Google's recent batch of Pixels aren't without their issues, and as more phones get in consumer's hands, new reports of problems surface. The latest controversy stems from the Pixel 3's apparent inability to shuffle more than a few apps at a time. In fact, taking a photo is apparently enough to kill Spotify if it's playing music in the background, and in our own tests cycling more than 3-4 apps can force some out of memory. Maybe 4GB of RAM wasn't enough for a flagship phone in 2018 after all, Google?
Informal reports of general app/memory management issues started before the phone's formal release. Android Central's Daniel Bader noted problems with music and podcast apps being killed mid-playback, a complaint that Marques Brownlee/MKBHD also experienced and mentioned in his recent Pixel 3 XL review. Twitter, Reddit, and Android Police's comments have also been abuzz with similar complaints.
Artem cycling between apps on the Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6.
Android Police's Artem was able to put together a video comparing performance between his own Pixel 3 XL and a OnePlus 6. In his testing, merely cycling between Chrome, Google+, and Twitter was enough to force Chrome out of memory on the Pixel 3 XL, requiring that the app is reloaded the next time it is opened. In comparison to Google's latest flagship, the OnePlus 6 has no problems, happily shuffling more than double as many apps without forcing Chrome out of memory.
This background app issue could also be a potential cause behind the Pixel 3's reports of not saving photos reliably — while other phones have exhibited the same behavior, this apparent memory management problem could possibly be a contributing factor on the Pixel 3.
In the meantime, my @oneplus 6 (pictured) can open 2 dozen apps and still avoid reloading any of them as I switch between them. It's incredible. Embarrasses the Pixel 3.
Tell me again how 4GB is enough RAM these days. 6GB would have avoided all these issues, let alone 8GB. pic.twitter.com/mRh6dtjqPp
— Artem Russakovskii (@ArtemR) October 20, 2018
We will note, that #Artem'sLuck — our boss' propensity to somehow draw out the worst in a given gadget — could be a contributing factor. Android Police's Ryan Whitwam did not have the same experience on his Pixel 3, demonstrated here in his own video. Still, reports for apps like Spotify being pushed out of memory on the Pixel 3 are widespread, so we don't doubt that at some level there is a genuine problem, it's simply a question of degree.
While these issues seem to indicate a problem with memory management, it isn't clear if they're an immediate result of Google's decision to go with 4GB of RAM — especially considering most flagships in 2018 have gone with larger numbers — or some other underlying bug with background app management on the version of Android the Pixel 3 is running. Hopefully, it's an issue that can be fixed via update. After all, you can't just download more RAM.
We've reached out to Google for comment, and we'll update this story if one is provided.
PhoneBuff test also shows Pixel 3 XL struggling to keep apps in memory, potential explanation by kernel developer
The PhoneBuff YouTube channel has a pretty slick automated testing suite it runs on phones, and it just finished up comparing the Pixel 3 XL to the iPhone XS Max. While it's an apples to oranges comparison (pardon the pun), part of the testing suite does involve re-opening all the apps included in the test in reverse order, to see how many of them could be kept in memory after the first "lap." In the case of the Pixel 3 XL, it doesn't do so well.
If you don't have the attention span to sit and watch the last minute or so of the video, the short version is that the Pixel 3 XL fails to keep any apps open after the first four. The video notes how unusual this is, and how long it has been since a phone failed this aspect of PhoneBuff's tests this early, or in such a spectacular fashion.
In an indirect comparison, PhoneBuff also benchmarked the OnePlus 6 to the Galaxy Note 9 in a similar test. Reinforcing Artem's less precise testing above, the OnePlus 6 is able to perform the reverse app gauntlet with no issues, and even the 6GB version of the Note 9 didn't run into a problem until the last couple of apps.
— Nathan Chancellor (@nathanchance) October 21, 2018
Android Kernel developer Nathan Chancellor (of Flash Kernel fame), thinks he might have an idea about the potential cause of these multitasking woes, and it isn't lack of memory. Apparently, Google switched up how it handled low-memory states by using something called lmkd, and it could be a bit too aggressive at killing apps. There's also a potential kernel memory leak that could be a contributing factor.
Seems to be fixed by December's monthly update
So far as we can tell, The Pixel 3 and 3 XL's multitasking woes have been fixed by the December security patch update. In our own anecdotal use, more apps are able to persist in memory for longer on the update. An Android developer at Google also confirms that the December update "significantly better at memory."
December update for P3 is out, should be significantly better at memory
— park avenue (@t_murray) December 3, 2018
We're still waiting on an official, explicit confirmation that this is a complete or partial fix for the reported problem, but have yet to receive a comment.