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Google Pixel 4 Review – Too expensive, uncompetitive, and inaccessible


Pixel 4 arrived on the market as one of the most talked about smartphones in 2019. This year, Google seems to be trying to find something unique to offer, with new features such as "Motion Sense" developed by Google. radar gesture system, face unlock, 90Hz display, the latest generation of Google Assistant and a new astrophotography mode.

But at the price requested by Google, Pixel 4 is difficult to recommend. This company burdens mobile phones with ultra-premium price tags, but Pixel 4 cannot compete with ultra-premium phones. This cell phone falls on many of its basics, such as battery life, storage speed, design, and more. New additions like face unlock and Motion Sense don't work properly. It looks like Google just cut too many corners this year.

The strongest feature of the Pixel line – the camera – is also not really getting better. The camera sensor is the same as last year, and a great new software feature, astrophotographic mode, is also available on older Pixel devices and much cheaper Pixel 3a.

Pixel 4 isn't bad in a vacuum, but the rest of Google's Android competition gets better every year, while Google is silent. This year, Google produced a weak and timid update for its flagship smartphone, and I'm not sure who would recommend it at $ 800 or $ 900. Google can't do the premium properly. So, when can we have the Nexus line back?

table of contents

Design and building quality

We will start with the best part of Pixel 4: the back. Pixel 4 is, as usual, a glass and aluminum sandwich, with a Gorilla Glass 5 front, an open aluminum frame along the sides, and a rear glass. When we talk about the design behind the Pixel 4, notice that among the three colors available, there are two very different finish options that greatly affect the feel of the device.

The black version has a standard glossy back glass that uses Gorilla Glass 5, and the black version feels like a slick fingerprint magnet like all glass phones. White and orange colors use a different glass panel that is not Gorilla Glass, and this gets a special soft-touch treatment. While the back of this soft touch screen might be reminiscent of the rear touch screen portion of the Pixel 3 years ago, this year there have been a number of improvements.

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

OLED, aspect ratio 19: 9

3040 × 1440 6.3-inches (523ppi)

OLED, 19: 9 aspect ratio

OS Android 10
The CPU Eight core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855

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

The GPU Adreno 640
NETWORK 802.11b / g / n / ac 2×2, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, GPS, NFC, eSIM

(NA 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, 40, 41, 46, 48, 66, 71

PORT 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 3700mAh
EARLY PRICE $ 799 $ 899
OTHER PROVISIONS USB-PD fast charging, face unlock, waterproof and dust IP68, Active Edge, Pixel Neural Core, Titan M security module

First, the new soft-touch back can no longer be scratched with fingerprints, and feels more durable than the soft-touch coating on Pixel 3. Second, while the Pixel 3 coating tends to absorb and hold fingerprint fat, Pixel 4 hides fingerprints very well. The soft touch Pixel 4 looks and feels clean all the time, and I am not forced to rub it with soap and water every five minutes like Pixel 3.

I prefer we don't make a cellphone at all from glass, but if it has to, the soft-touch coating on the white and orange Pixel 4 really is the best on the market. The back gives you a grip that you don't get with a normal glass. Looks great, stays clean, and seems durable. This is one of several different Pixel 4 parts and better rather than competition, and I hope other manufacturers mimic the implementation of soft-touch here.

The whole back of Pixel 4 is great, actually. This year, Google uses a multi-camera train and adds a 16MP telephoto lens. All camera units – which include an LED flash, microphone and spectral / flicker sensor – now live in a large black box tucked neatly into the corner of the phone. This is a solution similar to the iPhone 11, but I dare say Google's camera block looks better. Personally the black interior does a good job of hiding the clutter from the camera hardware, which I think looks cleaner than the deliberately highlighted lens of the iPhone 11. People like to imagine the shape in this camera assembly, so if the iPhone 11 Pro's camera block looks like a stove or agitated spinners, Pixel 4 looks like a shocked robot or Pikachu's face. However, thanks to the black interior, Pixel 4 is much smoother about it.

The black camera block provides pleasant contrast with a white or orange back, and the black ring around the phone binds everything with fun. The back is really handsome. Even though the sides are ultimately made of aluminum, you won't touch the bare metal when you hold Pixel 4. The sides have what Google calls a "matte finish hybrid coating," which only feels like a hard plastic shell. There doesn't seem to be an anodized aluminum grippier, so I'm not sure why Google is bothered.

Lots of sensors on Pixel 4's top bezel.
Enlarge / Lots of sensors on Pixel 4's top bezel.

Ron Amadeo / Google

As usual, the front design for the Pixel line looks dated this year. Pixel 4 has a fairly large bezel only at the top of the device, which makes this phone look lopsided. Most cellphones aim to reduce the bezel as much as possible, only for minimal camera defects or, sometimes, no defects at all. But not Google. Pixel 4's design reminds me of the Galaxy S8, the cellphone that came out two years ago, and the statistics that support it. Pixel 4 has a screen-to-bezel ratio of 81.3%, while the Galaxy S8 has a more efficient use of space, with a screen-to-bezel ratio of 83.6%.

