Every year the Pixel has a problem. The first had a terrible build quality, the second had display problems, and the third had a bad battery experience. And each year, we collectively hold our emotions and hope that this time, Google tackles the issues and produces a pixel that genuinely lives up to its potential. Although Pixel 4 is good and has a lot of promise, it still does not meet expectations. This does not mean that it is a bad phone; it is perfect in different areas.
It is just a bit disappointing because although it involves several innovative technical wonders, a pedestrian need such as battery life is still not addressed. And although Google usually gets a pass because it is Google, the Pixel 4 is not nearly as competitive as what other manufacturers offer. The easiest way to say it: the Pixel 4 feels like a phone designed for Google technicians rather than the average consumer. Let’s take a look at our Google Pixel 4 XL Review.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Design
- 68.8 x 147.1 x 8.2mm
Pixel 4 XL:
- 75.1 x 160.4 x 8.2mm
- Gorilla Glass 5 front and back
- Matte finish aluminum frame
- IP68 dust- and water-resistance
- Active Edge for Google Assistant
The Pixel 4 design is quite divided, with some people enjoying it and others hating it. This is especially true for the square camera hump on the back. I don’t hate it, but I’m not such a fan either. However, I do like the overall styling and the design here. There are 3 launch colors: a glossy black, a limited edition “Oh So Orange” and a black and white stormtrooper version. The black version is the one with a glossy back, while the other two are matte.
I think the matte finish here is a better approach. Not only does it attract fewer fingerprints, but it also has a more delicate texture. It is reminiscent of a soft-touch polycarbonate but is frosted glass. No matter what color you get, there’s a matte black aluminum frame that I can only assume is a reaction to the notoriously smooth edges of the Pixel 3. This is a decent change to the bare aluminum frames that you get on most other phones. It is better for grip, shows fewer dents and scratches, and adds a little extra flair to your phone.
I understand the aversion to the prominent forehead at the top of the screen, but I prefer it to every notch. Your opinion on this may, of course, differ. There is no fingerprint reader on the back or under the screen. There is no fingerprint reader. All in all, the Pixel 4 design is bold and confident, whether you like it or not.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Display
- 5.7-inch Full HD+ OLED
- 2,280 x 1,080 pixels, 444ppi
Pixel 4 XL:
- 6.3-inch Quad HD+ OLED
- 3,040 x 1,440 pixels, 537ppi
- 19:9 aspect ratio
- Adaptive 90Hz refresh rate
- HDR support (UHDA certified)
- Always-on display, Ambient EQ
Google opted for a 90 Hz variable refresh rate on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The adaptive refresh rate was good and felt responsive and smooth during our assessment period for Google Pixel 4 XL. The screen drops to 60Hz when it is not needed or is not supported (e.g., in some games), so you will not get the same battery hit as on a screen that runs permanently at 90Hz. But if you’re worried about the life of the Pixel 4 battery, and it should be, it’s always an option to turn it off.
We noticed that our Pixel 4 had a light green tint. The Pixel 4 XL was better, however, still a bit too blue. We compared them with earlier Pixel generations and noticed a relatively high degree of variation in the standard color temperature between ages. There are 3 color settings for the Pixel 4 display: natural, enhanced, and adaptive. Adaptive is the standard, and that is what I left it at. The others dampen the colors a bit or always lock you in the more saturated palette.
Ambient EQ is similar to Apple’s True Tone and adjusts the color and brightness of your screen depending on the environment. In our time with the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL, we have not noticed any problems with the screen, as we saw in previous years. Apart from the discrepancy in color temperature, the displays were vivid and sharp and usable bright in direct sunlight. According to our objective tests, the Pixel 4 XL is even the best all-round smartphone screen that we have currently tested.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Audio
- Stereo speakers (earpiece and bottom-firing)
- No 3.5mm headphone jack, no adapter
- 3 microphones
- Noise suppression
Audio is perfect on Pixel 4. There is no headphone connection, but you can grab a smart Google dongle if you need a wired headphone, or you can connect via Bluetooth. Both the devices support SBC, AAC, aptX, aptXHD, and LDAC codecs, but there is no aptX Adaptive yet. Anyway, you will not notice any problems, and it will handle all the audio that you put in fine.
