We're struggling to summarise our thoughts on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. On one hand, they're brilliant smartphones, but on the other, we have so many gripes; the fingerprint sensor is gone, Motion Sense is gimmicky and battery life remains middling at best.
Cameras are excellent, playful design, 90Hz screen is great, slick performance and Android 10 software.
Battery live is middling at best, no fingerprint sensor, Motion Sense is gimmicky at present, the top bezel.
GOOGLE'S LATEST PIXEL PHONES are a strange beast.
On paper, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL offer the biggest upgrade to Google's smartphone lineup seen since the first Pixel debuted in 2016. But in practice, they offer several minor tweaks that could, rather than improve the experience, create unnecessary headaches for users.
Face Unlock, for example, marks the death of the long-standing fingerprint sensor, Motion Sense marks the return of chunky bezels, and all of this comes at the expense of battery life.
On the other hand, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL have a lot going for them. The handsets are the first Google phones to offer dual-camera arrays, and though other smartphone makers are aggressively adopting triple and even quad-cam setups, the Pixels set the standard for Android phone photography. The handsets also offer a much-needed under-the-hood upgrade, 90Hz displays and Google's latest and greatest Android 10 software.
The Pixel 4 marks a design departure for Google; gone is the two-tone texture that has dressed Pixel phones for the past few years, with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL instead sporting a stripped-back, more utilitarian design.
The back glass remains, and the 'Clearly White' (Pixel 4) and 'Oh So Orange' (Pixel 4 XL) models we've been using sport a satisfying matte texture, meaning the handsets are less slippery than other phones on the market - we're looking at you, OnePlus 7T. The black model opts a glossy, almost mirrored finish.
While many have remarked that the Pixel 4 handsets look toy-like - no doubt a side-effect of the bulging camera cluster and gaudy orange hue, we've warmed to the design over our week with the new Pixels. They sort of look like a hipster take on the iPhone 11 Pro, with their playful contrasting power buttons and less-flashy construction.
We're not so fond of the front of the Pixel 4, though. Flip it over, and you'll see that both handsets are dominated by an embarrassingly large (for a 2019 phone) top bezel, a feature that other brands have been rigorously minimising in recent years.
The reason behind this is the Motion Sense tech that's stuffed into the top of the phone, but we're not quite sure the compromise was worth it; more on this later.
In terms of size, the Pixel 4 might just be the perfectly-sized smartphone. It's slightly larger than our iPhone X at 147mm tall (vs 143mm), and though it's not as slim (8.3mm vs 7.7mm), we found it more tactile in-hand, and effortless to operate with one hand. Grappling with the Pixel 4 XL, on the other hand, wasn't so pain-free; at 160mm tall, we found it awkward to stretch our digits to the top of the screen. Both phones are impressively light, though, the Pixel 4 tips the scales at 162g and the Pixel 4 XL at 193g.
Elsewhere design-wise, the Pixel 4 handsets boast IP68 certification (we've awkwardly fumbled the 4 XL and it's come out unscathed every time) and both, like their predecessor, can recharge wirelessly using Qi induction. There's no 3.5mm jack either, but that par for the course for many 2019 phones.
On paper, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL sport 5.7in 1080x2280 screen and 6.3in 1440x3040 OLED displays, respectively. If you can look past handsets' visually-offensive forehead - which results in lacklustre screen-to-body ratios of 79.8 per cent and 81.3 per cent - the screens are excellent.
The displays, both of which support HDR, offer vibrant yet natural colour reproduction and pin-sharp text, with the OLED panel making for deep, inky blacks - especially prevalent when Android 10's all-new dark mode is switched on. 'Natural' mode, to our eyes, deliver the most balanced colours.
Like the latest OnePlus handsets, the screens on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL also have a 90Hz refresh rate, which Google calls 'Smooth Display'. It's by no means revolutionary, but makes scrolling through text particularly pleasant.
The Pixel 4 will also switch the screen to 60Hz when 90Hz isn't needed, which Google claims should help to preserve battery; once again, we're not convinced - more on this later in the review.
Another new display feature on the Pixel 4s is 'Ambient HQ', which automatically adjusts the colour temperature to match the room; it's a nice touch - we've been using it already on the Google Nest Home Hub - but again, it's not revolutionary.
Face Unlock and Motion Sense
If Google's launch event is anything to go by, two of the Pixel 4's biggest selling points are Face Unlock and Motion Sense.
Face Unlock is undoubtedly the fastest we've used. And thanks to its 180-degree field of vision, it'll unlock the device even if you're not gawping directly at it.
However, not only has it been revealed that it'll unlock your Pixel even if you're, er, dead, we think it's arguably too efficient; our Pixel 4 unlocks at such a speed that the lock screen - which we've become accustomed to glaring at to catch-up on notifications - has become redundant.
But more frustratingly, the fingerprint sensor has been binned. While this might seem like a logical step given Apple marked a similar shift with the iPhone X, we don't think Android is ready. Our banking app, for example, doesn't support it, which means we have to punch-in our memorable information every time we use it, rather than simply scan our face or fingerprints.
