Google Pixel 4 – A User Review After 60 Days!
The Google Pixel 4 is the most hated smartphone of 2019. Why is that? Well it lacks one of the most important features that we were all looking forward to this year, which was an ultra-wide angle camera. It’s got a smaller battery and supposedly battery life is pretty terrible according to many reviewers.
It also has a starting price of $800 USD for 64GB of storage, which felt like a complete rip-off. Google then dropped the price of this phone by a couple hundred dollars, so that really pissed off a lot of people who bought the phone in the first place, and it really goes to show that you should never preorder or get a Pixel device the day it launches because the price is eventually going to get dropped. And on top of that, there have been multiple issues with the variable refresh rate, face unlock, motion sense. And I’m pretty sure something else is going to pop up as I’m writing this. So I guess I could conclude this review right now by telling you to stay away from the Pixel 4… or maybe not. Maybe my experience after using it for more than eight weeks may change your mind… or again, maybe not.
The Display & Battery Life
I’m going to start with the display, because to me it’s an important factor of a smartphone, and the Pixel 4’s display is a welcome upgrade from my Pixel 3. Quick disclaimer, I’ve been using the Pixel 4 XL as my daily driver instead of the smaller Pixel 4, because it has a bigger battery and the size is just perfect for my hands. The screen spans across 6.3″ and it’s really sharp and color accurate. Seriously, this is one of the best displays I’ve seen on a smartphone. I really enjoyed watching videos and editing photos for Instagram. However, I do wish it was brighter compared to the competition, especially from Apple and Samsung. I’m also not a huge fan of the rounded corners around the display since the status bar up top doesn’t really line up with the corners. Maybe it’s my OCD, but it just looks odd. Also I’m glad that this has a flat display versus curved like some other Android flagships out there. It certainly complements one hand usage, and you don’t get that distortion when you’re watching something in landscape mode.
Now let’s talk about that variable refresh rate and the huge fiasco behind that. You see by default the phone dynamically switches between 60Hz and 90Hz depending on the type of content being displayed, this happens in order to extend battery life. However, early adopters started reporting that as soon as you lower the brightness below 75% the screen caps at 60Hz, regardless of what you do. Now Google did roll out a patch later addressing this issue, but I just ended up forcing 90Hz on the display through the developer options. After this it’s been a flawless experience so far, but has that affected battery life? Yeah, by a lot actually. You see before I forced 90Hz, I was getting over six hours of screen on time. on a heavy day, browsing through mail, Twitter, Instagram, playing music or Bluetooth, using GPS, just the typical stuff. But as soon as I enabled that forced 90Hz option, my screen-on time just dropped by an hour, which is a lot. Now that’s my heavy use case scenario, but on a regular work day I spend the majority of my time editing a video or filming here in the studio, so not constantly using to my smartphone. At the end of those days I’m left with over 50% of battery left on the Pixel 4 XL, which I can’t really complain about that. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that the Pixel 4 might not be for the ultimate power user.
Of course you get support for wireless charging and Google’s 3-year-old fast charge. Seriously, the engineers at Google slacked off in that department, since the competition has advanced to higher levels. If you look at what OnePlus an OPPO does with Warp Charge and Super VOOC Charge, this is kind of unacceptable. You shouldn’t have 3-year-old technology on a 2019 flagship smartphone by Google, I think they really need to step it up.
Moving onto the design, and I love the matte black frame with the white power button on the side. There are other color options as well, like white and orange, and if you recall watching my first impressions of the Pixel 4 I ranted a little bit about the glass back on the black model because it’s glossy instead of matte like on the other color options. In order to get over my frustration, I ended up getting this cheap Amazon matte black slim case, which surprisingly matches the frame of the phone and it prevents the back from grease and fingerprints.
The speakers on the Pixel 4 sound really good and call quality was excellent throughout my testing period. I didn’t hear anyone complain about the microphone quality, so I guess that’s a pass.
And now let’s talk about the gimmicks, things like motion sense and face unlock. Let’s start with motion sense. I extensively used this feature when I got my hands on the Pixel 4 XL, especially when I was in the kitchen cutting vegetables, it was super convenient when I just wanted to skip music tracks. However, it started eventually giving up on me and that was super frustrating. I was at the gym one day, had the phone on the bench, and I wanted to skip a track because I wanted to listen to something different, and the thing just refused to do so even after waving at it multiple times. It almost got to a point where it started randomly skipping songs without my knowledge, and I was super frustrated. I ended up tweeting about it and some of my friends in the tech community ended up experiencing the same issue, which was definitely odd. I just ended up disabling it because I didn’t want to deal with it, it was super annoying, it was a complete flop. If you recall watching Project Soli and their promotional video, they made it so convincing that users could just use their hands to adjust the volume precisely and do a lot of other things. I really wanted those useful motions to come to the Pixel 4 but that isn’t the case.
