The Pixel 4 was received with mixed reception when it launched back in October of last year. I used the Ausdroid review unit for the first month but ran into a few roadblocks with it. Now they have been cleared it was time to put it through its paces and see how it fares 4 months on.

After using the Pixel 4 XL for the next few weeks I can say that it’s bad reputation and bad rap it received were not entirely justified – in my opinion.

It just works

My house is almost purely controlled by Google Assistant which makes it difficult when a phone does not respond easily to Google Assistant commands. The Pixel 4 XL is Android just how it should be. It just works.

We have heard that before haven’t we? Apple have said it time and time again – their specs don’t matter because it just works. I feel that Google can say that for the Pixel 4 XL (as a general rule) and that is what they are trying to do, having told us that they are making the Pixel phones for 80% of their users — not necessarily us.

No matter where the phone is I can easily say the trigger word and the phone will respond and do what I want it to – every other phone I have used normally asks for you to unlock the device before executing the commands. The software, it just works.

There are no issues with apps not running correctly or with silly overlays being placed in the status bar to indicate hotspot being turned on or accessibility being used. Every single app will work just how the developer has coded it to work.

Don’t forget about the updates too. Aside from the glitch with my review phone every Pixel 4 receives not just security updates but phone software updates every month. There are very occasional delays of a week or so – well, it happened once in December but there were a lot of bug fixes to test out before rolling out widely.

Doesn’t the hardware hold it back?

Although the Pixel 4 XL has just 6GB of RAM and most people, including myself, remain mystified why Google continue to under-spec their devices with respect to RAM and storage memory (compared to every single other manufacturer of premium smartphones) it still works.

There are occasionally issues with not enough apps being retained in memory due to the lack of RAM but that is an edge case anyway. In my day to day use, and I am a heavy user, I did not notice too many issues with the RAM. There were issues occasions when using the recents / multitasking gesture – it would occasionally hang for a second or two and I suspect this is caused by the lack of RAM.

As for the storage volume I cannot see any reason at all why any manufacturer would only put 64GB of memory in a smartphone — and yet Google have done that. Sure you can pay even more and get the 128GB model but 128GB is the base model for every single other premium smartphone — why not Google?

We get that Google want everyone to live in the cloud but you can very quickly run out of space. I got the nearly out of space this morning after downloading the YouTube video of the Kobe memorial to my phone – rather than streaming 2GB of it during the day.

Let’s hope that Google stick more than 64GB in their base model flagship this year – not that many people go for the higher end model given the price increase. The Pixel is already an expensive phone, no one wants to make it even more expensive.

Motion Sense

Recently we have seen another motion gesture arrive in the Android 11 Developer Preview but it is still very very much a feature that should have remained in beta. The first day I went back to using the Pixel 4 XL I was able to swipe in front of the phone to get it to snooze an alarm – it was accidental. Ever since I have not been able to get it to snooze using a gesture. Not a single time.

That is the main criticism of the Motion Sense gestures – they are too inconsistent. It is extremely difficult to get the gestures to work as designed consistently. Not only that but the gestures are often not much use. The lack of a decent amount of gestures or options for gestures is something that should be looked at before placing the Motion Sense hardware in a consumer phone next time.

Motion Sense is also meant to help with unlocking the phone, sensing when you are near the phone and bringing up the face unlock icon as you pick it up and this generally works well. But what if you are already carrying it? Lifting it up to your face in that situation does not bring up the face unlock icon and instead the power button is required – unless you jerk the phone, a steady lift will not trigger face unlock.

Such a feature should be in a developer’s or just a prototype phone. That is not how Google are positioning the Pixel line. They are positioning it for the 80% of the population who do not care about the finer points of tech and are super enthusiasts like us.

I love the idea and was extremely excited for it but after using it am a bit underwhelmed. It has a lot of potential but just is not there (yet?).

This is a feature that has totally changed the design of the phone, going back to the relatively large bezel at the top of the phone. I’m not sure it was worth the design changes needed to accommodate it. Maybe this year it will be ready with a lot more functionality that not only works consistently but is useful in everyday life.

The camera is still exceptional

DxOMark may not have rated the Pixel 4 XL camera very high (only 112) and I think I know why. DxOMark is now irrelevant. Manufacturers are gaming the system. They are making their smartphones good at exactly what DxOMark are looking for and often belies how it operates in real life for the average person.

