For almost a whole month I have been using Google Pixel 4 phones. It’s really, truly used. All my SIM cards are in it. Photographing. Making phone calls. You can play Pokemon Go. Yes, still.
It’s not my first Google phone. The Nexus One and Nexus 4 were my previous phones. I also owned Pixels 1, 2, and 3. I tend to get the XL. However, since switching back to the smaller iPhone I chose to opt for the smaller Pixel.
Google, for me, is by far the most significant company on the planet. Apple products are my favorite, and I think their philosophy is the best. Amazon has the potential to be transformational in all its best and worst aspects. Facebook is… a disaster that still brings the world together like nothing else. Google is actually trying to create the Star Trek computer. It is the future of mankind. There is no limit to the amount of scrutiny and no room for error that doesn’t make it possible to see what our future holds. Both technologically and ethically.
Apple makes phones. Smartphones are becoming more tied to entertainment services. Google phones, however, are not just devices. The atoms themselves are spectacularly unimpressive without the algorithms that bring them to life… and harvest unprecedented amounts of personal, private data while doing it. It was all for the purpose of funding and building Star Trek’s computer.
If I sound harsh about Google or their products such as the Pixel, it’s because I have to be. That’s because it is what I need to be. All of us have to be.
Pixel 4: The Best
The new Google Pixel 4 industrial design language is very appealing to me. It’s very good. Google did make a few mistakes with the OG Google Pixel. It was the first smartphone designed and manufactured by Google. HTC design is not something I dislike. This is what I love. The Treo Pro, Nexus One, and all subsequent devices. Apple’s iPhone design language is something I love. But, neither of these things gave the Pixel any sense of identity.
Google’s hardware design views were even more resolute. Every year, they’d tell us what they didn’t need — camera bumps, optical image stabilization, two cameras, only to spin on a dime and add exactly those things on the very next iteration.
We got foreheads last year, and also the Mother of All Notches also called chins. They just needed a bottom-facing speaker. There is no more notch. The speaker moved.
One selfie camera. Two selfie cameras. One selfie camera. The camera would appear whimsical, if not for its utter whimsy.
The idea would appear whimsical, if not for its utter whimsy.
You can’t know if the year ahead will actually be better, but we won’t know until next year when Google makes its predictions. While I believe in optimism, I have reservations about their ability to create an identity.
However, it’s possible to be content with the Pixel 4 for at most a short time.
The orange one is what I chose because it was orange. Just like the iPhone 11, I wish the colors were less pastel, but that’s not my job.
It’s a great camera bump. I like the camera bump’s black color. However, the lenses are less noticeable. It is a clear winner over the iPhone 11. A flatback design on either side is preferable to camera functionality.
Strange that black appears glossy while orange and white are matte. Marques said matte black is the best. This matte shine a lot better than last year when it was reacting to finger pressure in a way that seemed silly. No problems this year.
It doesn’t bother my head at all. The chin is visually unbalanced by it. It undoes the many benefits that smaller phones with a higher screen-to–surface ratio have offered over the past couple of years. It’s not just 2016!
While we are still waiting for all the sensors to be placed under the displays, I don’t want to fuss about foreheads, holes, or notches. They’re all far better than mechanical churches which spin and pop the cameras.
Overall, I feel it feels far more like an object than any Pixel.
This Pixel feels more singular than ever before.
The cameras are amazing, of course. This year, there are plural cameras on the back. They’re very different than what the likes of Samsung and Huawei are doing with big glass and… kinda goofy algorithms. Apple does this with very high-quality glass and excellent algorithms. Google sticks to good glass and uses some of the most advanced algorithms available to make photos.
They are improving silicon, although I wish they would improve physical cameras. A great example of what computational photography can do that the traditional method cannot is the live preview for HDR+. It allows you to adjust both high and lower exposure.
It would be great if they could do it in any other mode of computation, even Portrait Mode. With the best segmentation and depth masking available, it doesn’t take away the pain of taking photos and waiting for the data to resolve.
Google’s approach to computational photography, despite its limitations on hardware, is still very complicated. Pixel 4 does not seem to have an instant shutter like the iPhone XS or 11. If you shoot side-by-side any of the processor-intensive modes will produce delayed images. The iPhone 11 will grab a shot of one of my godchildren instantly if I try to capture a Portrait Mode. The Pixel 4, however, would grab the shot in a matter of seconds. This was often as he was moving on.
