The Pixel 4 continues to build on Google’s legendary camera legacy with an improved camera array. It’s a phenomenal shooter, but it’s not distinctly better than the last generation’s Pixel 3 XL. What does deserve praise is its bright display with pin-point color accuracy. Additionally, its 90 Hz refresh rate help system animations flow that much smoother, and the Soli-powered radar sensor is a fresh feature never before seen. But with only a small battery increase, all of its tantalizing features are hampered by a mediocre battery life.
Pros

  • A benchmark HDR display with excellent color accuracy
  • Soli-powered radar sensor is fun to use
  • Buttery smooth 90 Hz display
  • Top of the line chipset, blazing fast
  • 2 GB more RAM than its predecessor
  • New telephoto camera
  • Slight battery increase
  • New back panel finish looks and feels great
  • No more notch!
Cons

  • Mediocre battery life
  • No expandable storage
  • Similar camera performance to last-gen
  • Limited radar sensor utility
  • No more unlimited original quality Photos storage
  • Pricey for the hardware

Google Pixel 4 XL specifications

NamePixel 4Pixel 4 XL
Display5.7-inch 2,280 x 1080p OLED smooth display6.3-inch 3,040 x 1,440p OLED smooth display
Rear camera12 MP Wide

16 MP Telephoto

12 MP Wide

16 MP Telephoto

Front camera8MP (1080p video)8MP (1080p video)
ProcessorSnapdragon 855Snapdragon 855
RAM6GB6GB
Storage64GB/128GB64GB/128GB
DurabilityIP68IP68
Battery2,800 mAh3,700 mAh
ColorsJust Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange 
Weight162g193g
PriceStarting at CA$999Starting at CA$1,129

Design

Although it still rocks a 6.3-inch display, the body of the Pixel 4 XL is a tad narrower than its predecessor. This subtlety makes it friendlier for smaller hands.

Left: Pixel 4 XL. Right: Pixel 3 XL

Google has ditched the dual texture finish for the rear glass and embraced a single flat finish, which both looks nicer and is grippier. Its smoothness is akin to the creamy texture of marble.

It pains me to finally concede that the headphone jack is dead on most premium phones. Only a single USB-C port populates the Pixel 4 XL.

It’s impossible to miss the massive camera array glaring at you. A microphone opening is clearly visible, something that’s hidden on the Pixel 3 XL.

Look Ma, no notch! The new flush top bezel houses a single front-facing camera and a time-of-flight (ToF) depth sensor for face sign-in. Now that the fingerprint sensor has been removed, face sign-in has become the only biometric authentication method.

Whereas the top bezel has grown wider, the chin has been crushed into a thin strip. While it looks sleeker, it came at cost reallocating the speaker grill to the base.

Speaker quality is noteworthy here. Upon release, Pixel 3 users complained about buzzing speakers and weird vibrations. That seems to have been addressed in the Pixel 4 XL. Audio quality is sharp and, like most smartphone speakers, lack bass. Balancing is still an issue; the sound coming from the top earpiece is quieter than the more powerful bottom speakers. And despite having two grill openings at the bottom, there’s only a single speaker unit.

Highlighted in orange, the power button is eye-catching against the grippy, sanded bezels. The volume rocker rests in quietly next to it.


Display

Google’s display was top-notch last year, and this year’s Pixel 4 once again raises the bar with its brilliant 6.3-inch 3,040 x 1,440p 19:9 OLED panel.

DisplayMate’s independent testing shows that the Pixel 4 XL covers 100 per cent of the Adobe sRGB color gamut and 100 per cent of the DCI-P3 color gamut. Furthermore, its color, contrast, and gamma accuracy are indistinguishable from perfect. Although, if you want the best color accuracy, be sure to turn off the Ambient Equalizer feature as it shifts the white point away from the calibrated 6500K.

A high refresh rate display is something to be spoiled by. Although most of us don’t know we need one, it’s hard to downgrade once we grow accustomed to its smoothness. For the Pixel 4 XL, Google has employed a new 90Hz “Smooth Display” that aims to improve animation fluidity. Its benefit is most tangible when scrolling, during which I encountered far less ghosting (pixel trailing) than the Pixel 3 XL.

With that said, the display only kicks into 90 Hz in select scenarios. There’s only a slight difference between it and the Pixel 3 XL in the handful of games that exceed the 60Hz threshold. Since most videos and movies are displayed at below 60 Hz anyway, the 90 Hz refresh rate isn’t as crucial for Youtube and Netflix.

In addition to flipping through more frames per second, Google has also noticeably increased the display’s brightness. By increasing its max brightness, HDR content appears more punchy and text more legible in bright sunlight.

Both of these improvements demand more power, however, especially the higher refresh rate. To avoid depleting the battery too quickly, the display toggles the fresh rate between 60Hz and 90Hz depending on the context.

Performance

New year, new chipset. The generational leap also sees the Pixel leap from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset to the Snapdragon 855. The Snapdragon 855 features a redesigned performance hierarchy with three core clusters. It features a single high-performance core, three average cores, and four low power cores. RAM capacity has been increased from 4GB to 6GB, and max storage configuration from 64GB to 128GB.