The top frame might look like something from 2017, but it is I s used, because Google packed the top of the phone with sensors and features. In addition to the normal 8MP selfie camera, earpiece, and light / proximity sensor, there is an entire system to unlock 3D faces, which uses two IR cameras, an IR dot projector, and an IR flood illuminator. There is also a Soli radar sensor developed by Google, which is used to detect air movements over the cellphone as well as the user's presence.

Among the biggest upgrades in Pixel 4 this year is the addition of a 90Hz OLED screen. A faster refresh-rate display is quickly becoming a new trend in smartphone design, with Razer, Asus, OnePlus and several other Chinese brands in action. We love the 90Hz display on OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, where higher refresh rates and FPS make scrolling, animation and navigation seamless.

If we are big fans of the OnePlus 90Hz screen, then we have to be big fans of Google's 90Hz screen, right? Well, not much, because Google's 90Hz display doesn't run at 90Hz all the time. Like many new features on Pixel 4, the 90Hz screen sounds good on paper, but in reality, it comes with a myriad of Gotcha.

The 90Hz Pixel 4 display setting only works
Enlarge / The 90Hz Pixel 4 display setting only works "for some content."

Ron Amadeo

Not running at 90Hz all the time is justified in some cases. If you run full screen video at 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps, the refresh rate of 90Hz will do nothing but burn the battery. Some games are not compatible with 90Hz, so limiting existing views is also appropriate. Pixel 4 moves further than this, and turns off 90Hz every time you use Google Maps, Waze, WhatsApp, and Pokémon Go. Pokemon Go is a game that is limited to 30fps, so that doesn't matter. WhatsApp is blacklisted by Google "due to poor performance under 90 hz" according to Android's commitment. Google Maps and Waze, Google's two mapping applications, don't really have an attached explanation about why they are limited to 60fps on Pixel 4. We can only assume that because Waze and Maps are already applications that use a lot of battery, and Google is worried about the times use Pixel 4 batteries.

The second big refresh rate problem is that 90Hz mode is related to … cellphone brightness? Shortly after the phone hit the market, users found that, depending on ambient light, Pixel 4 would run in 90Hz mode when it was above 75% brightness and down to 60Hz when it was below 75%. Google PR responded to this discovery, saying the behavior "keeps the battery when the higher refresh rate is not critical." XDA did an excavation and found an Android source committed to this behavior, which explains that "Because [a] hardware limitations, blinking is seen when switching between 60 and 90Hz on a low display and ambient brightness. "It seems that every time you are in the dark, switching from 60 to 90Hz mode will be seen, so Google turns off 90Hz mode completely.

Dig into the developer options and you can force 90Hz to always be there, like a flagship ship.
Enlarge / Dig into the developer options and you can force 90Hz to always be there, like a flagship ship.

Ron Amadeo

You can opt out of Google 90Hz shenanigans by delving into the hidden-by-default developer settings, which you can access after entering the Android version of the Konami code (open Settings -> About Phone and tap "build number" seven times). Here, you will find the option to "Force refresh rate 90Hz" at any time, which then makes Pixel 4 function like any other 90Hz phone.

With this developer checkbox active, Pixel 4 matches the smooth buttery performance we've seen from other 90Hz phones: animation, scrolling, and transition all feel faster and smoother. With this checkbox turned off, uh, this is bullshit. The brightness and ambient light requirements of Pixel 4 for 90Hz mode are very high, and this seems to require bright overhead light. Just maintaining the look and wandering around my house during the day is enough to do ping-pong between 60 and 90Hz. Very bright bathroom with overhead lights? Pretty good for 90Hz. A well-lit bedroom with lights in the corner and light coming in through the window? It will drop to 60Hz. Even something like my head making a shadow over the light sensor from an overhead light is enough to make it go down to 60Hz.

You know how automatic brightness is really crazy and unreliable? Now imagine the technology used to control the refresh rate of your device. It is only everywhere based on the smallest light fluctuation. You don't need to pay attention every down from 90Hz to 60Hz, but the end result is that it happens so often that Pixel 4 doesn't feel as fast or as liquid as other 90Hz phones in default mode. This is really detrimental to the experience. It's great that you can turn off all these half-dead actions, but the amazing message from Google is that the 90Hz phone doesn't have a battery big enough to support 90Hz mode at any time.

Google issued patches in November that made 90Hz mode work in slightly brighter conditions, but the end result didn't change much: Pixel 4 runs in 60Hz mode most of the time.

The screen on Pixel 4 XL looks good in indoor lighting, but it's not too bright, and you might have problems in the sun. There is actually a hidden high brightness mode that was recently discovered by XDA. The screen has a sunlight mode, but Google chose not to expose it to users. I guess this is because it will use a ton of battery limited devices.

This year Pixel 4 supports "Ambient EQ," adjusting the display's white balance which changes based on the ambient light. This is basically a version of Google's True Tone Apple. Ambient EQ previously appeared in the Google Home Hub, which is equipped with a special hardware color sensor and aggressive automatic control of brightness and white balance. I am a big fan of Home Hub implementations, which are so aggressive that they allow the display to blend in with the environment, completely removing the light, blasting light that normally comes out of the display panel. Pixel 4 has no special color sensor and only slightly changes the appearance based on the ambient light. Smooth enough that it doesn't make a big difference, and I can take it or leave it. I am still very interested to see what the implementation of Home Hub-style on smartphones.

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