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Review roundup: Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL

The best camera phone you shouldn’t buy.

google pixel 4 images on black background
Image: Google

The latest in the Google Pixel line, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL has been released, so the burning question is: has Google taken the smartphone camera lead back from Apple?

This year, Google added a second camera to the back, to augment the single shooter that has kept the crown for so long. The thing is, the company opted for a telephoto lens instead of the ultra-wide-angle lens that the rest of the industry, including Apple, has opted for.

Let’s see what the tech world thinks of Google’s latest flagship:

Designed to (not) impress

google pixel 4 colors

Image: Google

Listen, if you want sleek lines or waterfall screens, look elsewhere. Google has used a fairly boring design language in every phone after the Nexus 6P, and the Pixel 4 range continues that trend. That means bezels, and a fairly large ‘forehead’ and ‘chin,’ which are used to house all the sensors and speakers.

There’s also no fingerprint reader to clutter up the back, which only has the divisive square camera bump on it. Color selections are Oh So Orange, Clearly White, and a glossy black. You’ll want the orange or the white if you’re prone to dropping your devices, as those have a nice matte finish on the back.

Android Authority calls the design “bold and confident, whether you like it or not,” and I find it hard to disagree with a single word. It reminds me of the times when LG was a force in the Android market, which isn’t a bad thing in a market full of notches and other trickery to hide the selfie cam.

That camera though…

Image: The Verge

If you want to swipe through some galleries of example shots, Engadget has some great ones. We all knew the Pixel 4 would be great at photos, but it has a couple of standout features that you can’t get anywhere else.

First up, live contrast balancing. This new feature puts some of the post-production steps into the pre-shot workflow. Basically it means you can tweak the shadows or highlights before you shoot, so you don’t have to take time to fix things in Photoshop. Sweet.

night shots

Image: Android Authority

The second is the new astrophotography mode. Just… go look at Android Authority‘s Astrophotography gallery. The amount of detail picked up by the tiny smartphone sensors on the Pixel 4 is insane. Google might not have an ultrawide lens (which would be the best for the astrophotography mode), but hot damn, those are some great shots.

Until Apple’s Deep Fusion features hit the iPhone 11, I think it’s safe to say that Google has the computational photography crown back, even if it doesn’t have the best overall camera.

Battery woes

google pixel 4 on table oh so orange

Image: Popular Mechanics

Every outlet pans the Pixel 4 and 4 XL for battery life, which is to be expected when the smaller handset only has a 2,800 mAh battery. That’s smaller than last year’s Pixel 3, and with all the new sensors in this year’s phone, it means you need to charge again during the day – not so great for an otherwise great handset.

Android Central gave it a 3.5 out of 5, mainly due to the decision to drop the battery size from last year’s Pixel 3. They found “charger anxiety” was a thing again, which is inexcusable for 2019.

Seriously, fix this, Google. Battery life was bad enough on my household’s Pixel 3 and 3 XL, with my 3 XL virtually living on its Pixel Stand to charge wirelessly throughout the day.

Display and gestures

google pixel 4 display

Image: Fortune

The new radar-based gesture control from Project Soli is cool, when it works, with Engadget calling it “the most interesting thing Google has done with a smartphone in years.” That also works with the other sensors to power the new face unlock, which has a worrying bug that Google is trying to fix.

Gizmodo called the motion control “the best example” of Google’s “drive to make interacting with gadgets feel more natural and intuitive.” If so, I can’t wait to get my hands on one…

The new 90 Hz refresh rate OLED screens got some pretty rave reviews too, with Engadget calling them “the best impressive displays found on a Google phone to date.” Android Central called it “just sublime,” going on to talk about the fantastic touch response and the smoothness of the 90 Hz display.

The final word

The Verge perhaps says it best, “t Pixel 4 provides a more cohesive, complete experience than other Android phones.” That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, I mean, every Google handset had some issues, but it’s more than just the sum of its specifications. That battery life though… That’s a hard thing to swallow when the Pixel 4 starts at $799 for a 64GB storage model.

Tom’s Guide has this to say: “Google is executing all the high-level, machine-learning stuff far better than its contemporaries. Yet, in doing so, Google forgot to execute all the basics.” Maybe then the Pixel 5 will mesh the hardware basics with the AI into a perfect representation of Android? I guess we’ll see next year.

Until then, I’ll leave you with The Wall Street Journal‘s final word on the Pixel 4: “The Smartest Smartphone You Probably Won’t Buy.”

What do you think? Are you interested in the new Pixel 4? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

Editors’ Recommendations:

Maker, meme-r and unabashed geek. Hardware guy here at KnowTechie, if it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't) I probably have one around here somewhere. My hobbies include photography, animation and hoarding Reddit gold.

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