Google Pixel 4 XL review (2019): Full Resolution
Does Google’s latest Android-native flagship reach its full potential?
- Awesome camera
- Clean software & 90Hz display
- Motion Sense
- Underwhelming specs
- Poor battery life
- Storage limits
The Google Pixel 4 introduces new features and a stellar camera but it struggles in other areas and dilutes a lot of the charm that previous models had.
Should I buy the Google Pixel 4 XL (2019)?
The Google Pixel 4 feels like the company’s most iPhone-inspired Pixel to date but, for all the ways it improves on the formula, it dilutes some of the charm that previous models embodied.
The playful two-tone look found in earlier Pixel devices has given way to a new look that emphasizes and draws attention towards the upgraded dual-lens camera on the back. And, if you don’t care about that camera, you’ll probably find little to care about in the new Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.
Don’t get me wrong. Neither device is outright bad in the way that something like LG’s V50 ThinQ is. And it doesn’t hurt that Google are more willing to compete on price this time around. However, both handsets are held back by limited specs and storage, brief battery life and a series of recent Face ID fiascos.
I’d still err towards recommending it over most other 2019 flagships but, overall, I’m just not jazzed about the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL in the way I expected to be.
Part of this might be down to the onslaught of leaks ahead of their official launch. Part of it might be the overly clinical way in which Google announced both products on-stage in New York. Either way, this year’s Pixel phones feel pitched at Google diehards in a way that previous Pixels weren’t.
Price when reviewed
In Australia, the Google Pixel 4 is available for as little as AU$1049 while pricing for the Google Pixel 4 XL starts at AU$1279.
Google Pixel 4 XL (2019) full review
Otherwise, the form-factor for the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are pretty indistinguishable from what’s come before. The Pixel 4 XL does have a nicer display and larger battery but, apart from that, there’s not much separating the two devices.
This time around, the playful two-tone look found in earlier Pixel devices has given way to a new look that begs your attention towards the upgraded dual-lens camera on the back of each device. Also dearly-departed is the Pixel 3’s comically-large and emoji-esque mega-notch.
Beyond these design revisions, Google’s latest have plenty to offer. This includes a bright and colorful OLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, Qi wireless charging, IPX8 water resistance, fast charging over USB Type-C, stereo Dolby Atmos speakers and an always-on display.
There are also a few new tricks in the bag. The large forehead on the Pixel 4 houses a set of extra components that the Pixel 4 uses for 3D face unlock and Motion Sense.
None of the new possibilities this hardware unlocks are particularly revolutionary but they do work - which is more than can be said for the dozens of other devices that have attempted to make gesture controls stick. There’s also a new Recorder app, which essentially recycles the text-to-speech capabilities of the Google Assistant for fast and reliable transcription.
Finally, there’s the camera. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL feature Google's first dual-lens rear camera setup. Regardless of which size you choose, the back of your device will boast a 12.2-megapixel (f/1.7) primary lens and a 16-megapixel (f/2.4) telephotos lens.
At a glance, the results that Google are eking out of the humble hardware in the Pixel 4 XL using software often seem unbelievably good but the absence of a third lens in the rear-camera setup ultimately leaves it slightly outgunned by Apple’s 2019 powerhouse. The Pixel 4 does more with less but, at the end of the day, it’s a sum total that still comes out short.
Unfortunately, it’s all a little let down by the battery life. My experience with the Pixel 4 XL proved extremely inconsistent. I’d have some days where I’d easily make it well into the evening. Other times, most of my battery life would seemingly evaporate around lunchtime.
The Google Pixel 4 feels like the most iPhone-inspired Pixel to date but, for all the ways it improves on the formula, it dilutes a lot of the charm that previous models embodied. It feels less like a phone for everyone and more of a phone for Google diehards.
Like the marketing suggests, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are phones for people who primarily want a phone #MadeByGoogle.
In Australia, the Google Pixel 4 is available for as little as AU$1049 while pricing for the Google Pixel 4 XL starts at AU$1279. You can buy it through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Officeworks and the Google Store.
You can also buy either device on a plan through Optus, Vodafone or Telstra. Check below for our round-up of the best plans from each provider.
Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera
Although it echoes a lot of the same vibe found in earlier Pixel phones, the Pixel 4 looks like a departure from the formula.
The playful two-tone look found in earlier Pixel devices has given way to a new look that emphasizes and draws attention towards the upgraded dual-lens camera on the back. Also gone is the Pixel 3’s comically-large and emoji-esque mega-notch. Instead, the PIxel 4 and Pixel 4 XL feature a forehead bezel that’s actually larger than the one on the chin of the device.
With no notch in sight, this look sets it apart from pretty much every other flagship out there. It also houses the extra components that the Pixel 4 uses for 3D face unlock and Motion Sense.
The latter, the first of several new features that the Pixel 4 introduces to the equation, is not dissimilar to the gesture controls featured in LG’s G8s ThinQ. Of course, the difference here is that Motion Sense is actually somewhat reliable to use. 80%-90% of the time I wanted to use it, it worked exactly as advertised.
