Google Pixel 4 XL Review
We just received our review unit from Google Canada on Monday, but have had plenty of time to mess around with Google’s new flagship phone, the Google Pixel 4 XL. Our time so far has been limited, nevertheless we feel comfortable knocking out our initial thoughts now. Although we have scored this review, please check back next week as we put a stamp on our experience, and make any changes (if necessary).
Let us get through the easy, obvious stuff first. There are once again two different versions of the phone to purchase, the Google Pixel 4 and the Google Pixel 4 XL. The features in both are identical, so ultimately the only sacrifices you are making are battery size – larger in the XL – and screen size. The battery size might be a much bigger feature than many may initially think. With a 90hz screen, radar and infrared chips, an always on screen, and outstanding Pokemon live wallpapers, the smaller battery in the regular Google Pixel 4 might not keep up.
We won’t be able to comment on that with this review, however, as we are looking solely at the Google Pixel 4 XL! We have the Oh So Orange device, but there is also a white and black variant as well. The white and orange phones have a matte finish, while the black is not.
Form Factor, Face Unlock, and the Large Forehead
If you look at the Google Pixel 4 XL and realize you have seen that design somewhere before, it is because you really have. The comparisons between Google’s next phone and the latest release from Apple have been made, and while the back plate of both phones looks similar – likely because of the square camera bump – they phones themselves are still wildly different. For Android users, this is already feeling like the premier Android experience.
What is instantly obvious on this phone is that, although the large notch from last generations Pixel 3 XL is gone, it has instead been replaced by a fairly large forehead. While this might seem initially problematic, when you dive deeper into what Google is doing underneath that space, you become more appreciative of the space being used, and also begin to appreciate how little space they actually used up to push new and incredible features.
And that all begins with infrared projectors built into that front top bezel, which is really powering the uber fast face unlock sequence, as well as Google pay, and other similar applications (that are currently supported). And yes, other manufacturers are pushing face unlock as well, but none are happening as quickly as Google’s, which takes the next step because of the other features built into the phone.
Having great ideas for making your use of the Google Pixel 4 XL more efficient is outstanding when you hear them in a packed studio for an unveiling event, but it only matters if what is promised actually occurs. Thankfully, my early time with the Google Pixel 4 XL proves that to be true. Face unlock is seamless and almost instant, but this all begins before you even pick your phone up. As your hand move towards your device, it wakes itself up and prepares to be unlocked. By the time you have brought your device from the top of your desk to in front of your face, you are ready to go. It is that fast, and it is that accurate.
What is even more impressive is that I never had to move my phone around to attempt to catch my face. It just happened. Even when resting my chin on my hand, I was still able to instantly unlock my phone despite my hand covering a good portion of my face. There is a lot of work being done below that forehead, and I’m thankful for it. And for the record, yes, you can unlock your phone in the dark!
Radar Chip and Motion Sensors
As noted above, part of the speedy unlock process is that the phone recognizes as you move towards it to pick it up. This is done via a radar chip which is also under that large forehead. Our early impressions of the motion control on the Google Pixel 4 XL are pretty mixed. It works phenomenally when detecting your presence – getting ready to unlock as you move towards it, and going to sleep when it senses you are moving away. Unfortunately, the other uses of the motion controls – to change songs in Spotify, or to interact with the Pokemon Live wallpapers – doesn’t work as consistently as you would like. Ultimately, if motion features that can change songs or move across webpage is not working 95% of the time, is it really worth using at all?
Our short answer to that is no. That being said, when attempting to snooze an alarm, it did work from more often than not, so I’ll always make that attempt to wave away the alarm and snooze for 10 more minutes. If it works, I’m probably going to be happier 10 minutes later. If it doesn’t, it means I’m picking up my phone, and I’m not getting that extra sleep.
Here is hoping updates and fixes come – it is a feature we would love to use each and every day. If asked to put a percentage on the amount of time it actually worked, it’d say about 70% – 75% of the time. Not bad, but not where we would like to see it.
