Pixel 4 & 4XL Impressions – A Big Upgrade?

Google Pixel 4 & 4XL – Unboxing & First Review!

Hey guys i’m tom the tech chap and I’ve been lucky enough to get my grubby little paws on the new Pixel 4 and 4 XL so i thought i’d run you through what’s new and give you my first impressions!

So what’s new? Well the most obvious change is the design –  that horrible notch on the 3XL has been replaced with.. well, a fairly chunky forehead bezel which is jam packed with sensors and cameras.  On the back they’ve got rid of the two-tone colour in favour of a single matte finish. I’ve got the clearly white and oh-so orange models here, but there’s also a glossy just black one – all with a colour-matching power buttons. There’s a new dual-lens camera setup in the square camera module. And they’ve also got rid of the rear fingerprint reader, in fact, the Pixel 4 doesn’t have one at all – it’s all about face unlocking – but i’ll come back to that in a second.

We also get stereo speakers, one bottom firing and one from the earpiece. There’s no headphone jack – although that was to be expected. And it still supports a single 4G sim – no dual or 5G option unfortunately. 

So it’s an all glass body, with a contrasting matte black aluminum edge around the phone. I’m in two minds about the look of it – the thicker bezels do take away from the more premium edge-to-edge designs we’re used to in 2019, and i think that oh-so orange colour is going to be very love or hate – For me, it’s definitely a step up from the Pixel 3 XL, and I do quite like it in white. It also doesn’t feel really fragile or slippery like a lot of phones these days which is good. The thing is though – while a lot of people will keep banging on about the bezels, personally i prefer function over form, and just wait until i show you everything they’ve crammed in there.

As for the screens – we get a 5.7” Full HD+ OLED on the Pixel 4, and a 6.3” QuadHD+ OLED on it’s bigger brother.

They also both have a 90hz refresh rate. Like the OnePlus 7 Pro and new 7T series, 90hz makes everything feel smoother and more responsive. To help save battery though, it’ll detect when the screen becomes static, say if you’re reading an article, or watching a 60hz video, and it’ll dynamically lower the refresh rate to 60hz which is pretty clever.

The screens do look nice, and there’s none of that super dull sRGB colour we saw when the Pixel 3’s first launched. The 90hz screen is definitely a nice extra too, but I have found neither get particularly bright – next to the OnePlus 7T Pro which boasts up to a 1000 nits of brightness, well.. The pixel 4 doesn’t come close. So it won’t be as easy to use outside in bright sunlight.

A quick mention of specs – and it’s the same for both models – with a snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM and 64 or 128 gig storage options.  Nothing too exciting there then, and like the iPhone 11’s, it is a bit disappointing 64 gigs is still the base option – although to mitigate it you do get 3 months of Google One – their cloud backup with 100gb storage for free, after that it’s $2 a month, or have a free 15-gig backup. So once you take all your photos and 4k, you probably can get away with just 64 gigs.

but it’s never been about winning the specs-race with Google, i mean there are phones with the new 855+, double the ram and double the storage already on the market for similar money – the Pixels have also focused on the software.

Battery life on the Pixel 3 – particularly the XL – was a bit disappointing. And i have to say i am still a bit worried given the 2800 mah and 3700mah sizes for the 4 and 4 XL respectively. Especially with the 90hz screen. Of course we do have that reasonably fast 18-watt charging, and it does support 10-watt Qi Wireless charging which is handy. Still, there should be some improvement over last year with slightly bigger battery and more efficient hardware and software – but it’s something I’ll be testing thoroughly in full my review – so watch this space.

Now before we get to the camera – which I know you guys are all waiting for – let’s talk about actually using the Pixel 4. As you’d expect, it’s running stock Android 10. No skins, no bloatware, just plain google android – which now comes with a built-in dark mode, more customisation and a fully integrated google assistant – which can do things like search within apps – “show me the tech chap on instagram” – previously it would only just open the app. By the way if you want to see more behind the scenes stuff then make sure you do follow me @thetechchap. 

So that’s pretty cool, but for me one of the most useful improvements is with the gesture support. On the Pixel 3 we had the stupid pill and back button navigation thing, now we get full-screen gestures, swipe in from either side to go back, swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for recent apps, and swipe in from the corner for the google assistant – or you can still squeeze the phone for that. It works really well, and we get a bit of extra screen back where the software keys used to be.

Now you may have heard the Pixel 4 has a fancy new motion sensing radar technology based on Google’s Project Soli. So well as a selfie camera, and 3D IR sensor for face ID which works even in low light – there’s also a motion sensor. Google told me they’ve been working on this for 5 years. Other phones like the Galaxy S10 and Huawei Mate 30 Pro have gesture support but are just using the camera so have limited fields of view and don’t work well in low light. So the Pixel 4’s motion sensing actually has a 180 degree field of view, works in all lighting, and it’s there to detect 3 things – presence, reach and gestures.

