Update: Digital Trends got the chance to take a look at this smartphone up close. Take a look at our Pixel 4 hands-on review for more details.
Google doesn’t want its new Pixel 4 phones to only be known for having great cameras, so it has stuffed the two new models with a lot more high-tech software and hardware than ever before to help them really make a splash. It’s time to meet the new Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, which the company announced during its Made by Google event on Tuesday, October 15. We hope you’re prepared, because these are two of the most exciting phones of the year — though there was no sign of the Pixel Watch.
A fresh design
Months ago, Google showed off the Pixel 4 in a tweet, confirming the phone would have a controversial square camera bump on the back. It’s not so controversial now, as Apple released the iPhone 11 Pro with a similar design, helping us get used to the unusual look. The Pixel 4’s camera bump has two camera lenses inside it, along with other sensors and a flash.
The body is not dissimilar to the Pixel 3, with neatly rounded corners, a flat rear panel, and a cute, colorful power button on the side. There are three colors available, with Really Black and Clearly White being joined by the new, limited-edition Oh So Orange. One thing to note is the dual-tone finish from the Pixel 3 models has been replaced by a single texture on the back of the phone, giving the Pixel 4 a more uniform, modern look. The black model has a glossy look, whereas the other two utilize matte glass. We spoke to the designers in an exclusive interview to learn more about the changes to the Pixel 4’s design.
There’s no fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL. Google has followed Apple’s lead and fitted a “Near-Infrared” sensor on the front for face unlock, even in low-light environments. This means the back is free of a fingerprint sensor, and there isn’t one under the screen either.
The Pixel 4’s camera has a lot of expectations on its shoulders. The Pixel 3 is one of the best camera phones we’ve used, but other companies — especially Huawei and Apple — have really taken the fight to Google’s door this year. How will the Pixel 4 compete? Google is finally adding a second lens to the back of its phone. It’s a 12-megapixel. 28mm main lens joined by a 16-megapixel. 14mm telephoto lens that Annie Leibovitz didn’t expect to love, but does. One thing to note, however, is that the Pixel 4 will not have unlimited full-resolution Google Photos storage.
The physical lenses are really only the start. Google’s expertise in computational photography is what makes the Pixel 4 so special. There are four big, new software-based features that will make the Pixel 4’s camera a real creative powerhouse. Live HDR+ ensures what you see on the screen is representative of the photo you take, helping you compose your shot. Dual Exposure Mode alters background exposure using sliders for brightness and shadows, and new learning-based white balance determines what should be white on your phone, and what shouldn’t, based on the conditions.
Portrait Mode benefits from new depth models on both lenses and dual-pixel technology that results in a more accurate depth further from the camera and against larger objects. Google has worked on better fur and hair recognition too. Finally, Night Sight incorporates machine learning for better white balance, plus it can take amazing starscape photos and moonlit landscape shots.
The camera has a 2x telephoto lens, and a Super Res hybrid zoom which Google recommends you use to take close-up shots, rather than cropping later. HDR+ is back too, taking nine burst photos, all underexposed, which are then aligned using software and averaged to reduce noise. The result brightens shadows to provide detail throughout the photo. On the front of the Pixel 4 is an 8-megapixel selfie camera with a 90-degree field-of-view.
Stare at the screen
We mentioned that there’s plenty of new technology. The headline here is Project Soli, Google’s gesture-control system that makes its debut inside the Pixel 4. Various sensors in the bezel above the screen allow you to control certain aspects of the phone with gestures — and without touching the screen at all. The feature is called Motion Sense, and it operates in several areas, from controlling music to silencing calls and turning off alarms. For example, a swipe in the air swaps between tracks, similar to what we’ve seen on the LG G8 ThinQ.
Google has worked hard to ensure Motion Sense understands what you want to do, so it doesn’t track unintentional movements. It understands body language, and puts the movements into context based on what the phone is doing. Because the phone detects the environment around it, Google has added the option to turn off Motion Sense when it may not be useful. It also ensures no data from it is stored or shared with other Google services.
The sensors for Motion Sense, plus the front camera and new face unlock technology, are hidden inside the bezel, which is thicker on the top than the one on the bottom. The phone isn’t a bezel-less beauty like the Huawei Mate 30 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. It also means one of the front-facing speakers has been moved to the bottom.
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
- Memory: 6GB
- Storage: 64GB base, 128GB option
- MicroSD storage: None
- Screen size: 5.7-inches, 6.3-inches
- Connectivity: USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0
- Battery: 2,800mAh, 3,700mAh
- Operating system: Android 10
You have the choice of two screen sizes. You can opt for the Pixel 4 and its 5.7-inch display, or the Pixel 4 XL and its 6.3-inch screen. Both have a 90Hz refresh rate for super-smooth scrolling and more responsive gaming — a desirable feature that once you’ve experienced, is hard to move away from. The resolution is higher on the Pixel 4 XL than the Pixel 4.
Both phones share almost the same specifications. There’s a Snapdragon 855 processor inside, although not the 855 Plus found in the OnePlus 7T or Asus ROG Phone 2, along with 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage. Each Pixel has the latest version of Android 10 installed, with updates guaranteed for the next three years.
Apart from the screen, the battery is also smaller in the Pixel 4, with a rather paltry 2,800mAh capacity. The Pixel 4 XL has a larger 3,700mAh cell. Both phones feature wireless charging. Finally, there’s the connectivity. The Pixel 4 has space for a single SIM card and an eSIM. The eSIM is great for travel, as it works like a second SIM inside the phone, except that it can be rewritten as often as you like, with no physical card swapping needed.
Next-gen Assistant and Recorder
Google told us about the next-gen Google Assistant at Google I/O earlier this year, and it is indeed debuting on the Pixel 4. It’s much faster, can process more commands locally, and makes using Assistant to control aspects of your phone even easier than before. There’s even the option to delete the data stored with Assistant using your voice.
A new Recorder app is installed on the phone, and impressively transcribes conversations in real time, even if the phone is not connected to the internet. You can also search all the stored recordings for keywords later.
Price and availability
Pre-orders for the Pixel 4 phones are now over, so they’re available for purchase. The Pixel 4 phones are also available to buy from all major U.S. carriers, with prices starting at $800. The Pixel 4 comes with three months of Google One membership and 100GB of cloud storage. Though you can already pick up some Google Pixel deals if you don’t mind going with the Pixel 3 or 3XL — these are some of the best smartphone deals right now.
Updated on October 24: The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are available for purchase.