Google Pixel 4 XL review: Half great, half-baked

    The Google Pixel 4 XL can lay declare to the one actual smartphone breakthrough of the yr: a shrunken radar chip that’s so superior it could actually detect whenever you attain to your telephone so that you’ll by no means need to stare at a clean display screen.It’s a pleasant characteristic that makes telephones with ambient or always-on shows really feel like they’re caught previously. Combined with Face unlock, the Pixel 4’s Motion Sense expertise makes me really feel just like the telephone anticipates all my strikes, and this actually saves time by limiting how usually I must faucet the display screen. Before you even unlock it, the Pixel 4 XL exudes futurity and units you up for an expertise not like something you’ll discover on a Galaxy or iPhone.Unfortunately, the remainder of the Pixel 4’s improvements are nonetheless a number of software program updates away. Once you get previous the lock display screen, the Pixel 4 XL is principally an iterative improve over the Pixel 3—which remains to be on the market, and for tons of of {dollars} much less. The new mannequin introduces options that want extra time to bake, a couple of shortcomings that ought to have been fastened earlier than launch, and a digital camera that isn’t spectacular when in comparison with the competitors. Google could have delivered its most formidable telephone with the Pixel 4 XL, but it surely falls effectively in need of nailing a top-tier telephone expertise.Design: Taking the enjoyable out of purposefulLike the Google and Nexus telephones that got here earlier than it, the Pixel 4 XL is a bland, perfunctory handset that appears downright ugly subsequent to the Galaxy Note 10+ or iPhone 11 Pro. While different telephone makers are racing to be the primary with a 100 p.c screen-to-body ratio, the Pixel 4 is almost 20 p.c bezel and very top-heavy as well. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    There’s no notch on the Pixel 4 XL (entrance), however the bezel could be very a lot nonetheless there.
    Gone is the Pixel 3’s laughably giant notch, however as an alternative is a bezel that’s straight out of 2016. No fewer than seven sensors and a speaker occupy the house above the display screen, however all you’ll see is an unpleasant strip of black glass. The sizable prime bezel extends to the perimeters and the underside, the place there’s no stability or symmetry. It’s sufficiently small to push the speaker to the underside edge, and from afar, the Pixel 4 will look extra like a funds telephone than a premium one. And even up shut, there’s nothing about it that appears prefer it ought to value $900.Around the again you’ll discover the Pixel 4’s most blatant improve: a twin digital camera. Like the iPhone 11, the Pixel 4 has a large sq. digital camera array within the prime left nook that’s designed to face out, notably in white or orange. However, whereas the digital camera array could be very a lot a fluid a part of the iPhone 11 regardless of its dimension, the Pixel 4’s digital camera bump appears like an afterthought that was tacked on after the telephone’s design was already completed. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    The orange energy button on the Pixel 4 XL is my favourite design ingredient.
    That mentioned, the Pixel 4 has the nicest hand really feel of any telephone I’ve ever used. From the frosted glass again to the polished aluminum sides, there isn’t a speck of gloss aside from the entrance and the “G” brand, and the visible and tactile distinction is palpable. The again is virtually silky to the contact, giving the Pixel 4 an much more luxurious really feel than the iPhone 11 Pro, and it’s remarkably proof against scuffs, smudges, and scratches. But my favourite design ingredient continues to be the coloured energy button, which is orange on the white mannequin I examined. It’s refined, but it surely provides a bit of caprice to an in any other case staid and, ahem, buttoned-up design.The Pixel 4 doesn’t embody a headphone jack, which isn’t a shock, but it surely additionally doesn’t include a pair of USB-C earbuds or a 3.5mm adapter, which is a bit stunning. The Pixel 3, Galaxy S10, and that iPhone 11 all include an audio contingency plan, so I actually don’t perceive the choice right here. It makes it really feel like Google is nickel-and-diming its prospects, and matched with a not-great design, it provides the Pixel an inexpensive vibe.Face unlock: Quick and correct with little assistThe Pixel 4 brings a handful of latest options that set it aside from each the Pixel 3 and Google’s 2019 opponents, they usually’re all designed to reinforce your every day smartphone routine with out a lot adjustment or re-learning.Let’s begin with Face unlock. Where just about each different Android telephone depends on a fingerprint sensor to maintain your telephone locked from prying eyes, the Pixel 4 has a 3D digital camera for safe facial recognition. It’s one thing no different U.S. Android telephone has, and solely the LG G8 with its time-of-flight sensor has one thing related. That means after greater than two years there’s lastly an Android Phone that may rival Apple’s TrueDepth digital camera and Face ID, an overdue milestone that may hopefully spur different telephone makers to comply with go well with. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    The Pixel 4 XL’s prime bezel hides an array of tech, together with 3D  facial recognition.