Integrating a miniaturized radar technology called Project Soli, Motion Sense is deployed in a handful of ways across the Pixel experience. You can swipe left or right to skip songs in your music streaming service of choice. You can interact with a handful of new Live Wallpapers. The device will also use this radar tech to “warm up” the face unlock hardware on the Pixel 4 when it detects you picking up the device, allowing for faster biometric recognition.
None of these possibilities are particularly game-changing but, importantly, they all actually work. Which is more than LG G8s can say for itself.
Like the U1 chip found in this year’s iPhones, it feels like this feature is being introduced with the intention to build on it later down the line. On its own, it’s not a great reason to buy a Pixel 4 or Pixel 4. However, in context, it’s a genuinely intriguing addition to the usual checklist of flagship smartphone features. Something to keep an eye on in the future. It’s not hard to imagine Google adding new features later down the line.
Speaking of familiar perks, Google’s latest pair of Pixels have pretty much all of them. A bright and colorful OLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate. Qi wireless charging. IPX8 water resistance. Fast charging over USB Type-C. Dual Dolby Atmos speakers. An always-on display.
There are also a few conspicuous absences. The lack of a headphone jack and Micro SD card weirdly leave the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL feeling like the most iPhone-like Google smartphones to date.
Otherwise, the form-factor for the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are largely indistinguishable from what’s come before. The Pixel 4 XL does have a nicer display and larger battery but there’s not much separating the two besides.
Both units feature a newly updated camera kit that’s surely Google’s best yet and perhaps a contender for the best on the market. And yet, it’s the area where the Pixel usually shines that leaves me the most ambivalent this time around.
The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL feature Google's first dual-lens rear camera setup. Regardless of which size you choose, the back of your device will boast a 12.2-megapixel (f/1.7) primary lens and a 16-megapixel (f/2.4) telephotos lens. Two lenses are better than one, after all.
And, in action, the Google Pixel 4 XL takes predictably excellent photos. Colors are vivid and life-like. Subjects were always in focus. Portrait shots looked incredible and Google’s Night Sight is still a step above all but the best low-light performers. In the areas where it can perform, the Pixel 4 camera performs at pretty much the highest level you can imagine.
I don’t know if I’d say the Pixel 4’s two-lens setup is a slam dunk over the new iPhone 11 Pro trio but I will say that it feels like both handsets currently occupy a class of their own in the smartphone photography arms race.
Oddly, Google have actually scrapped the wide-angle lens introduced in the previous Pixel generation while Apple have embraced it with their new iPhone 11 Pro. This detail, though it might seem small, is ultimately the most noticeable difference between what you can do with either camera and the more I used the Pixel 4 XL, the more I found I missed having the option of taking wide-angle shots.
Google say they’ve opted for secondary telephoto lens over a wide-angle one because it allows them to enhance the Super Resolution Zoom introduced with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
True to their word, this feature now works much better. It’s not as effective or versatile as the optical and hybrid zooms found in more recent Oppo and Huawei devices but I was often surprised by how good the results looked.
As is tradition, a new generation of Pixel phones also brings with it a set of fresh camera features. There's a new machine learning-based white balancing, dual-exposure controls for more-nuanced HDR+ results, a wider-ranged portrait mode plus a new Night Sight mode that supports astrophotography.
Although I’ve been able to take spiffy-looking shots of the moon with a smartphone before, the stars have remained out of reach. Until now.
The catch here is that you can only really use astro mode when the Pixel 4 is set up in a tripod and it does take about four or so minutes for it to take each shot. It’s not really something that you can pull out and do on a whim.
Still, even if the actual utility here is limited, it is still something that no other smartphone can do and capturing the beauty of the cosmos using a smartphone is a genuinely jaw dropping feat to behold. For more info, check out our camera comparison here.
The results that Google are eking out of the humble hardware in the Pixel 4 XL using software often seem unbelievably good but the absence of a third lens in the rear-camera setup ultimately leaves it slightly outgunned by Apple’s 2019 powerhouse. The Pixel 4 does more with less but, at the end of the day, the sum total still comes out short.
Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
Processor: Snapdragon 855
Operating System: Android 10
MicroSD slot: No
Headphone Jack: No
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, 4G
Rear Camera: 12.2-megapixel (f/1.7) primary lens + 16-megapixel (f/2.4) telephotos lens
Front-Facing Camera: an 8-megapixel (f/2.0)
Dimensions: 160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm
Moving beyond the eye-catching camera tech, software has always been the other front where Google’s smartphones have generally excelled. That continues to be the case with this year’s Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.
Right now, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are some of the only smartphones that run Android 10 out of the box. The software experience here is as clean as Android gets and the slick feel is punched up nicely by the 90Hz refresh rate on the display.
The swipe-based navigation system introduced in the Pixel 3 feels like it’s matured this time around, which I really like. It now feels like a neat fusion of its former self and the gesture navigation system found in Huawei’s EMUI - which I’ve always really liked.