There are stereo speakers on the Pixel 4 through the earphone and a speaker on the bottom. They are noticeably louder than the Pixel 3 and have a richer sound all around. The Pixel 4 handles high tones much better than the Pixel 3, and the bass is rounder without getting tinny at the top end. At higher volumes, there is also less distortion, so well done Google.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Software
- Android 10
- 3 years OS and security updates
- New Google Assistant
- On-board language processing
I am not going too far in Android 10 on the Pixel 4 XL, because we have discussed it in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the software experience on the Pixel 4 is smooth and smooth – thanks in part to the 6 GB RAM and 90 Hz display. If you do not mind having an external battery with you, we recommend that you keep it switched on. Pixel 4 comes with a few new software functions, and that is what we will focus on here. The most useful of these is the new Google Assistant. With Pixel 4, Google has moved the language processing of Assistant on the device. This makes it much faster than before, and also safer. But there is a snag.
The problem is that you cannot currently use the new Assistant if you are using traditional three-button navigation or have a G Suite account on your phone. Given that many people use G Suite for business or school, this is a huge disappointment. Google is working on a solution to the G Suite problem so that things can change. Another feature that benefits from the built-in language processing and machine learning of Pixel 4 is the new Recorder app.
Not only is it lightning fast, it transcribes your speech in almost real-time, it is also searchable. This means that you can search for a specific word or sentence in dozens of saved voice recordings and identify the records in which it occurs. The Pixel even shows you a timeline of those recordings with the searched words or sentences highlighted.
There are existing recorder apps with similar functionality, but what makes Google unique is that the processing is done on the device. This means that you can see transcription in real-time, even without a data connection. You can also export the audio or transcription to Google Drive if you want to share it. Android 10 on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL is generally excellent. Navigation movements do not suit everyone, but if you changed a while ago, you are now used to them. You can still enable navigation with three buttons, but I doubt it will be a long time before Google disables the option.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Hardware and Performance
- Snapdragon 855
- 6GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB storage
- Titan-M security module
- Pixel Neural Core
- AR Core
The performance of the Pixel 4 is surprisingly good. For the first time, there is 6 GB of RAM in a pixel, and both models run on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. Pixels have long been delayed, so extra RAM is very welcome here, even if it is only 6 GB. Unfortunately, we have to wait a while to find out if more RAM has caused problems in the past or if the Pixel 4 family is also affected. At least in the short term, more RAM means fewer problems with cached apps. The Pixel 4 seems to have solved the RAM management problems of the Pixel 3.
For example, you can now safely cache Spotify, Maps, and the camera without being forced to close it. This is good news, but it should not have been a problem in the first place. Although we appreciate seeing the bump here in RAM, almost every other flagship now uses 8 GB as the standard (except for the iPhone). You don’t even have an option for more RAM if you pay for the higher storage option. Although the new Pixels may not need 8 GB of RAM at this time, given that Google guarantees updates for at least another two years, who knows where we are then.
The same applies to storage. Although Google is understandably enthusiastic about streaming all things, not everyone can live his life in the cloud. The basic model Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL still have 64 GB of storage space, and it costs you $100 extra to double that to 128 GB. For comparison, Apple only charges $50 extra for the 128 GB iPhone 11 and $ 100 more for the 256 GB version. Since original quality, Google uploads are no longer offered, and we never get a microSD card on a Google phone, there are good reasons to feel unsatisfied.
