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As Google prepares to unveil the Pixel 4, surely the most leaked phone of all time, it's time to reassess its predecessor. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL arrived this time last year, with many of us balancing the list price ($150 more than the Pixel 2) against some promising camera features. For many of us, the latter won out: The Pixel 3 series packed an incredible camera that set the standard for smartphone photography for the ensuing 12 months.
As we outlined in our Pixel 3 review, the major hardware highlights were a notched display, wireless charging and a soft-touch back. Other than that, though, most of the phone's best features lay in the software, whether that was being front of the line for Android updates or those aforementioned camera tricks. The Pixel 3 had a rough start, however, with several bugs ruining the experience for early adopters. Many also had to wait for several marquee Google features to go live. Some of us are still waiting.
Let's start with the incredible camera. The Pixel 3 was the best camera phone of 2018, and it remains pretty much at the top of the pile. The fact that it can still go toe to toe with the multi-lens camera arrays found on Samsung's Galaxy S10 and the newest iPhones is a testament to Google's robust software. However, the latest crop of competitors, particularly the iPhone 11 Pro, will force Google to up its game yet again to keep the crown in 2019.
The Pixel 3's camera app received the much-teased Night Sight feature after the phone itself had already launched. This mode takes several long exposures and then uses machine learning to combine them into a well-lit image, even when the reality is anything but. Since then, several phones, from Huawei's P30 Pro through to the most recent iPhones, have debuted with their own low-light modes. It's a great idea -- and it's hard to fault these companies for copying it.
Other imaging features, like Top Shot, Photobooth, Super Resolution Zoom and Playground, were sidelined by Night Sight. Personally, I still use a few of these, with mixed results. Top Shot, which captures a few frames before and after you press the shutter, suggests the image it thinks is the best, adding some peace of mind when you're trying to capture the action, even something as mundane as birthday cake candle blow-outs. Keeping this turned on in the camera app has been a no-brainer.
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