Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL review: The biggest upgrade Google has delivered so far

By Koh Wanzi - 24 Nov 2019


Google Pixel 4

To get the Pixel 4, or not? 

I have mixed feelings about the Pixel 4. On the one hand, I think it's a really good phone with an excellent camera. I like the new design, the 90Hz screen is slick, and the phone does quite well in benchmarks relative to other Android devices. The stock Android experience is intuitive and easy to use as well, and I think the new Android 10 gestures are pretty awesome. Gesture navigation support is also coming to third-party launchers like Nova Launcher on the Pixel 4, which is one of the best pieces of news I've heard in a while.

I also love the Google Assistant integration and AI smarts on the Pixel 4. It ultimately comes down to small details, like the Now Playing feature that automatically displays song titles on your lockscreen. Google Assistant also reminds me about upcoming flights and events, and the Continued Conversations feature is a really nice upgrade. Of course, the Pixel 4 will also be first in line for any Android updates or security patches, which is a really huge draw for me. 

Having said that, the Pixel 4 is also a showcase for a bunch of questionable decisions on the part of Google. It's 2019, why do we still have a flagship phone that starts at 64GB and tops out at 128GB? On top of that, there's no expandable storage, and Google is also taking away free unlimited Google Photos storage. Among other things that Google is taking away, add to the list the 3.5mm-to-USB-C adaptor in the box and earphones.

Pixel 4 XL Just Black

And then there's Google's decision to add a second telephoto lens. To be fair, Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 4 is excellent, and the phone also shoots some really nice portraits. But why did Google just stop at two? It'd have been really nice to have a third wide-angle lens here, especially since so many of its competitors already have one. The Pixel phones may not be a leader in terms of design or specifications, but they've always excelled when it comes to the camera. It's a little puzzling why Google isn't going all out to establish it's lead in this area – both in terms of camera software and hardware. Furthermore, a wide-angle camera is the one thing that Google can't approximate with software. 

Motion Sense and Face Unlock are nice-to-have additions, but I'm still leaning toward Motion Sense being more of a party trick in its current form. The proximity sensing is really useful though, and I enjoy having the always-on display turn off when I'm not around. And while Face Unlock works well, it also unlocks your phone when you have your eyes closed. Personally, that's not much of an issue for me since someone who can hold my phone up to my face while I'm sleeping is probably a trusted confidante, but you may very well feel differently.

Finally, here's an overview of how much the phones cost:

  64GB 128GB
Pixel 4 S$1,119 S$1,269
Pixel 4 XL S$1,319 S$1,469

The good news is that they're cheaper than the Pixel 3, which start at S$1,249 for the Pixel 3 and S$1,399 for the Pixel 3 XL. However, these are still relatively expensive devices, especially when you consider the fact that rivals like the 256GB variants of the Galaxy Note10 and OnePlus 7 Pro cost around S$1,399.

If it comes down to picking between the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, I'd definitely go for the larger model, mostly because of the battery. And once you get used to a bigger screen, it's really hard to go back to a smaller model.

Ultimately, the Pixel 4 represents one of the biggest strides Google has made in a single generation. I'm also glad that Google is looking beyond software and making attempts at meaningful hardware upgrades in the form of the radar chip, higher refresh rate screen, and Face Unlock. It's also the most polished Pixel yet, and despite all its flaws, I really like it. It's a solid phone with new radar tech that no one has, and it's less iterative than some other phones we've seen this year. 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.

Is it worth the upgrade over the Pixel 3? I think that depends on what you want from your phone. The Pixel 3 is getting new features like the new astrophotography mode, and it also runs Android 10. It's basically the same core Google experience as the Pixel 4. But the Pixel 4 is also faster, has a much better screen, and a more capable camera. If you want the best possible experience from Google, upgrading is a no-brainer. But the Pixel 3 still takes very good photos, and if it's still serving you well, you can probably get by with the same monthly software updates.

Final Ratings
Google Pixel 4 XL

Click to see the score breakdown

Google Pixel 4

Click to see the score breakdown

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