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Turns out, Pixel 3 is pricier than you think when it comes to storage

The Pixel 3's starting price is "cheaper" than the iPhone and Galaxy phones, but it's not that much more affordable when you factor in storage.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no denying that we live in an era of the Very Expensive Phone. And now that some start at a dizzying $1,000, Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL, which go on sale today, look like a bargain compared to the competition.

It makes sense at face value. The Pixel 3 starts at $799 (£739 and AU$1,199), which is well under the iPhone XS and Note 9's starting price. And even its Pixel 3 XL counterpart doesn't exceed the price of those phones, despite having a bigger display and a longer-lasting battery than the Pixel 3.

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But when factoring in storage and the Pixel's lack of external memory, its value isn't that straightforward. There are other features to take into account when getting a phone: The camera, operating system and design all play a role in your buying decision.

But among the top caliber of phones, most perform similarly well. They all have excellent cameras and lightning speed processors, and they all operate on either iOS or Android. As unsexy as "memory and storage" sound, granular considerations such as that become important -- especially for premium phones all vying for your hard-earned cash.

So when it comes to storage, the Pixel 3 actually doesn't come out on top, despite its reasonable starting price. Take a look at the math:

Galaxy S9, S9 Plus and Note 9 price breakdown

Samsung Galaxy S9, S9 Plus and Note 9


US Dollar per GB UK Pound per GB Australia Dollar per GB
Galaxy S9 $720 (64GB); $770 (128GB); $840 (256GB) $11.25 (64GB); $6.02 (128GB); $3.28 (256GB) £739 (64GB) £11.55 (64GB) AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,349 (256GB) AU$18.73 (64GB), AU$5.27 (256GB)
Galaxy S9 Plus $840 (64GB); $890 (128GB); $960 (256GB) $13.13 (64GB); $6.95 (128GB); $3.75 (256GB) £869 (128GB); £929 (256GB) £6.79 (128GB); £3.63 (256GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB) AU$21.08 (64GB), AU$5.86 (256GB)
Note 9 $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB) $7.81 (128GB), $2.44 (512GB) £899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB) £7.02 (128GB), £2.15 (512GB) AU$1,499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB) AU$11.71 (128GB), AU$3.51 (512GB)

Of all the phones covered in this piece, this year's Galaxy phones actually have the best price-to-gigabyte ratio. The 256GB version of the Galaxy S9, for instance, comes down to about $3 or AU$5 per GB. In the UK, Samsung only sells the 64GB variant, and its price breakdown isn't as cheap, unfortunately. However, the 256GB Galaxy S9 Plus comes out to £4, which isn't shabby. 

The 512GB Note 9 is the best value, though. While it's the most expensive phone upfront, that price breaks down to only $2, £2 or AU$4 a gigabyte.

On top of that, all three Galaxy phones have expandable storage. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus hold an extra 400GB, while you can add 512GB to the Note 9. This shoots up the value of all three phones, especially when you consider that a 128GB microSD card doesn't cost too much -- about $25, £24 or AU$45. That means you can store even more photos, videos and what-have-you on your device.

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Like the Pixel, the iPhone (left) doesn't have expandable storage. Galaxy phones do, however.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPhone XS, XS Max and XR price breakdown

Apple iPhone XS, XS Max and XR


US Dollar per GB UK Pound per GB Australia Dollar per GB
iPhone XS $999 (64GB); $1,149 (256GB); $1,349 (512GB) $15.61 (64GB); $4.49 (256GB); $2.63 (512GB) £999 (64GB); £1,149 (256GB); £1,349 (512GB) £15.61 (64GB); £4.49 (256GB); £2.63 (512GB) AU$1,629 (64GB); AU$1,879 (256GB); AU$2,199 (512GB) AU$25.45 (64GB); AU$7.34 (256GB); AU$4.29 (512GB)
iPhone XS Max $1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB) $17.17 (64GB), $4.88 (256GB), $2.83 (512GB) £1,099 (64GB); £1,249 (256GB); £1,449 (512GB) £17.17 (64GB), £4.88 (256GB), £2.83 (512GB) AU$1,799 (64GB); AU$2,049 (256GB); AU$2,369 (512GB) AU$28.11 (64GB); AU$8.00 (256GB); AU$4.63 (512GB)
iPhone XR $749 (64GB); $799 (128GB); $899 (256GB) $11.70 (64GB); $6.24 (128GB); $3.51 (256GB) £749 (64GB); £799 (128GB); £899 (256GB) £11.70 (64GB); £6.24 (128GB); £3.51 (256GB) AU$1,229 (64GB); AU$1,299 (128GB); AU$1,479 (256GB) AU$19.20 (64GB); AU$10.15 (128GB); AU$5.78 (256GB)

