The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL arrived yesterday without too much fanfare. After all, the devices have been as good as leaked in the last two months and left little room for imagination when Google hardware boss Rick Osterloh came on stage. But most of all, one aspect of the Pixel 3 XL that has become even more obvious and confusing now that we have completely seen it – and heard Google's reasoning about its existence – is the rather intrusive display hack.
With the Pixel 3 XL, Google's justification for the notch is that it was able to downsize the device's bezels and deliver a larger display, while the cutout provides better speakers and an improved screen Dual selfie camera system houses. Google even claims that it has a better balance between notch and display than some of its rivals, and the whole argument is that you get more screen, not less. But I find it unconvincing, and here is the reason.
The notch allows us to provide the best cameras (two, one of which is wide-angle) and audio experience. Pixel 3 also has a smaller frontier and front firing speakers for optimal sound quality. Our score-to-score ratio is actually lower than many top competitors.
– Made by Google (@madebygoogle) October 9, 2018
You may hate scores, and I may preach to the choir here complaining about Google. But I do not hate her. In fact, I'm a fan when the compromise is for some features I enjoy, and I'm totally ambivalent about the existence of screen clippings from an aesthetic point of view, to a certain point. I have been using an iPhone X since it came out; I never noticed or really cared for the score when I first switched, and I do not do that today. I use an iPhone XS while I write this. But a score should at least serve a purpose. There should be a good reason to be there, and Google did not really have a strong one yesterday.
It was a breeze for iPhone owners. The notch on the original iPhone X, though perhaps not ideal from the design standpoint, was not too wide, not too long, and it packed in a large amount of impressive technology in a nice-looking display. There is the Face ID, which is activated by the TrueDepth camera module and Apple's own security and face recognition software. Thanks to this hardware and software mix, it is possible to do some decent camera tricks with the front-facing lens. And there are stupid, ridiculous software features like Animoji and Memoji, which are a fun little distraction now and then, but only made possible by the hardware in the iPhone score.
The screen has undergone a similar improvement on the Pixel 3 XL, and it is clear that Google has the best display of its pixel Line created has ever seen. But the key benefits you get from a phone with a notch in this case are the upgraded speakers and the wide-angle selfie camera. There is no face recognition, no Animoji-like selfie tricks, and no camera features available only for the larger version of the phone.
In fact, there are no software advantages limited to the larger of the two pixels. Everything you can do with the Pixel 3 XL's front and back cameras can be achieved with the standard Pixel 3. And the wide-angle lens for better selfies and the improved speakers? All this you get with the Pixel 3 and in a conventional, not edgeless package that costs less.
So the big question is whether the edge-to-edge screen is worth it and whether the score is a reasonable compromise. I would argue that the first is debatable to most consumers, and the second a clear no.
Google could downsize the score but not remove the speakers or the dual-camera system. And it might keep those components and make the display smaller, but it wants the edge-to-edge look. In other words, that's a choice. But it is one that is undermined by looking at the phone in photos. For starters, the Pixel 3 XL notch seems quite large and notable, despite other allegations from Google.
Another problem, albeit a smaller one, is that the notch of Pixel 3 XL does not give Google the advantage of making all boundaries of the phone without a frame. Practically, there is the notch to allow the company a forward-looking camera and at the same time to stretch the display in the corners. (Some companies, such as Vivo, have developed novel pop-up selfie cams to avoid the hackle altogether.)
But if you look at the bottom of the new Google device, you'll see a bezel. Most edge-to-edge phones today have a similar "chin" on the bottom, with the exception of the iPhone X / XS line, but the Pixel 3 XLs are particularly prominent.
Google says the Pixel 3 XL can "turn off" the ability with the ability if you do not like it by holding the upper part of that Phone next to the clipping in a black status bar and nothing else. But why send a phone with an edge-to-edge display if customers reject it so much that they disable it? Sure, some consumers do not like it at all and leave it as it is, while those who prefer the extra space for the status bar just turn it off. But the need to give people the option would suggest that even Google understands that it offers a compromise that is more complicated than it seems at first glance.
My colleague Dieter Bohn, who has held the device and is understandably a bit more headstrong about the smartphone design than the average consumer, says the score is "personally not as outrageous as in photos". But he says the size of the notch can have a noticeable impact on what "choppy" images and app screens look like. He also says that "the slightly larger screen on the smaller Pixel 3 seriously considers me going to the smaller phone."
A broader picture here is that the notch trend takes the risk that otherwise well-made and well-designed handsets will not be justified, which is ultimately a compromise. As we've seen earlier this year, tons of Android phones copied the iPhone X notch design just to have a device that resembled a flagship Apple product, but they failed to include any of the technology under the hood, which is a notch would make it easier to accept.
The new OnePlus 6T, which leaked its image just last week, has a tiny notch because it does not seem to need to be stuffed with sensors and extra hardware to achieve this edge-to-edge look. This is a smart implementation of a notch, and it recognizes that without a compelling sales pitch, the cutout needs to be small and subtle.
In the case of Google, there is simply no argument strong enough to create a notch of this size that does not greatly increase the quality and experience of using the device. Will the buyers be so happy? Maybe not. But it does not please the Pixel 3 XL if the slightly smaller, non-clic version of the phone becomes the much more attractive option in the eyes of buyers.