Case in point – the OnePlus 7 Pro. It scored a whopping 114 which at the time was one of the highest scores but real world users complained a lot about the camera to which OnePlus subsequently have released many updates – users are still not entirely happy with the result and as such the Google Camera ports have a large following in the OnePlus community.

The Pixel 4 XL camera on the other hand is outstanding with Google making the camera for how people use it — not for some imaginary benchmarking system that is meant to decide the best of the best. Everyone who has used it in real life says it is excellent and says so for a reason. Its hardware is nothing special – it lacks an ultra-wide angle lens – and yet it continues to consistently produce some of the best photos around. Why is that? Computational photography.

Google’s camera software is outstanding. There is a reason everyone tries to port their camera app to non-Pixel phones. The post processing of the photos has AI/ML to thank for a lot of it and that is a good thing. Colours are accurate, there is no over processing of images and the exposure is spot on.

The dual slider brightness/contrast real time control Google introduced in the Pixel 4 viewfinder adds to this exceptional experience. I am extremely happy with the Pixel 4 camera and you will be too.

Battery life is no longer the elephant in the room no one will discuss

To put it mildly, the Pixel 4 XL battery life is junk. In the past month I have used a Pixel 4 XL, a OnePlus 7 Pro, a realme XT (a $500 phone) and an OPPO 10x Zoom and aside from the Pixel 4 XL I have extremely rarely had to charge the phone during the day.

I do a lot of streaming these days, watching a lot of NBA and YouTube during the day. Most phones can handle it easily but not the Pixel 4 XL. It barely lasts ¾ of the day and I find myself having to charge it every single day, around 2pm. Sitting it on a wireless charger when not in use at work helps but unless it is a Google-certified charger it will only charge at 5W.

OPPO are about to release a phone into Australia with 30W wireless charging – tell me Google didn’t hold back with their hardware when making the Pixel 4 XL.

The hype over the poor battery life on the Pixel 4 is unfortunately so very real – and my experience is with the Pixel 4 XL, not the Pixel 4 which has an even smaller battery and apparently an even smaller battery life.

So do the positives outweigh the negatives?

What do you think?

For me the main negatives are motion sense being as useful as a glass door on a dunny (which really doesn’t affect me in the slightest – jut turn it off), the lack of RAM (occasionally ran into issues but only very occasionally), the lack of storage (OK Google, I will live in the cloud, but only because you forced me to) and the battery life. In the end the only one that actually affects me is the battery life – so I either sit it on a wireless charger while not in use or plug it into a PD charger whenever I can.

The positives for me far outweigh the negatives. Android as Google says it should be just working as it should is enough to win me over. Every single command I say to it is followed through without ever having ti interact with the phone. The top notch camera is just icing on the cake.

For me the Pixel 4 XL is most certainly still worth a buy if you:

  1. Aren’t far from a charging port at least once a day (for 15-30min).
  2. Don’t mind carrying a portable charger if you are going out for an extended period of time.
  3. Can easily live in the cloud – ie. Give over all of your services to Google and/or the equivalent.
  4. Want Android to just work, without any ifs or buts, no fine print, no exceptions, it just works.
  5. Want one of the best smartphone cameras available.
  6. Care about getting security updates on time and regularly.

Everyone has different use cases for their phone and for that reason not everyone will see the above positives outweighing the negatives. What do you think? Do you think that the above positives outweigh the negatives? I think I can put the Pixel 4 XL in the BUY column still. What about you?

Disclosure Statement


Google is allowing Ausdroid to keep this to monitor updates

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    DAVID WOODS
    7 months ago

    I got to the part where you reminded me that the phone got rid of the well placed and tried and tested fingerprint scanner and replaced it with face unlock. I stopped reading from that point. I’ll stick with the pixel 3 XL. Hopefully Google will have learned that making things less usable and less secure isn’t exactly the best way to make a flag ship phone. If ‘instead they have given up making quality products then it’s time to look at a new brand for the first time since I fell in love with the pixel phones.

