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Here’s why the Pixel 3 and 3 XL are Google’s most expensive phones ever

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With a price of $799, Google’s Pixel 3 is $150 more expensive than the Pixel 2 was at launch. The 3 XL, at $899, is $50 pricier than last year’s bigger model. These aren’t the most expensive smartphones out there — Apple and Samsung go way higher — but it’s a price bump that many people are disappointed by, particularly when some Android phone makers like OnePlus are offering several pieces of the Pixel 3’s core hardware in products that cost significantly less.

Now, specs aren’t everything. The Pixel 3 will feature a spectacular camera and, like its predecessors, will get Android updates first. Google will support it with updates for three years after release, which is a longer commitment to new features and security patches than many of its Android partners will manage. (Hi, Samsung.)

Here are some areas where Google made hardware improvements and upgrades:

  • Nicer, bigger screens. Early impressions are that the latest Pixels have improved displays compared to last year — particularly in the case of the XL, which ran into controversy for grain, blue shift, and muted colors until Google “fixed” at least the latter (I prefer the more realistic modes) through software. Google has put even more work into display tuning and calibration this time around. And you can’t forget that these are also bigger displays (6.3- and 5.5-inches, respectively) in the same overall form factor.
  • Improved rear camera. Google talked about a lot of new software features that are coming to the Pixel 3’s camera, but there are also improvements to the hardware itself. The company told Wired that the Pixel 3 uses a newer sensor, and Android Central says it captures greater dynamic range. The megapixel count is the same, but the camera unit isn’t.
  • Two cameras up front. Adding a second, wide-angle selfie camera certainly upped the Pixel 3’s cost.
  • More premium build, two-tone glass etching, and wireless charging. Does making glass partially matte cost more than just going all glossy or using aluminum? Maybe. Either way, it allowed Google to add wireless charging to the Pixel 3, which is a feature none of its predecessors have.
  • More LTE bands. The Pixel 3 supports band LTE band 71, which gives it full support for T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum.
  • Bigger battery in Pixel 3. The regular-sized Pixel 3 has a 2,915mAh battery compared to the 2,700mAh in last year’s Pixel 2.
  • The Titan M Security chip. This chip is meant to safeguard the security of Pixel 3 owners a few steps beyond the security hardware that was in the Pixel 2.

There’s also still unlimited photo storage — just like the Pixel 2 got. Pixel 3 buyers will be able to upload their images and videos to Google Photos at original quality / resolution until January 31st, 2022. That doesn’t really explain a higher price for the 3, but it’s still a super convenient thing to have.

But there are also areas where it seems like Google is very happy to stay put and not push itself:

  • Built-in storage. You’re still choosing between 64GB or 128GB of storage with the Pixel 3, which is the same as last year. The lack of 256GB or 512GB models — which are now offered by both Samsung and Apple — hurts a bit more when you remember that there’s no microSD support.
  • 4GB RAM. That’s the same amount of memory as last year’s Pixel 2 and 2 XL, and it comes at a time when other Android phones have set the bar between 6GB and 8GB. It’s a bit baffling to me that there’s not a third tier with more space and more RAM.
  • Smaller battery in Pixel 3 XL. The smaller model is getting a battery bump, while the bigger one is losing a bit of capacity. The Pixel 3 XL (3,430mAh) has a slightly smaller battery than the 2 XL’s 3,520.

Let’s take a quick look at how much many of today’s high-range and midrange devices will cost you and where the Pixel 3 lands:

iPhone XS Max $1,099 64GB / $1,249 256GB / $1,449 512GB
iPhone XS $999 64GB / $1,149 256GB / $1,349 512GB
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 $999 128GB / $1,249 512GB
LG V40 ThinQ: $900 - $980 64GB
Pixel 3 XL $899 64GB / $999 128GB
Pixel 3 $799 64GB / $899 128GB
iPhone XR $749 64GB / $799 128GB / $899 256GB
LG G7 $749 64GB
Samsung Galaxy S9 $719 64GB / $769 128GB / $839 256GB
BlackBerry Key2 $649 64GB
OnePlus 6 $529 64GB / $579 128GB / $629 256GB
Essential Phone $339 128GB
Nokia 6.1 $269 32GB
Moto G6 $249 32GB

Are the Pixel 3’s new features and improved hardware enough for you to upgrade? Do they justify the uptick in price in your mind? Or, even if the screens are better, are you sticking with your Pixel 2 (or even the original) because there’s not enough new to convince you to preorder?