The Google Pixel 3 XL is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy
The Google Pixel 3 XL is far and away the best phone Google has made, and that also makes it the best unlocked Android phone. With the Pixel 3 XL, simplicity is the goal: the hardware is efficiently designed, the software gets out of your way, and all of the features have a distinct purpose. It also offers the best overall camera experience of any phone.
Google Pixel 3 XL
$899 from Google Store
$899 from Best Buy
The best unlocked Android phone.
The Pixel 3 XL focuses on having the fastest, simplest and most helpful software experience, running on simple and powerful hardware. It accents everything with an amazing camera and a handful of features that make it stand out from the competition.
Who should buy this phone
The Pixel 3 XL is not for those who measure a phone’s quality by the spec sheet numbers or the raw scale of features it offers. But if you just look at the spec sheet and the features, you’re missing out on the bigger picture: the Pixel 3 XL is an amazing phone to use.
The Pixel 3 XL offers an exceptional smartphone experience, whether you’re a novice or a pro.
Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, Google’s software experience is immediately appealing. Android 9 Pie is simple, smooth, easy to use and isn’t saddled by a bunch of features or extras that get in your way. You won’t experience bloatware or unwanted apps, and the deep integration with Google services makes setup, sync and app management easy. Everything you do on the Pixel 3 XL is fast, and you can do as much, or as little, as you see fit with it.
One of the biggest selling points is its cameras. The rear camera takes the best photos in the business, whether you want to just point and shoot or get deeper into the extra features. On the front, a pair of cameras offers fantastic selfies for just you or a group — you can even go all-out with selfie portrait mode.
This phone is the complete package. Sure it’s missing a couple of the highest-end specs, and it isn’t as customizable as the competition, but the pros heavily outweigh those cons.
Is it a good time to buy this phone?
Yes. The Pixel 3 XL was released in mid-October, and Google holds to a strict yearly cycle for releasing phones. This will be the latest and greatest from the company for months to come.
Reasons to buy
- Amazing photo quality
- Great selfies
- Super-loud stereo speakers
- Simple, intuitive software
- Wireless charging
- Guaranteed software updates
Reasons not to buy
- No headphone jack
- Display notch
There are so many great Android phones available, but the Pixel 3 XL stands out
It should come as little surprise that Google’s own Pixel phones offer the best possible Android experience. It starts with the hardware, which is clean, efficient and robust. The three color options give you choices on the look, but regardless you get great speakers, wireless charging and solid (if unspectacular) battery life. The screen is also great, with the extra-large 6.3-inch OLED panel giving you plenty of room to view everything.
It should come as little surprise that the best Android experience comes directly from Google.
Android 9 Pie is an excellent operating system filled with nice-to-have features, but at the same time isn’t weighed down by extra cruft or bloatware that you don’t want. It’s capable of being a simple and easy to use system, or a super-powerful tool for more advanced users — the choice is yours. In either case, you benefit from fantastic performance and smooth animations, plus deep integration with Google’s services. You also get three years of guaranteed software updates, plus unlimited Google Photos backups at full resolution — nice perks.
On both phones, you get the same industry-leading camera performance. The rear camera has just a single sensor and lens, but Google’s software takes it to new heights. You can take amazing photos with little thought in any scene, and new enhancements to processing give you better digital zoom and multi-frame capture without any configuration or changing of modes. The dual selfie cameras give the you flexibility to shoot super-sharp single shots, group wide-angle shots, or uniquely processed portrait mode photos.
Every Pixel 3 XL is unlocked (yes, even the ones Best Buy and Verizon sell), with the same hardware, so you don’t have to worry about network band compatibility or dealing with different versions of the phone.
Alternatives to the Google Pixel 3 XL
The Pixel 3 XL is a great choice for so many people, but of course, there are some potential buyers who don’t want to go all-in with the Google way of doing things. That’s why there are other phones out there that offer a different experience and are worthy of considering.
Google Pixel 3
$799 from Google Store
The complete Pixel experience, in a smaller size to fit your hands and pockets.
This is a simple equation: take the Pixel 3 XL, and scale it down to a size that’s more manageable in one hand. You get all of the same specs, features and camera quality as the larger phone — you just get less screen to work with, and a smaller battery that leads to shorter battery life.
Not everyone wants a huge phone (though most people clearly do), and the Pixel 3 delivers the same great Pixel experience with a size that’s comfortable for a wide range of hand (and pocket) sizes. The Pixel 3 is small enough to fit in your bag or pocket even with a case on, and you won’t find yourself fumbling around to awkwardly to reach the top of the screen.
Despite being smaller, the Pixel 3 has all of the same great hardware, specs, features and camera quality as the larger 3 XL. That includes the glass build, wireless charging, screen quality and stereo speakers. The only things you miss out on here is just the sheer size of the 3 XL’s screen, and its larger battery. Apps may feel more cramped, requiring a little more zooming or scrolling, and at the end of the day you’re going to have less wiggle room in the battery. If you’re a heavy phone user, the Pixel 3 may not be able to manage everything you throw at it without a midday top-up.