And then there's Motion Sense, a radar system that uses Google's Soli chip to support presence, reach and gestures in the new devices. Currently, uses for the feature are limited; it can only be used for skipping songs, silencing alarms and, er, waving at Pokémon characters, and we found ourselves using it only on a handful of occasions during our time with the handsets.
Unless developers start using the feature to make it, er, useful, we don't see Motion Sense as any more than a gimmick at present. And given it's the reason for the unsightly bezel on the front of the devices, we'd rather Google hadn't included it at all.
Performance and software
Under the hood of the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, you'll find Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 processor paired with 6GB RAM; the first RAM jump since the original Pixel was announced.
Though Google hasn't opted for Qualcomm's newer Snapdragon 855+ processor, performance is - as you'd expect - impressively slick. Firing up apps is lighting-fast, graphics performance is impressive and, though in terms of benchmark performance, it's overshadowed by its flashier competitors.
In Geekbench 5, the Pixel 4 XL racked up a single-core score of 636 and a multi-core score of 2,448; while that's a decent improvement over the Pixel 3 XL (490, 1,991), it fails to stack up to the OnePlus 7T Pro (783, 2,813) or the Galaxy Note 10 (729, 2,515). Still, it's unlikely many will notice a massive difference in real-world performance.
The Pixel 4's smooth performance is no doubt aided by Android 10, which not only offers a fuss-free experience but also brings many new features to the table.
There's the new Google Assistant, which is faster and allows for more contextual conversations and the ability for the digital helper to search within apps.
Unsurprisingly, it works great, but you'll need to have gesture controls switched on for it to work, despite the fact it can still be fired-up through older methods; you can still bark Google Assistant, rather than having to squeeze the lower part of the device.
Another new feature is Recorder - it's a voice recorder, but also does real-time transcription without needing to send anything to the internet. We've been using this over the past week and found it much more accurate than other real-time transcription apps we've been using (sorry, Otter) until now.
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are the first Google handsets to sport a dual-camera setup, which comprises a 16MP main sensor and a 12MP "2x" telephoto lens; Google says it went with telephoto instead of an ultra-wide because it thinks customers will get more use out of it.
The cameras are, as we've come to expect from Pixel phones, excellent; images are perfectly balanced, vibrant and deliver good dynamic range, and though we'd have preferred a wide-angle lens, the telephoto lens has proved a worthy addition.
Night Sight remains the star of the show. Though we're unsure it offers a drastic improvement over Pixel 3's night-shooting mode - we haven't yet been able to test the new astrophotography due to our polluted London surroundings - it continues to impress, and continues to work better outdoors; images are more detailed and natural in colour, while those taken in poor indoor lighting suffer from a little more noise.
Google tells us that Portrait mode has seen an upgrade, and now boasts better depth mapping thanks to the additional rear camera. Though it doesn't support Google's new live-view HDR+, it continues to be one of the best on the market, accurately blurring out backgrounds to create artistic, bokeh-style headshots.
Another neat feature on the Pixel 4 is Dual Exposure. which let's you separately control highlights and shadows through their own sliders. This means you can take better, artsier shots of a silhouetted subject against a sunset, for example.
Around the front, there's only one selfie camera now, with Google ditching its dual setup despite the ruddy great notch at the top of the Pixel 4 handsets. We can't say we missed it too much though, with the 8MP front-facing camera proving more-than-capable at taking detailed, well-balanced selfies.
Pixel smartphones have long had issues in the battery life department and, unfortunately, Google hasn't remedied them with the Pixel 4.
That's hardly surprising when you consider the Pixel 4 packs a battery that's smaller than the one inside last year's model: 2,800mAh vs 2,915mAh in the Pixel 3. The Pixel 4 XL comes stuffed with a 3,700mAh battery, compared to the 3,430mAh battery inside last year's Pixel 3 XL.
Our Pixel 4 XL didn't fare too badly. While it just about managed to make it through an entire day - on one occasion it gave up the ghost around 9pm - the Pixel 4's battery is disappointing. Unless you're using your phone only to sporadically check social media and scan emails, it's unlikely to get you through an entire day; ours tended to last around eight hours.
We're struggling to summarise our thoughts on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. On one hand, they're brilliant smartphones; the camera experience is better than ever, the design - though polarising - is fuss-free yet playful, the 90Hz screen is brilliant and the handsets offer an all-round slick Android 10 experience with some interesting bells-and-whistles thrown in for good measure.
On the other hand, we have so many gripes. The fingerprint sensor is gone, Motion Sense is gimmicky, the massive top bezel is hard to look past and battery life remains middling at best.
Maybe we're just hard to please; perhaps these grievances are things users will be able to look past, especially when considering that at £729 and £829, respectively, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL remain on the more affordable end of the Android spectrum.
Cameras are excellent, playful design, 90Hz screen is great, slick performance and Android 10 software.
Battery live is middling at best, no fingerprint sensor, Motion Sense is gimmicky at present.
That top bezel.