It was even more amazing that my friend’s brother came up to her during a night shot and stood beside her. Again, the iPhone 11 grabbed the shot and solved it for her. A second later, the Pixel 4 grabbed both.
Pixel 4 photos can also be Pixel 4 photographs. Cool. Crisp. Calculated. Google almost always gives you a Pixel 4 picture, no matter the situation. Google normalizes all images to achieve this look. The iPhone works differently from a conventional camera. Sometimes, it yields better results. Sometimes, it’s worse. Sometimes it is worse.
It’s this that I believe the Pixel camera is so popular. It is almost always rock-solidly consistent. It’s probably also why professional photographers continue to use iPhones. The Pixel feels like science more than art, despite the incredible range of camera apps on iOS.
It’s not the end of my world not to have an ultra-wide-angle lens. I was able to live with one until the year 2012. However, the fact that I have one is a good thing. It’s a feature almost all flagship phones now offer. To me, this just shows that, despite all of the computational advantages Google has, they still fall behind photographically. It’s the “we don’t need”… oh, crap, it turns out we do… mentality that keeps my caution so pessimistic.
It is hard to believe that the Pixel can produce 5x as many images as optical.
Super Zoom however is truly remarkable. It’s hard to believe that the Pixel can produce 5x as many images as optical. Better optics could lead to better computing. For now, however, I don’t want Apple to lose sight of this.
Google seems to have also fixed last year’s issue wherein the app launched slowly and failed to save images and frames. This caused the most reliable camera phone in the world to stop working as a camera. According to my knowledge, the Pixel 4 has dropped exactly zero frames or shots. Hurrah.
Face Unlock is a great feature that allows you to go straight from the lock screen into your phone. I did find a negative — with Face ID, if the phone unlocks unintentionally, like while you’re putting it down, the lack of a swipe just means it’ll lock and sleep again in a few moments. Face Unlock does not require a swipe. If the phone is unintentionally locked, such as while you’re putting it down, the lack of a swipe will cause it to lock and sleep again.
Like I stated in my head-head video, people and workflows are different so I recommend that you choose different options. This is why having an option is important. Apple should add it soon.
Different workflows and people will prefer different options. Having options is why it’s important
It is, however, still unacceptable from a defense-in-depth point of view to not be able to ask for attention for unlocking. Google should add that or bring it back as soon as possible. Much like if you need the suit to be Spiderman, you don’t deserve the suit, If you can’t be fast without disabling-defense-in-depth, you don’t deserve to be fast.
Google currently offers a workaround that tells people to turn on Lockdown mode. It doesn’t have power or volume buttons like an iPhone. You can’t simply squeeze the two to activate it. To turn on the feature, you must first go to the settings and then press power to select it. Holding down on reboot is a quicker, more obvious solution, but it’s not the best.
To clarify, Motion Sense feels a lot like 3D Touch, but if Apple released it two years ago, it would have ten times the utility and ubiquity. Perhaps it will be easier to get it into the system sooner. However, the current version I have isn’t something people use all the time. Google may have better, brighter ideas for the future.
The display at 90Hz is simply stunning. The entire experience is incredibly smooth. If you aren’t used to high frames rates, it can look like a little soap opera, motion smoothing. The Pixel 4 can leave you feeling a little sluggish and drop you to 60Hz if the app, ambient brightness, or the device’s brightness change.
Developer mode can be used to force 90Hz on, but it does not default. This suggests that the display may not have been designed for primetime. Google must manage this aggressively, for either battery life or pulse width modulation. This display seems to lean heavily on Google’s approach. The end result is islands that are 90Hz happy amid 60Hz chaos.
Pixel 4 can only handle islands of the delight of 90Hz in a sea filled with 60Hz norm.
It is so starkly different from how the iPad Pro handles it with ProMotion. Even though there are differences in LCD and OLED display technology. I find it hard to believe that Google would do this consistently. Instead, they should have focused their efforts on creating an awesome 60Hz experience. It was a good one, but not as bright as Samsung or Apple.
However, Pixel’s Voice Recorder and transcription are pure machine-learned magic. It’s impossible, to put it another way. Google is doing more neural processing now. I believe they do it to improve performance and privacy. But the results are amazing, unlike Apple. It is another feature I want to be able to use on my iPhone.