A do-everything flagship
Samsung Galaxy S9+
$730 from Amazon
A great all-around phone with wide appeal, and amazing hardware and features.
The Galaxy S9+ is the phone anyone can pick up and make their own. You don’t miss out on a single spec or hardware feature, and it has both one of the best displays and best camera experiences available. It’s also cheaper than Google’s latest phones.
Samsung makes phones that appeal to the widest possible market, and that’s why the Galaxy S9+ is so easy to recommend. It has every hardware feature and spec you could want out of a phone in 2018, and the software is there to make it all work. You can also customize the software to do whatever you want, but that means it takes a lot more setup and massaging to work just right — and in the end, it still won’t match Google’s simplicity.
But the GS9+ does most things just as well as the Pixel 3 XL, and even bests it in a couple areas: namely its higher display brightness, expandable storage and headphone jack. Being several months old, it’s also much cheaper. You’ll pay about $725 for the Galaxy S9+, which is a considerable savings over the Pixel 3 XL and enough of a discount to make many people consider it.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
$930 from Amazon
An incredible phone with a huge price to match.
The Galaxy S9+ is great, but the Samsung Note 9 is even greater. It does everything the GS9+ does, but adds in a larger screen, more storage, longer battery life and an S Pen stylus. And it’s about $200 more because of it.
The Galaxy Note 9 is easily the best Note phone Samsung has ever made, and for once it’s actually better than the latest Galaxy S phone in every way. The battery has jumped up to 4000mAh, which gives you effortless all-day battery life, and the rest of the experience is the same as what the Galaxy S9+ offers.
That means you get top-end specs, a great camera, an industry-leading display and so much more. And the Note has an S Pen, which remains unmatched in the smartphone world. The problem is its $925+ price tag, which is a tough pill to swallow when you can get almost the same experience for about $200 less with the Galaxy S9+. That makes this an “upgrade” and not the standard recommendation.
$549 from OnePlus
A flagship in every way but price.
OnePlus has a formula that just works: make a phone that can compete with flagships in most ways, then drop the price by a few hundred dollars. It’s amazing what you can get for just $550 in the OnePlus 6T, with great hardware, above-average cameras, super-fast software, and a packed spec sheet.
With a price of just $550, it almost doesn’t make sense how good the OnePlus 6T is. Great hardware and a super spec sheet rival the competition, and the 6.41-inch AMOLED screen is no slouch. The cameras are a step down from the top tier, but they’re consistent and produce great images. And its OxygenOS software is actually capable of challenging Google’s in simplicity and speed.
The OnePlus 6T isn’t perfect, and has many shortcomings when compared head-to-head with the other phones here. But with a price tag that’s $300 less, it’s hard to complain about the small issues. Given its price it’s shocking how close the OnePlus 6T gets to the competition, and there’s a good chance you’ll be willing to forego a few nice-to-have extras to save so much money.
$239 from Amazon
The best budget Android phone for most people, hitting all of the basics at an incredible price.
The Moto G6 is a budget-priced winner in every respect. From the modern design to the dual camera setup and excellent performance, the Moto G6 represents the pinnacle of Motorola’s dominance in the budget phone space.
In a world filled with great low-cost Android phones, the Moto G6 stands above the rest — and that makes sense, because Motorola has been dominating this space for years. The Moto G6 hovers around $220, yet offers a modern design and many of the same software features as the higher-end smartphones on this list.
It has a big screen, good battery life, surprisingly quick performance and a nicer camera than you’d expect for the money. It has modern conveniences like a USB-C port and fast charging, plus bonuses like a 3.5mm headphone jack. Motorola’s software is also fantastic, with a clean interface and useful features you’ll take advantage of every day.
The Google Pixel 3 XL is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy today. It has amazing performance, simple and powerful software, great cameras and no clear issues or downsides. Its hardware matches the competition in terms of quality and features, and finally isn’t let down by a subpar screen. You can also get the same features in a smaller size (for less money) with the Pixel 3. Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ and Note 9 offer compelling alternatives to those who want more features and can manage the software. And for those who put price first, the OnePlus 6T offers an exceptional value for a flagship while the Moto G6 gives you most of what you’re looking for for hundreds less still.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Andrew Martonik is the Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central. He has been a mobile enthusiast since the Windows Mobile days, and covering all things Android-related with a unique perspective at AC since 2012. For suggestions and updates, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @andrewmartonik.
Daniel Bader is the Managing Editor of Android Central. As he’s writing this, a mountain of old Android phones is about to fall on his head, but his Great Dane will protect him. He drinks way too much coffee and sleeps too little. He wonders if there’s a correlation.
Jerry Hildenbrand is Mobile Nation’s Senior Editor and works from a Chromebook full time. Currently he is using Google’s Pixelbook but is always looking at new products and may have any Chromebook in his hands at any time. You’ll find him across the Mobile Nations network and you can hit him up on Twitter if you want to say hey.