1. Tech

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL review: camera, radar, display and battery life

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are the very best argument that specs don’t let you know the whole lot that you must find out about a telephone — as a result of the expertise of utilizing a Pixel 4 is best than another Android telephone.

There is a nuanced distinction between saying “specs don’t tell you the whole story” and “specs don’t matter,” as a result of they completely do — if solely as a result of the unsuitable ones can smash the entire thing. There are a number of locations the place Google may have performed higher, particularly with battery life. But general the Pixel 4 hits sufficient of the marks to go, and it’s a number of new options from Google that push the expertise forward of the pack.

The Pixel 4 begins at $799 for the smaller 5.7-inch display model with 64GB of storage. I suspect many customers pays the $100 for the XL model with the larger display, the $100 extra for 128GB of storage, or each. I am sympathetic to arguments that the specs don’t fairly justify these costs, however solely to some extent. With the Pixel 4, the associated fee isn’t in regards to the {hardware} — it’s about Google’s software program, digicam, and these new options.

Most new telephones attempt to layer on one or two new options 12 months over 12 months. But the Pixel 4 has at the least 5 main new hardware-based options: face unlock, Motion Sense, the brand new Google Assistant, the brand new 90Hz display, and a second telephoto digicam lens. It’s additionally obtainable on all 4 main US carriers for the primary time.

It’s so much — however is it sufficient?

Design

Google fully modified the design language of the Pixel this 12 months. If I needed to decide a standout design factor, I’d go together with the aluminum rail across the edge. It’s painted black metallic, rounded merely with a matte end. That helps considerably with grip but in addition makes it stand out — the rails are black whether or not you may have the black, orange, or white mannequin. Something in regards to the look jogs my memory of thick, heavy Buddy Holly-style eyeglasses.



Even although the Pixel 4 shares the iPhone 11’s sq. digicam bump, the general design and aesthetic is exclusive and feels of a bit with the Pixel’s lineage. Google is leaning into the contrasts of its materials and colours as an alternative of attempting to meld them into one thing that seems like a single complete.

All three colours have Gorilla Glass 5 on the again, however the white and orange fashions have matte finishes, and I a lot favor them to the shiny end on the black mannequin. The orange has coral tones to it, relying on the sunshine, and it’s additionally limited-edition for some motive.

After releasing a telephone with a hilariously large notch final 12 months, Google goes again to a notchless, massive prime bezel design. That’s ostensibly so it could actually match each its face unlock and radar sensors up prime, however I do marvel if Google simply needed to make life simpler on itself this time round. I don’t thoughts the look, but it surely does imply the entrance of the telephone is asymmetrical: the highest, backside, and sides all have completely different bezel widths. You’ll discover it and then you’ll cease noticing it and then it is going to be high-quality.

There are some good small particulars, although. The nook radiuses on the display are bigger and truly come nearer to matching the radiuses on the telephone itself (they even subtly minimize off 21:9 video, similar to on the iPhone 11 Pro). The energy button has a pleasant pop of colour on it.


Face unlock

On a technical stage, the brand new face unlock characteristic works very very similar to the iPhone’s Face ID does. It has a projector that shoots out a broad array of infrared dots, and cameras that see these dots. It works in any lighting situation, and you’ll be able to’t trick it with {a photograph} or a video like you’ll be able to on Samsung or OnePlus’ face unlock methods (I tried).

The Pixel 4’s methodology could also be safer than different Android-based face unlock know-how, but it surely’s not as safe as Apple’s — but. The Pixel 4 doesn’t care in case your eyes are open or closed, which signifies that anyone may unlock your telephone by holding it as much as your face as you slumber.

On the eve of this evaluation publishing, Google lastly dedicated to issuing a software program replace that will add eye detection to face unlock. Unfortunately, the one timeline it will give is “in the coming months.” In the in the meantime, essentially the most safe option to lock a Pixel 4 stays an extended passcode. The different possibility is remembering to activate and hit the “lockdown” button within the energy menu when you’re involved anyone may attempt to unlock it along with your face.

Face unlock works similar to the fingerprint sensor did for biometric authentication — it maps to unlocking, authorizing purchases, and so on — or at the least it ought to as soon as extra apps replace to help it. But it’s wildly extra handy and simple to make use of. It feels fully seamless and I don’t ever need to return to any sort of fingerprint sensor, in-screen or wherever else.