Geekbench 4

In theory, the Pixel 4 XL should perform similarly to other phones with the same chipset. Strangely, for reasons unknown, the Pixel 4 XL struggled to keep pace in Geekbench, a pure processor benchmark suite. It came in 10 per cent slower than the LG G8 ThinQ in single-core performance and trailed by seven per cent in multi-core performance. We’ll need to rerun the benchmark once either the phone or the Geekbench receives an update.

PC Mark Work 2.0

Its performance returned to expected levels in PC Mark Work 2.0, where it ran in line with the Galaxy Note 10 and the S10+.

3D Mark

Like other phones equipped with the Qualcomm Adreno 630 graphics, the Pixel 4 blazes through the 3D intensive 3D Mark benchmark.

Camera

After sticking with a single camera for three generations, Google has finally paired the 12MP wide-angle main camera with a 16MP telephoto camera. A number of users have complained that an ultrawide camera would be more useful, but as someone who frequently needs closeup shots at events, a telephoto camera suits me perfectly.

The Pixel 3 XL owes much of its camera prowess to its Pixel Visual Engine, a dedicated co-processor that handles denoising, exposure stacking, and other complicated photography magic. While processing images is its core function, the Pixel Visual Engine was developed as a programmable chip, meaning it isn’t just constrained to prettying up pictures. With the fourth generation Pixels, Google has rebranded the Pixel Visual Engine to the Pixel Neural Core. It still handles image processing, but now controls the radar sensor as well.

Main camera

Given that its main camera has the same 12.2 MP resolution, f/ 1.8 aperture, and 1.4 µm pixel pitch as the Pixel 3 XL, it’s safe to assume that the Pixel 4 XL uses the same camera as the older generation. As such, its performance is on par with the Google Pixel 3 XL. Far from being a detriment, the Pixel 4 XL boasts incredible sharpness, crisp colors and easily captures fine detail in busy scenes. See the sample images below.

Click image for more sample shots

Telephoto camera

A smartphone’s appeal is directly related to the number of cameras it has. Sarcasm aside, a second camera does help make the Pixel 4s more pragmatic.

Click on image for more sample shots

A 16MP f/ 2.4 telephoto camera now sits in parallel with the Pixel 4 XL’s main camera to bring true 2x zoom. Whereas the previous generation Pixel phones relied on Google’s Super Res Zoom feature to enhance their 2x digital zoom, they still couldn’t rival a good optical solution.

Compared to the Pixel 3 XL’s Super Res Zoom image, the Pixel 4 XL’s physical camera renders details more naturally. In the flower picture, the stem contains less noise and the background has deeper bokeh.

Night Sight

Night Sight is a marquee feature on Pixel phones. By stacking different images taken at different exposure levels, Night Sight can create incredible HDR photos in dim environments.

Click on image for more sample shots

Indeed, Google’s Night Sight once again stuns with its absolutely fantastic AI magic. You can clearly make out the textures on the tree barks below as well as the fallen leaves in the dirt. My only complaint is that the colors feel a little oversaturated, but that’s just my preference.

Google’s camera app also touts a new mode: astrophotography. Typically, astrophotography needs a very long shutter speed to capture enough light from the stars. And to make sure that the rotation of the earth doesn’t create star trails, professional photographers sometimes use a star tracker to tilt their camera to counteract the earth’s rotation. The Pixel 4 XL does all of that without any special hardware.

Front camera

Because it’s slightly off centre, you’ll need to adjust your pose to avoid weird angles in closeup shots. Other than that, the selfie cam works well.

It seems like Google’s claim of having the fastest face unlock is not just marketing hype; the phone was practically on the home page the moment I set my eyes on the screen. Still, I do miss a fingerprint sensor as a backup option.

Pixel 4 XL vs Google Pixel 3 XL

Image performance between the two is neck-and-neck. If I had to nitpick, the Pixel 4 XL may shoot a tad brighter than the Pixel 3 XL during daylight, especially in brighter scenes. Detail, color, and sharpness are all practically identical.

Pixel 3 XL
Pixel 4 XL

The zoom camera is slightly better than the Pixel 3 XL in certain areas, but the two are still very close. If anything, their marginal gap is a testament to just how good Google’s AI processing is.

Software and features

Two words: Stock Android. By forgoing fluffy third-party bloatware and heavy custom interface skins, Google’s pristine stock Android 10 help make the already capable Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset feel even faster. Also, Android 10 has a dark mode now, so what’s not to love?

Our Pixel 4 XL came with a different release of Android 10 than the one installed on my Pixel 3 XL. Packed within are many of the AI features Google had promised last year at its Google I/O event. For example, Google’s local live transcription is now present, as well as an improved version of Google Assistant. Granted, these are features that would eventually arrive for older Pixel phones as well.

