Google took to a stage in NYC today to unveil its newest flagship phones, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. I’m not there (thanks secondary side hustles and your schedules!), but I am watching the event online.
These phones are potentially the most leaked phones of all time, and it’s not a stretch to say the Pixel 5 will meet a similar fate. But they’ve now been officially acknowledged by Google who has either confirmed or denied each rumored feature.
There aren’t a ton of denied features, mind you, but here’s everything you need to know about the Pixel 4 series anyway.
Smooth Displays with No Notches
Right off the bat, one of the most noticeable design choices Google made for the Pixel 4 is opting not to include a notch on either model. Last year, the larger Pixel 3 XL was notorious for including one of the biggest notches on any smartphone ever. Now, neither Pixel phone has a display cutout, for better or for worse.
On the Pixel 4, you’ll find a 5.7-inch 2160×1080 AMOLED display, while the Pixel 4 XL opts for a 6.3-inch 3040×1440 AMOLED display. Both are what Google call “Smooth Displays” since with this generation of Pixels, the company includes a 90Hz refresh rate. This means each display refresh 90 times a second, opposed to the traditional 60 times a second.
We’ve seen 90Hz screens before on smartphones, namely the latest devices from OnePlus, and it adds a new dimension of smoothness to the user experience. Given the fact Google phones have been praised in the past for their silky performance nature, I can imagine many Pixel 4 buyers will be glad to see this feature onboard.
As always, the screens are covered in Corning Gorilla Glass and have 19:9 aspect ratios.
With no notches on either Pixel device this year, where does Google put elements like the selfie camera, earpiece, and ambient light sensor?
In a forehead bezel. And I think they made the right move.
As we saw last year, Google kinda sucks at making notches, so transitioning to a traditional forehead bezel makes a bit of sense. It makes even more sense when you consider what Google packed into the forehead.
Under the front glass and above the screen, Google has implemented a Face ID-like array of sensors that enable much more secure facial recognition. Google’s just calling it Face Unlock, so you won’t hear a bunch of buzz words when the company inevitably advertises the feature.
The array of sensors is very similar to what Apple includes with Face ID. There’s an IR camera, a front-facing standard selfie camera, an ambient light sensor, a dot projector, a second IR camera, and a flood illuminator . Together, the sensors scan your face, store the captured data, and keep everything local on your device. When you go to unlock your phone, the sensors will scan the face in front of them, and if the recorded data matches what was previously stored, you’re in.
Because Face Unlock is here, Google won’t be including a fingerprint reader with the Pixel 4. While that may sound like a disadvantage to some, it is further confirmation that the company believes Face Unlock is secure enough to replace, even going so far as to say you can use Google Pay with it. That’s enough for me to conclude Face Unlock on the Pixel 4 has to be at least half decent.
The most interesting part of this feature isn’t the tech, its potential usefulness, or even the fact this is one of the first Android phones to ship with a true Face ID competitor. It’s the way it fits into the body of the Pixel 4. Google took the design of these phones back to the days where you’d spend $800+ and get a phone with screen bezels. Granted, not all phones are bezel-less nowadays, but most of them have notches to make their screens look immersive.
Google chose function over form here, and personally, I think it’s one of the best decisions the company has ever made with its phone line.
Motion Sense: Hands-Free Navigation Thanks to Soli
The top bezel of the Pixel 4 doesn’t just include the sensors for Face Unlock to work. It also stores Google’s special Soli chip which it’s been working on for a number of years. It’s designed to enable hands-free navigation, similarly to how LG’s Z Camera works on the G8 ThinQ.
However! I’d bargain Google’s implementation will work much better, if only on the software side of things.
The Soli chip in the Pixel 4 and 4 XL enables a new feature called Motion Sense which lets you perform actions like skipping songs, answering phone calls, and more just by waving your hand in front of your phone. This could be helpful if you’re preparing a meal and your hands are filthy or if your phone is on your desk, it starts ringing, and you’re too lazy to pick it up.
