The Pixel 3's camera is amazing. Even before Night Sight swept us off our feet with its incredible low-light capabilities, everyone was smitten with the photography performance of this phone. It's one of the biggest reasons why I continue to use a Pixel 3 XL — I know that I have the best tool for the job when it comes to taking photos on the go.
Unfortunately, the other thing I can always count on with my Pixel 3 XL is that the camera is the slowest of any phone released since ... well, the Pixel 2 XL. It's frustrating, and frankly unacceptable for this level of phone. Particularly when Google's marketing message around the Pixel 3 is that you never miss a shot:
Top Shot, which takes a series of burst photos and lets you choose the best one, actually works well. Its suggestions aren't perfect, but having the ability to scrub through a timeline of photos to get just the right one is a valuable tool. But Top Shot is useless if the camera takes an excruciatingly long time to open and get ready to shoot. I like to pick up my phone and double-press the power button in a single motion, and have the camera open as quickly as possible so I can start taking photos. If I have to wait nearly 5 seconds for the camera to actually let me press the shutter button, I may have lost the shot before I even started.
The situation is even worse when I'm listening to music or a podcast at the time. There's just enough extra overhead in the system to make the Pixel 3 XL take even longer to open the camera and be functional. Whether it forcibly closes my media app or not, the result is the same: I'm sitting there waiting for the camera to open and become responsive. Even when it does open quickly, I'm often waiting multiple seconds to be able to press the shutter, or waiting seconds for a photo to be captured after pressing the shutter.
The December software update for the Pixel 3 did help fix a lot of issues, including addressing camera-specific problems. My camera app fails to save photos far less often than before. Instances of the camera app causing my podcast or music app to close in the background are infrequent. But these thing still happen on the Pixel 3 XL. And the camera app is no faster to open or respond than before — it's simply more consistent at what it does. But that's really just damning with faint praise; I haven't experienced these sorts of issues on a single flagship phone in the last year. The last time I had problems with camera app speed, instability and lost photos was on the $200 Nokia 6.1 — not great company when your phone costs $900.
Google is, quite simply, the only company making a high-end phone that still hasn't managed to ship a stable, fast and consistent camera app. It hasn't for years, and despite all of the improvements in photo quality, the app itself has continued to be a sore spot of the experience. Competitors have very fast camera apps, with photo quality that's almost on par with the Pixel 3 — the performance delta shouldn't have to be so large on Google's end.
It's true that when you share a beautiful photo or capture a scene that you couldn't fathom getting from any other phone, you start to forgive the shortcomings of speed on the Pixel 3's camera. And when someone else sees the photo they have no idea it took your camera app several seconds to open and several more to capture and save. But these are the sorts of compromises we shouldn't have to make to get such a great camera. Google's selling a more polished, simplified experience everywhere else on the Pixel 3 — it needs to do the same with the camera.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.