    And it really works rather well. While Face unlock on the Pixel 4 requires extra exact positioning than Face ID on the iPhone 11, for a first-gen characteristic, I used to be impressed. It works on the primary attempt higher than 95 p.c of the time, and it presents some refined enhancements over Apple’s technique. For one, there’s a small little bit of haptic suggestions to let you already know it really works, so you’ll be able to cease holding your telephone up. And there’s an choice to allow you to skip proper to the house display screen as soon as it acknowledges your face, saving a swipe and making the entire system really feel far faster and extra built-in.However, there’s a giant caveat to Face unlock: It’s much less safe than Apple’s Face ID, at the very least for now. That’s as a result of Face unlock doesn’t monitor your eyes, so somebody might conceivably maintain your Pixel 4 as much as your face when you’re sleeping and unlock it. That’s not as huge of a vulnerability as a third-party display screen protector providing you with entry to the Galaxy S10, but it surely ought to increase some eyebrows.Granted, this most likely received’t be a priority for most individuals, however because the telephone’s solely biometric-based unlocking technique, one would assume Google would have made it as foolproof as doable. As it stands, Google has issued a imprecise promise to replace it “in the coming months.” Attention consciousness is one thing Face ID had from day one, and in an age of privateness and safety, it’s a obtrusive omission in an in any other case welcome characteristic.Equally irritating is Face unlock’s lack of app assist. Since Google has taken away the fingerprint sensor, you’re going to be typing your password rather a lot as a result of solely a small handful of apps (together with Chrome and Google Pay, naturally) have signed on to assist the Pixel 4’s new biometric. Thankfully, most password managers other than LastPass will hook into Face unlock, however after you’ve logged in, any repeated authentication would require a passcode. That’s a significant step backward, and given Android’s historical past, we’re not satisfied these app updates will arrive in a well timed vogue.Motion Sense: Good now, higher later (possibly)The Pixel 4’s most original characteristic is a miniaturized radar chip that powers the gesture-based Motion Sense. It works much better than related options in different telephones, however identical to Face unlock, it’s an replace or two away from being actually helpful. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    Even with out a notch, the Pixel 4 XL (proper) is actually the dimensions because the Pixel 3 XL. But the brand new telephone has some futuristic tech within the prime bezel.
    In a vacuum, Motion Sense is the primary actual breakthrough for a smartphone in years. It works with out an app or any actual directions, and the educational curve is simple sufficient to be mastered in seconds. Basically, you’re interacting together with your telephone’s display screen the way in which Tony Stark makes use of a digital display screen to create the Iron Man go well with: swipes and waves relatively than faucets and pinches.In a sensible sense, nonetheless, Motion Sense on the Pixel 4 is nowhere close to superhero standing. Here’s what it could actually do:Detect whenever you attain to your telephone and lightweight up the lock display screen.
    Skip to the following or earlier monitor.
    Snooze an alarm.
    Dismiss a timer.
    Silence the ringtone on an incoming name.
    That’s it. You can’t increase the amount, pause a music, cling up on an incoming name, dismiss a notification, launch an app, flip the digital camera, take an image, or the rest you might conceivably need to do with out touching your telephone. Some of these issues are certainly coming down the pike, however because it stands, Motion Sense is extraordinarily restricted and never very helpful—a neat trick seeking a celebration.Still, Google deserves factors for creating a system that really works. Where Air Motion on the LG G8 is a finicky expertise that requires extra precision and endurance than most individuals could be keen to increase, Motion Sense works the primary time (practically) each time. So there’s positively a stable basis to work with. New Assistant: Great if you may get itThe Pixel 4 can be the showcase for the “new” Google Assistant, which is principally a streamlined interface and a quicker response time. I didn’t get wherever close to the rapid-fire velocity that was demoed at Google I/O in May, but it surely’s positively improved.The new Assistant interface is the larger story, and it’s vastly higher than some other AI chatbot, together with Assistant on different gadgets. Instead of a window that takes over half (or all) of your display screen, Assistant occupies a tiny house on the backside of the show that may solely increase to indicate you what you have to see. With Continued Conversation enabled, you’ll be capable of ask follow-up questions in fast succession, and I didn’t expertise any points with it understanding me (although points are uncommon with the outdated Assistant too). Christopher Hebert/IDG
    The new Assistant on the Pixel 4 is quicker and fewer intrusive.
