I’ve been using the Google Pixel 4 (not the 4 XL) for around a week now, putting it through the paces of my day to day routine as a writer and an editor. I’m often answering emails on the fly, recording interviews, jotting down tasting notes during a food review, listening to Spotify podcasts, surfing YouTube, and, most importantly, tapping in and out of public transport.
Although your usage might differ from mine, suffice to say, this phone has been amply stretched to its maximum capabilities.
When it comes to tech reviews, it is often tempting for a writer to veer into jargon that the common men and women off the streets can’t understand, what more appreciate. Sure for some (such as yours truly), it is important that they know precisely the PPI (pixels per inch) of a mobile phone screen, or the exact battery capacity difference between two similar models, or the aperture of the primary camera lens.
These are all essential details manufacturers take great pains to put front and centre to ensure we, the techies, know why their product is not merely the latest but also one of the greatest we’ll ever know.
So this will be a casual review of the Google Pixel 4 smartphone. First, a disclaimer: this article is not for tech-savvy individuals who know the difference between a Snapdragon 655 processor and a Snapdragon 855+ one, or are concerned with the ram capacity of a phone.
This review is for the general readers with an inclination towards a phone with stock Android or simply would like to be told what phone to purchase.
The Pixel 4 is incredibly small. When friends ask what this phone’s stand out feature is, I will not hesitate to take it out of the fabric case and implore them, “Hold it. Go on. Hold it.” Cue the audible gasps, looks of disbelief, and a perplexity that belies shock. The Pixel 4 is the thinnest phone I’ve ever held—a bias that perhaps could be attributed to the size of my daily driver (the Samsung Note 9). I’m having so much difficulty holding this device. It’s almost like a throwback to the early 2000s where phones were smaller, more compact, and can easily be used with one hand.
No fingerprint sensor? The nerve of Google. The absence of a fingerprint scanner means that other modes of security identification must shine.
And it does.
Google’s face unlock is heroically accurate. Coupled with the radar sensor that detects when you’re approaching the phone, you can now start using your device the second it’s picked up off the table. It’s that fast. I’ve had to avoid putting my face anywhere near the phone when all I wanted to do was to tap the screen for notification. It works fantastically in dim conditions too where a mid-brightness screen might feel too intense.
My review unit was the white one with a beautiful matte, soft-touch glass back that repels fingerprints. It is encased within a border of black anodized aluminium with the signature pixel power button in bright orange. The matte back is a dream come true for people who hates phone cases as fervently as fingerprint smudges. Both the orange and white version of the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 4 XL are made of the same material. Unfortunately, if you’re a fan of black, both versions of the phone in Just Black is made with a glossy glass back that attract fingerprints effortlessly. You have been warned.
A keen observer of design will immediately detect the phone’s imbalanced front. It is a 5.7 inches screen with a top that is markedly bigger than the chin to fit the cacophony of sensors that control face unlock, radar, ambient light, and the front-facing camera. It’s not ugly by any means. It’s just… Unbalanced. If I were to purchase this with my own money, this design oversight would bother me. The imbalance is exacerbated when watching videos full screen. With a Full HD screen resolution of 1080×2280, you’re guaranteed a bright and sharp display—and I expect no less from a flagship device at this price. The Ambient EQ is also excellent in detecting your surrounding and amping up or down the screen contrast to mimic your current space.
Much has been said about the 90hz screen refresh. Regular screens refresh at a paltry 60hz. But not the Pixel. What it does is deliver incredibly smooth graphics when playing games or when scrolling through photos. To preserve battery (which, it desperately needs) the Pixel 4 switches between both refresh rates depending on what is on your screen. It’s a weird brag especially when the ordinary user won’t notice the difference. The tech enthusiasts will, but this review is not for enthusiasts. It’s like saying someone won an award for the best dentist. No one cares, except for dentists.
The camera features of the new Pixel reads like a very long list of technical jargon made for absolutely no one to understand. What you do need to know is that it will be tough to take a bad picture with this camera. The controls are finer in this iteration, giving users the ability to control overall and shadow brightness before the photo is taken. Are you taking pictures at night? No problem. Want a creamy bokeh that’s highly accurate? Not a problem either. Is your picture subject too far? Go ahead and zoom in. It still comes out crystal clear.
There is that new Astrophotography function that can capture high-quality images of the night sky, including (according to Google) stars, planets, and even galaxies. But that’s hard to test in Singapore where light pollution seeps every which way we look. So here are some sample shots provided by Google.
Here’s a link to some of the best power banks sold on Lazada. And here’s some from Shopee. Why you might ask, am I providing this information? Because that tiny 2800mah battery has never lasted me a full day’s worth of juice. This is a twice-a-day-charge type of phone. The disappointing battery life is mostly attributed to all that fancy tech that powers the device—a radar that is always scanning so that it senses when you’re nearby, Ambient EQ that’s responding to lighting conditions in real-time, Google Assistant that’s poised to listen out for your ‘Hello Google’ command, a 90hz refresh screen. It’s hard to use this phone AND enjoy the spanking new and futuristic functions it offers. The battery life is a no from me.
On paper, Motion Sense seems like such a huge step forward in the technological advancements of mobile phones. But in reality, skipping tracks or silencing your alarm with a wave seems at best, redundant and at worse, a huge gimmick. The technology here feels as infantile as on-screen fingerprint sensors were back in 2017. So, not to dismiss Google’s efforts at advancement, but I reckon Motion Sense is still in that early stage where it toes the fine line between a marketing shtick and practical usability.
That recorder app is a gift that I shall not refuse. It records the audio AND transcribes it in real life—with extreme accuracy. It detects pauses and fills it in with punctuation. It identifies music. It detects non-voice elements like applause. And best of all, it works offline. Students will love this during a lecture. Content creators will love it during interviews. An aspiring author will use it for capturing ideas. The app even has a search function that brings you to the precise point in the audio where the word is mentioned. Say goodbye to endless scrubbing. Everyone I’ve shown this app to are left in awe. This is the future that I relish, especially when it makes my job that much easier. I mean, have you tried transcribing a thirty-minute interview?
This phone will be fantastic for my mother simply because of the face unlock feature. My father will love this for the camera that can do no wrong. I would get it for the Recorder app (though I have found the apk and installed it on my Note 9). It’s tough for me to recommend the Pixel 4 wholeheartedly. They’ve taken away the unlimited storage for photos in original quality—now you have to pay for that storage under their Google One program. They’ve reduced the battery size from the Pixel 3 which was at 2915 mah. They’ve removed the USB C earbuds that used to come with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. They’ve even removed the USB C to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter. Perhaps I’ll buy one to keep around the house and experience Android the way Google intended. But to make it my main daily driver, sorry, but no. I’ll stick to my Note 9, s’il vous plaît.
Pixel 4: $1,119 (64 GB), $1,319 (128 GB)
Pixel 4XL: $1,269 (64 GB) and $1,469 (128 GB)
Available in Just Black, Clearly White, and the limited edition Oh So Orange