Google is touting face unlock as being tremendous quick and it’s, although on a technical stage I suppose that the precise registering and unlocking is identical pace as on the iPhone. The motive the Pixel’s face unlock feels so quick is that whenever you decide up the telephone, it merely jumps proper into what you have been doing earlier than with out requiring you to faucet or swipe on the display in any respect. (You can change this with a setting.)

The different motive that face unlock feels quick is a intelligent use of Google’s different new sensor know-how within the Pixel 4: the Motion Sense radar chip.


Motion Sense

Motion Sense is predicated on a know-how Google has been growing for years known as Project Soli. It’s radar in your telephone, actually, and in idea it may allow extremely fascinating methods to work together with software program. It can apparently detect motion as refined because the flutter of a butterfly wing, and probably even your heartbeat.



You can wave at or pet 5 completely different Pokémon on customized wallpapers utilizing Motion Sense.

It may do all that, however on this very first use of the know-how, it doesn’t. Google has solely chosen to implement three sorts of actions for Motion Sense to detect, and they’re all very broad gestures.

The most evident means Motion Sense is getting used on the Pixel 4 is to allow you to wave your hand above the display to skip tracks when music is enjoying. And, sadly, this characteristic is the flakiest. I’ve discovered that it really works greatest when the telephone is sitting flat on the desk. It can solely learn swipes which might be perpendicular to the highest of the Pixel, the place you’ll see a really refined mild bar on the prime of the display that serves as the one visible indicator that you simply’re doing it proper.

Once I discovered that it requires a clear sweep throughout your entire prime of the telephone, although, I actually appreciated utilizing it. As I’m sitting right here proper now typing on my laptop computer, I can merely swing my left hand out rapidly to skip tracks with out having to search for the suitable button.

The second factor Motion Sense does is detect your presence. The radar varieties a bubble over the telephone, and when you transfer exterior it, the always-on display turns off.

Lastly, the third and neatest thing Motion Sense can do is inform when you’re reaching for the telephone. As your hand approaches, the telephone can react and begin doing one thing earlier than you seize it.

It works on ringtones and alarms. When considered one of them goes off and you attain for the telephone to see what’s up, it instantly quiets the telephone down slightly. Then you’ll be able to swipe to mute the ringtone or snooze the alarm.

Reach detection does yet one more factor — it lights up the face unlock sensors instantly, so it could actually search for your face instantly and unlock simply that a lot sooner. It’s perhaps a half a beat sooner than the iPhone’s accelerometer-based methodology.

All of those use circumstances are actually small moments of eradicating simply the tiniest quantity of friction, and you may argue they’re all pointless. Still, it’s much less annoying to groggily fling your hand over the telephone than it’s to choose the factor up and fumble for the suitable spot on the touchscreen to silence an alarm.

There’s additionally a Pokémon wallpaper that allows you to wave at or pet Pokémon. It reveals present climate situations and the Pokemon fall asleep at evening. Yes, I have rearranged my whole house display to correctly body Eevee.


Camera

After three years of loudly claiming that it may accomplish with one lens what different telephone makers wanted two or extra lenses to drag off, Google put a second lens on the Pixel 4.

Google opted to go together with a 2x telephoto lens, which is the alternative of the development of placing ultrawide lenses into telephones. I’ll admit I’m slightly bummed — ultrawide lenses aren’t essentially higher, however they’re usually extra enjoyable and offer you inventive alternatives you’ll be able to’t get from a daily wide-angle lens even simply by stepping again. But the true bummer is solely that Google handled it like an both/or selection when, you realize, it may have simply put in each a telephoto and an ultra-wide lens.

The justification for including the second lens is that Google was capable of reap the benefits of a multiplier impact on the Super Res Zoom know-how it debuted final 12 months. Google makes use of math to mix the additional information it could actually decide up from hand-shake (or transferring the OIS manually) on zoomed-in photos so as to add extra element than would in any other case be doable.

Pixel 4 (left) vs iPhone 11 Pro (proper); each at 8X zoom

And it really works. This is an 8x zoom on our social video producer, Mariya Abdulkaf. The iPhone is noisy as hell and seems just like the crop it’s, whereas the Pixel is way more pure. Look at her jacket — there’s simply a lot extra element right here.

I additionally took the under 8X zoom shot of the Statue of Liberty. It’s an extremely difficult shot, and the Pixel 4 manages it in addition to could possibly be anticipated. The iPhone, then again, overcompensates with sharpening and simply finally ends up throwing all kinds of artifacts in every single place.