    Google hasn’t indicated when or if the brand new Assistant will probably be arriving on different gadgets, although I’ve to imagine it can. Before that occurs, nonetheless, a couple of issues will have to be cleared up. For one, the brand new Assistant solely works in case you have gesture navigation enabled. If you don’t, it can revert to the outdated interface. I assume that’s as a result of nav bar getting in the way in which of Assistant’s new house, however that’s a bizarre requirement since Android 10 is conserving the outdated technique round.Even extra confounding is the brand new Assistant’s incapability to play properly with G Suite for Business accounts which are separate from no matter Google account you set for the telephone’s important profile. Even if there’s a dormant secondary G Suite account in your telephone, it can block the brand new Assistant from exhibiting up for some cause, and it received’t seem except the second account is totally eliminated. And in true Google vogue, there isn’t any warning or clarification, so G Suite customers may not even understand they’re lacking something. That’s merely unacceptable for a significant characteristic on a thousand-dollar telephone.Elsewhere, the Pixel 4 serves as a showcase for Android 10’s latest options, most notably darkish mode and gesture navigation. Pixel customers will probably be considerably accustomed to Android’s gestures, but it surely’s a bit totally different right here, with the capsule and again buttons changed with an iOS-style motion bar. It’s a bit of and clunky and never practically as intuitive as it’s on the iPhone, notably in terms of the again gesture. You’re supposed to have the ability to swipe from the left or proper edge to return a display screen, however generally menus get in the way in which. All in all, it nonetheless wants work. Dark mode, then again, is much extra refined, with practically each Google app and system display screen supporting it.But my favourite characteristic is Live Caption. When it’s turned on, any video from any supply will mechanically transcribe captions based mostly on what’s taking part in, and it’s surprisingly spot on more often than not. The similar goes for the wonderful new Recorder app, which can file and transcribe the phrases it hears. Neither is ideal, however they’re each extremely helpful and positive to enhance shortly due to a wholesome dose of machine studying and AI smarts. I assume each of those options will finally be accessible on different Pixel and Android telephones, however for now they’re unique to the Pixel 4.Performance: A great show, OK every thing else Strip away the brand new options, and the Pixel 4 XL trails its peer a bit on the spec sheet, with the RAM, storage, and battery all on the skimpy facet:Display: 6.3-inch QHD+ OLED, 537ppi
    Processor: Snapdragon 855
    RAM: 6GB
    Storage: 64GB/128GB
    Battery: 3,700mAh
    The Pixel 4 is a lot quick (although I discovered the Settings app hung a second or two earlier than loading), however a telephone launching so late in 2019 actually must be utilizing the 855+ chip. And whereas Google has lastly admitted that 4GB of RAM simply doesn’t minimize it for a high-end Android telephone anymore, 6GB isn’t so nice both. Compared to the Pixel 3, my Pixel 4 saved a couple of extra apps in its Recents carousel, however neither holds a candle to the handfuls that have been seen on the S10+. And whereas we’re at it, why is Google nonetheless charging $100 for an additional 64GB of storage? Even Apple prices half that. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    Google lastly delivered a superb smartphone display screen within the Pixel 4 XL, even when the 90Hz Smooth Display isn’t all that.
