Google Pixel 4 review: not just uber photography

Full of potential and limitations

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FOR

  • Excellent camera
  • Smooth 90Hz screen
  • Flagship performance
  • Exclusive software functions
  • The best Android use experience
  • Motion Sense hides great potential
  • The fastest and most advanced Face Unlock

Against

  • Mediocre autonomy
  • No fingerprint reader
  • No headphone jack or adapter
  • Old design with a thick top frame

The Google Pixel 4 [like the Pixel 4 XL (Check on Amazon.com)] is a cell phone that stands out mainly for its excellent cameras, for being one of the first to receive updates from Android and for having a Face Unlock that works regardless of how you hold the phone.

However, for its price of (Check on Amazon.com) its base storage of just 64GB is a bit unfortunate considering that most of its Android competitors offer at least 128GB.


It is true that Apple phones also offer just 64GB of basic storage on the iPhone 11 (Check on Amazon.com), iPhone 11 Pro (Check on Amazon.com) and iPhone 11 Pro Max (Check on Amazon.com), but if you want an iOS phone, these are your only options, while on Android there is a lot to choose from and although Google includes unique features in the Pixel 4 they do not manage to make it stand out from the competition.

In addition, the new Pixel 4 no longer comes with unlimited storage of photos and videos in original quality in Google Photos as its predecessors but offers exactly the same unlimited “high quality” storage that compresses files to save space.

Its greatest weakness though is its below-average battery life, and although it will last you a full working day, it is not very reassuring.

In terms of design, Pixel 4 is not ugly but lags behind what manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei offer. Furthermore, it looks plain and cheap.

The Face Unlock is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve tried on a phone. Motion Sense technology is the best way to control a smartphone without touching it (although this is limited and not perfect) and although its performance is good, it is not the fastest phone around.

In general, Google Pixel 4 is a good device, but the main reason to buy it is its cameras, the promise for timely updates and the possibility of enjoying advanced features way before they reach other Android phones. For the rest, you can get a better value with cell phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 (Check on Amazon.com) or the OnePlus 7 Pro (Check on Amazon.com).

Google Pixel 4 – Simple design without a fingerprint reader

Google Pixel 4 – Simple design without a fingerprint reader

When Google first revealed part of the Pixel 4 design in June, many of us got excited because, for the first time, a Google cell phone would sport a dual rear camera.

Later, the company revealed that the Pixel 4 would have a secure Face Unlock. Shortly after leaks and rumors showed how Pixel 4 would have a front bezel larger than competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (Check on Amazon.com), LG G8 ThinQ (Check on Amazon.com) and OnePlus 7 Pro, among others.

It is not a flashy or beautiful device like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ (Check on Amazon.com), but its glass back and matte metal frame make it feel comfortable in hand, and as a bonus, it doesn’t attract fingerprints.

This matte glass is very similar to what we saw in the Google Pixel 3 (Check on Amazon.com) (and even on the iPhone 11). The matte finish is present in the Pixel 4 in white or orange since the black one has a bright glass back that attracts fingerprints and reflects much more light. All of them have a matte black metal edge and usually feel very nice in the hand. The camera module located in the upper left corner has a square design and is protected by the same bright glass.

Google continues the tradition of using a power button of a different color, but unlike its predecessors, all the colors and models have this feature, which makes them more fun, and gives them a little more personality.

On the front of the Pixel 4, we find the camera, the headset and all the sensors for Face Unlock. Its screen measures 5.7 inches and has an FHD+ resolution (the Pixel 4 XL, meanwhile, measure 6.3 inches with QHD+ resolution).

The lower bezel of the Google Pixel 4 is much smaller than that of the Pixel 3 and that is, in part, because it no longer houses a front-firing speaker (it now points downwards).

The upper bezel, on the other hand, is larger and has a more traditional look; Even so, it is more compact than that of its predecessor. However, compared to phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10E (Check on Amazon.com) (which has a hole-punch camera) or the OnePlus 7 Pro (which uses a motorized popup camera), Google phones are lagging a little behind in this regard.

Google Pixel 4 – 90Hz OLED display with Ambient EQ

Google Pixel 4 – 90Hz OLED display with Ambient EQ

The 5.7-inch screen is one of the main novelties of the new Pixel 4, since it now has an update rate of 90Hz (instead of 60Hz) and incorporates the Ambient EQ function – similar to the Google Nest Hub Max and Google Nest Hub – that allows the screen to change tone (not just brightness) to better adapt to the environment around you and save your eyes.