Pixel 4, 8X zoom, cropped to point out element


iPhone 11 Pro, 8X zoom, cropped to point out element

In brief, Google’s declare of considerably improved telephoto photos isn’t hyperbole. They are outstanding. It’s notably higher than what the iPhone 11 Pro can produce at max zoom.

And that’s actually why you’re right here, isn’t it? To see if the Pixel 4 can take again the “best smartphone camera” crown from the iPhone 11 Pro.

Well, I can’t reply that but. I’m sorry. When Nilay reviewed the iPhone 11 Pro final month, he was pressured to confess that the Pixel 4 was ready within the wings. This month, as I evaluation the Pixel 4, I’m pressured to confess {that a} forthcoming software program replace for the iPhone 11 Pro will deliver Apple’s “Deep Fusion” algorithms to its digicam and enhance efficiency in medium-light situations.

I have been testing Deep Fusion (aka “sweater mode”) in beta on the iPhone 11, however I’m not going to check transport software program on one telephone to beta software program on one other. That’s not truthful to anyone.

Still, I do suppose it’s helpful to have a look at some comparability pictures and to speak by means of among the options Google has added to its digicam stack. Because what I’ve discovered in reviewing the Pixel 4 is that Google has improved on the Pixel 3, but it surely’s not a large year-over-year change. (On a lot of the pictures under, you’ll be able to click on for a full-resolution picture.)

Pixel 4 left; iPhone 11 Pro proper

This dim-light shot of our inventive director Will Joel sums up an important variations between the Pixel 4 and the iPhone 11 Pro. Here’s what I see: the iPhone tends to sharpen slightly extra but in addition picks up extra element more often than not. However, the Pixel holds its personal.

The most notable distinction on this and in each single comparability shot I’ve taken is within the colour stability. The Pixel 4 nonetheless tends in direction of extra distinction and extra blue tones — although it’s a lot much less dramatic than the Pixel Three was. The Pixel 4 has a “look,” and it will get that look very persistently.


Pixel 4 (The room wasn’t fairly this white)


iPhone 11 Pro (The room wasn’t practically this yellow)

In many circumstances I discovered the Pixel 4 dealt with white stability higher than the iPhone. That’s largely as a result of Google is utilizing machine studying to establish objects within the body (like faces, the sky, partitions, and so on) and makes use of that to tweak white stability. It’s know-how it developed for Night Sight final 12 months, utilized to the common digicam mode.

Speaking of Night Sight, it’s nonetheless right here, and it’s nonetheless a separate mode it’s a must to particularly swap to — Apple has its evening mode system activate mechanically. Comparing the 2, I largely discovered it to be a toss-up. Both cameras take a number of photographs and mix them collectively, however there are variations. The iPhone 11 Pro appears to lean on barely longer publicity instances whereas the Pixel 4 takes extra, shorter photographs and does extra math.

That’s my supposition, anyway, as a result of I discover that when the whole lot continues to be (together with my fingers), I can get barely extra element out of the iPhone than I can the Pixel. In the shot under, the iPhone captured element within the buildings however blurred the clouds. The Pixel simply retains doing its look.


Pixel 4, with Night Sight


iPhone 11 Pro, with Night Mode

In dim mild I discover the 2 are nearer, however as a result of I have shaky fingers, I get sharper, extra detailed outcomes from the Pixel slightly extra usually. Again, although, the factor to note right here is simply how shut they’re to one another.


Pixel 4, with Night Sight; cropped for element


iPhone 11 Pro, with Night Mode; cropped for element

Google additionally added an astrophotography mode. When the telephone is totally nonetheless and in Night Sight mode, it is going to swap to taking a considerably longer set of exposures —- typically a number of minutes lengthy — to seize the celebrities.

Unfortunately, I need to admit that I wasn’t capable of get far sufficient away from the town this week to actually check it, however here’s a shot from the pier by the Ferry Building in San Francisco — regardless of the sunshine air pollution, it managed to seize some stars although the transferring clouds.


Pixel 4, Astrophotography mode; Taken close to the San Francisco Ferry Building (i.e. with a number of mild air pollution). Click for full, uncompressed picture.

Google can also be utilizing that second telephoto lens to enhance its portrait mode. It’s higher than it was on the Pixel 3, however I don’t suppose it has caught as much as the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone has a extra elegant drop-off on the background blur and additionally tends to handle hair higher. Both, after all, nonetheless appear like telephone variations of bokeh, not a giant DLSR lens.

