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Shootout: Flagship smartphones compared

By Marcus Wong - 18 Jan 2020

Google Pixel 4XL

Google Pixel 4XL

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL contain some of the biggest upgrades that Google has made in a single year to its smartphones. And while the crowning glory of the Pixel series has always been its camera, the Pixel 4 serves up a platter of new features that don't have anything to do with taking pictures, including radar-based gesture sensing and Face ID-style Face Unlock.

This is perhaps the most exciting upgrade the Pixel line has gotten to date. When I say exciting, I mean this mostly from a technological standpoint. This isn't a phone that you're going to clamour after because of its looks. After all, bezels are back again, including a rather thick top bezel at that. But unlike last year's much-decried notch, there's a good reason for the bezel this time. It houses the cameras and sensors necessary for Face Unlock and gesture sensing.

The Face Unlock technology is similar to Apple's Face ID, relying on an IR flood emitter and dot projector, and it's secure enough to be used for payments and authentication purposes as well. In fact, it's the first Android smartphone to offer a Face Unlock feature this secure. And just like the iPhone, the Pixel 4 is also bidding goodbye to the fingerprint sensor.

Dubbed Motion Sense, the radar-based gesture sensing tech will also let you interact with the phone without ever touching it, so you can simply swipe to silence your alarm in the morning or navigate your playlist. There’s proximity detection capabilities built into it too, so it can sense when you're approaching the phone and get the Face Unlock sensors ready to scan your face. This makes unlocking your phone quicker, and unlike on the iPhone, it sends you straight to your home screen without having to swipe up again. If you walk away from the phone, Motion Sense will know and turn off the always-on display.

Other features include a 90Hz display with Ambient EQ, which changes the screen colour temperature to match your surroundings, and the next-gen Assistant, which runs locally on your phone and has a better understanding of context.

The camera gets a second 16-megapixel telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture. This joins the 12.2-megapixel camera from last year, and Google is leveraging the telephoto lens for improved Super Res Zoom and Portrait mode. The camera app gets dual-exposure sliders as well, which should help in scenes with challenging lighting by allowing you to separately manipulate the shadows and highlights.

Ultimately, the Pixel 4 represents one of the biggest strides Google has made in a single generation. The way I see it, the Pixel 4 exemplifies the potential the Pixel line holds, and I'm already looking forward to what Google does with the Pixel 5.

Even so, does it pack enough and check all the experiential boxes for the best flagship phone you can get now? We'll answer that in a few more pages. For a more detailed assessment, features, and capabilities, check out our full review of the Google Pixel 4XL.