With luxe looks and proprietary hardware, Apple's flagships cost a pretty penny. But like the Note 9, the 512GB tier of the iPhone XS breaks down to a couple of bucks per gigabyte. (It's $2.63, £2.63 or AU$4.29 to be exact.) Of all three iPhones this year, the XS is the cheapest in terms of storage, despite Apple touting the upcoming iPhone XR as the more affordable iPhone.

One thing to note is that the iPhone XR has a 128GB model in lieu of a 512GB one. To many, this is the "sweet spot" -- the Goldilocks option that's not too small and not too big. But for that model, you'll be paying about $6, £6 or AU$10 per GB.

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Pixel 3 and 3 XL price breakdown

Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL


US Dollar per GB UK Pound per GB Australia Dollar per GB
Google Pixel 3 $799 (64GB); $899 (128GB) $12.48 (64GB); $7.02 (128GB) £739 (64GB); £839 (128GB) £11.55 (64GB); £6.55 (128GB) AU$1,199 (64GB); AU$1,349 (128GB) AU$18.73 (64GB); AU$10.54 (128GB)
Google Pixel 3 XL $899 (64GB); $999 (128GB) $14.05 (64GB); $7.80 (128GB) £869 (64GB); £969 (128GB) £13.58 (64GB); £7.57 (128GB) AU$1,349 (64GB); AU$1,499 (128GB) AU$21.08 (64GB); AU$11.71 (128GB)

As you can see from the chart, the price-per-gigabyte of the Pixel's starting 64GB model ($12, £12 or AU$19) falls between the cheaper Galaxy S9 and the pricier iPhone XS. 

But if we look at what phone is the best deal from each of the three companies, Google's phone is the most expensive. The Pixel 3 (128GB) costs $7, £7 or AU$11, but the iPhone XS (512GB) costs $3, £3 or AU$4, while the Galaxy Note 9 (512GB) is even cheaper at $2, £2 or AU$4.

What about the Pixel 3's unlimited photo storage?

Ah yes, that whole thing. For Pixel 3 and 3 XL users, Google offers unlimited photo and video storage at their original resolution. This is a huge deal, since photos and videos eat up the majority of our phone's storage. Having this cloud backup for free is a big draw for the Pixel 3, and it's why some people don't really care that the Pixel 3 has no expandable storage. (In comparison, Apple's iCloud service costs $10, £7 or AU$15 a month for 2TB).

40-google-pixel-3

If you take a lot of photos and don't want to use Google's cloud backup, prepare to run out of memory fast.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But there are caveats. Google will only to save photos and videos at their full resolution until Jan. 31, 2022. Anything you back up before then will still be saved at its original quality, but anything after will be saved at "high" resolution.

There's also the question of whether or not you back up your pictures to Photos anyway. Sometimes it's not possible -- like when you're traveling and have an inconsistent data and Wi-Fi connection. Other times, you just don't want to. While it's convenient to upload photos to a cloud and access it on any device you sign into with your Google account, not everyone (including me) wants to do that.

Amidst newsworthy privacy breaches this year, including Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, Samsung's bizarre and disconcerting photo-texting bug, the recent phishing scam affecting Chinese users and their Apple ID and Google's own data vulnerability with Google+, many people opt out of giving more data to companies, especially when it's avoidable.  

Meanwhile, giant apps and games, and locally saved music, movies and podcasts all contribute to taking up your phone's memory too.

Don't get me wrong -- the Pixel 3 is a superb phone. With its superlative camera, a polished design and useful Google software, it's actually one of my favorite phones of the year. But if having a phone with ample built-in storage at a good price is main draw for you, the Pixel 3 falls short.

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Read now: CNET's Pixel 3 review

Read next: Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XS vs. Galaxy S9