Then there’s face unlock which utilizes the two infrared sensors at the front along with the Titan M security chip built into the phone. Google opted for this type of authentication instead of your traditional in-display fingerprint scanner that competitors rely on, and I’ve got to say I love it. It’s super fast, like really fast, and it never misses a beat when I pull out my phone from my pocket and log in. It works at night in pitch black thanks to the IR tracking, and it also works with my sunglasses, with hats on, etc. I also really appreciate this feature during the winter when I’m wearing gloves outdoors, because I don’t have to worry about using my fingerprint. However, there are some apps that require sign-in that don’t support facial recognition. Also, there have been concerns over how it unlocks with your eyes closed, and that’s freaking out a lot of people. However, let’s just get real for a sec, you either have to be living around people whom you don’t trust at all or doing something completely illegal that would get you in trouble. But to me it’s really not a deal-breaker as supposedly Google is working on rolling out an update to address this issue, so we will wait and see how that goes.
The software experience is one of the best on Pixel devices. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to use. As always, they have added a few gimmicks like live Pokemon wallpapers that use the motion sensor, which will significantly drain your battery. Side note, if you enable Developer Options, the build number shows up on the Quick Setting Tray, which is ridiculous, and if you need to get rid of it you will have to disable Developer Options, which means you lose the adjustments that you made there. Every time when I switch smartphones I end up throwing a third-party launcher to make my home screen clutter-free and easy use. Samsung is certainly on top of my list for that, but with Pixel and OnePlus devices, I’m comfortable with the stock layout because it’s polished, bloatware-free and I like that. The other benefits include receiving software updates regularly, because you will be the first in line to receive them if you own a Pixel device.
You also get some Google AI enhancements like live transcribing that transcribes your audio into real text and it’s really fast. I really like this feature because say for instance you want to have a conversation with someone who’s having trouble hearing, then this is a great way to communicate. Plus it picks up literally everything that I say, so that’s awesome. I also speak more than two languages, so I’ve tested on both of them and it understands them both which is great, and also goes to show how Google has worked really hard on the software side to develop all these tools. I think that’s really nice. I should mention that live transcribing is available on the Pixel 3 as well.
Now how has performance held up so far? It’s been good, but it still feels a tad slower compared to my OnePlus 7T. I think that has to do with the slightly lower resolution display, faster processor, and of course more RAM. Also, without question, OnePlus does a fantastic job optimizing their software for their devices. You also get more customization options and that’s something that I truly miss on the Pixel 4. Google has completely let me down on the specs department for the Pixel 4, because it’s using an outdated SOC and the storage is a complete joke. I mean starts at 64GB, which is ridiculous compared to what the competition offers. Therefore, for the spec enthusiasts, the people who need blazing fast performance and need for apps to load up the instantly, you should probably look into OnePlus’ devices.
Having said that, the one factor that makes me come back to the Pixel 4 is the camera performance. Yes, it doesn’t come with an ultra-wide angle camera, but if you’re willing to overlook that you will be very impressed with the outcome. The pictures look really sharp with a good balance of contrast and saturation, and the dynamic range is just amazing. Compared to the Pixel 3 the Pixel 4 shoots slightly brighter photos. And I love the fact that you can simply open the camera app, point it a subject, hit the shutter button, and be completely satisfied with the image. I’ve taken shots from inside an Uber ride, didn’t even think twice or spend any time preparing, and I’ve always loved the result. This camera also shines in low light as well, there’s less noise, the colors turn out just as you expect it, and it’s sharp.
Portrait mode works really well regardless of the subject I decided to test it on. However, I’m not a fan of that crop factor, because it still uses the main sensor instead of utilizing the telephoto lens as well. Speaking of the telephoto lens, the results continue to surprise me, and according to Google people love zooming into things. So if you fall into the category you won’t be disappointed, but they still really should have included an ultra-wide angle camera.
Then there is Astro photography mode, which just blew my mind on the Pixel 4. It’s just amazing to see how computational photography has come so far. Now I still can’t get around the fact that there is a weird halo around the center the image when it’s finally processed, but if you shoot RAW you can do a little bit of post-processing to get rid of that and this is what the end result would look like.