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 Pro (proper); each in Portrait Mode

The Pixel 4 has a brand new characteristic that allows you to modify the shadows of HDR+ together with the pictures’ general brightness. It takes a short time to grasp, however when you do you’ll be able to considerably enhance photographs — and I ought to observe that these results work significantly better when you do them forward of taking the shot as an alternative of in put up.

You use it to create dramatic silhouettes, however I largely prefer it as a result of it lets me make sure that the blacks at all times look proper. Here, take a look at these pictures of our podcast studio.


Pixel 4, no changes


Pixel 4, shadows adjusted

Both are from the Pixel, however I adjusted the second to look extra correct. The blacks look deep and wealthy as an alternative of shiny and blown out.

This complete characteristic solely works as a result of Google is exhibiting a greater guess of what your HDR+ outcomes can be stay within the viewfinder. I’m pleased it’s there, however bummed that it’s not additionally getting utilized to portrait mode photographs. Google tells me that it doesn’t suppose any stay preview of portrait within the viewfinder is correct sufficient to fulfill them, in order that they’d reasonably make you wait to see the outcomes.

While Google went from one digicam to 2 on the again, it reverted from two cameras again to at least one on the entrance. I am, as you may guess, equally bummed about this selection.

The excellent news is that the selfie digicam is ready to a 90-degree discipline of view, which is wider than the same old 70-degree discipline of view. It’s additionally nonetheless a superb digicam, thanks largely to Google’s software program. Images from it even have that constant Pixel look.

Finally, Google continues to overlook the boat on video. It disappoints on the spec sheet, the place it maxes out at 4K at 30FPS, but it surely additionally disappoints in use, the place the video it produces is satisfactory however not outstanding. Apple is much forward right here, however Samsung and a number of different Android makers aren’t a lot behind. I know there are solely so many issues an organization can give attention to bettering year-over-year, however in some unspecified time in the future Google wants to maneuver video to the highest of that precedence checklist.

Have you observed that I haven’t talked about the digicam {hardware} specs but? That’s partially as a result of the {hardware} hasn’t modified that a lot (past the additional lens, anyway). But it’s largely as a result of the true story with smartphone cameras is computational images — it’s all in regards to the software program.


Pixel 4 Selfie digicam

And Apple caught up on that entrance. After all these comparisons, I can’t decide a winner as a result of in the case of nonetheless images, these telephones every have their strengths and (more and more fewer) weaknesses. You’d need to make a spreadsheet to parse all of them out, and even when you did, selecting a winner could be unsatisfying as a result of they every produce aesthetically completely different pictures, which is completely subjective. The Pixel has its look, and it nails it nearly each time. The iPhone is a bit more impartial. This is mainly Nikon vs Canon — or perhaps Kodak vs Fujifilm within the movie days.

If you pressured me to only decide a winner proper now, I need to admit that the iPhone 11 Pro provides you way more versatility: it has an ultrawide for taking extra enjoyable photographs, and it’s means higher at video.

The actual backside line is that you simply shouldn’t base your determination to purchase one or the opposite telephone primarily based on the standard of their pictures.


Performance and Smooth Display

There’s a baseline for “fast enough” on Android telephones, and the Pixel 4 greater than hits it. It won’t be the quickest Android telephone, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 definitely can’t compete with the silicon on an iPhone, however I haven’t had any points throughout my first week of testing.

Once your telephone hits that baseline, an important efficiency spec is battery life. And sadly, the Pixel 4 doesn’t impress. Google solely put a 2,800 mAh battery within the smaller Pixel 4, and I am really at a loss as to why. It is such a light-weight telephone that the additional weight from a bigger battery wouldn’t have bothered anyone. The battery life on the smaller 5.7-inch Pixel 4 is substandard. I’ve gotten about 4 hours of screen-on time, which interprets to a couple of day of use when you don’t push it.

If you have been keen to remain in darkish mode, scale back display brightness, set the refresh charge to 60Hz, and keep away from battery-killing video games, you may in all probability final a full day — however what’s the purpose? All that could be a recipe for battery anxiousness. It retains an in any other case good telephone from being nice.

Fortunately, you shouldn’t want to try this a lot battery administration on the Pixel 4 XL, but it surely too could possibly be higher on the battery life entrance. I’ve had no downside getting by means of a full day of pretty fixed use, however definitely no more. Many different Android telephones and each the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are capable of do higher.