Presence means when your not near the phone, it’ll turn the screen off to save battery. Reach is for face unlocking, so when it detects you reaching for the phone or pulling it out of your pocket, it’ll fire up the face unlock sensor so it’s ready to go. And finally gestures – which depending on your point of view is either the most gimmicky bit, or a cool party trick. And you can swipe your hand through the air to skip songs, silence alarms and phone calls – maybe you’d use it while your cooking or something? If you see a little white glow at the top, it shows that app is motion sense compatible. Also for some reason there’s a motion sensing pikachu wallpaper that reacts to your gestures.. It’s literally just this, there aren’t any others – which seems a bit odd, but it is kind of cute. So it’s a pretty neat feature – although if you’re worried about security you can turn motion sense off if you prefer.

But.. I’ve saved the best till last. Let’s talk about the camera – which for me has always been the biggest selling point of the pixels.

On paper – not a whole lot has changed. The main 12 MP F1.7 main lens is near enough the same as the Pixel 3, although we do now get a second lens, a 16 MP F2.4 telephoto for 2x optical zoom, but also with google’s new Super Res Zoom – you can go a lot further and still get a high quality photo.

I must admit I am a bit disappointed there’s no ultrawide – i had hoped the second lens would be for that as I tend to use it a lot more than zoom lenses on other phones. Still, Google say as well better zoom,  it also helps help improves portrait shots – particularly edge detection and smoother DSLR-like bokeh blur.

There’s also a single 8 megapixel F2 selfie camera up front – if you remember the Pixel 3 actually had dual lenses, one with a wider field of view. Google’s dropped it, in favour one a single, slighter wider than normal main selfie lens. Video is still limited to 1080p30, no 4k option unfortunately. 

Speaking of video – the main cameras can shoot up to 4k30, still no 4k60 although i’m not bothered about that – and uses both OIS and EIS stabilisation. It looks good – but there’s nothing really new here.

The Pixel 4 does have a few new tricks up its sleeve though – firstly, they’ve added real-time HDR+ to the viewfinder. This is actually really useful as before on Pixels you wouldn’t really know what a photo would look like until you took it, waited for it to process, then looked at it – now, thanks to the new hardware, what you see in the viewfinder is much closer to what you get.

They’ve improved the white balance, so we get more natural colours. Google use machine learning based balancing in nightsight, but now we get it in all camera modes, and particularly helps in trickier lighting.

We also now get dual-exposure – pro photographers will be familiar with this and I reckon it’s by far the most significant upgrade. Using the new sliders in the camera app, you can expose the foreground separately to the background. So for example if you’ve got a really bright background – maybe white clouds, or a sunset – and your taking a photo of someone – they’ll either be really dark – or if you focus on them – the background will get blown out. So here you can get the best of both worlds. It does seem to add a little bit of grain and noise if you whack the foreground shadows right up – so essentially we’ve got separate sliders for brightness and shadows – live in the viewfinder. It’s such an awesome new feature and i can’t wait to test this out properly in my review.

The Pixel’s famous NightSight has had a bit of an upgrade too – it’ll automatically detect when you’re in low light and enable it. Seriously, the photos you can get, even in really low-light are incredible. And with the Pixel 4 – Google have focused on improving the colours and making it more true to life.

Going a step further – there’s a new Astrophotography mode. if it senses the phone is perfectly still, say on a tripod or you’ve propped it up against something, and with very low ambient light, it’ll go into astrophotography mode and take a 15 second long exposure. It won’t let you do it handheld as it would be too shaky, but for keen photographers and astronomers, this is really unique on a smartphone and assuming you don’t live in a city with a crazy amount of light pollution, you can get some awesome shots. Literally one tap for a photo of the galaxy.

So I asked google if any of these features would be coming to older Pixels through software updates, and they did confirm the astrophotography would be coming to the 3-series, including the 3A which is great to hear! But apparently the new HDR+ and dual-exposure are exclusive to the 4 as they use the new hardware.

So that’s the new Pixel 4 and 4 XL – price wise we’re looking at £669 or $800 for the regular 4, and £829 or $900 for the XL. And it’s a hundred more for 128 gigs. Also, the oh-so-orange flavour is a limited edition and only comes in 64-gigs unfortunately. 

Make you sure you hit that subscribe button as i’ll have my full review as well as camera comparisons and battery tests coming soon!

Oh and one more thing – according to Google the Pixel 4 will be the first phone to support Google Stradia’s game streaming service.

But what do you make of the new Pixels – has Google done enough to tempt you to upgrade, or maybe is it worth waiting for the expected Pixel 4A in a few months for a lot less money? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks so much for watching guys, i’m tom the tech chap and I’ll see you next time.

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