Camera Number One Again?
Google Pixel 3 was widely known as having the best smart phone camera on the block, and as Apple launched their new iPhone, they spent a lot of time perfecting their own software in an effort to take that best camera crown all for themselves. So the Google Pixel 4 is here looking to regain camera phone supremacy – but does it deliver?
Yes and no. Choosing which phone to get based on the cameras included might depend on what types of photos you are looking to take. Since the Google Pixel 4 has a telephoto-lens, it can take incredible, high quality zoomed photos, something unheard of in the smartphone space. But the addition of that lens meant the removal of another, so if you are looking to take ultra-wide shots with your Google Pixel 4, you are out of luck.
Our family spends a ton of time with Disney, whether it is on Disney Cruise Line or Walt Disney World, and while I can see why people love having that ultra-wide lens, we actually prefer the ability to zoom in, and take better quality pictures that way. But I see the other side, and therefore, it’s worth noting what you get, or perhaps more importantly, what you don’t get in the Google Pixel 4.
Video quality is a real toss-up, but we’ve filmed two toy unboxing videos for my children’s YouTube channel, and are incredibly impressed with the video quality. It is not at the quality of other phone developers, and this an area that Google can look to improve on in the future.
Where the Google Pixel 4 really shines, however, is in still shots. The ability to change the shadows of your image in real time is phenomenal, and perhaps for the first time ever, the shot you see on your screen before clicking the button is the shot you will get on the other side. Using the sliders to change shadows lets you capture what you want see, and perhaps not necessarily what is reality in your current setting.
Night Sight is back as well, and we absolutely loved it when introduced on the Google Pixel 3. From the few shots we have taken so far with the Google Pixel 4, it is more of the same, and that is fantastic. We have not, however, attempted to use the astrophotography.
One of the greatest features in the Google Pixel 4 XL is the updated Google Assistant. Instead of relying solely on the Internet, the Google Assistant is now working smarter, and doing more directly through the phone, instead of relying on other sources. It learns as you use it, but also values your privacy. For the first time, you can now say, “Hey Google. Can you please delete my Google Assistant data from the last week.” And it will be so.
The software on the phone is also doing a great job with real time transcribing, even for those YouTube videos that might not have closed captioning. This also extends to the phones new voice recorder software, which not only transcribes what is being said in near real time, but also allows you to search through past recordings for specific keywords; the phone will then point those out to you.
When speaking with my brother about Android 10 and all these new features on the Google Pixel 4 XL, his immediate response was how valuable this phone would be to students.
Best on the Market?
And while I would agree that students will find a lot to like about the Google Pixel 4 XL, so will tons of other people, from stay-at-home moms and dads, to business executives. When you look at the internal features of the Pixel 4, nothing really jumps out at you. It has only 6 GB of RAM, two storage options (64 and 128), and a Snapdragon 855 processor (while others are using the Snapdragon 855+ for example). Even the camera specs aren’t, “top of the line.”
But if you are looking at a Google Pixel 4 through the lens of specifications, you are missing out on what Google is actually doing really well – the software. Whether it is the update Google Assistant, the brand new Recorder application, or even the fast face unlock and motion gestures, Google is pushing the software boundaries to new levels, and doing incredible things with their good internal tech to make it outstanding.
Whether you buy the Pixel 4 XL over the iPhone 11 (for example) is completely up to you. Your operating system preferences might dictate what you buy, but even if not, both are bringing different features to the table that may cater to a different audience. What I hope this review accomplished, however, is giving you a in depth look into the cool new features available in the Google Pixel 4, and how they are revolutionizing the Android scene in 2019.
Oh ya, before we forget. With all these new features, I was worried about the battery on my Google Pixel 4 XL. Through a few days, I’m easily getting a full day per charge, and that includes using live wallpapers, with motion controls turned on!