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Google Pixel 4 Review – Overpriced, uncompetitive and out of touch

The Pixel 4 arrives on the market as one of the most leaked, most talked about smartphones of 2019. This year, Google seems to be really trying to find something unique to offer with new features like Google's Motion Sense Radar Gesture, Face Unlock, 90Hz Display, Next Google Assistant Gene and New Astrophotography.

At Google asking prices, however, the Pixel 4 is hard to recommend. The company charges the phone with ultra-premium pricing, but the Pixel 4 can't compete with ultra-premium phones. The phone falls in many basic ways such as battery life, storage speed, design and more. New additions like Face Unlock and Motion Sense just don't work well. It looks like Google just cut too many angles this year.

The strongest feature of the Pixel line – the camera, also did not improve. The camera sensor is the same as last year, and the big new software feature, astrophotography, is also available on older Pixel devices and the much cheaper Pixel 3a.

Pixel 4 isn't bad in a vacuum, but the rest of Android's competition for Android is getting better every year as Google stands still. This year, Google has become a weak, timid update to its flagship smartphone, and I'm not sure who to recommend it for $ 800 or $ 900. Google just can't do the premium properly. So when can we get the Nexus line back?


Design and Build Quality

We'll start with the best part of Pixel 4: the back. The Pixel 4 is, as usual, a glass and aluminum sandwich, with a Gorilla Glass 5 front, an aluminum frame on the side and a glass back. When talking about the back of the Pixel 4's design, keep in mind that among the three colors available, there are two completely different finishing options that significantly affect the feel of the device.

The black version has a standard glossy glass back that uses Gorilla Glass 5 and the black version feels like the usual slippery fingerprint magnet like all glass phones. White and orange use different glass panels other than Gorilla Glass, but they receive special soft-touch processing. Although this soft-touch back of the glass may be reminiscent of the back of a soft-touch Pixel 3 last year, there have been a number of improvements this year.

Pixel 4 Pixel 4 XL
SCREEN 2280 × 1080 5.7 inches (440 ppi)

OLED, 19: 9 aspect ratio

3040 × 1440 6.3 inches (523ppi)

OLED, 19: 9 aspect ratio

OS Android 10
CPU Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855

Four Cortex A76 based (one 2.84GHz, three 2.41Ghz) and four Cortex A55 based cores at 1.78GHz

GPU Adreno 640
STORAGE [19659042] 64GB or 128GB
NETWORK 802.11b / g / n / ac 2×2, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, GPS, NFC, eSIM

(HA model)

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900

UMTS / HSPA: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8
CDMA: BC0, BC1, BC10
LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46, 48, 66, 71

PORTS USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1
CAMERA Rear: 12MP main camera, 16MP telephoto (x2)

Front: 8MP camera

SIZE 147.1 × 68.8 × 8.2 mm 160.4 × 75.1 × 8.2 mm
WEIGHT 162g 193g
BATTERY 2800mAh [19659064] 3700mAh
STARTING PRICE $ 799 $ 899
OTHER PERFORMANCE USB-PD Fast Charge, Face Unlock, IP68 Dust and Water Resistant, Active Edge, Pixel Neural Core , Titan M Security Module

First, the new soft-touch backs can no longer be indented by the fingerprint and feel noticeably more durable than the soft-touch Pixel 3. Second, while the Pixel 3 tends to soak and keeps fat For fingerprints, the Pixel 4 hides the fingerprints very well. The soft touch of the Pixel 4 back looks and feels clean all the time, and I'm not forced to clean it with soap and water every five minutes, as with the Pixel 3.

I prefer not to make phones without glass at all, but if we have to , the soft touch of white and orange Pixel 4 is really the best on the market. The back provides a nice amount of grip that you don't get with regular glass. It looks great, stays clean and looks durable. This is one of the few parts of the Pixel 4 that is different and better than the competition, and I hope other manufacturers copy the soft-touch implementation here.

The entire back of the Pixel 4 is great, actually. This year, Google jumped on the bar with many cameras and added a 16MP phone lens. The whole camera – which includes an LED flash, microphone and spectral / flickering sensor – now lives in a large black square tucked away in the corner of the phone. It's a similar solution to the iPhone 11, but I dare say that the Google Camera Block looks better. Personally, the black interior does a good job of hiding the cluster of camera hardware, which in my opinion looks cleaner than the purposefully accentuated lenses of the iPhone 11. People like to imagine the shapes in these camera assemblies, so if the camera on the iPhone 11 Pro the block looks like a stove or a widget, the Pixel 4 looks like a shocked robot or the face of Pikachu. Thanks to the black interior, the Pixel 4 is much finer in this regard.

The black block of the camera provides a nice contrast to the white or orange rear, and the black ring around the perimeter of the phone ties it all together nicely. The back is really beautiful. While the sides are ultimately aluminum, you won't touch any bare metal when holding the Pixel 4. The sides have what Google calls a "hybrid-coated" mat, which just feels like a hard plastic wrap. It doesn't look like any anodized aluminum grip, so I'm not sure why Google bothers.

  Many sensors in the top frame of Pixel 4.
Enlarge / Many sensors in the top frame of Pixel 4.

Ron Amadeo / Google

As usual, the design of the front part of the Pixel line looks dated this year. The Pixel 4 has a palpable pad just at the top of the device, which gives the phone a curved and uppermost look. Most phones aim to minimize the panels as much as possible, using only minimal camera flaws or, sometimes, no flaws. But not Google. The Pixel 4's design reminds me of the Galaxy S8, a phone that came out two years ago, and the statistics back. The Pixel 4 has an 81.3% screen-to-base ratio, while the Galaxy S8 has a more efficient use of space, with a 83.6% screen-to-base ratio.

