Google has been making its own Android self-branded smartphones for four years, and they’re all great devices with one or two glaring flaws for the most part. Sadly, even after four years, Google’s Pixel 4 is another device with the same problem, but at the end of the day, it’s also the best Android smartphone experience you can get–for a limited time.
Let’s start by talking about the new hardware of Pixel 4 and its new design in general. Pixel’s first three (and a half) generations are obviously Google, marked with their two-tone back panel “window,” a centered circular fingerprint sensor, a left-mounted lens, and smoothly rounded corners.
Google leaves its design language in a pretty big way with Pixel 4, but despite that, you can still see clearly that this phone is Google’s.
Maybe the metal rails along the device’s side are the biggest change this year. Google added a matte aluminum texture that contrasts extremely nicely with any device color and also matches the lens bump. It also feels a bit more grippy the matte texture than typical polished metal. Over time, I’d bet it would cover small random scratches better than polished metal.
Also, the back of the Pixel 4 is very different from what Google did before. The two-tone design, minimal camera cutout, and also the fingerprint sensor are gone. For several reasons, that last one is a shame, but it helps to give this device an extremely clean look, particularly in its variants of white and orange. The back glass has a matte texture on these two versions, which is extremely pleasant in the hand and, frankly, it scarcely feels like glass; but in a good way.
There is also a part of the design of the Pixel 4 that not everybody is a fan of and that is the bezels around the display. We’re going to talk further down the display itself, but the bezels are an inherent part of this phone’s design. They that look a little bigger in pictures than they do in person, but I never saw that bezel at all when using this device. This feels less obtrusive than a notch just because it doesn’t eat any of the screen space on a technical level. Even if instead it was possible to have a knot here, I don’t think I can trade what we got.
As has been the case every year, two Pixel 4 sizes were released by Google. I spent my time with the smaller Pixel 4 and I had to spend some time talking about the device’s physical size. Although 5.7-inch doesn’t sound like a “small” phone, it’s a very comfortable size.
The Pixel 4 fits nicely in a pair of jeans and can be used one-handed for most tasks where the XL sometimes feels a little too large. Of course, that smaller size comes at the battery sacrifice and we’re going to talk about it later.
Google’s Pixel 4 design shifted the speakers from the device’s front to the bottom which I didn’t look forward to. One of the reasons I liked the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 was that for full-sounding, very loud speakers, Google used some of the display bezels.
Thankfully, Google hasn’t lost that on the Pixel 4 despite the new placement. Speakers are as bright as the Pixel 3, sounding extremely full as well. It’s very rare that I can even say the speakers aren’t forward-facing, and the speakers from Google sound significantly better than what Samsung used on its flagships, and it’s a step above OnePlus.
Pixel 4 from Google is the first product from the company to use the Project Soli radar chip. The chip is basically a miniaturized radar chip able to detect what is happening around the device. It has a few features, but it’s not in good condition at the time.
The main thing you will see advertised on the Pixel 4 about Motion Sense is the ability to skip music tracks and alarms of silence. Unfortunately, these are also the feature’s most unstable parts.
In my experience, Motion Sense works best when you don’t really think about it when skipping tracks. When the motion becomes a reflex, it works very well and rarely needs a second attempt, but if you’re actively trying to test it, I think it’s not reading the swipes correctly.
The same also applies to alarms, but this one needs some tweaking in specific. Some days if I try to trigger Motion Sense to snooze my alarm for a couple of minutes–it’s good, by the way, that swipping in either direction causes the device to snooze–I have to perform the action a couple of times, so I’m mostly wake up.
Nevertheless, Motion Sense’s killer feature is its ability to make the Pixel 4 more aware of its surroundings. When you go to pick up your phone, Motion Sense will see your hand coming and lighting up, as well as the screen and fires the sensors to unlock the face. The same applies for phone or ringing alarms. It lowers the volume quite a bit when I bring my hand close to the phone. These features rarely fail with me and they are much more useful than swipping to skip a song. The thing is, Google found it much harder to advertise successfully for customers.
The new set of Pokemon wallpapers is one thing that is easy to show. You can place Pikachu and friends on your home screen as a live wallpaper and they will react to swipes or “tickles.” I find it kind of gimmicky, but in about 10 seconds it sold a friend of mine buying the phone so I guess mission accomplished for Google.
Android is at the core of the Pixel experience, and we have Android 10 on the Pixel 4 this time around, and the two just feel like a match made in heaven.
To quickly go through the new features in Android 10, there’s a system-wide dark theme that works with most apps from Google as well as many third-party apps as well. Google has supported gesture navigation that feels native on the Pixel 4. A swipe goes back from either side while a swipe up will reach the home screen and, with a pause, your apps that have been used recently. This system may feel a little awkward on some other devices, but it finally feels polished on the Pixel 4.
