get a Pixel 2 XL with a decent display, it is a great option in 2019. The hardware has plenty of grunt left, the overall design is near-identical to the Pixel 3 series, and it is possible Google will roll out next year's Android R update to the phone, just like it did with this time around with the Pixel XL.
Pixel 3 XL The most refined Pixel yet
In spite of that ugly cutout, the Pixel 3 XL continues to be my favorite Pixel device. The design itself is largely unchanged from the Pixel 2 series, but Google fixed a lot of the underlying issues. The biggest change is the display; the Pixel 3 XL has one of the best OLED panels you'll find on any phone today, with vibrant colors and excellent sunlight legibility levels.
The best Pixel to date, now at an even lower price point.
The Pixel 3 XL is just under a year old at this point, so the hardware on offer is relatively new. The Snapdragon 845 easily runs anything you throw at it, and there really isn't much missing from the device. You even get wireless charging and IP68 dust and water resistance, and when you combine that with excellent stereo speakers and a fantastic QHD+ display, it's easy to see that the Pixel 3 XL still has a lot to offer.
I used the Pixel 3 XL for several months this year, and it was my daily driver for most of the Android 10 beta releases. There were obviously a few issues during the first two beta builds, but after that it was smooth sailing. The stable Android 10 build fixed a few lingering bugs that affected the proximity sensor, and I haven't had any issues after switching over. If anything, the battery life is marginally better on the stable release.
With the Pixel 4 series on the horizon, the Pixel 3 XL is getting an attractive discount to $599, making it a fantastic choice. It will receive updates for two more years, and if you take a lot of selfies, there's no other device that comes close.
Pixel 3a XL Mid-range wonder
Android 10 is the first platform update rolling out to the Pixel 3a XL, and it makes a great mid-range phone even better. The 3a XL is one of my favorite phones of 2019, and what Google managed to do with the device is incredible. Sure, the Snapdragon 670 chipset isn't quite as powerful as the flagship Snapdragon 800 series at gaming, but in most day-to-day scenarios you don't notice a difference.
The Pixel 3a XL continues to be a fantastic mid-range phone.
This is the most recent Pixel, but also the one with more modest hardware. There is definitely a lot of things the Pixel 3a XL gets right: the 3.5mm jack is back, and it's great value when you consider the camera on offer. The image quality is right up there with what you get on the Pixel 3 series, and when you consider the 3a XL retails for several hundred dollars less, that's a big deal.
Like the Pixel 3 series, I didn't have any issues with Android 10 on the Pixel 3a XL. I'm used to the new gestures at this point, and while it's infuriating to use slide-out menus now, I prefer this to the two-button navigation on Pie. That said, it would've been better if Google took a similar approach to OnePlus.
How is Android 10 working out for you?
That's a quick look at Android 10 on all three generations of Pixels. How are you liking the update on your phone? Did you run into any issues after installing the update? Share your experience in the comments below.
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