I’ve been a huge fan of the Google Pixel phone. I reviewed the Google Pixel 3 not too long ago, and loved it so much that I had to get my own on an O2 contract. I didn’t get to keep it unfortunately. So when Google reached out to me to write about the Google Pixel 4 XL, I jumped at the chance to check it out, seeing as they’ve introduced some new features and all that.
The Google Pixel 4 XL is the bigger of the two newly released handsets. It has a 6.3″ P-OLED screen that’s wrapped inside of a slight body. It’s sittings pretty much on par with the Google Pixel 3’s 8.2mm thickness. However, between the two phones, the back has been revised.
Previously we saw Pixel phones sport a two tone back panel, a mixture of matte and gloss finishes. This time round, we’re treated to a single panel of frosted glass which is extremely smooth to the touch but also makes the phone a little difficult to hold. We were sent the Oh So Orange version, but they also come in white and black too. Personally, the white one looks pretty smart from what we’ve seen online. It seemingly hides blemishes and fingerprints well, but we’ve not dropped or significantly scraped it during our testing time. I would recommend putting this in a case though, just to protect the glass if anything else, which protrudes slightly from the chassis.
The edge of the handset is covered in a tough alumminium metal material. It’s a matte finish similar to the rear of the Pixel 3 phones. It gives the phone some significant protection incase you drop it onto one of the edges and follows suit in its design from the older Pixel handsets. Down the right edge you’ll find the unlock button and volume rocker, which again, due to the size of the handset is quite hard to reach with one hand due to the smooth back panel. One downfall is the fact the Pixel 4 XL is looking a little dated, with its large bezels, especially around the forehead and chin area. Sure it hides various technology, but when you compare it to something like the Samsung Note 10 for example, it just feels like it’s being slightly left in the past.
The whole thing wraps around a 6.3″ PLED display with a resolution of 3040 x 1440 and a pixel density of 537. What’s interesting here though is the fact that Google have implimented a 90Hz refresh rate on the display. It makes scrolling through menus and various apps, like a Facebook and Instagram feed feel extremely smooth compared to other flagship devices. And becuase it’s on a larger display, it makes upgrading from a Pixel 3 worth it. You can find the usual colour temperature options. I’ve set mine to Boosted, to really bring out the saturation in the content I consume on the phone.
What’s surprising about the Google Pixel 4 XL is the fact it nowhere near matches some of the other flagship devices on the market for its benchmarking capabilities. The Pixel 4 XL came in with a score of 2,411 for us on a Geekbench 5 benchmark, while comparible priced phones like the Samsung Note 10 or the OnePlus 7 Pro came in with scores of 2,516 and 2,668 respecively. The iPhone 11 Max Pro had a score of 3,436 so there’s no competition there.
The Google Pixel 4 XL has a Snapdragon 855 processor backed up by 6GB RAM memory. There’s either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage memory depending on which model you want to go for, but there is no ability to expand that with memory cards, which is a bit of a shame considering this phone can film some pretty decent 4K footage.
The phone ships with a very bare bones stock Android 10. There’s no bells, frills or whistles with this one which is perfect. I hate when a phone comes with a bunch of bloatware I uninstall immediately. There’s also a Face ID unlocking feature, which is one of the fastest I’ve seen. However, in very low light, it becomes impossible to unlock without your pre-set pin number. There’s no fingerprint scanner here either w mhich is a bit of a shame, especially if you’re like me who rely on a fingerprint scanner to unlock apps like PayPal or your online banking. I’ve set up fingerprint scan unlocking on my Pixel 3, and it’s a bit of a ball ache turning them off for the Pixel 4 XL.
One new feature which is new to the Google Pixel 4 is its Live Caption service, which overlays subtitles over various different apps when you’re consuming media. It works, for the most part. Of course, like any subtitling software, if the content isn’t clear enough, it’ll guess words, or drop them all together.
Google have implemented full gesture control in the new Google Pixel 4 which does a great job at standing up against the new iPhone 11’s iOS. Google have used Android 10 in the new Pixel, which is why gestures are included. The gesture control is actually quite innovative, but falls down somewhat due to the Google Pixel 4 XL’s size. Let me break it down for you. Gesture control works by swiping your finger across from various edges of the phone. Swipe up from the bottom half way, and you will see your ‘most recent apps’. Swipe the entire screen from the bottom and you will see your entire menu. Swiping from the left bezel and your phone will cycle back to the menu you’ve just come from.
And that’s just the gestures where you have to physically touch your phone. Google have used their Soli radar technology so you can do a few tasks without ever having to pick up your mobile device. There are three things you can do so far: snoozing alarms, silencing incoming phone calls and controlling media, which is the one that I have used the most. If my phone is next to my laptop at work and I’m listening to music, if a track comes on that I don’t like or don’t want to listen to, I just swipe my hand over the top of my phone from left to right to skip that track. Inside the settings you can change that, if swiping from right to left is more comfortable for you. Likewise with YouTube. You can use Motion Sense to skip videos, rather than having to go back into a feed and finding the next video to watch. Granted, you’ve got to stick to the YouTube recommends list, but it’s not a huge deal if you’re only wanting some background noise while doing other tasks.