Positive is that we found the performance of Pixel 4 pretty good. In our benchmarking, the smaller Pixel 4 on average performed slightly better than the Pixel 4 XL. This is due to the Full HD + resolution of the smaller model, which means fewer pixels need to be pushed. The differences are quite negligible, and we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Pixel 4 scored against quite a fierce competition, including the Asus ROG Phone 2, the OnePlus 7T series, and the Realme X2 Pro.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Camera
- 12.2MP sensor
- ƒ/1.7 aperture
- 1.4μm pixel size
- 77-degree FoV
- OIS + EIS, PDAF
2x tele camera:
- 16MP sensor
- ƒ/2.4 aperture
- 1.0μm pixel size
- 52-degree FoV
- OIS + EIS, PDAF
The Pixel 4 camera is better than the Pixel 3 – and in my eyes also better than the iPhone 11 Pro – but it is not such a significant improvement of the camera as you might have hoped. Yes, there is now a second camera, but it is a 2x telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle lens.
According to Google, wide-angle lenses are excellent, but zooming is more useful. Agree or disagree, the fact remains that the Pixel 4 camera system is not as versatile as many other phones that they all offer (Apple iPhone 11, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, etc.). With the 2x telephoto lens, you can not only zoom in on optical quality, but it also contributes to Super Res zoom for better midsize ranges and helps with portrait mode improvements. The tele is functional and high quality, but I would trade it in every day for a wide-angle.
The real killer function on the Pixel 4 camera is the astrophotography mode, which is so insane that you have to see it believe it. In night mode, if the Pixel 4 detects that the light is low enough and the sky is visible, the astrophotographic mode is automatically activated. Then it takes up to sixteen 15-second exposures, aligns and tweaks them in the background, and the kind of astrophotography pops up that you usually only get from a nice DSLR and a lot of editing. The results speak for themselves and are incredible.
Unfortunately, the presence of an astrophotographic mode sharply raises the lack of a wide-angle lens because it is challenging to get the most out of the night sky when you can barely fit into it.
However, the lenses that Pixel 4 has been very impressive. The Pixel 4 manages to capture more details than the Pixel 3, handles white balance even better thanks to a machine learning-based algorithm and improves HDR, portrait mode and selfies. We noted that selfies occasionally showed some subjects to be a bit sticky, while others were fine. Cutouts in portrait mode were more accurate, and the bokeh was slightly more realistic.
Another innovative feature of the Pixel 4 is live HDR +. The Pixel 4 can preview what your image will look like before you take the shot, so you can see the processing before it happens. Although this is quite remarkable in itself, it allows another feature that shows that Google is not yet rolling. By seeing HDR in real-time, Google was able to add local adjustment sliders when you tap. Where previous devices would balance exposure to the area you taped on, that action was reassigned to reveal brightness and shading sliders. This means that you can adjust individual elements of the photo before you even take it, something that is not possible even with traditional cameras.
- 8.1MP sensor
- ƒ/2.0 aperture
- 1.22μm pixel size
- 90-degree FoV
- 2 x NIR cameras
- NIR flood emitter
- NIR dot projector
Face unlock on the Pixel 4 is fantastic. It even works upside down. Your face data is stored locally in the secured Titan M chip of the Pixel – not in the cloud. It uses two near-infrared (NIR) cameras, a flood transmitter, and a point projector for a very iPhone-like face unlocking. The difference is that the face unlocking of the Pixel 4 is faster, thanks to the Pixel Neural Core and Motion Sense, powered by Soli radar. Because the Pixel 4 knows that you will pick it up before you even touch it, the NIR cameras look for your face as soon as you grab your phone.
In my tests, face unlocking was faster than the iPhone 11 every time. Like the iPhone, the Pixel 4’s face unlocking is secure enough for mobile payments and app unlocking. However, it is unfortunate that Google has omitted the requirement that your eyes are open. This poses a potential security risk because your face can be used to unlock your phone when you sleep or are unconscious or worse, against your will.
