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Google Pixel 4 review: A mixed bag

Google’s Pixel 4 is a solid smartphone for any Android user and while it’s not going to make me switch from being an iPhone guy, it does offer a few benefits over the competition.

Unfortunately, it also offers a few drawbacks–a tad disappointing, especially when compared to the Pixel 3a.


The phone, which starts at $800 for 64GB, has an unbelievable camera system, perhaps the best of any Android smartphone out there. I have an iPhone Xr as my everyday phone and the Pixel 4 is a notch above that, in terms of how the pictures look true-to-life.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, photo New Pixel 4 phones are displayed at Google in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)


After reviewing the budget Pixel 3a earlier this year, I found that the Pixel 4 camera system is definitely a step up, with the tech giant adding 2x optically zoomed lens. You can also use digital zooming so you can zoom further out and the pictures still look incredible. You’re probably not going to use this feature too often, but it’s nice to have.

However, unlike the iPhone 11 (which I have not reviewed), it does not have an ultra-wide lens. Some of the top Android competitors, like the Galaxy S10, do have an ultra-wide lens, so this is a bit mystifying to me.

I am super impressed by the astrophotography mode on the phone, given that I write about (and look at) space a lot. And I mean, a lot. So anything that can get me a little closer to infinity (and beyond) with a good view is important to me. You’re not going to be NASA with its Spitzer Space Telescope or the Hubble, but it’s a neat feature.

The camera system is great but, like the Pixel 3a, Google has stopped giving users free, unlimited storage on Google Photos. You’ll get access to unlimited “high quality” storage for your photos, but you can also do so with every other Android phone. That’s a bit of a drawback, especially if you’re someone who wants to eventually showcase your photos somewhere other than your phone.

As for the design, it’s clear that Google has gotten better from the first Pixel to now, but it’s still no iPhone. It has a fairly decent sized bezel. The unit I’ve been using, Just Black, is a nice finish, but it’s not eye-popping. I haven’t seen the other two finishes, Clearly White and Oh So Orange, in person, but I can’t imagine they outshine the Just Black version.

The glass back is nice, as it makes it feel like this a solid phone and not some cheap, budget toy, which for $799, it sure as heck isn’t. It’s just that in 2019, I expect my phone to look like it’s in 2019, not something from a few years ago. This is one area where if you’re debating between an iPhone and Android, an iPhone is the clear winner.

The internals of the phone are really good, using all of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855’s power and making full use of the 6GB of RAM. I had no issues with any lagging or performance issues on any apps, a reassuring sign for a premium device.

(Credit: Google)

The 90Hz screen is also a step up from the competition, popping more than its competitors. Before reviewing the Pixel 4, I had not given much thought to the number of frames per second you can see on a smartphone, given the small screen compared to a TV or a computer, but it’s noticeable. And given smartphone screens only seem to be getting bigger, I suspect this will be of growing importance in the future.

Unlocking the Pixel 4 is pretty darn easy, thanks to Motion Sense, similar (but not exactly like) to Apple’s Face ID.

You can use your face to unlock your phone (setting that up was easy), but you can also use your hands to skip songs on music apps, silence an incoming call and, perhaps the coolest thing, it knows when you’re going to grab the Pixel 4 so you can unlock the phone faster. This bit of software really makes the phone feel like you’re in 2019, even if the outside doesn’t.

I fully expect Motion Sense to gain additional capabilities and given how excited I was over this, I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of a “Wow” selling feature, even if it is a bit gimmicky. But hey, gimmicks sell.

Google says Motion Sense is available everywhere, except for Japan, “where it’s coming soon.”


There’s a lot to like about the Pixel 4, don’t get me wrong. But the drawbacks are glaringly negative, especially for a phone with a starting price of $800, $100 more than the iPhone 11 or $50 more than the Galaxy S10e.

As with some other Pixel phones, it doesn’t come with any headphones. I get that Google wants you to buy the Pixel Buds 2, its new Bluetooth wireless headphones, but those won’t be out until next year. So you can use your old USB-C wired headphones or buy a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones (AirPods?) for your new phone.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, photo Pixel buds are displayed at Google in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

This seems like an epic fail for me, especially when the starting price for the phone is higher than the competition. And for those of you holding on to hope that Google (or any other company, for that matter) will bring back the headphone jack, you’re out of luck.

The battery life is a huge drawback for the Pixel 4. At 2800 mAh, you’re not getting the life you would with the iPhone 11. My iPhone Xr gets me around 12 hours or so on a regular charge, so it’s a clear and resounding negative for the Pixel 4, given where we are in the smartphone cycle.

Not good, Google.

Should I stay or should I go?

The Pixel 4 is a good phone, don’t get me wrong. But at $800, you’d expect some of the issues I laid out above (battery life, earbuds, design) to have been taken care of and they weren’t.

If you’re a Pixel 2 user, it’s probably worth the upgrade. If you’re a Pixel 3 or 3a user, there are some nice features that the Pixel 4 has, including the great camera features, but also some drawbacks as well.

Google has spent years trying to get it right with its Pixel smartphones. The Pixel 4 is a mixed bag of what Google has done right over the years and what it’s done wrong.

Let’s hope Google is paying attention for its next Pixel.



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