Now if you switch from photo mode to video mode, you will be disappointed with what the Pixel 4 has to offer because the rear camera can only shoot up to 4K at 30FPS. It doesn’t even shoot 4K 24P. And the front facing camera is limited to 1080P, so that is very frustrating. In fact, if you look at the competition, they offer a variety of shooting options, especially if you look at what Apple does with the iPhone 11 that costs less than the Pixel 4. So if you shoot a lot of video on your smartphone, the Pixel 4 is certainly not for you.
So to wrap things up, I really enjoyed my experience with the Pixel 4, specifically the Pixel 4 XL. It’s not a perfect phone and by no means does it deserve to be priced at $699 USD. In fact, if I were you, I would skip the smaller Pixel 4 completely because it comes with a smaller battery, and when you have variable refresh rate enabled that thing’s just not going to last for a full day. However, if you’re someone who’s looking for an Android smartphone with the latest that Google has to offer in terms of software and the best camera for photos, maybe you should consider the Pixel 4 XL because the camera is what gets me back. The photo image quality is why I keep going back to the Pixel 4, it’s what I take with me when I’m traveling and when I’m doing anything else, because I know for a fact that I’m going to be happy with the end result.
A Special Guest
Now if you have stayed with me until this part of the article, I have a surprise for you since I have a second opinion from someone who is very popular in the tech industry. Let’s jump right into it.
Eber: Marques Brownlee, thank you so much for taking the time to chime in on your thoughts about the Pixel 4. But first off, huge congrats on the Streamy Awards and congrats on the 10 million subscribers. It’s really a huge milestone and it’s really awesome. Let’s just kick things off with what smartphone are you rocking right now as your daily driver.
Marques: Yeah, so I have a OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition, not the 5G version, but it’s daily phone. Android 10, 90Hz display, like the only thing I really don’t like about it is the curved screen. I really wish it was a flat screen because that’s the one thing I get bothered by, but everything else about that phone has been pretty solid.
Eber: Okay, so we’re aware of how many issues the Pixel 4 has and how the Pixel 4 was received by the tech community. I mean it’s launch price was pretty high and a lot of people were not happy about that, but Google did drop that later. Right it starts at $699 USD, so it’s $100 less than its official launch price. And we had a lot of user issues in terms of the variable refresh rate, motion sense, the list just goes on. In fact, I was just reading an article yesterday that some USB-C cables don’t work with the Pixel 4. How does that make you feel about the Pixel and have you actually experienced any of these issues?
Marques: Yeah, I remember I was one of the first to like talk about that variable refresh rate problem, where the first wave of reviews came out, everyone seems fine with it, but I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t get this phone to stay at 90Hz. Like it keeps going back to 60Hz and I don’t know why, but eventually it comes out that the brightness is tied to it and all these other weird things. That I didn’t like, that’s why I looked at forcing 90Hz, and that’s why I accepted the trash battery life. I think the Pixel series has been for the past couple of years notoriously not the best hardware. The Pixel is a software experience wrapped in whatever they can make, and that’s typically been the best part about it. What I buy it for the latest version of Android, and you get all these crazy things like screen calling and the assistant that has the voice transcription model on the phone locally. All this stuff is what I love that about it. I guess because I have seen that for awhile, it doesn’t really change my perspective of the Pixel, but for someone who might have thought of Pixel as like a flagship on par with the Samsungs and Apples of the world, this should probably be a wake up call.
Eber: So I guess last question kind of ties into, do you think Google did a better job with the Pixel 4 this year or do you think they could have done better?
Marques: I’m going to go with the maybe pessimistic sounding route, that this is probably something we’re going to keep seeing for a bit, just because Google is not a hardware company, right? And it’s not like we don’t see other issues with other phones, but when you look at the iPhone, they have their ‘-gate’ scandals once in a while, and the Samsung phones exploded one time, but a Pixel is always going to be strong in the software department. Whatever they can sort of build around it using pieces that work well enough, they will do that. And it kind of reminds me of Tesla, where Tesla as a car manufacturer isn’t the best. They are more of a tech and software company, they are always going to have the best tech and software in their cars. They might not have the sweet leather trim or all the pristine interior finishings, and if you like that stuff get a Samsung or an iPhone. So it’s just kind of where Pixels are at for me, and maybe they will change, but I feel like for the foreseeable future they are great software choice and the rest comes after.
Eber: That’s it, that’s basically the story with the Pixel 4. I mean it’s a tough call, but I just keep coming back to it because of its camera performance and that’s why I’m sticking to it. I like the software experience, but even that still had its own issues. I don’t think given its current price that it’s a valuable choice, but, let me know what you all think about the Pixel 4 or the Pixel 4 XL.