With its slick camera, Google’s Pixel 4 impresses Noel Campion
When you ask the average person in this country what they know about Google, most will mention Google Maps or Google search. Not so many will know that the company makes smartphones and other hardware too. In fact, they’ve been making their own smartphones since 2016, and I know, because I was at the launch.
So, why don’t more people know about Google and their Pixel phones here in Ireland? Well, keep reading and I’ll let you know what I think of their latest handset, the Google Pixel 4.
My review unit is the Pixel 4, the smaller brother of the larger Pixel 4 XL, which shares the same hardware features apart from the obvious size difference.
The Pixel 4 sports a gorgeous 5.7in OLED display while the Pixel 4 XL has a 6.3in screen. The Pixel 4’s display is 1,080p, and the Pixel 4 Xl is 1,440p. As displays go, the Pixel 4 is right up there with the best of them. The screen is plenty bright, especially for this time of year, although the specifications would suggest it’s not as bright as other flagship devices. The blacks are deep and the whites nice and neutral. This makes this an excellent device for watching videos, viewing photos and media consumption in general. The colours are vibrant and really pop bringing content to life, especially HDR content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Video is important, but this is backed up by some of the best, and fullest sounding stereo speakers on a smartphone I’ve heard this year. The sound is loud too with decent bass, bearing in mind this is a small device.
Unfortunately, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll have to use your own Bluetooth headphones. Also, you don’t get any USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor in the box nor a set of stock headphones.
The screen looks great but it makes the phone feel great too. This is down to the 90Hz refresh rate, which makes everything feel faster and smoother over the standard 60Hz found in most other phones. Anecdotally, I found it too fast at times. When flicking up through social feeds, it would scroll so fast I found I had to go back because I was missing stuff. I did get used to this, but it just goes to show how much of a difference the faster refresh makes. That being said, phones are so fast these days that I don’t see this as a must-have feature.
One of the key advantages of owning a Google phone is that you’re always first in line to get updates. Also, you get a pure form of Android 10 as Google intended it, running on hardware that they engineered themselves. This is evident while using the phone, which seamlessly powers through everything I was able to throw at it.
The Pixel 3 XL which I reviewed here, got a lot of flak in the media about its large notch. This time out Google decided not to have any notch and go back to the days of a large forehead instead. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with not having to work around dealing with a notch. Generally, where possible, I will choose to hide the notch anyway. The overall design may look a little dated but I like the way it looks and feels in the hand.
The back of the Pixel 4 has a polished glossy finish. Like the iPhone 11 Pro, the top left has a raised square camera bump. Unlike the current trend of 2019 flagships, the Pixel 4 has two camera lenses.
You now get a standard wide-angle lens and a 2x telephoto lens. The camera software is very slick and makes taking a quick snap really easy. Behind the simplicity of the software is some incredible science as the combination of hardware and computation photography work together to create stunning photos no matter what situation you find yourself in. I love the way it all works without the user needing to know anything about the technology. Things like Super Res Zoom works incredible well to get detailed images up to 10x zoom.
Night Sight made its debut on the Pixel 3XL and the Pixel 4 takes this to new levels. It’s incredible how this works but at times, I find it can make everything too bright to the point that it looks a little unrealistic. During my time using the Pixel 4, I had few opportunities, thanks to weather conditions, to take photos of the stars using the Astrophotography Mode. This is a mode I really didn’t think could be possible on a smartphone, but Google has proven me wrong. Not only does it work, but it works incredibly well. With the few shots, I didn’t manage to take, the results were impressive. You have to use a tripod or at least prop it against something pointing up and each shot can take up to four minutes to finish. Unlike my normal camera, there was no setup time - just press the shutter button and wait for the Pixel 4 to do its magic.
One of my favourite new camera features is that you can independently change the exposure of shadows and brightness. This makes a big difference for those who like to take more creative photos in difficult lighting conditions with a high dynamic range. The Pixel 4 does a decent job at edge-detection on Portrait Mode shots most of the time, on the rear and front-facing cameras.
Video tops out at 4K at 30fps so no 60fps on the rear cameras and 1080p on the front. Perhaps this is just as well because you only get 64GB of base storage and no option to expand this via a microSD card. Pixel 4 also has Live HDR+ in the viewfinder so you know exactly what your photo will look like.
Battery performance on the Pixel 4 is fine for light use and I was able to get through a day. However, on a heavy day of usage, you’ll be reaching for the charger sooner rather than later. I also had the display set to 90Hz all of the time rather than the default, which switches between 60Hz and 90Hz based on the apps you’re using and usage.
The Pixel 4 does come with a fast 18w charger in the box and it also supports fast wireless charging along with IP68 water and dust resistant.
Pixel 4’s Motion Sense feature uses a miniature radar sensor to detect movement around your phone. It can sense when you’re reaching for the phone and will initiate face unlock, or turn off your screen when you’re not around. New Quick Gestures let you skip songs when you don’t want to pick up your phone. Just wave your hand to snooze alarms, dismiss timers, or silence your phone ringer. This is a pretty cool feature that works most of the time, but I found that after the first few days of using the phone I forgot all about it. I found the same with the Pixel 3 XL and the squeeze feature, which summons the Google Assistant without having to say “hey Google”. The latter is also on the Pixel 4, but to be fair, some people will love these features, so your mileage may vary.
There’s also no fingerprint sensor. Instead, you get one of the fastest face unlocks that can bizarrely, unlock your phone even when your eyes are closed. However, Google has said they will fix this in a future update.
The Google Pixel 4 is one of my favourite phones of 2019 and yet I find it hard to fully recommend due to the price and battery performance. The Pixel 4 costs €759 while phones like the OnePlus 7T, which has a larger 6.55-inch 90Hz display, bigger battery, 128GB internal base memory, a triple camera lens setup, and a faster processor sells for €600. That being said, the Pixel 4 has a slicker camera that consistently takes excellent photos and it is a joy to use.