Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL Review: Great, Just Not Compelling…

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The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL were, perhaps, two of the most hyped (and leaked) phones of 2019. But the reality of using them as daily drivers is a bit, well… underwhelming


Google Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL Verdict – (75%)

Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL
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Check Latest Pixel 4/Pixel 4 XL Prices – Starts From $799

Design: ★★★
Specs & Features: ★★★★
Performance: ★★★★
Battery Life: ★★★
Camera: ★★★★★
Value for Money: ★★★

Quick Verdict (TL; DR) – As someone that bought and used every single Pixel phone since day one, I have to say I am rather disappointed by the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Not devastated, just a bit disappointed. All eyes were on Google for this generation of Pixel, it had the chance to really make a difference in the phone market, to show Apple, Samsung, and Huawei that it too can create market-defining phones. But instead, it just played it safe – from the design choices to the camera.

Safe does not mean bad, though. It just means: not really that impressive in any particular sense. Performance is excellent, as you’d expect, and Android 10 looks and feels great. But there are no real, show-stopping features, things that’d make you upgrade from, say, a Pixel 3 XL or even a Pixel 3a. The Pixel 4’s cameras are still amazing, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why Google opted to use a 2X telephoto lens instead of an ultra-wide-angle lens? It makes ZERO sense. An ultra-wide-angle lens is way more useful on a phone. Why not just use both? That’s what Apple did on its newest flagship model…

I also really miss not having a fingerprint scanner. Google says Face Unlock is rapid, that it is designed to work in all types of lighting. In practice, this isn’t the case. I end up entering my PIN to unlock my phone multiple times during the day, especially in low-light conditions. If you had a fingerprint scanner on the back, as there was on the Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel 3, and Pixel 3a, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But you don’t and this makes using the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL more annoying than it needs to be…

I’m all for innovative new features like Face Unlock, but just don’t kill off the previous method of securely accessing your phone before your new, fancier way of doing it is 100% bullet-proof. That’s engineering 101. Basic stuff. And it is one of the most annoying things about using the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. I really hope Google can improve the performance of Face Unlock with future software updates because right now it feels very beta.

My advice? If you’re on the fence about the Pixel 4 range, look elsewhere. There are A LOT of very good Android phones on market right now – our current favorites are listed inside Best Android Phone Guide 2019. Or, grab yourself the iPhone 11. Apple has made a lot of useful updates inside the iPhone 11. Plus, it’s $100 cheaper than the Pixel 4 XL.

I wanted to love this phone, and in some respects I do, but it isn’t the update I was expecting. Prior to getting this phone, I thought it’d be a big step forward from the Pixel 3 XL. But Google instead decided to go a different direction, an incremental one, that doesn’t really add anything all that meaningful to the Pixel experience. It’s not the best Android phone around, it does have a great camera, and, given the choice, I’d prefer to use the cheaper iPhone 11 over it…

Full Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL Review

Pixel 4 front
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Design

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL aren’t bad looking phones. I like the square bump on the back that houses the camera. I appreciate the matte side rails; they aid grip and create a unique contrast that is pleasing to the eye. The Pixel 4 is also the most well put together Pixel to date – the chassis is solid with zero creaks or give. Up top, there’s no notch. Instead, it has a large, ungainly forehead that houses all the sensors, the new radar tech, and a front-facing camera. I get why Google switched to this setup, it makes sense, but it does make the phone look wonky.

This was the first thing I noticed about the Pixel 4 when I unboxed it – and it still bothers me now, two weeks into testing. These are minor, subjective gripes but they are things that bother me. I was hoping for something truly inspirational from Google this time around, something that kicked ass from all angles – software, specs, and design. And while two out of three isn’t bad, the missing element still leaves Google trailing Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Huawei, and OPPO. And, lest we forget: this is now Google’s fourth rodeo.

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The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL does not have a fingerprint scanner. Instead, have Face Unlock – and that’s it. Face Unlock is fast; when it works 100% properly it is almost instant. In my experience, however, it doesn’t always work properly 100% of the time. For this reason, I do miss the fingerprint scanner. It works 90% of the time just fine, but the remaining 10% of the time means you’re delayed when trying to access your phone. And this is definitely a negative for me.