The upper frame may look like something from 2017, but it is used as Google fills the top of the phone with sensors and features. In addition to the normal 8MP selfie camera, earpiece and ambient / proximity sensor, there is a full 3D face unlock system that uses two IR cameras, an IR point projector and an IR floodlight. There is also a Google-developed Soli radar sensor, which is used to detect aerial gestures over the phone as well as the presence of the user.

Among the biggest upgrades to the Pixel 4 this year is the addition of a 90Hz OLED display. Faster refresh rate displays are quickly turning into a new trend in smartphone design, with Razer, Asus, OnePlus and several other Chinese brands starting to take effect. We liked the 90Hz displays in the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, where the higher refresh rate and FPS made the scroll, animation and navigation look smoother.

If we were huge fans of the 90Hz OnePlus display, then you must be huge fans of the 90Hz Google display, right? Well, not so much since Google's 90Hz display doesn't work at 90Hz all the time. Like many new features of the Pixel 4, the 90Hz display sounds good on paper, but in reality it comes with countless gotchas.

  Pixel 4 90Hz display setup only works
Enlarge / Pixel 4 90Hz display setup only works "for known content".

Ron Amadeo

Running at 90Hz all the time is justified in some cases. If you use full-screen video at 24 frames per second, 30 frames per second, or 60 frames per second, a 90Hz refresh rate will do nothing but burn the battery. Some games are not 90Hz compatible, so limiting the display is also appropriate. The Pixel 4 goes much further than this and turns off 90Hz every time you use Google Maps, Waze, WhatsApp and Pokémon Go. Pokémon Go is a game that is limited to 30 frames per second, so that's good. WhatsApp was blacklisted by Google "due to poor performance below 90hz" according to Android's commitment. Google Maps and Waze, both Google mapping applications, do not actually have an explanation for why they are limited to 60 frames per second on Pixel 4. We can only assume that this is because Waze and Maps are already heavy battery applications, and Google is concerned about the life of the Pixel 4 battery.

The second major problem with refresh rates is that 90Hz mode is related to … the brightness of the phone? Shortly after the phone hit the market, users found that, depending on the ambient light, the Pixel 4 would operate in 90Hz mode at over 75% brightness and drop to 60Hz when below 75%. Google PR responded to this finding by saying that the behavior is "conserving battery power when higher refresh rates are not critical." XDA did some digging and found that the Android source was engaging in this behavior, explaining that "Due to the [a] hardware limitation, vibrations are observed when switching between 60 and 90Hz at low display and ambient brightness." Obviously, every time you're in the dark, switching from 60Hz to 90Hz will be noticeable, so Google turns off 90Hz mode completely.

  Dig into developer options and you can force 90Hz to be on constantly, just like a true flagship.
Click to enlarge / Dig into the developer options and you can force 90Hz to be constant, just like a true flagship.

Ron Amadeo

You can opt out of Google's 90Hz shading by digging into the default developer settings you can access after entering the Konami version of Android (go to Settings -> All for the phone and touch the "build number" seven times). You will find the "90Hz Forced Refresh Rate" option, which subsequently makes the Pixel 4 work like any other 90Hz phone.

With this included, the Pixel 4 matches the smooth quality we've seen from other 90Hz phones: animations, scrolling and transitions are getting faster and smoother. With this checkbox off, well, it's a stupid shot. The brightness and ambient light requirements of the 90Hz Pixel 4 are very high, and this seems to require bright air. Just keeping the display on and wandering through my house during the day is enough to ping it between 60 and 90Hz. Very brightly lit bath with aboveground lights? That's good enough for 90Hz. A moderately lit bedroom with a lamp in the corner and light coming out of the window? This will drop to 60Hz. Even just something like my head casting a shadow over an overhead light sensor is enough to bring it down to 60Hz.

Do you know how automatic brightness is completely crazy and unreliable? Now imagine the technology used to control the refresh rate of your device. It is everywhere, based on the slightest fluctuation of light. You don't necessarily notice every drop from 90Hz to 60Hz, but the end result is that it happens so often that the Pixel 4 doesn't feel as fast or fluid as other 90Hz phones in the default mode. This is truly detrimental to the experience. It's great that you can rule out all these half measures, but the overwhelming message from Google is that its 90Hz phone doesn't have a large enough battery to support 90Hz all the time.

Google released a patch in November that made 90Hz mode work in slightly brighter conditions, but the end result has not changed much: the Pixel 4 works in 60Hz mode most of the time.

The Pixel 4 XL's display looks great in indoor lighting, but it's not very bright and you may have sunlight issues. In fact, there is a hidden high brightness mode that was recently discovered by XDA. The display has sunlight mode, but Google has chosen not to expose it to users. I guess this is because it will use the device's limited battery tone.

This year, Pixel 4 supports "Ambient EQ", a white balance setting on the display that changes based on ambient light. This is essentially Google's version of Google's True Tone. Previously, Ambient EQ appeared on the Google Home Hub, which comes with a dedicated hardware color sensor and aggressive auto brightness and white balance control. I was a huge fan of the Home Hub deployment, which was so aggressive that it allowed the display to blend in with the environment, eliminating completely the glittery, blasting light that usually comes out of the display panel. The Pixel 4 has no special color sensor and only slightly adjusts the display based on ambient light. Fine enough, it doesn't make a huge difference and I could take it or leave it. I'm still very interested to see what a Home Hub-style conversion would look like on a smartphone.

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