Using the gesture control is fine if you’re laying the phone down, but especially with the Google Pixel 4 XL which we’re reviewing here, my reach over to the left bezel is a bit of a stretch for my thumb without having to crunch up my fingers. It’s also a pain when you open an image that someone’s sent on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, and when you try to gesture back to the chat, you end up cycling through past media that people have sent you. You have to stretch up, or use a second hand to hit the tiny arrow in the top left hand corner. Not great for one handed use. I can’t comment on the standard Pixel 4, as we haven’t had one in the office to try. If you’re like me and my small hands, it may be better for you if you revert back to the more traditional 3-button nav key at the base of your screen.
My biggest gripe with Motion Sense is the fact it doesn’t do enough. I want more than just skipping tracks and snoozing an alarm. I want to be able to play and pause my music, or even more, as this would help with my job, be able to scroll through my social media feeds. Imagine sticking your phone on an upright wireless charger next to your laptop, and all it took was to wave your hand in front of your phone to make it scroll through social media. Sounds good to me. To be perfectly honest, this feels like a first implementation. A taster of what’s to come if you will. I’m certain Google will continue to improve the service and release them in updates, or even by the time the Google Pixel 5 or 6 comes along.
Google have generally been known to have the best camera phones on the market. It was really noticable at the time of the Google Pixel 3, but I must admit things have gone a little wry with the Google Pixel 4.
This time round Google have implemented two cameras onto the rear of their handset. The first acts as a standard wide 12.2MP lens with an aperture of f/1.7 while the second is a 16MP 45mm telephoto lens with a 2x optical zoom. It is very strangely missing an ultra-wide lens which can be found on pretty much all other flagship mobiles around the £1000 mark.
Although it has what I would consider a missing lens, the Google Pixel 4 still captures some wonderful images, and has a number of modes that budding mobile photographers can take advantage of.
Most notably is their portrait mode which can render a shallow depth of field image of a subject, and it actually does a pretty good job. Separation between your subject and your background is almost seemless, only falling down if your subject has wispy bits of hair. Colour reproduction is great and the actual blur looks smart.
The second is Google’s night shot, which does a cracking job at retaining detail in low-light level situations. Highlights are well controlled, and solid coloured parts like the sky for example, are given a lease of life, but pulling out as much detail in there as possible, like with the clouds in my photo of Kings Cross Station.
One thing I have noticed however is that photos tend to lean towards the warmer side of the spectrum, which isn’t a bad thing at times, certainly with skin tones, but if you’re trying to capture a gloomy, cold, horrible rainy day, then a little bit of editing inside of something like Snapseed would need to be done to cool off the colour tones a bit.
What is impressive is that Google has brought HDR+ to its live view, ensuring users can see exactly what their photo is going to look like, before they’ve even taken it. And lastly, where once before you tapped the screen and slid your finger to adjust the highlights, well you can now adjust the shadows on the fly too, as Google has broken the highlights and shadow adjustment up into two separate sliders. It’s a little finicky, but can produce some wicked results.
The front-facing selfie camera again comes with all the features you would want, especially the portrait mode. It gives an extra artistic edge to your images. Now I’m not really a selfie taker to be perfectly honest with you, but when I did take those odd couple, I was impressed with the results. The front camera has a wide 8MP f/2.0 wide angle lens, which is now unfortunately missing that ultra-wide angle lens we had on the Google Pixel 3. Why Google didn’t retain this feature, as it was awesome to get all of your friends into one selfie, is beyond me. A bad decision, that’s for sure.
When it comes to video quality, it was very hard to find any kind of faults. The max quality you can hit is 4K at 30fps. Sure there’s no 4K/60fps here, but I didn’t mind too much. 90% of users are only going to be shooting quick videos for their Instagram stories anyway. If someone really wanted 4K/60fps, they’re not buying a mobile phone to do it.
The battery life of the Google Pixel 4 XL is decent enough to get a full day of medium use out of the device. I mostly use my phone to listen to music or podcasts on the way to work, and a Netflix show on the way home, Throughout the day I’m messaging friends, checking social media updates and browsing the net.
To compare the Google Pixel 4’s battery to other phones, the Google Pixel 3 had a battery capacity of 3,430 mAh, an iPhone 11 Pro Max at 3,969 mAh, a Samsung Note 10+ at an eye-watering 4,300 mAh, a OnePlus 7T Pro at 4,085 mAh… you get the point. The Google Pixel 4 XL isn’t the best.
But of course, it does depend on how you use your phone. Heavy users will be left a little disappointed, as they’ll be grabbing for their power bank by lunch. Hell, even I take my home charger with me to the office to give me a bit of juice throughout the day.
The saving grace of having a low mAh capacity is the fact that it can quickly charge from flat to full. It supports 18 W USB Type-C fast charging, and is also Qi-certified for anyone who prefer wireless charging. I can get around 60% of battery in around 30 minutes from flat
The Google Pixel 4 XL is a pretty decent phone, but it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for that top spot. Sure it’s got an extremely decent camera, and the screen is sharp and can produce a fair amount of detail from media consumption, plus the actual performance, although not the best, handled every app I threw at it flawlessly. I am concerned however about its dated look, as well as the battery life.