I have no problem with using my face to unlock my phones. But I do have a problem with Google betting the house on a biometric scanner that isn’t 100% fit for purpose. If it had left the fingerprint scanner on the back, just like all previous Pixel handsets before it, this would not have been an issue. But it didn’t. And that, for a variety of reasons, was extremely foolish. It negatively impacts the user experience on a daily basis, and it is easily one of my main dislikes about the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL Specs

Here are the specs for the Pixel 4:

  • Display: 5.7in OLED display with a 2280 x 1080-pixel resolution at 444ppi
  • Dimensions: 147.1mm x 68.8mm x 8.2mm
  • Weight: 162 grams
  • Storage: 64 or 128GB
  • Processors: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Front camera: 8MP camera with 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Rear camera: Dual 16MP (telephoto) and 12.2MP (wide) camera; 4K video
  • Battery: Up to 13 hours (video playback)
  • Other: Face Unlock, Motion Sense, NFC, wireless charging, IP68 waterproof (2m)

And here are the specs for the Pixel 4 XL:

  • Display: 6.3in OLED display with a 3040 x 1440-pixel resolution at 537ppi
  • Dimensions: 160.4mm x 75.1mm x 8.2mm
  • Weight: 193 grams
  • Storage: 64 or 128GB
  • Processors: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Front camera: 8MP camera with 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Rear camera: Dual 16MP (telephoto) and 12.2MP (wide) camera; 4K video
  • Battery: Up to 14 hours (video playback)
  • Other: Face Unlock, Motion Sense, NFC, wireless charging, IP68 waterproof (2m)

Display

Pixel 4: 5.7in OLED display with a 2280 x 1080-pixel resolution at 444ppi
Pixel 4 XL: 6.3in OLED display with a 3040 x 1440-pixel resolution at 537ppi

The display is good. Very good, actually. Easily the best Google has produced so far. On both devices, you’re looking at an OLED panel with a refresh rate of 90hz. Performance, colors, saturation, and overall detail are very impressive. I don’t actually have any complaints about the Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL’s displays – both use impressive panels that perform brilliantly in all conditions.

google-pixel-4-colors
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It’s not as bright as Apple or Samsung’s OLED, peaking at around 500 nits, and this lack of brightness is most obvious when you’re using the phone in brightly lit rooms or outside when the sun is out. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is definitely something you’ll notice if you’re coming from an iPhone or recent Samsung phone.

And thanks to Android 10, you now have access to full Dark Mode for Android, so all of your applications and menus will appear black if you want them to. The upshot of this technology, so long as you have OLED displays, is that it uses less power – blacks do not require any power on OLED, so making the majority of your display black saves a fair amount of battery life over the course of a day.

And if you’re using the smaller Pixel 4, trust me, you’ll be wanting to conserve as much battery as possible. More on that later though.

Performance

  • CPU – Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • RAM – 6GB
  • STORAGE – 64 or 128GB

Google uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 CPU inside the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Alongside that chipset, you have 6GB of RAM. As you’d expect, performance is very good. It’s not as snappy or potent as Apple’s new A13 chipset, though this is not a surprise – Apple is leagues ahead of everybody else in this context.

Is it noticeably faster than the Google Pixel 3? Kind of, but not by much. Side by side, the difference is negligible, especially if you’re using a brand-new Pixel 3 handset. Multitasking is handled well. You can open and switch between apps, come back to them and pick up where you left off with minimal issues. Again, my iPhone 11 is quicker. But, again, Apple’s A13 chip is a monster.

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The bar for performance is now incredibly high; Huawei, Samsung, and Apple all have phones on the market that deliver blistering performance. The Google Pixel 4 range slots in somewhere in the middle. It’s powerful, leaving nothing to be desired, but if you care to look at how it handles things like multitasking and how quickly it reactivates data inside apps, then there are definite gaps in its performance when compared to Apple’s iPhone 11.

For the average consumer, this should be of no concern. Mostly, the vagaries of performance give us tech journalists something to talk about, a means of separating the great from the good. Viewed in this context, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are still very much top-tier handsets with respect to performance – easily inside the top five for 2019. As always: when you’re talking about flagship phones, performance across the board is always going to be impressive. And the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are no exception.

My only concern is that, at this price point, it gets increasingly difficult to recommend the Pixel 4 over, say, an iPhone 11 when Apple’s new phone is noticeably faster (and cheaper). I haven’t had any issues, performance or otherwise with the Pixel 4 XL, but I do find my iPhone 11 a lot snappier with respect to core functions. And when you’re talking about recommending a phone, you’re always going to favor the cheaper option (in this context the iPhone 11) if it is faster.

Battery Life

  1. Pixel 4 – This is where things start to fall apart for the Pixel 4. Its battery life is terrible. It won’t get you through a full day, and at this price point that simply is not acceptable. My Pixel 3a has better battery life than the Pixel 4, and it costs about 40% less at $399.99. This is a massive faux pas that Google really needs to fix as best it can in the immediate future, or else no one will be recommending this phone.
  2. Pixel 4 XL – The larger Pixel 4 XL fairs much better, but it is still below what I would expect from a phone of its size. It will do all day, with moderate usage. But push it hard and you might find yourself topping it up around 6/7 pm. I think a lot of the Pixel 4 range’s battery woes are attributable to Android 10. I used the Pixel 3a for months prior to the release of Android 10 and battery performance was solid. Once I’d installed Android 10, the battery performance immediately took a nose-dive.