The lack of a fingerprint scanner is a bit disappointing here because face unlocking is not watertight. Although unlocking the Pixel face was right in my experience, it is not the biometric solution par excellence for everyone.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Battery Life
- 2,800mAh battery
Pixel 4 XL:
- 3,700mAh battery
- 18W/2A charging brick
- Qi wireless charging
- USB-C with USB-PD 2.0
Although it seems that Google may have solved the RAM problem in Pixel 4, the battery life is still not great. The smaller Pixel 4 has a smaller battery than the Pixel 3. During the Google Pixel 4 XL assessment period, our smaller unit reliably received approximately four and a quarter hours of screen time per day with a ~12-hour cycle. Our lifespan of the Pixel 4 XL battery averaged between five and a quarter to five and a half hours of screen time with a comparable period of use of ~ 12 hours.
Over time, the adaptive battery from Android should get to know your usage habits of the app and improve battery life. Still, it is undeniable that these results are relatively average. Some of our colleagues in the industry got a much worse battery life than we do, so expect even worse battery experiences to be broadcast.
Adding new hardware functions on batteries such as radar and 90Hz display should have guaranteed a much larger battery, especially on the smaller Pixel 4. The adaptive 90Hz refresh rate does not have as much influence on the battery life as would otherwise be the case variable, but a larger battery seems like a missed slam dunk. The battery is the most important thing that prevents us from recommending the Pixel 4.
Google urgently needs to focus on the Pixel battery, especially when Apple’s new iPhone 11 series has made the battery a primary focus. It makes no sense to add radar, 90Hz display, and a camera with a long exposure time if you use them, you have zero chance of getting through all day. We must be far beyond the days when we have to shrink our phones to withstand 24 hours of regular use.
To make charging even harder, the Pixel 4 models come with an 18 W rechargeable brick, the same Pixels with an 18W load capacity since the beginning. Since other manufacturers have fast chargers of 25W, 30W, 40W, 50W, and even 65W, Google is lagging again. The battery is by far the biggest disappointment with the Pixel 4 series. Google has still not realized that the battery life is something that people care about. Both models support Qi wireless charging, including 10W via the Pixel Stand, but there is also no reverse wireless charging.
Pixel 4 XL Review – Conclusion
This was a tough review to write. Google has traditionally been given a bit of a “passage” with the mistakes of previous Pixels because the camera was so great. Although the Pixel 4 camera is, in my opinion, still the best on a smartphone, it is a lot harder to recommend Pixel this year. Yes, the camera is excellent, the software is excellent, the performance is impressive, the design is daring, the build quality is excellent, the screen is fantastic, but … We return where we started.
The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are great phones for all the reasons I just mentioned. But something is wrong. Google pushes photography, but not video. It has not improved the charging situation of the Pixels and has demonstrably made the battery situation worse. We have an extra camera, but we must have three realistically. For the price, 64 GB should not be the basic model. The radar is cool but unreliable and not nearly as impressive as the Soli demos we’ve seen for years.
Face unlocking is excellent when it works, but it causes as many problems as it solves. Google Assistant is faster and safer, but only if you adhere to several entirely arbitrary rules. The 90Hz screen is excellent, but using it can mean that you cannot stand a whole day. The performance is remarkable now, but how likely is it to be in two or three years?
For everything that I like about Pixel 4, there is something that disappoints me. It’s a hard phone to recommend, and for me at least, it serves as a great ad for the Pixel 3. Maybe Google will address some of the issues I’ve mentioned through future software updates, but we’re reviewing this not based on maybes. I like the Pixel 4, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not good enough right now, not as good as it should be. Just like the cosmos, Pixel 4 is full of wonders, both big and small, yes, but it is equally full of untapped potential and missed opportunities.
Pixel 4 XL Review Rating – 8.1/10
The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are great phones in different ways, but they mislead much more often than they should in this price range. The main bottlenecks are the battery life and the reliability of some new hardware features, making them difficult to recommend despite a non-world camera, great performance and software experience.
- Excellent 90Hz OLED display
- Great performance
- Incredible camera
- Clean and fluid software
- Bold design and good build quality
- Poor battery life
- Limited storage options
- Radar is unreliable
- Face unlock not fully supported
- Google Assistant quirks
- No real progress with video