Excellent call and data quality. On the Pixel 4, I receive the same Rogers LTE upload- and download speeds as I do on my iPhone 11. None of them supports 5G as yet, because 5G has yet to be invented. I’ve not read nearly as many complaints about 5G on Pixels as I did the iPhone. However, in both cases, 5G has been disabled for the vast majority of users. Anybody who plans to use 5G next year or next year will have to be able to do so with modem technology from next year.
Pixel 4: The Bad
Pokemon Go was mentioned at the start and, as any person who follows my iPhone reviews know, it’s what I use for stress testing batteries. Constant GPS, screen brightness, data, interaction — it basically fires everything all the time. It’s so cool that I can take my new phone out to a Pokemon Go event.
And…. It couldn’t finish the event. Just before the 4-hour mark, it was tapped out. The iPhone 11 made it past 5 hours. And the iPhone 11 Pro did so just before 5:30. Poor airport reception and heavy usage, as well as travel testing, also caused the Pixel 4 to die by lunch.
The Pixel 4 didn’t finish any Pokemon Go events.
As I said in one of my iPhone reviews, many people do more than just check their email and surf the internet. It all comes to phones like a freight train: media-heavy social networks and logistics services that are location-based, as well as games and entertainment.
AI-based battery optimization can be discussed as much or little as you like. It has been there at the silicon level for years. However, optimizing for these constant-use workflows is impossible. It’s impossible. It’s impossible to engineer for it if you don’t design the phone.
And, despite having and knowing all the usage data for all the Pixel phones — probably all Google Play Android phones — Google simply didn’t do that. The decision was made in a moment, and I am sure it involved a variety of factors. These included the desire to reduce weight or the necessity to accommodate the Soli MotionSense System into the sometimes 90Hz screen. Design is a compromise. I’m not going to be able to watch any actual phone being produced by any of the teams.
This seems more like a collection of geeky tech-driven decisions than holistic, customer-driven end-product decision making.
YouTube is able to play 4K60 video, but the Pixel cannot. YouTube also refuses 4K60 in HEVC.
In a moment, I will get to it.
Pixel 4 video recording also deserves attention. Like I said in my previous video, that YouTube can play 4K60 but the Pixel can’t shoot it, and the Pixel can shoot 4K in HEVC but YouTube refuses to play it, it’s… perplexing.
Google is not enabling 4K60 for the Pixel due to its existing silicon being unable to handle Google’s image algorithms. Their unwillingness and inability on this front highlight how serious their compromises are regarding Face Unlock security and battery life, as well as their 90Hz display and Face Unlock security. It’s amazing how fragmented and disjointed Pixel 4 really is as a product.
Pixel 4: Conclusion
Google was once governed by product managers in the same way Apple is by designers. This is how it feels like Google stuff is released and destroyed almost at will. It was. Then direction began to come down from the top: Get us an iPhone.
Perhaps it was to try and grab some Apple hardware profit. It was more likely to get Google employees away from iPhones, and on Android phones in order for them to dogfood their operating system. This is why high-end PixelBooks were made for employees. They also tried Pixel tablets as a way to get employees to ditch iPads.
In order to avoid irritating partners and Google being just Google, the hardware department couldn’t communicate with or integrate with Android the same way that Apple’s software and hardware engineering departments could. At least, not at the beginning. This led to many wonks.
The Pixel managed to deliver a great overall experience. Even with some Google paint, they let Android just be Android. The hardware? Well, the developers never had the resources or the time to nail it.
It is a Pixel that can be divided against itself, with the desire to test Soli chips, dogfood panels last year, and 90Hz panels next year.
There were some issues with the screens, RAM, and other aspects, but these parts weren’t exceptional. We received a phone that had more exceptional parts than its algorithm, which was essentially a commodity.
It’s now clear that even at the flagship price, Google does not sell enough Pixels for it to make it profitable like Apple, Samsung, or Huawei. The desire to test and dogfood such things as notches and 90Hz panels last year, as well the need to avoid losing too much money with Soli chips and a third ultra-wide camera, along with 128GB storage, makes the Pixel a device that is literally divided against itself.
It’s impossible to satisfy customers and internal users with something that doesn’t appeal to them.
The Pixel 4 feels like it is stuck between several quantum states. It’s a phone that uses many jaw-dropping technologies, but doesn’t have the vision or focus to fulfill all of its goals. These technologies are more than combined. To truly be great.
The Pixel 4 is not recommended by me, as I haven’t tried it yet. The Pixel 4 XL is the best option if you are looking for a Google smartphone this year. OnePlus and Samsung both have had great years, so it might be worth looking at them instead.