The Pixel 4 screen has a dynamic refresh rate (it shifts from 90Hz to 60Hz and back automatically), which allows the interface to adapt to what you are doing. In this way, it achieves a better battery life and overall user experience. In any case, you can force 90Hz via the hidden developer menu, although this would surely impact the autonomy.

The screen is a pleasure to use since it offers great fluidity, details, and colors. Sometimes I feel that it should be brighter, but it is bright enough to be able to see clearly outdoors.

Google Pixel 4 – Performance

Google Pixel 4 – Performance

Google Pixel 4 is equipped with the Snapdragon 855 processor that has been the most used SoC in flagship phones throughout the year. This is good because it somehow guarantees that performance will be top-notch; on the other hand, that processor has been available since March and Qualcomm has already released an improved version in the form of the Snapdragon 855+.

Although this is a bit unfortunate, in reality, that processor brings improvements mainly for video games (according to Qualcomm, 15 percent better performance in graphics processing).

The autonomy is its Achilles heel

The Pixel 4 uses a 2,800mAh battery that, at least on paper, falls short of other cell phones that already offer units of more than 4,000mAh.

In daily use, the Pixel 4 has a battery life that leaves much to be desired. I started using the cell phone around 7 in the morning and, by 5 in the afternoon, it was already at less than 10 percent.

In our continuous video playback test, the Pixel 4 achieved just 11 hours and 45 minutes, well below other flagships. For example, the OnePlus 7 Pro achieved 17 hours; the Galaxy S10, 15 hours and 43 minutes and the Galaxy Note 10+, a staggering 21 hours! Even the Pixel 3 achieved 14 hours and 40 minutes in that same exact test.

As for the fast charge, the Pixel 4 comes with an 18-watt charger in the box. In 15 minutes it recharged it from 0 to 22 percent and in one hour to 80 percent.

Google Pixel 4 – Dual rear camera with astrophotography

Google Pixel 4 – Dual rear camera with astrophotography

Without a doubt, the star of the Pixel 4 is the camera module and its secondary sensor. This is the first time Google uses a dual rear camera.

The two sensors still fall far behind the competition’s high-end phones, which have three, four and even five sensors, with various functions, such as 5x optical zoom and super-wide-angle lenses. But, in our tests, these two sensors combined together make this a good camera for any occasion, day or night.

The main 12 megapixels camera (f/1.7 with a 77 degrees field of view) is aided by a 16-megapixel telephoto lens (f/2.4 52 degrees field of view) in order to get better-zoomed photos, better images in low light conditions and better portraits.

In the upper front bezel, there is also an 8 megapixels selfie camera with a 90 degrees field of view.

But as we know Google always emphasizes the software over hardware in order to achieve better results than the competition.

A telephoto lens for better zoom and better portrait photos

Google told us that it made the decision to integrate a telephoto lens because according to their studies people use more zoom than the wide-angle camera.

The new Pixel 4 camera allows for 2x optical zoom (1.8x to be exact) and the rest of the zoom is hybrid.

According to Google, no matter how much you zoom, a hybrid zoom will provide a better result than digital zoom, although clearly the more you zoom the more you lose quality. In my tests, it seemed to me that the zoom of the Pixel 4 is better than the (digital) High Res Zoom of the Pixel 3, but it still does not reach the level offered by the Huawei P30 Pro (Check on Amazon.com) and its 5x optical zoom.

In addition, the telephoto lens also helps improve portrait photos by better recognizing the contour of difficult subjects such as a pet’s hair. Thanks to the telephoto lens, the Pixel 4 can take portrait photos at a greater distance and now the blurred background is even better and offers a little more naturalness.

Night Sight and starry skies

The Night Mode that Google introduced with the Pixel 3 is still present in the Pixel 4 but slightly improved to offer more details and colors in low light conditions.

However, the main novelty of this Night mode is the integration of an “Astrophotography” mode that allows you to capture starry skies, planets and even galaxies.

In my tests, the Pixel 4 managed to do incredible things in this scenario and although I believe that this function is not going to be as used as much as Night Sight or Portrait mode, it is great to have it.

The Astrophotography mode is integrated directly into Night Sight and is automatically activated. In addition, it is not necessary to be pointing to the sky to work, instead the cell phone activates it automatically if it detects the necessary conditions to do so.

Once the Pixel 4 detects that it can activate the astrophotography mode, a legend appears that says “Astrophotography On”. That message has to remain on the screen until you press the shutter button, but to achieve this it will be necessary to use a tripod, or simply keep it very stable on a support surface. If you move it slightly, this mode will be deactivated and it will be necessary to wait or reset it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that depending on lighting conditions, the Astrophotography mode can take up to 4 minutes to take a photo, so it requires a lot of stability. In addition, and for better results, it is necessary to be in a very dark and remote place, since nearby light sources have an adverse impact on a starry sky.

