Smaller phones are much harder to come by these days, regardless of whether you're using Android or iOS. With the Pixel 3 in particular, and the fact that it's arriving nearly a month after the launch of the considerably larger iPhone XS and XS Max, and months after even larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note9, Google has the opportunity to appeal to those who prefer to wield pocketable devices. But to do so successfully, and to keep those of us with smaller mandibles interested in its hardware, it has to do it right.
I’ve lived the last year with the Pixel 2 with a 5-inch display as my daily driver. It’s much smaller than the devices with 5.5-inch-and-up displays I was using before, and with its successor on the horizon, I’m reflecting on the compromises I’ve made for a phone that sits comfortably in my pocket. Here are some of the lessons I learned, and some suggestions for how Google could make the less-ballyhooed Pixel 3 exciting for the rest of us.
More screen, please
Google is no stranger to offering two sizes of smartphones—last year's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL provided users with a polarizing choice: a 5-inch or a 6-inch display, respectively. That’s quite a disparity in screen size, especially considering the latter offers a nearly bezel-to-bezel experience. I stuck with the 5-inch Pixel 2 and have been a happy customer thus far, but with the way Apple squeezed in a 5.8-inch display into a handheld chassis, I’m wondering if Google could have offered me more.
I spend the better part of my time watching garbage television on a relatively small screen—the Pixel 2’s 5-inch, Full HD display is still one of the smallest screens available on an Android device with high-end specifications. It would have been nice to have the Pixel 2’s display to at least extend to where the top and bottom speakers currently lie. It wouldn't be for optics, as the Pixel 2’s display type isn’t the highest resolution available anyway, but it would help at least better accommodate captions and menu screens. It would also prevent the navigation buttons from blocking part of the video.
Fortunately, real renders point to a Pixel 3 with a 5.4-inch screen size that extends to where the speakers used to lie. It's not as big as what Apple crammed into the iPhone XS, or the screen Samsung stuffed into the similarly bezel-less Galaxy S9, but it’s still going to be a boon for usability—not just for watching a video but for using gestures, too.
A smaller phone makes it easier to get around using Android Pie’s new navigation gestures. A short swipe gets me to my oft-used apps, like Slack, Instagram, and any other messaging apps I have open, while a long drag brings me to the full app drawer. Smaller devices also make one-handed maneuvers more available, like perusing through the multitasking window or copying and pasting text from one app to another with just your thumb as you’re carefully cradling the phone with your other four fingers.
It doesn't have to be a small screen, however. The Pixel 3 can remain small even if it elects to install more screen space. Since renders are pointing to a 5.4-inch display, that still lends itself to a compact chassis. If you’ll remember a few years back, the Galaxy S6 had a similar screen size, and it was much more usable than the Edge version Samsung had launched alongside it. Android Pie’s swipe gestures won’t be too difficult to manage on a screen that size. If anything, the extra bit of screen also means more runway for thumbs.
Put in a bigger battery
The Pixel 2’s 2700mAh battery is not much smaller than the first-generation Pixel’s 2770 mAh battery, but it still feels like a significant downgrade. After using the Pixel 2 for nearly a year, I’m finding that I’m desperate for a charge as soon as lunchtime on some days, which has resulted in my never leaving the house without a battery pack. That seems silly considering the reason I wanted a smaller phone in the first place was to avoid carrying bulk.
The Pixel 3 leak points to another sub-3000mAh battery. This time it’s around 2915mAh, but it still doesn’t seem like enough. Even the mid-range Moto X4, with its 5.2-inch HD display, comes with a 3000mAh battery. Numbers don’t necessarily tell you everything about battery life, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to the person using it is whether the phone can last until at least sundown. Here’s to hoping the smaller Pixel 3 can marathon without needing to be plugged in halfway through the day.
Keep performance on par with other phones
I don’t need an AMOLED screen—or a notch, for that matter—to feel like I'm getting my money's worth. But I do need a small phone that's usable, can do all the fancy augmented reality tricks that Google keeps showing off, and will receive at least three years of software updates.
The best thing about the Pixel 2 is that it’s merely a smaller version of the Pixel 2 XL. It has all the same camera abilities, receives software updates at the same time, and partakes in any Android software betas. This has been the smaller Pixel's winning formula the last two years, and it doesn't appear Google will steer away from tradition.
Rumors and renders haven't said much about the Pixel 3's internal hardware differentiating from its extra-large counterpart, which means Google's probably sticking to the same strategy as the last two years. Though larger screens are typically better for binge-watching and mobile gaming, all those things are just as possible on the smaller device as they are on the "extra large" version. Here's to hoping that the Pixel 3, even with its rumored larger screen size, will be enough to appeal to the subset of users out there who don't want all the bulk of a giant phone.