Google has been releasing its own Android phones since the very early days of the platform, but it took a more hands-on approach with the Pixel phones in 2016 and 2017. These devices offered competent hardware along with fantastic software and camera performance. As we move ever closer to Google’s 2018 Pixel launch, a series of leaks have revealed Google’s new design approach. It’s going all in with the screen notch, but it appears to be doing so in a positively ham-handed way.
A series of photos have shown up online that purport to show a prototype of the upcoming Pixel 3 XL. The images show the phone from several different angles, but the first thing to grab everyone’s attention is the substantial screen notch at the top. Phones like the iPhone X, LG G7, and OnePlus 6 have all shipped with screen notches. While Android OEM Essential was the first to ship a phone with this design quirk, the iPhone X set the standard when it launched a few months later. Google has apparently decided to join the notch club.
This design looks sloppy for a few reasons. For one, the screen notch cutout is extremely tall. Notches work best when they’re no taller than a standard Android status bar. A taller notch means less space saved on the device for content, which is the entire point of having a notch. Google does get credit for making the top and size bezels all equally slim, but the bottom is another story — this phone has a giant “chin.”
Apple pulled off the iPhone X’s all-screen look with an impressive feat of smartphone engineering. The OLED panel bends backward at the bottom, which means the display drivers can connect behind the screen. Thus, the visible part goes all the way to the edge. This is, apparently, a much more difficult or expensive proposition than anyone expected because we keep seeing phones with chins on the bottom along with a notch. In the case of the leaked Pixel 3 XL, that chin makes the phone look asymmetric and clunky. The too-tall notch and large chin are both problems suffered by the Essential Phone, which launched a year ago. Google should be better than this.
The photos don’t show the phone (codenamed Crosshatch) fully booted, but the bootloader screen suggests it will have 4GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 845, and 128 GB of storage (in this variant). If you were hoping for a return to the headphone jack, sorry. It’s not there. The back of the phone also appears to be one solid piece of material, rather than metal with a glass inlay like on current Pixels. Given the current trend, this is probably glass with different finishes on the top and bottom parts.
Let’s not forget that Google acquired HTC’s Pixel design team last year for north of $1 billion. Based on early reports, the 2018 Pixels will be Google’s first completely in-house designs. It will most likely contract with Foxconn to manufacture the hardware just like Apple. If the leaked Pixel 3 XL is representative of what Google can accomplish, it’s going to look awfully behind the times when the phone launches later this year.
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