Live HDR+, a realistic preview of a photo

Another important change in the Pixel 4 camera app is that the viewfinder allows you to see, in real-time, how a photo will look like once captured. It seemed to me that it does manage to offer a more realistic view of what you are capturing, but there is still an important difference in the final picture compared to what you see.

Dual exposure function

The Pixel 4 camera app also has another interesting novelty: it now offers dual exposure controls to help you be more creative with your photos.

Effective Face Unlock, but…

Effective Face Unlock, but…

The new Pixel 4 does not have a fingerprint reader so Google is betting everything on face recognition, and states that Face Unlock is so safe that it can even be used to make Bank transactions. To achieve this, Google has implemented new software, as well as two infrared cameras and a projector, which is why the upper bezel is so large – it houses all these sensors (plus the headset, front camera, and Soli).

Google also says that Face Unlock achieves all this thanks in large part to the new chip in the Pixel 4: the Pixel Neural Core, a chip that also handles Motion Sense functions (more on this below) and improves the Google Assistant.

The good thing is that the Face Unlock does indeed work exceptionally well; It’s fast, reliable and unlike every other authentication software (including Face ID on the new iPhone 11) it works from any angle. That is, no matter how you hold the phone, it will effectively detect your face.

However, there are some security concerns. To start, it is possible to unlock the phone with your eyes closed or while you are sleeping. Google is going to implement an update with eye detection in the coming months.

In addition, facial recognition is currently compatible with very few apps and with no financial institution. A Google spokesman said the company is working with different developers to allow for Face Unlock to work as an authentication method. Although it is normal that something new does not have so much support, I would have liked that at least the major financial institutions would support this from the beginning.

Motion Sense (Soli) lets you control your phone without touching it

This is the first time Google markets Project Soli technology – a project presented to the public four years ago that is responsible for building miniature radars. Soli is also the other reason why the upper bezel is so large.

Although the integrated radar is called Soli, Google calls this function Motion Sense. It allows you to slide your hand in front of the device in order to control different functions without ever touching it. At the moment it is mainly intended for media control, postpone alarms and silence calls but Google says that this is just the beginning and that there are more features to come in the near future.

During my time with it, I thought that this is the best solution to control a smartphone without touching it, especially when you are driving or cooking, for example. The bad thing is that, for some reason, it doesn’t always seem to be that precise, but it sure has great potential.

Google Assistant, faster and more advanced

Google Assistant, faster and more advanced

The Google Assistant now has the ability to perform more in-depth tasks within the apps and “better” understand the context. For example, if you ask Google Assistant to search for a specific person’s Twitter account, you can open the account directly in the Twitter app, without seeing the search results first. Also, after searching for a specific person, if you ask the Assistant to play a video, it will open YouTube and show you videos of that person you searched for, without mentioning their name again.

Another novelty is that Google Assistant also has a new design: it no longer appears as a card that occupies at least one-third of the screen but is instead a semi-transparent bar that occupies less space and looks more modern.

Also, thanks to the new Pixel Neural Core chip, Google Assistant responds faster in the Pixel 4 than in other cell phones. It is worth mentioning that it can still be activated by squeezing the phone or by saying “OK, Google”, but you can also activate it by sliding up from one of the bottom corners.

Live Caption subtitles even without an Internet connection

By simply activating this option, you can play a video or podcast and the system will generate subtitles in real-time and it’s all done locally without the need for an internet connection. It is also very handy for voice notes!

Google Pixel 4 – Verdict

Google Pixel 4 (Check on Amazon.com) is a good cell phone that continues to offer some of the best cameras you can find in the market. It also brings new exciting features that give us a little glimpse of what other Android phones will get in the future. Face Unlock works very well, it is waterproof with an IP68 certification and has wireless charging.


However, there are significant shortcomings. To begin with, the base model comes with only 64GB of storage (like the iPhone 11) and while this is not the end of the world, its main Android competitors already offer 128GB, as is the case of the Samsung Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+ (Check on Amazon.com), Huawei P30 Pro and the OnePlus 7 Pro. The Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ start from 256GB of storage!

On the other hand, although its design is not as ugly as it initially seemed, it is clear that the new Samsung and Huawei phones look much more premium.

That said, and considering its price and unique features, the Pixel 4 is an excellent option if you want to enjoy the excellent Google cameras.

Also read: BEST CELL PHONES

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Features
8
Autonomy
8
Design
8.5
Screen
9.5
Camera
9.5
Software
9.5
Performance
9.5
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