Google Pixel 3 & Pixel 3 XL Issue List: Know before you buy

By | 24th October 2018
Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL

We’ve been singing praises of the Google Pixel 3 and its larger sibling, the Google Pixel 3 XL, since they were announced. In my initial review of the Pixel 3 XL, I explained how the latest Google Pixel device embodies the 3 principles that make Google’s Chrome OS so beloved: Speed, Simplicity, and Security. But even devices as polished as the Google Pixel are bound to have some issues after reaching the hands of consumers, and this year’s Pixel 3 is no different.

I generally take a conservative approach to covering news about a problem with a new device because it’s difficult to tell when a user report is really indicative of a larger issue with the device. In the case of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, however, the Pixel user community on our forums and on Reddit have raised a stink about various issues that have made their way to other blogs. So, before you shell out hundreds of dollars for a new Pixel after seeing the incredible Night Sight camera samples that we posted, we think you should be aware of some of the issues that early adopters have faced.

Some of these issues may be deal breakers, while others may seem like nitpicking to you. We’ll note which issues can likely be resolved via a software update and whether Google has already offered a statement on the matter. Lastly, since I only have the Pixel 3 XL with me, I can only offer my opinion on issues that only affect the 3 XL.


Memory Management

Apps being closed in the background

It feels strange for me to say this considering my very first article on XDA was an argument in defense of the Nexus 5X having only 2GB RAM, but the Pixel 3 might not have enough RAM. With higher quality apps and games releasing each month, it’s become clear that Android devices simply need more memory these days. The Google Pixel, Google Pixel 2, and Google Pixel 3 all have 4GB RAM, while the OnePlus 6, Razer Phone 2, Xiaomi POCO F1, and more offer up to 8GB RAM options. 4GB RAM should be enough for most users of the Pixel 3, but there have been many user reports of the device often closing recently used apps in the background.

This isn’t an isolated issue, either. An Android Central editor, an editor from The Verge, the founder of Android PoliceMarques Brownlee, and countless others on Reddit have issues with memory management. (All links via Android Police.) My own Pixel 3 XL is far worse at keeping apps in memory than my OnePlus 6, though of course, I attribute that to my OnePlus 6 having 8GB RAM. While few users will have the same experience as Artem Russakovski (shown below), I bet most users will experience the Pixel 3’s memory management issue at least a few times a day. I’ve recently started advocating for Google to offer a minimum of 6GB RAM on their devices after seeing how games like Fortnite Mobile perform on the Pixel 2 XL, and I think videos like the one below show how even the basic user experience can be affected by not having enough RAM.

As for a potential cause of the issue, two kernel developers that I’ve spoken to attribute some of the blame to Google’s move to using the LMKD. LMK, or Low Memory Killer, is a process that monitors memory usage and kills the least essential processes to free up memory for more important tasks. The LMK driver usually resides in the kernel, but since Linux kernel 4.12 there’s now a userspace LMK daemon. Whether the default values Google chose are too aggressive remains to be seen, as Google has not yet offered any kind of statement on the matter. But now that it’s possible to root the Pixel 3, we can tweak the LMK values to see for ourselves.

Severity: High

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: High

Sometimes, photos aren’t being saved

It’s hard not to gush over how awesome the Pixel 3’s camera is. The Google Camera app does everything it can to make sure that even beginners like me who simply point-and-shoot at a subject can capture decent photos. With features like Top Shot, Motion Photos, and Motion Auto Focus, it’s easier than ever to capture a great photo – even if your hands are unsteady or the subject is moving. That is, unless, your Pixel actually saves the picture you just took.

For some users, the Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3 simply fail to capture a photo or video. You press the shutter button expecting to stow away a decent shot, only to find that the image or video never saved. I had this happen once on my Pixel 3 when I was testing whether the Pixel 3 can record videos with stereo audio (it does), but haven’t had it happen since. I’ve also never had this issue with my Pixel 2 XL, either. Still, a lot of people have had this happen to them, and it absolutely sucks when it does. The prevailing theory behind the issue is that it’s related to memory management, but nobody really knows why it happens.