Bottom line? If battery life is your thing, you’re definitely better off looking elsewhere right now. Neither phone has excellent battery performance, but the XL model gets by on pure mAh grunt. The Pixel 4’s, however, is inexcusable. Finger’s crossed Google fixes this with a software patch because it is one of the biggest turn-offs about these two otherwise very good handsets right now.

Cameras

Pixel 4 camera
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  • Camera Specs – Dual 16MP (telephoto) and 12.2MP (wide) camera; 4K video

The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL use the same camera setup. For the first time, you have a dual-lens camera on the rear. Rather than using an ultra-wide-angle lens, Google has opted to use a 2X telephoto lens instead, a move that has proven to be rather unpopular with reviewers and consumers alike. Personally, I’d have much preferred both – telephoto and an ultra-wide-lens. Apple has done this and managed to keep the cost respectable, so I don’t see why Google couldn’t as well – even if were just available on the XL model. Either way, it feels like a missed opportunity to me.

For the last few years, Google has had a rather significant lead on pretty much everybody else in the space, when it comes to image quality. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are no exception; they both produce excellent quality images – easily some of the best I’ve captured. Low light performance is exceptional, as is just pointing and shooting. It’s basically impossible NOT to capture good-looking shots on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Google is still killing it in the camera department, basically. But everybody else – most notably, Apple – is now catching up. So much so, in fact, that I would say it is nigh-on impossible to say which handset, the Pixel 4 or iPhone 11, takes better photos.

The one thing I’ve always loved about Google’s camera tech is the power of its post-processing abilities; you can snap a picture in any shooting mode and Google’s machine-learning algorithms will sort it out after the fact. No other manufacturer can hold a candle to Google in this regard. Post image processing is faster than ever on the Pixel 4 too, so you’re getting all the usual benefits, just in a snappier manner. For me, this is the #1 reason why Google’s camera is one of the best in the business.

Pixel phones are just great point-and-shoot cameras; they don’t require any special knowledge or geekery to capture stunning-looking images. All you have to do is point and shoot and let Google’s amazing software do its business. Apple is good in this regard too, but I still think Google has the edge right now.
Google and Apple do things slightly differently with respect to imaging; images captured via a Pixel phone, traditionally, have always looked cooler compared to images shot on an iPhone.

Apple’s video performance is significantly better. And Apple has now improved low-light performance on the iPhone so much that I would say it is on a par, if not better, than Google’s Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. For straight-up shooting, the Pixel 4 is still one of the best camera phones on the market. However, Apple now has momentum on its side, thanks to its improved low-light performance, better video capture, and the option to go for a phone with an ultra-wide-angle lens in the form of the iPhone 11 Max Pro/Max.

Android 10 – The Real Star of The Show

Google’s Pixel phones run Android as Google intended. If you want the purest form of Android, its latest features, and timely updates, Google’s Pixel phones are what you buy. Android 10 is the latest build of Android and it looks and runs spectacularly on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

You have Dark Mode, a new gesture-based navigation system that doesn’t take long to get used to at all, alongside a host of other useful settings like a new Recorder App that will translate your speech into text in real-time, AKA Live Transcribe, an improved sharing menu, and Focus Mode, which is part of Google’s Digital Wellbeing initiative and is designed to block certain applications and notifications.

These are the “main events” inside Android 10. For the most part, Android 10 is all about lots of little details, updates, and tweaks you might not notice, combining to make the OS more useful, powerful, and efficient. The UX remains largely unchanged and is attractive as ever. And if you want to experience Android 10 in its purest form, there is no better phone to do it on than the Pixel 4 (or, if you want something cheaper but equally good, the Pixel 3 XL).

Should You Buy The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL?

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This is a hard one to call. The Pixel 4 XL, out of these two phones, is the one to go for; the battery life on the Pixel 4 just doesn’t cut the mustard, and in 2019 that is unacceptable. Both handsets are expensive, a little too expensive in my opinion. You can pick up an iPhone 11 one OnePlus 7T with more storage for less. And that is significant.

Coming from the Pixel 3 XL to this Pixel 4 XL, I was expecting more given the pricing of these phones. I do like the Pixel 4 XL, but I never felt wowed by it during testing. It just doesn’t feel like much of an update over the now, significantly cheaper Pixel 3 XL.

And given how strong Apple, OnePlus, and Huawei’s latest releases are it is tricky to see how Google will factor into consumers buying decisions in 2019/20. Given the choice, I’d almost certainly go with the OnePlus 7T or the iPhone 11 over the Pixel 4 XL. I prefer the way they look from a pure design perspective, I think they have more useful cameras, and, perhaps most importantly, they’re both cheaper than the Pixel 4 XL to buy…

Until Google figures out how to WOW users, as it did with the Pixel 3a, I just can’t see how its Pixel line of phones will ever be more than a niche outlier in the phone market.

Check Latest Pixel 4/Pixel 4 XL Prices – Starts From $799

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