Other useful features on Android 10 include Smart Response to open URLs and send fast notification replies. Google also pushed privacy with much more advanced feature controls as a central part of Android 10. Digital Wellbeing, the share menu, and all the notifications have also been improved.
Google also provided some new features that are currently only available on the Pixel 4. The new Pixel Themes app is one of those. This app will help you customize your phone to suit your needs. You can choose a new font, a set of system icons, shapes of icons, and even a color of system accent. I really like the versatility it provides, but I can’t help but wonder if Google will ever further expand it.
The new Google Recorder app is another of those exclusive features. Although it can work on other phones technically, it works best with the help of the Neural Core of the Pixel 4. This app doesn’t really work in my everyday life, but it’s incredibly accurate if it’s something you’re going to use.
The thing about the apps of the Pixel 4, too, is that it will not be forever on Android 10. In just a few months, if you want to get the stable update in August / September before anyone else, you’ll be able to use the first betas of Android 11. Before basically anyone else, it is hard to put a value on getting new, useful features.
It’s probably partly software based, but I also find that more often than not, Bluetooth devices appear to work better when I’m on an Android 10 phone. I had very few issues with Bluetooth headphones or car stereos on the Pixel 4.
Remember, there are no unusual bugs to boot on a Pixel for the first time either. Most of the Pixel releases were plagued by some really odd software-based problems, but the Pixel 4 is essentially free of that. A handful of people will find the usual random software bugs, but overall, this is the most smooth, clean experience you’ll get on an Android smartphone.
There are also a lot of sensors in the top bezel of the Pixel 4 for the new face unlock feature of the phone. It works very well with fast and accurate reading almost every time from a hardware perspective. My only real complaint is that if my phone sits on a table or if I keep it high, the sensor often fails.
The most important part of the face unlock on the Pixel 4, though, is how the software handles it, which is not so good, sadly. For one thing, in the Pixel 4, Google has a blatant security flaw that allows the face unlock feature to check even if your eyes are closed, which means that someone can unlock your phone while sleeping. Fortunately, this is going to be fixed soon.
How it works with apps is another glaring downside to this new system. The adoption of fingerprint sensors for Android apps took a while, but those APIs do not work with face unlock. That seems to me to be an odd move on the part of Google, but it means that all those banking / financial apps on your device will need a password or PIN before developers update them as there is no fingerprint sensor as a backup. It’s by far the biggest drawback to this system and I can see it’s a huge deal breaker for people who rely on apps that use a fingerprint.
“New” Google Assistant
Google has also done a lot about its updated Pixel 4 Assistant leading up to its release. The “next-generation” wizard blew us up in a demo at I / O, and on the Pixel 4 it’s still amazing.
Google shrunk the models needed to use Assistant to 500 MB to get those faster speeds, which means they can be stored on the phone itself. It ensures that for every command, Assistant does not need to talk to Google and can speed up directly on the device through certain commands.
But here’s the thing about it. To order to gather information, most of the commands I already use for Google Assistant need to talk to the cloud. Just local acts such as opening apps or sifting through photo galleries will benefit you from this new assistant on the Pixel 4. For most people, I would bet it won’t be useful insane as my colleague Abner Li described the new assistant in a deeper review.
Though, it’s quite odd that you can’t even have a G Suite account on the device at the moment without disabling the new assistant. While wait for Google to fix this bizarre bug, I used a third-party email app.
The quality is part of the software experience of the Pixel 4 that really sold me this year. The upgrade from the Pixel 3 to a Snapdragon 855 and 6 GB RAM has made a dramatic output difference.
Apps are fast and fluid, the user interface is super smooth, and multi-tasking is also free of problems. It’s hard to put into words how good this phone is, but even after using OnePlus and Samsung’s technically more powerful phones, I can still say I think the Pixel 4 is the best Android smartphone I’ve ever used and I don’t think there’s much more to say.
Google uses another OLED panel for the display of the Pixel 4, this time at 5.7-inches on the smaller phone I used. The resolution is FHD+ (1080p) and with better colors and viewing angles it is sharp. If you’re upgrading from the first two generations of Pixel, it’s a huge step up as well as the Pixel 3 of last year.
Nonetheless, there are two things about the display of the Pixel 4, which need to be addressed on their own. The brightness is the first, and it’s a negative point.
Unfortunately, the Pixel 4 display is not at all bright. It maxes out at 445 nits, which means it’s useful, but sometimes you’ll have trouble reading it outdoors. By comparison in super-bright conditions, devices from Samsung, OnePlus, and others were maxing out at more than 1,000 nits. Many days I’ve had difficulty using the outdoor display and it’s odd to say that for a 2019 smartphone.
The other significant thing about the display of the Pixel 4 is its refresh rate of 90Hz. This feature allows the display to refresh content on most other smartphones 90 times per second compared to 60 times. The difference is highly noticeable, but on the Pixel 4 it is not always turned on.