Furthermore, Google has overhauled Android 10’s privacy permission, file explorer, added sharing Wi-Fi via QR codes, and tweaked numerous behind-the-scenes details. Third-party phone makers have had many of these features for years, so it’s nice to see them finally integrated into stock Android.

Previously, when you purchased a Pixel phone, it would grant you unlimited photo storage in original quality for two years. That generosity has been revoked with the Pixel 4. Instead, buyers only get a three-month trial of Google One storage. Users can still upload unlimited pictures in compressed quality to Google Photos, but will have to pick and choose their best selfies to upload if they want to retain full image quality.

Project Soli radar sensor

I had initially assumed that the Pixel 4’s motion sense would piggyback off of a front-facing time-of-flight (ToF) sensor like the LG G8. Instead, it employs a radar sensor, which is an industry-first. Just like the ones used for air traffic control, the radar chip inside the Pixel 4 XL constantly pings its surroundings to check if you’re there.

The radar sensor does more than quelling the Pixel 4’s separation anxiety; it can automatically wake up the display when you’re reaching for it, providing a quick glance at notifications without touching the phone. Moreover, it can automatically lower ringtone volume when you’re about to pick up your phone.

It also supports gestures–all two of them. Waving a hand back and forth in front of the display to scroll through tracks when playing music or snoozes an alarm without having to crack open your eyes. Both functions are useful for when your hands are caked with grime, but I can’t help but feel like the latter is dangerous for users who like to sleep in.

Google’s huge investment in the radar’s detection performance has paid off. Through my days of use, I estimate it to be accurate 90 per cent of the time. With that said, it had trouble picking up rapid swipes and nearly caused me to knock over my cup a few times. Typical user error.

There are just two long term problems with the radar sensor: functionality and support. With just two gestures, the radar’s function set is disproportionately underwhelming relative to Google’s research efforts. Features could, of course, be developed later, but how much research is Google willing to invest in this new system?

In the end, it all comes down to whether it improves quality of life. Swiping through the air to change tracks is more efficient than waking the display and tapping a button. But in its current state, it’s not a necessity. Maybe it can be essential when we could snooze calendar alerts, dismiss notifications, or swipe left on Tinder.

Battery and charging

Despite touting a faster processor, more RAM, and an always-on radar sensor, the Pixel 4 XL only received a marginal battery increase over the Pixel 3 XL. The situation on the Pixel 4 is even worse, for its battery actually shrank from last year’s.

Taking it between work and back, the phone survived between five to six hours before calling it quits. Longevity isn’t terrible, but it’s relatively unimpressive compared to many other flagships. It’s worth noting that the Pixel 3 XL (running Android 9 Pie at the time) and its 3,430mAh battery also lasted a little over five hours when it was fresh out of the box.

While other manufacturers have upped their charging speed by developing 25W or even 45W charging, the Google Pixel 4 XL still uses the 18W charging from last year. At this rate, it takes about 30 minutes to get from zero to 50 per cent, and about 1.5 hours to reach 100 per cent. If you’re allergic to cords, then wireless charging is still an option.

Price and competition

The Pixel 4 XL comes in 64 GB and 128 GB storage configurations, setting you back CA$1,129 and $1,259 respectively. Their MSRP is identical to last year’s Pixel 3s.

Options are aplenty when you move past the $1,000 mark. For starters, the Galaxy S10 starts at CA$1,059 and comes with 128 GB storage, supports a MicroSD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and Samsung’s excellent Infinity-O display. The tradeoff is that you’ll miss out on the Smooth Display, a stock Android experience, and superior cameras.

Then there’s the OnePlus 7 Pro, which completely trounces the Pixel in specifications. It touts a 90 Hz QHD AMOLED display, starts with 6GB of RAM, 128 GB storage, an all-display front with a popup camera, triple rear cameras, and a 4,000mAh battery with ultra-fast Warp Charge. What makes it especially attractive is its CA$899 starting price. Bumping the specs up to 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage only pushes it to CA$1,009, undercutting the Pixel 4 XL by $120 still.

Finally, Google’s own Pixel 3 XL is still an attractive option. If you own a Pixel 3 XL or recently purchased one on sale, then there’s no rush to upgrade to the Pixel 4 XL as you’ll be getting most of the software improvements soon. Users on a budget who crave Google’s amazing camera can opt for the Pixel 3a XL for few compromises on display quality and processing speed. That said, if you want a brighter display, an improved telephoto camera, or must have the radar sensor, then feel free to splurge.

Conclusion

After the review, I’m left with mixed feelings for Google’s new flagship phone. It’s got a lot to love: a stunning display, fast processor, more RAM, and no more notch. To top it off, it’s got a radar sensor that practically grants you Jedi-like powers. Unfortunately, I just can’t overlook its shortish battery life. And with stiff competition, the Pixel 4 XL isn’t a phone I’d pick up at MSRP.



Related Download
Sponsor: Telus
Delivering on the Promise of 5G: A Game Changer for Canadian Industry
You can’t overemphasize 5G’s capacity for disruption, Smart cities and smart buildings are going to be consuming and sending and receiving data like never before.
Download Now