Severity: High

Google Response: A fix is coming for all Pixels

Likelihood of a fix coming: Already confirmed


Audio and Video

Poor Audio Quality in Video Recordings

Given Google’s track record with computational photography, it’s no surprise that much of the attention was focused on the picture-taking ability of the new Pixel 3. But we shouldn’t forget that the Pixel is – or rather should be – great at recording video, as well. The Pixel 2’s Fused Video Stabilization technology, their algorithm combining the hardware’s Optical Image Stabilizer with Google’s Electronic Image Stabilization technique, made for incredibly stabilized videos. Google isn’t doing anything as crazy as the Huawei Mate 20’s Video Bokeh or AI Cinema effects, but we would expect the Pixel 3’s video recordings to be at least on par with the latest Apple iPhone…right?

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case, mostly due to the relatively poor audio recording quality from the Pixel 3. The recording quality drops off significantly when you move a few feet away from the device, and up close, still sounds pretty distant. This issue was first brought to light by YouTuber SuperSaf TV, and we think it’s best you listen to the first part of his video to hear the difference between the Pixel 3 and iPhone Xs Max.

Interestingly, someone found that the audio output when video recording with a Playground AR sticker in the foreground is significantly better. The Pixel 3 can record pretty decent audio, but Google’s tuning seems to noticeably lower the quality. Why? We’ll let Google explain:

“We made several advances in the audio recording capabilities of Pixel 3, including enabling stereo recording in landscape mode. When recording outdoors, our tuning is specifically designed to reduce background noise like wind and road noise and overly loud sounds and optimize for audible speech. To achieve this, we selectively de-emphasize some frequencies, which minimizes disruptive noises and optimizes the resulting audio. We do extensive user testing of our products to ensure they are tuned for real world usage, and we’re always looking at additional tuning opportunities based on user feedback.” – Google spokesperson in a statement sent to Android Police

Severity: Medium

Google Response: Working as intended

Likelihood of a fix coming: High

Speaker Imbalance

When you’re dealing with stereo speakers like on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, you would expect that the two are balanced in terms of volume output. This is not the case with the Pixel 3 XL, however. As first discovered by many users on Reddit and captured on video by Android Police, the speakers on the Pixel 3 XL have a pretty noticeable difference in volume output.

When I tested the speaker quality on my Pixel 3 XL review unit, I found it has good bass, minimal distortion, and pretty loud output when compared to last year’s Pixel 2 XL. Google claims that the Pixel 3’s speaker sound is 40% louder than the Pixel 2 while having a better low-frequency response. I believe that the Pixel 3 is using the MaxxAudio technology by Waves Audio, but Google hasn’t yet gone into detail about the audio improvements they’ve made. In any case, here’s Google’s official statement on the stereo speaker volume discrepancy:

“Hi all, This is by design. We specially designed speakers that allow for louder sound (40% louder than last year) and better low frequency response.  We use new amplifier technology with advanced speaker protection algorithms to push these speakers harder and really get every last bit of performance out of them. We also worked closely with the expert tuning of a Grammy-award winning music producer to enhance the audio in a way that plays to the strengths of the hardware system.” – /u/PixelCommunity on Reddit

Severity: Low

Google Response: Working as intended

Likelihood of a fix coming: Low

Excessive Vibration

I don’t know how many of you listen to music from the speakers while holding a phone in your hand, but if that describes you then you may be bothered by the Pixel 3’s vibration motor. While the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL offer the best haptic feedback on any Android device (I’m not the kind of person who usually cares, but I can tell that it’s exceptional), some reviewers have noted that the devices vibrate excessively when loud music is played over the speakers. This issue was first brought up by BGR, but I’m skeptical how much of a problem it really is. Still, it’s something you should test for yourself if you have the chance to demo a device before buying it. Here’s an excerpt from BGR‘s review which describes the issue they have:

“Google’s new Pixel phones have front-firing stereo speakers that sound great and are wonderfully loud. Unfortunately, using them means dealing with an unwanted side effect: an insane amount of vibration on the back of the phone…At low volumes, it’s really annoying. The back of the phone vibrates with each and every beat of whatever music you’re playing. Even during dialog in a video, you can still feel the back of the phone vibrate constantly. If there’s sound, it’s vibrating.