    Somewhat surprisingly, Google shines in its new show recreation. Pixel telephones have had long-standing points with their screens, from OLED burn-in to flat colours, however the Pixel 4 is the primary to get it proper. It’s nonetheless not fairly as brilliant because the Note 10+ or as vibrant because the iPhone 11 Pro, however the show on the Pixel 4 is definitely the perfect Google has delivered. The blacks are deeper and the colours are extra vibrant than the Pixel 3, and the oleophobic smudges that plagued earlier fashions are nowhere to be seen (up to now, anyway). And I actually favored the brand new Ambient EQ characteristic that adjusts the white stability based mostly on the sunshine within the room. Similar to Apple’s True Tone show, it makes the display screen a lot simpler on the eyes with out the customarily jarring auto brightness changes.The Pixel 4 additionally introduces Smooth Display, which ups the refresh charge to 90Hz for smoother and speedier scrolling and swiping. It’s one in every of just a few gadgets to boast such a characteristic, however the distinction right here isn’t as instantly apparent over the Pixel 3 and even switching between 60Hz or 90Hz within the settings. That’s considerably as a result of Pixel’s pure hardware-software integration, but it surely’s additionally as a result of it truly solely activate in case your brightness is about to higher than 75 p.c, one other limitation that Google fails to promote. Still, there have been occasions once I truthfully couldn’t inform whether or not Smooth Display was on or off, even when the telephone was at max brightness. Google says will probably be updating Smooth Display “in the coming weeks,” however for now it is simply one other characteristic that appears good on paper however not a lot in apply.With all the bells and whistles on, the Pixel 4 XL has extraordinarily common battery life for a telephone on this value vary. Benchmarks pegged the Pixel 4 XL at round 9 hours, and I used to be in a position to get by way of most days with Smooth Display and Motion Sense switched on. However, the battery was extra of a relentless concern than with the iPhone 11, Galaxy Note 10+, or OnePlus 7T, and I used to be conscious about how a lot I had left. I did a bit of higher with Smooth Display and Motion Sense switched off, but it surely wasn’t a dramatic enchancment—and moreover, that form of defeats the aim of shopping for a Pixel 4 within the first place. With the form of battery developments Apple and Samsung are making with their telephones, Google’s Pixel optimizations are woefully behind the occasions. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    Wireless charging on the Pixel 4 XL has been significantly enhanced.
    Thankfully, Google appears to be conscious about the Pixel 4’s battery points, so it’s amped up its wi-fi charging capabilities. While Google principally compelled you to purchase a Pixel Stand to get quick wi-fi charging on the Pixel 3, the Pixel 4 delivers 11W charging with any suitable charger. That’s not as quick because the Galaxy S10’s 15W wi-fi capabilities, but it surely’s an enormous step up from the Pixel 3’s lame 5W providing.Camera: A second lens makes little distinctionIf you’re available in the market for a brand new Pixel, the digital camera is probably going the primary cause why. Google constructed the Pixel title on the energy of its digital camera, and the fourth model solely drives that time house. After telling us for years {that a} single digital camera was all you wanted, Google has added a second digital camera to the rear of the telephone, marrying a 16MP telephoto lens with the 12.2MP customary vast lens. Christopher Hebert/IDG
    The Pixel 4 XL brings a second rear digital camera this yr.
    And maybe Google was proper all alongside. Since earlier Pixels have been in a position to obtain such unimaginable outcomes with only one lens, the addition of a second lens brings anticipated relatively than distinctive outcomes. Maybe it’s due to the stress Google has placed on the remainder of the trade, however the Pixel 4’s digital camera enhancements are largely incremental and never practically as spectacular as earlier fashions. New options comparable to astral images mode and twin publicity are enjoyable to experiment with, however finally received’t be used all that always, and dwell HDR is extra overdue than revolutionary. Michael Simon/IDG
    In this picture of a rainbow-tinted knife, the Pixel 4 (left) mutes the colours of each the ground and the blade, whereas the iPhone 11 (middle) and Pixel 3 XL (proper) deal with them correctly.
    That’s to not say it doesn’t take nice pics. But so did the Pixel 3. And so do the Galaxy S10 and the iPhone 11. In some exams, the Pixel 4 XL bested its competitors and in others, it carried out on par. In some, it missed the mark. Take the picture of the knife above. The Pixel 3 XL obtained the ground coloration proper, whereas the iPhone excelled at capturing the rainbow sample within the blade. The Pixel 4 XL’s shot is on the uninteresting facet, muting the colours all through and stripping away the character. The similar is true of the cranium under, although the Pixel 4 was the one one of many three to take care of the correct coloration of the wall. Michael Simon/IDG
    The Pixel 4 XL (left) was the one digital camera that wasn’t tricked into shifting the colour on the wall, but it surely additionally didn’t seize the vividness of the cranium just like the iPhone 11 (middle) and Pixel 3 XL (proper).