As for for extra conventional efficiency specs, I don’t have any complaints. The most vital factor Google has performed is put in 6GB of RAM, which matches a really great distance on Android. The Pixel Three was infamous for closing apps within the background alongside digicam issues with its 4GB of RAM, however I’ve skilled none of that on the Pixel 4.

The Pixel 4’s display is superb, at the least indoors. The OLED shows are equally good on each telephones, with good viewing angles, decision, and colours. I do suppose they’re slightly too dim, particularly in shiny daylight, however in any other case I don’t have any complaints. The display additionally adjusts to the colour temperature of the room like Apple’s True Tone tech — Google calls it Ambient EQ — but it surely’s so refined that it’s onerous to really see it.

The better part in regards to the Pixel 4’s display is the 90Hz refresh charge. Google calls it “Smooth Display” and it makes Android really feel a lot… smoother. You can discover that top refresh charge on a number of different Android telephones and on the iPad Pro, too. It’s onerous to explain, however you’ll be able to positively see it whenever you scroll.

Android has a repute for “jank,” aka stuttery animations and normal weirdness in issues transferring on the display. Smooth Display is a sort of brute power means of fixing these issues, and it completely works.

High refresh charge screens are onerous on battery life, although. Google says that it ratchets down the refresh charge to 60Hz on the system stage every time doable, nonetheless. I’m certain it does and I don’t suppose that Smooth Display is solely responsible for the ho-hum battery.

The New Assistant

The different motive that utilizing the Pixel 4 feels considerably higher than different Android telephones is the New Google Assistant. Capital N, you’ll observe, as a result of it’s capital F Faster than on different Android telephones.

Google has shrunk down its machine studying mannequin for changing textual content to speech into one thing sufficiently small to run regionally on the telephone — although just for the English language to begin. What meaning is that whenever you communicate to the Google Assistant, it doesn’t have to ask a server on the web to translate what you mentioned into actionable textual content. It simply occurs on the telephone itself.

That looks like a minor factor, however in utilization it makes an enormous distinction. I have discovered myself utilizing the New Assistant way more than I used to easily as a result of I belief it to work sooner.

Unfortunately, all that labored nice till I put my GSuite work account on the telephone. For no matter motive, the Pixel 4 received’t allow you to use the New Assistant when you’ve got a GSuite account activated — even when it’s not the first account. The firm tells me that it’s engaged on an answer and there’s an interim “fix” involving establishing a piece profile, but it surely’s a trouble.

Another new characteristic in Android 10 that’s transport first on the Pixel 4 is Live Caption. It can translate any audio (although it received’t work with track lyrics) right into a stay closed-caption textual content field in your telephone — even when you’ve got sound fully off. It’s not good and it’s not fairly actual time, but it surely’s greater than sufficient to catch the gist of no matter you’re watching. It’s an enormous win for accessibility. (Pro tip: don’t go away it on on a regular basis, as it is going to chew by means of your battery.)

Finally, there’s a brand new built-in voice recording app, known as Recorder. The Recorder app helps Live Transcribe, which turns speech into textual content in actual time. It’s not an ideal transcription, but it surely’s a lot sooner and extra correct than different stay transcription apps I’ve tried, and it does all of it while not having an web connection.

After your recording, you’ll be able to return and seek for phrases and it is going to spotlight the place they’re within the audio file alongside the textual content transcription. You may also export your transcriptions and audio to Google Drive. For college students, journalists, or anyone who wants to show speech into textual content frequently, it is going to be a godsend.


Conclusion

The Pixel 4 offers a extra cohesive, full expertise than different Android telephones. It takes away a number of little factors of friction by means of intelligent makes use of of its new sensors like face unlock and Motion Sense. It removes jank with the 90Hz display. It has a digicam that continues to take unbelievable pictures, preserving tempo with the iPhone 11 Pro.

It isn’t good — I’m disenchanted by the middling battery life and I’m baffled as to why Google hasn’t tried tougher to enhance video recording high quality. I’m additionally bummed that Google is pushing individuals in direction of paying for its Google One cloud storage as an alternative of providing full-quality Google Photo backups or offering extra on-board storage.

You will discover Android telephones with higher specs, however specs have by no means been what the Pixel is about. Instead, it’s the interaction of the brand new options on the Pixel 4 that make the entire thing really feel extra seamless and pure. It’s one thing you’ll be able to’t be taught from a spec sheet or a leak: the Pixel 4 is extra of a pleasure to make use of than another Android telephone.

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