Then if you turn the volume up to about 50%, the vibration goes from annoying to aggravating. At 80% or higher, it’s downright horrible. The back of the phone vibrates as hard or even harder than the vibration motor inside the phone that Google uses for notifications. Imagine playing music and having your phone’s notification motor vibrating the entire time. It’s so violent that Google’s fabric Pixel cases barely dampen it at all.” – Zach Epstein, writing for BGR

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the issue is as pronounced as Zach is saying. Sure, my Pixel 3 XL does vibrate when I played music at max volume, but it wasn’t so uncomfortable that it would make me put down the phone. The official Pixel Fabric case also does dampen the vibration significantly for me. This is, again, one of those issues you have to try to replicate yourself before deciding whether it bothers you. Here’s a video which might give you an idea how much the Pixel 3’s back vibrates.

Severity: Low

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Low

No 4K Video Recording at 60FPS

During the official presentation at the Made by Google event, Google really didn’t want to talk tech specs. We didn’t find out about who made the Pixel 3’s and Pixel 3 XL’s displays (LG and Samsung respectively) until iFixit performed hardware teardowns. Furthermore, the only reason we know that the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL use a Sony IMX363 for the single rear-facing camera is that I dug through some vendor files. Since the revelation that both devices have the Sony IMX363, the mystery behind why both Pixel 3s don’t support 4K video recording at 60 FPS hasn’t been solved. In fact, it’s only become more confusing.

The ISP in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is certainly capable of handling [email protected], and other devices with the IMX363 such as the Asus Zenfone 5Z, Razer Phone 2, and soon POCO F1 support [email protected] Thus, we can only speculate why the devices don’t support [email protected] recording. Some Google Camera modders believe it’s because Google’s Fused Video Stabilization doesn’t work with [email protected] Whatever the reason, it’s slightly disappointing that other devices are capable of this while Google doesn’t offer the option. Speaking of a lack of options, Google removed the ability to manually set 60FPS for recording at 1080p in favor of an automatic FPS switching mode.

Severity: Low

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Low


Scratches

We finally have wireless charging again on a Google device (with some caveats – more on that below), but that means we have to deal with a glass back. The glass back is coated in a soft-touch finish, making it feel more like plastic, and has a layer of Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. I baby my devices, never take them out of a case, and almost never have other objects in the same pocket I keep my phone in, so I rarely ever deal with scratches on my devices. However, there have been a few reviewers like Ron Amadeo from ArsTechnica and Marques Brownlee who have dealt with scratches on their review units. Whether the Pixel 3 is prone to scratches, though, is still up in the air.

Here are two videos, one by Erica Griffin and the other by Zack Nelson from JerryRigEverything, testing the durability of the Pixel 3.

Severity: Medium

Google Response: None


Wireless Charging

10W, non-Qi, proprietary charging

Because Google was extremely vague about the wireless charging technology in the Pixel 3, I didn’t want to fill in the blanks by assuming that Pixel 3 supported 10W wireless charging via the Qi wireless charging standard. I wouldn’t blame you for making that assumption seeing how Google’s 18W wired charging is compliant with the USB Power Delivery standard. It turns out, though, that the Pixel 3’s wireless charging technology is proprietary – you can’t just use any 10W wireless charger from Amazon or eBay.