    In different pictures, the Pixel 4 was too aggressive with white stability. In the shot of the Halloween wreath under, solely the iPhone was in a position to seize the true coloration of the wall with out dulling the orange and gold balls. Both the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 4 shifted the stability to purer white, with the Pixel 4 dulling the colour and the sheen consequently. Michael Simon/IDG
    The Pixel 4 XL (left) shifted the white stability, which dulled the colours a bit, whereas the Pixel 3 XL (proper) was a bit of nearer however nonetheless too blue. The iPhone 11 (middle) was probably the most correct. 
    Most stunning, nonetheless, is the telephoto’s lens lack of an affect on both zooming or portraits. I assumed that the addition of a second telephoto lens would make an enormous distinction over the Pixel 3, particularly after Google’s proclamation that it was extra essential than an ultra-wide lens. But in straight comparisons, I didn’t see a lot of a distinction. In the portrait picture under, it’s inconceivable to see the distinction between the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 4, even if you happen to zoom in. If something, the Pixel 3 does a barely higher job with dealing with pores and skin tones and coloration. Michael Simon/IDG
    These portraits taken with the Pixel 4 XL (left) and the Pixel 3 XL (proper) are extraordinarily related.
    And on this picture under, the Pixel 3’s digital zoom is principally simply pretty much as good because the Pixel 4’s 2X optical zoom. In truth, if you happen to examine the Pixel 4 picture, you’ll be able to see some bizarre colours and graininess on the again wall and the mantle that don’t seem within the Pixel 3’s shot. Michael Simon/IDG
    Despite its 2X optical zoom lens, the Pixel 4 XL (left) struggled with this zoomed picture, including artifacts to the mantle and a few noise to the again wall, whereas the Pixel 3 XL’s digital zoom dealt with it appropriately.
    The Pixel 3 wowed us with Night Sight final yr, however Google’s opponents have caught up quick and uncovered its weaknesses. As I documented in a narrative for Macworld, the iPhone 11’s Night mode bests the Pixel 4 in nearly each state of affairs. The greatest downside is the Pixel’s tendency to brighten every thing, which frequently undermines the nuance and integrity of the scene. Apple’s technique persistently preserved shadows and lowlights that have been misplaced or washed out by the Pixel. The each did an admirable job, however the iPhone was persistently just a bit higher, as you’ll be able to plainly see within the picture under. Michael Simon/IDG
    Both the Pixel 4 (left) and that iPhone 11 (proper) brightened this super-dark nighttime scene, however Apple retains the shadows and spookiness whereas Google blows out the ambiance a bit.
    And that’s form of the story with the Pixel 4. While the Pixel 3’s digital camera put the remainder of the smartphone trade on discover, the Pixel 4 reveals that Google may not have been ready for Samsung and Apple to catch up so shortly. (And that’s to not say something about its incapability to file 4K video at 60fps.)I may be selecting nits right here and sharing pictures that particularly spotlight the Pixel 4’s shortcomings, however the truth stays that Google’s opponents have all however closed the hole with their very own computational images techniques, and Google’s enhancements over the Pixel 3 XL are slight. And I’ve to imagine that anybody who buys a Pixel 4 cares about such subtleties. So when you’ll certainly be capable of take wonderful, gallery-worthy pictures with little or no effort with the Pixel 4, if you happen to’re on the lookout for one other generational leap, you’re going to be dissatisfied.Should you purchase a Google Pixel 4 XL?The newest Pixel telephone is normally a straightforward advice, however this yr’s telephone is a little bit of a conundrum. So right here’s my advice: Now shouldn’t be the time to purchase a Pixel 4.The Face unlock and Google Assistant bugs are too obtrusive to miss, and Motion Sense is in determined want of latest options. The digital camera remains to be the most effective, however the hole between it and its friends is virtually nonexistent, and its tips aren’t practically as spectacular with a second lens. And the specs are downright blah for a $900 telephone. Even the Pixel launcher and the promise of three years of Android updates are much less of a cause to purchase, as Samsung ups its recreation with One UI.The Pixel 4 has extra untapped potential than some other telephone I’ve used, but it surely fails at its most essential job: being a telephone that lives as much as its personal hype—and value.

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