Google should fix this in a forthcoming update, but if you buy a Pixel 4 now, the refresh rate is down to 60Hz whenever the screen is less than 75% bright. There are reasons that make sense for the phone to do this, but it’s a shame. Nevertheless, there is a setting to continuously force the refresh rate of 90Hz. The fastest Android phone is also the smoothest when it is turned on.
His camera is the best thing about every Pixel phone, and the Pixel 4 is better than ever … as if it were a surprise. Google uses a 12MP sensor for its main camera for the fourth year in a row, and it’s almost the same sensor used in the Pixel 3.
The long story short on the new camera of Pixel 4 is that, at least when it comes to stills, Google has another winner. Nonetheless, video still needs to work. It stutters at times on 4 K 30 and even on 1080p and also loses a humiliating 4 K 60, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker.
Google has even shown how strong it is in computational imaging by including an astrophotography feature that can take photographs of the Milky Way very literally. But to do this, you’ll need a tripod, but the results are still fantastic.
I’m always impressed with the quality of the Pixel 4 pictures and the pictures below speak for themselves, but I think there are two features that really deserve attention.
Next, there are the latest controls of dual exposure. To make some truly unique shots, these change the shadows and brightness. I’ve only been able to capture images on the Pixel 4 that are difficult on any other phone by messing with these sliders. Moreover, since Google added Live HDR+ to the viewfinder of the Pixel 4, you can see the adjustments in real time.
Super Res Zoom is the other feature of the Pixel 4 camera killer. This feature was available on last year’s Pixel 3, but thanks to the Pixel 4’s 2x telephoto camera Google could sharpen images even more than it previously could at full zoom. The results are simply amazing and are particularly visible when you zoom in on text.
Nonetheless, there are a few negatives to this camera. Google did not include an ultra-wide lens on the Pixel 4 for one thing. This is a feature that I wanted to be widely available since it was first introduced by LG a few years ago and now that it is, everybody is mad that it wasn’t included on the Pixel 4 by Google. I’m going to be the first to admit that I wanted this feature, but I don’t think it’s at all a deal breaker. I’m going to take the quality of the Pixel’s killer in a heartbeat, however.
Another huge negative is that on Google Photos, the Pixel 4 no longer contains unlimited full-resolution backups. That was a huge selling point of previous pixels, and it hurts in specific as the device is still limited to just 128 GB at its highest level.
With its Pixel 4, Google created a really great experience, but there’s one big problem with it, and that’s the battery life. Simply put, it’s bad.
It is difficult to measure the battery life directly because it is so subjective. It all depends on how you use your smartphone, which applications you use, and where you use it. The pitiful 2,800 mAh battery of the Pixel 4, however, is just unable to last a full day even for the lightest use.
My average day begins about 7:30 am with plenty of Twitter ,Reddit, RSS apps like Feedly, taking pictures, sending messages, and keeping tabs on my email. There is also an occasional match and a number of videos from YouTube. It’s not heavy use by any means, but after only 2.5-3 hours of screen time and 12 hours of use, I typically go down to 15-20 percent and have to pay at 7 pm. The longest I’ve ever been able to make the phone last was until 10 pm, but this was due to early activation of the battery saver and also limiting my use.
The thing about battery life on the Pixel 4 is that you will be constantly confronted with a question of whether you want to do something or not. Is this game really worth playing? Is it worth a few percent of the video? On a 2019 smartphone that starts at $799, nobody should have to ask these questions, but here we are.
It charges super fast at least.
Is Pixel 4 worth it?
I was a proud user of every Pixel smartphone and I never hesitated to recommend it to friends and family. The smaller Google Pixel 4, however, is the first that I just can’t recommend to anyone. Looking at its camera, software, performance, and design, this is the best pixel ever released on the market, but in a 2019 smartphone that costs $799, its battery life is just terribly bad and unacceptable.
In fact, there are better values out there today. The iPhone 11 will sacrifice on display but in the camera department it’s not far behind, it has better battery life, and amazing tie-in accessories like the Apple Watch. It will also have a higher resale value.
What’s wrong with Android? I don’t blame you if you don’t want an iPhone. I don’t even want one. However, there are subjectively better choices than this even in the Android space. The OnePlus 7 T is an absolute killer value and the Galaxy S10 series from Samsung is also fantastic. In those cases, you’re going to sacrifice some visual ability and some speed of code, but it’s hard to say that there’s a better Android phone than the regular use of the Pixel out there.
Personally, for better battery life, I would switch to the Pixel 4 XL just because I prefer this experience over what other devices do. Of course, next year’s resale value will hurt, but if you buy a phone for a long time–which most people are–and want the best Android experience you can get, you shouldn’t look beyond the Pixel 4 series.
Just don’t buy the smaller one, please.