A Reddit user learned this lesson the hard way when they bought an Anker wireless charging stand that advertised 10W wireless charging, only to find that it wasn’t charging at the advertised power. He discovered this, admittedly unscientifically, using the Ampere application. Users none the wiser believed that their old Qi-enabled wireless chargers were providing the maximum 10W power because the phone told them it was “charging rapidly,” however, even though Google’s threshold for determining whether a charger is “fast” is if it provides >7.5W of power. This seems like a bug with the SystemUI, though.

Before you buy a wireless charging accessory, here’s a summary of what you need to know:

  • The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL only support 10W wireless charging via the Google Pixel Stand and certified chargers sold via the “Made for Google” program. So far, only this Belkin wireless charger seems to be certified to support the Pixel 3’s proprietary wireless charging technology. However, only the Pixel Stand lets you access the new Google Assistant integrations.
  • The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL only support 5W wireless charging via Qi-enabled wireless chargers.

Severity: Medium

Google Response: Working as intended

Pixel Stand oddities

Yes, you can place the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL on the Pixel Stand horizontally, but why would you when the lock screen, ambient display, and always on display don’t support landscape mode? Actually, they do, but Google never enabled it. It’s a single line of code they would need to change, and I can understand that toggling the boolean value and releasing it to users is probably not a good idea since the ambient display UI hasn’t been optimized for the landscape orientation. However, I feel like this is a big oversight on Google’s part because you can’t plug-in any USB Type-C earbuds like the Pixel USB-C earbuds when the phone is docked vertically on the Pixel Stand. Hell, if Android Pie didn’t remove the ability to install custom overlays, the community could fix this issue in minutes.

Next up is the ability to unlock the device while on the Pixel Stand. If you need to access something on your device beyond what Google Assistant can do, you’ll need to unlock your phone. Since there’s no face unlock feature, the fastest way to unlock the device is via the fingerprint scanner on the back. Unfortunately, the Pixel Stand is just tall enough to partially obstruct the fingerprint scanner on the rear. You kind of have to lift the device forward a bit before placing your finger on it – a little awkward in my view.

Severity: Medium

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Medium for the former issue, not possible for the latter issue


Software

Random notches

I think this issue is hilarious because of its absurdity. We all laughed when ZTE made a design concept for a device with two notches, and when Google acknowledged the possibility of a device with two notches by adding a “double display cutout” overlay to Developer options. This issue was first picked up by PiunikaWeb after they spotted a few users on Reddit report that a mysterious second notch overlay appears onscreen. We’re not sure why this happens for some users, but it’s probably tied to an issue with changing the orientation in Android.

Google Pixel 3 XL notchAll you have to do to fix this issue is to reboot your device. The bug is very rare (I’ve never met it) and very easy to fix, fortunately.

Severity: Very low

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: High

YouTube videos aren’t centered, and other notch oddities

If you’re new to using a device with a notch, you should know that most video apps don’t actually display content in the notch area. They can do so if you zoom into the video to make it fullscreen, but otherwise, most videos with a 16:9 aspect ratio don’t take up the whole screen. In the YouTube app, the video is off-center, as shown below in MKBHD’s video. In other parts of apps like Instagram’s Stories, Yahoo Fantasy, and YouTube Studio, the notch area isn’t used very effectively.

Pixel 3 XLAlthough these are all issues with the applications themselves, the issues still impact the user experience on the Pixel 3 XL. OxygenOS on the OnePlus 6, for example, lets you choose how apps should behave with the notch on a per-app basis. We know that Google isn’t a fan of interfering with how an app wants to work unless it’s part of a new platform restriction or mandate, but relying on apps to update themselves for notched devices will take some time to happen.

Severity: Very low

Google Response: A fix is coming, at least for the YouTube app

Likelihood of a fix coming: Only for YouTube

Voice Match unlocking is gone

Android 5.0 Lollipop introduced a suite of features called “Smart Lock” which let you automatically unlock your device while you’re holding it, when you’re at a trusted location, when you’re connected to a trusted device, or when your voice is recognized via Voice Match. Unlocking your device via Voice Match has been removed, as first reported by PiunikaWebWe’re not sure why Google removed the feature, but from my experience, it’s always been an inconsistent way to unlock your device. I don’t miss the feature, but I don’t blame you for being upset if you frequently used it. Still, I do think it would be a useful feature to have especially since Google is pushing users to get the Pixel Stand.

