The Google Pixel 3 addresses our biggest complaint with the Pixel 2: its display

Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3
Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3 (Image credit: Android Central)

It only took a few weeks after the launch of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL for a major problem to be discovered: aggressive screen burn-in and image retention, particularly on the larger 2 XL. These very real and substantial problems were amplified by the fact that the rest of the screens' characteristics weren't good to start with. They were dim, inaccurate and lacking saturation. The displays were bad enough that it kept many people from buying the phones altogether — or at the very least wait for steep discounts. Software updates mitigated, but didn't fix the problem — in the end, they were just bad displays.

With the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, Google focused on display quality to make sure the sort of problems that plagued the last generation have no chance of cropping up again. The perception that Pixels have bad screens will live on for some time, but anyone who sees one of the new phones will have their opinion changed.

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL hands-on preview

Google spent an inordinate amount of time making these displays as great as possible, and in my time with the phones it absolutely showed. The OLED screens are clearly higher quality panels than either the Pixel 2 or 2 XL, which is a great (and necessary) starting point. No amount of tuning can fix a panel that isn't capable of producing the results you want.

The panel is undeniably better; the calibration and software just accentuate it.

Google took these better displays and went to work calibrating them: there was a huge focus on starting with precise display accuracy at the start, and further calibration was then applied in software to make them perform as well as possible in a wide range of situations. Google says that the displays, when set to "Natural" mode (in the display settings), are 100% RGB compliant and "visually indistinguishable from perfect" — you may recognize that exact sort of wording from reviews of Samsung's stellar displays. That's good company to be associated with.

But not everyone wants accuracy, they want eye candy — that's why the Pixel 3 and 3 XL ship in a new "Adaptive" display mode by default, which bumps up colors and saturation but has been tuned to limit the over-saturation of skin tones and reds in particular. This is akin to what Samsung, LG and just about every other company is doing on their phones to make them look extra-nice in stores and be appealing right out of the box.

100% accuracy is here if you want it, but 'Adaptive' will offer a great out-of-box look.

But again, Google didn't just bump up the saturation to cover up the fundamentals. It also worked on the other important factors in judging a quality display, like notably reducing off-axis color shifting (which is inherent in all OLED panels) and increasing the brightness for a full-screen image to a minimum of 400 nits. (Not to be confused with peak brightness for small portions of the panel, which is often much higher.) It all looked wonderful indoors — the question now is how well it all works outside, where Samsung currently holds the top spot in daylight visibility.

Google Pixel 3 XL on the Pixel Stand

And yes, Google wanted to address the worries of burn-in and image retention — a big issue on the Pixel 2 XL in particular. Google says it has reduced the burn-in potential by half compared to last year. It has also applied additional mitigations in the software to address particular problem areas like the navigation bar and ambient display — for example Google's own apps use an equal mix of white and black nav bars. The displays will exhibit some sort of burn-in and image retention over time like any other OLED screen, but Google's confident its phones won't perform worse than the industry averages in either respect.

You get the same great display on both phones, so you can pick purely based on your size needs.

For fans of the smaller Pixel 3, It's important to note that all of these great improvements are applicable to both displays. Making the Pixel 3 and 3 XL displays look and perform identically was a goal of Google's, and to my eyes it was achieved. Speaking with Seang Chau (VP Engineering) and Raj Singh (Sr Director, Tech Engineering) from the Google hardware team, I immediately understood just how seriously Google took the displays this year, and how proud both were of the end result. I can see why — these look like a pair of screens that can compete with the best.

I've yet to see exactly how these new-and-improved screens perform out in the real world, where fringe cases of poor ambient lighting conditions can really put a smartphone display to the test. But given the great starting point these phones are working from, it doesn't look like they'll be a talking point in the same way they were last the last two years — and they may even be a standout feature of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Amazing how great the P2 was all year and now the P3 is out and they start trashing their favorite phone.
    Sigh... Didn't see much on the front page about the P2 screen problems, they loved it. Sigh...keep those Google checks coming..
  • Yeah lets see what happens when retail units get into people's hands. I still don't trust LG displays at all. If they wanted to use a great display they would have used a Samsung display.
  • I'm not so concerned about LG's displays at this point. The early units last year were absolutely garbage dumps in terms of display quality, but I have a few friends who bought 2XLs in the last couple months, and the panels from the later batches really are MUCH better than the initial production run. If that's an indication of what we have to look forward to here, I suspect we'll be satisfied... with the displays, anyway.
  • I also don't get the V30 hate that LG gets. I think it's a pretty underrated display tbh. Could be brighter I guess but I've never been in a situation where any of the negatives blogs bring up has impacted my enjoyment of the phone.
  • $800+. They will sell very few of these.
  • Yep. I'm enough of a fanboy that I probably would've ended up getting one if the base model were $700. But considering that the only complaint I've had about my P2 in the year that I've had it is that the battery life has taken a dive, I'll probably just pay $100 for a battery replacement and continue to use it for the foreseeable future.
  • Is it still under warranty? P2's really shouldn't have battery degredation at this point.
  • We wish they wouldn't. In a similar way to how we would hope that people wouldn't turn in their iPhone X's for the X's but they inevitably will.
  • I'm expecting the display not to have any outstanding problems, but how does it compare to others? Is it better than the Note 8?
  • Not likely but unless ur rolling with a note on the daily you probably won't care.
  • The thing that irks me is the bit where reviewers talk to the manufacturers. Because all the reviewers seem to do (or print) is the line from the mouth of the company. Not saying you are guilty of it here, too much. But I sincerely hope some reviewer has the balls to ask the questions that will litter the internet forums and article posts. Why the reduced battery, why the notch, when a 6inch screen would have been acceptable, why 4GB ram, why such low storage, why add more glass to the device, why market it as if there is some great treat coming when in actual fact the internet called these months ago, why can we not hide the nitch?
  • The only answer to most of these is "Because Apple".
  • I was interested in trading in my 2 XL for the Pixel 3 until I saw it was $800. I still owe $450 on my 2 XL and Google was only giving $325 for the trade in. I have to pass this year. I was looking forward to a smaller Pixel device though.
  • They are royally screwing on trade in. Better to go Swappa or LetGo
  • There's no reason to trade in right now...but wait a few months and it will probably be more enticing. Early adopters are always suckers.
  • I'm kinda liking this pixel 3. I also like the pixel slate but can't justify spending $200 more for the keyboard.
  • I was waiting for the Pixel 3 launch so that I could finally retire my Pixel XL but the headphone jack removal on the p2 was already enough to dissuade me. Not a fan of what they've done with the 3XL and the price hike of the 3 means I guess I'll be waiting for the 6t or grabbing a v40 since at least that has a headphone jack. Honestly just underwhelmed.
  • Why retire your XL? Is it not satisfying you? I feel like we should fight this urge to have the latest and greatest.
  • "The displays are great besides the XL display being completely ruined by a big black chunk took out of it making it useless." FTFY
  • I mean they could have just made the whole top 1/4 bezel and really wasted the space.
  • Display Mate says it's the best:
  • Its the same display in v40, iphone xs and pixel3.After all Lg is THE oled and benchmark for all oled's tv.It was just matter of time when will lg seriously invest in mobile oled market.According to display mate this lg oled in pixel is better then note9 in accuracy of colors and visuals.