There’s also a new Recorder app this time around, which essentially recycles the text-to-speech capabilities of the Google Assistant for fast and reliable transcription. As a journalist, this feature quickly proved invaluable. I sincerely hope Google roll this out to other Android devices sooner rather than later. I do a lot of interviews and it’s a massive timesaver.
The other new software feature is the New Google Assistant.
Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available in Australia quite yet. Google tells us that it’ll launch locally sometime in the next few months.
When it launches, it’ll make use of the Pixel 4’s custom Neural Core engine to provide a significantly faster Google Assistant. You can check out the video below for an idea of what to expect:
For all the hype, Google’s Pixel hardware has never really been interested in positioning itself as a “spec-monster” in the way that Huawei or OnePlus or even Samsung sometimes do.
The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL continue that legacy. They might come powered by a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855 processor but the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are equipped with *just* 6GB of RAM and a mere 128GB of on-board storage.
Even if you’re mostly backing everything up to the cloud via Google Photos, that’s not a lot to work with and you can’t expand things using a Micro SD, which is another genuine drawback. Especially since Google have scrapped the park of giving Pixel-owners free unlimited full-resolution photo storage via Google Photos this time around.
And when it came to the benchmarks, the Google Pixel 4 XL lagged behind Apple’s powerhouse iPhone 11 Pro and its fearsome A13 Bionic processor. What’s more, on some fronts, the Pixel 4 XL didn’t even register as a tangible improvement on the performance offered by last year’s Pixel 3 XL.
Please note that, since we haven’t reviewed that many devices since Geekbench updated their software, we don’t have a huge pool of samples to compare the Pixel 4 XL against. We plan to update this section once we have a bit more data to play with.
Google Pixel hardware has always had an iffy relationship with battery life and, where the mid-tier Pixel 3a swung above its weight on this front, the Pixel 4 returns to the tried-and-tested trend of failing to deliver.
In fairness, the battery life on the Pixel 4 XL isn’t that bad. But it is not as good as I expected it would be. It’s in line with something like Samsung’s Note 10+ or S10 and it doesn’t feel like a significant year-over-year improvement in the same way that Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro does.
We’re talking a day’s worth of regular usage before you need to put it on to charge overnight. Less if you watch a lot of video content. To add insult to injury, my experience with the battery life in the Pixel 4 XL also proved highly inconsistent. I’d have some days where I’d easily make it into the evening. Other times, a large chunk of the battery would suddenly evaporate before lunchtime.
For many people, that’s going to be fine but, as someone who has seen two-day battery life fast become common among flagships from Huawei and Oppo, it’s genuinely frustrating to see Google lag behind on this particular front.
The Bottom Line
With the Pixel 2, I pretty much knew what I liked about it after about a day. With the Pixel 3, things took a little longer. With the Pixel 4, I’m a week (and a couple thousand words) in and I still honestly don’t know how I feel about this thing. Maybe I've just been writing about phones for too long and become completely jaded.
All I can tell you is that I'm really lukewarm on this one in a way that I didn't expect.
On paper, this thing feels like it should be an easy win for Google. In theory, I - a giant Google fanboy who once went out and traded in his Macbook for a Chromebook - should love everything this phone has going on. Across both hardware and software, the Pixel 4 brings the heat.
The Pixel 4 XL has got everything you’d hope a flagship phone would have. It’s held back somewhat by the limited specs and storage, brief battery life and Face ID fiascos but I’d still err towards recommending it over most other 2019 flagships and it doesn’t hurt that Google are more willing to compete on price this time around.
On the other hand, the vibe’s not catching for me this time around. Diminishing returns have taken their toll and the magic just isn't there. It all feels like a little too much business as usual. Google made another Pixel phone but it doesn't quite feel like they made a Pixel phone worth getting hyped about. Like Green Book winning the Oscar for Best Picture, the Pixel 4 is an achievement that fails to excite.
Of course, if you’re looking for a phone that’s made by Google, this is the obvious choice. And if you’re looking for an Android phone that can produce jaw-dropping photography and won’t lock you out of the Google ecosystem, again, it's an easy out. But if you already have a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a, I wouldn't recommend upgrading. If you think that this is the be-all-end-all Android flagship to end all Android flagships, you’re probably going to end up like me: a little disappointed.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that without the New Google Assistant to bring it all together. Without that centerpiece, the Google Pixel 4 doesn't quite feel like the advancement over last year's devices that it ought to. Maybe when it does arrive, everything will click into place for me and I'll change my tune. However, right now, the Pixel 4 XL just hasn't hit me in the way I expected it to.
At a time when the standards for what a flagship should and can be are shifting so radically, the Pixel 4 XL comes across as a little ordinary and by-the-numbers. It excels in all the ways that Pixel phones usually do but, if you're expecting a little more from it, it doesn't take long for it to fall short. Where some of the other options are looking for ways to become more, the Pixel 4 settles for just ways to become better.
The Pixel 4 XL is good in all the ways you expect but sometimes you want to be surprised.
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