Severity: Low

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Low

No audio from Android Auto

For those of you with an Android Auto head unit, you’ve probably dealt with a couple of bugs before. The Pixel 3 has a bug with audio output that causes music to not play when connected to an Android Auto device, as reported by PiunkaWeb citing multiple forum posts on the Android Auto User Community and Reddit. Fortunately, Google has acknowledged the issue and is already planning to roll out an update to Google Play Services to resolve the problem.

Severity: Medium

Google Response: A fix is coming

Likelihood of a fix coming: Already confirmed

No Wi-Fi calling via O2, Three, or Vodafone UK, but AT&T in the US gained support

O2, Three, and Vodafone in the UK have all confirmed (via PiunikaWeb) that the Pixel 3 does not support Wi-Fi calling – yet. Carrier certification is always messy, but we hope that Google works with more carriers to make sure the Pixel 3 offers all the connectivity options on supported carriers. There’s a silver lining for Pixel fans in America who hoped for better connectivity, though. The Pixel 3 supports Wi-Fi calling via AT&T, finally.

Severity: Low-Medium

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Medium – AT&T Wi-Fi calling support is a good sign that Google is working to improve connectivity features


Display

No Netflix HDR – Yet

Thanks to a “highly optimized software decoder and custom rendering stack,” last year’s Google Pixel 2 was able to play back HDR videos from YouTube in up to 1080p. This year’s Pixel 3 is capable of 1440p HDR videos in YouTube (via Reddit) since the display meets the necessary metrics for HDR output while the device’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset has native HDR decoding support. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL meet the UHD Alliance‘s guidelines for HDR10 and are YouTube Signature Devices. However, the devices have not yet been certified by Netflix so they can’t play Netflix HDR videos even though they’re technically capable.

Severity: Low

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: Medium

Black Crush

If you heard about the Pixel 2 XL’s display woes last year, you may have heard about the temporary image retention (resolved by occasionally changing the navigation bar background color), dull colors (resolved by adding a more saturated display mode), and “black crush.” The black crush issue, in a nutshell, “makes darker gray shades appear identical to black, providing no visual distinction and low contrast for darker scenes” according to our display analyst, Dylan Raga. Many attributed the issue to the use of an LG OLED panel in last year’s Pixel 2 XL, and personally, it was a big issue on my Pixel 2 XL. The black crash issue made the device really uncomfortable to use in low brightness levels. While my Pixel 3 XL review unit doesn’t show the black crush issue nearly as drastically my Pixel 2 XL did, our display analyst and several early adopters do report that it’s still there. Your mileage may vary.

Severity: Low-Medium

Google Response: None

Likelihood of a fix coming: None


How to Send Feedback to Google

So you found an issue with your Google Pixel 3 or Google Pixel 3 XL and you want to make your voice heard. You can shout into the wind by making a Reddit or XDA thread and hoping that someone from Google will respond to it, but there are better ways to give feedback to Google

Direct Feedback

Tweet at the Made by Google Twitter account

Post on the Pixel User Community product forum

You can also send a feedback report directly from your device. Google even made a video showing you how!

Indirect Feedback

If you really do want to shout in the wind, you can do so on our forums below. There’s many helpful, knowledgeable users who may answer your question or teach you how to resolve the issue yourself.

Join the Google Pixel 3 Forums

Join the Google Pixel 3 XL Forums

Miscellaneous Issues

Lastly, if you come across a software issue that you think might be a problem with Android Pie in general, use the Google Issue Tracker and file a bug report under the right component.

Submit a Bug Report on the Google Issue Tracker