Leaks of upcoming smartphones are fun for the most part, because they give us a glimpse at what's to come in a new device and lets us have informed speculation about the rest. I don't quite feel the same about this latest Google Pixel 3 XL leak, which is the whole picture. The whole phone, retail box and all, has leaked spectacularly. It takes away from the mystery and intrigue of a potential launch event sometime in October, but we can't avert our eyes.
Considering that we've already had other reliable leaks of the phone, a lot of what we see here isn't super surprising. But seeing it all together, my initial feeling is that Google didn't do much with the Pixel 3 XL that will change the mind of anyone who wasn't blown away by the Pixel 2 XL last year.
Google's phones have always been polarizing. They are decidedly not designed for the spec hounds and super-users, but at the same time haven't taken off as mass-market players either. With the Pixel 3 XL, if it is released as we see in this latest round of leaks, Google isn't changing its strategy to appease the enthusiast crowd. The phone is still conservatively designed. It lacks a headphone jack and an SD card slot. It has just one rear camera. The specs are good, but not industry-leading. Once again, Google's big-and-expensive Pixel phone is all about the holistic experience and simplicity, not "more of everything" as we see from phones like the Galaxy Note 9.
The improvements that Google has made in the Pixel 3 XL are all about simple user experience, not actually addressing the concerns of folks who comment on leak stories on the internet. It's purported to be adding dual front-facing cameras with new selfie software. The single rear camera means there's no option for wide-angle or telephoto shots, and Google is instead focusing on beefing up the Pixel Visual Core to give better shots with a camera interface that lacks manual controls or tweaks. There's a massive screen notch at the top of the phone, which is a shot across the bow of all the internet haters. The headphone jack is still missing, and in a consumer-friendly move Google's adding a pair of USB-C earbuds in the box (as HTC does).
Google continues to make the device it thinks is best, not the one enthusiasts claim they want.
The only bone Google seems to have tossed to the enthusiasts is the addition of wireless charging, though that comes at the cost of moving to a plastic-style back to let the electrons flow. Presumably, the screen has improved as well, which was one of the clear shortcomings of the Pixel 2 XL, but that's something everyone can appreciate and really isn't up for debate.
Google continues to make the device it thinks is best, not following every one of the smartphone trends or things nerds complain about on Reddit. Much of what we see here is an improvement on the Pixel 2 XL model, not a re-thinking of what a Pixel is at its core (or even edges).
If you didn't like the Pixel 2 XL because of Google's phone philosophy, the Pixel 3 XL won't change your mind.
There are, of course, the typical caveats with a leak like this. What we're seeing in these leaks is non-final hardware. But at this point, if Google is to release this device in October again, the only part that isn't finalized is the fit-and-finish — the components, design and hardware features were done months ago. Android 9 Pie has already been released, and even though Google will certainly add a few features the core experience of that software is already locked in. The Pixel 3 XL you see here is, for the most part, what we can expect to see officially in October. That means it's once again a Google experience, just like the Pixel 2 XL, and not fighting for the attention of the power users and folks who choose their phone based on specs.
If you didn't like the Pixel 2 XL, it doesn't look like Google has anything here to convince you the Pixel 3 XL will be your next phone. But it seems like a solid (if a bit iterative) update for those who have already bought in to the Google phone philosophy.