I still don’t know whether Motion Sense will be worth using day to day, and I certainly can’t tell you whether it works well. But Google made the feature pretty compelling onstage, so I’m anxious to get the Pixel 4 in my hands to give it a shot.
Let’s get the specs out of the way, shall we?
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are flagships, so of course Google includes Snapdragon 855 processors in both of them. This year, the company is also throwing in 6GB of RAM opposed to 4GB like in every other Pixel phone. This feature alone should help prevent major performance slowdowns, an issue that pegged many a Pixel 3 user including myself.
Storage-wise, you have the option of choosing 64 or 128GB at checkout. There’s no microSD card slot, and there’s nothing more than 128GB to choose from. You’re gonna have to rely on cloud storage if you tend to fill up your phone storage quickly.
Finally, batteries. In the Pixel 4, you get a 2,800mAh cell. In the Pixel 4, you get 3,700mAh. Until I use either phone, I can’t tell you whether they’re gonna last all day. I will say, though, the Pixel 4’s abnormally small battery has me concerned, especially since the phone comes with a 90Hz screen.
Dual Cameras with New Tricks
The moment you’ve all been waiting for: let’s talk about the cameras.
On the back of the Pixel 4, Google includes a standard 12.2MP f/1.6 camera in a square housing with a dual LED flash. Next to the main camera, Google throws in a secondary telephoto sensor with a 16MP lens, 2x optical zoom, and dual-pixel phase detection auto focus. Meanwhile, there’s a single 8MP f/2.0 ultra-wide camera on the front.
The entire story that revolves around Google Pixel cameras is always software-oriented. There’s no company that does software processing quite like Google, and the company is taking things to new heights with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL in the feature department.
For one, there’s a new Portrait-esque feature called Motion Mode. This will allow you to take photos of subjects that are moving with blurry backgrounds. I suppose this’ll be handy if you want to take a portrait of a child or pet who can’t sit still, although I’m a little skeptical as to whether it’ll work well for more fast-paced subjects like athletes.
There’s also a new astrophotography mode. As the name states, this will allow you to take improved photos of our solar system. Google will specifically target the feature at nighttime skies where it’s hard to get a good picture of the stars above you.
Mich like every year, Google is also tweaking the rest of its software and processing to improve dynamic range, contrast, color reproduction, and more. Live HDR+ lets you see what Google’s HDR+ processing will look like in real time, while Night Sight has been further refined to perform even better in low-light scenarios. And with the telephoto lens, you’ll now be able to get closer to subjects and capture more detail without losing focus.
I kinda wish this lens were swapped out for an ultra-wide sensor, though. There’s always next year, I guess.
For the past couple of years, Google has taken the crown for providing the best set of cameras on any smartphone. It’s hard to say if that’ll be the case with the Pixel 4, though, since Apple seriously stepped up its game with the iPhone 11 Pro. Comparisons and real-world testing will need to be performed before we can jump to any conclusions.
In case you needed confirmation, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL come with Android 10 out of the box. Notably, you’ll be basically forced to use the new OS’ awful gesture system since it’s unclear if Google will give you the option to stick with traditional navigation buttons. Judging by last year’s Pixel 3 software situation, I’d say no.
All-new Google Assistant
As previewed at I/O 2019, Google is also throwing in the new Google Assistant with the Pixel 4. The new Assistant can perform multiple tasks with one user command, while performance should be much faster since most of the feature’s functions will be stored on your device locally. The Assistant also gets a new UI that looks much cleaner.
Pricing & Availability
The Pixel 4 will start at $799 while the 4 XL will go for $899. They’ll both launch on Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and event AT&T. Of course, Google will also sell them unlocked and through their own Google Fi network. They’ll ship in three colors: Clearly White, Just Black, and Oh So Orange. They go on sale October 24th.