    LU99KE
    LU99KE
    Reply to  DAVID WOODS
    7 months ago

    Coming from Pixel 2XL and 3XL, I was VERY skeptical re the omission of the FP reader… BUT… have had my pixel 4 XL for a week… and the first few days, I HATED not having a FP reader…. but… once the muscle memory had worn off, I must say I am a convert! It is actually faster and quicker to unlock – and especially the case when you have wet or dirty hands that used to confused the FP reader. The other concern was biometric security for apps not supporting face unlock – but that has not been poor… Read more »

    JeniSkunk
    JeniSkunk
    Reply to  LU99KE
    7 months ago

    Actually, Luke, you don’t need wet or dirty hands to confuse a fingerprint reader, it can happen with clean dry hands.
    The FP reader on my Nokia 6.1 misreads the heel of the palm of my hand as an ‘incomplete fingerprint’, when I’m rotating the phone in my hand while cleaning the screen.

    FestivusOz
    FestivusOz
    7 months ago

    Am I missing the point here. If you need an in day charge, phones have limited recharge circles so won’t the phone be useless in a year? You could change the battery then the phone is yet again more expensive.

    Also data costs in Australia. I prefer not to live in the cloud.

    Jason
    Jason
    7 months ago

    Disable the motion sensor. The battery life is then great. Everything else about the phone is fine to great.

    Probate
    Probate
    7 months ago

    Seriously? You watch streaming video all day and complain that the battery is “junk”! At the end of the day, my Pixel 4XL has 40-50% charge and I’ve never come close to running out of battery.

    James
    James
    7 months ago

    FYI, Vodafone currently have a promotion on for 50% off the Pixel range and I just picked up a 64GB Pixel 4XL for $638 (cheaper than a Pixel 3a).

    LU99KE
    LU99KE
    Reply to  James
    7 months ago

    I tried to get on this last week but the 4XL it was sold out on line and I went into 3 stores and they were all sold out too!! 🙁

    GrKTcB
    GrKTcB
    7 months ago

    “OPPO are about to release a phone into Australia with 30W wireless charging”

    Care to share? 😉 What do you know that we don’t haha

    Cheers

    Oldmike
    Oldmike
    7 months ago

    I looked at the pixel 4xl a couple of times at the release, I thought, given giggle has made 3 pixels prior and they where a learning experience, they should not bugar this one up, no missteps , it should be a killer device. While some might forgive giggle for putting a less than good size battery in either 4 variants, the lack of storage or at least an SD card. For me given Giggle has had 3 cracks at the pixels, and they still manage to botch them up. No pixel 4xl for me. I actually thought the 3xl… Read more »

    JeniSkunk
    JeniSkunk
    Reply to  Oldmike
    7 months ago

    Mike, Google dumped microSD support back in the very early days of the Nexus devices.
    Despite 9 years now, of users and reviewers _begging_ Google to Get A Clue and once again include microSD capability, Google point blank Refuse To Listen.
    Substandard amounts of storage and no storage expansion, has been Google’s mantra since 2011.

    LU99KE
    LU99KE
    Reply to  JeniSkunk
    7 months ago

    @ Jeniskunk – given they are a could service company first and a hardware company 5th or even 10th, their aim is to push people to upload their data into their cloud services and eventually pay for that service.

    Pixels are not a money maker for them… they are solely a vehicle into their services.

    Iphones have never had SD cards.. and have had the same base storage as Pixels for yonks… and that has never hurt their sales…

    So why would google want to put something into their phones that potentially robs them of on-going revenue?

    Some Pixel guy
    Some Pixel guy
    7 months ago

    Long time Pixel user but skipped the 4 XL because:
    – apps don’t support face unlock (not many). Fingerprint sensor works great in all of my supported apps and not just a few.
    – loss of the original unlimited photos backups. What was free is now paid (Google One).
    – loss of the wide angle selfie cam from 3 XL. I take a lot of selfies.

    Phillip Malone
    Phillip Malone
    7 months ago

    I’m an extremely heavy user of phones so the battery life of the phone doesn’t concern me as much as my life is geared around having charging points around my life. A Pixel stand at work, USB charging in my car (as much for Android Auto as charging) and cables on my desk at home (should get a cheap wireless charging stand for my desk). I haven’t even found the need for a portable battery like I have with other phones but I would imagine as I wear through the battery over the two years that I have it, that… Read more »

    Cameron
    Cameron
    7 months ago

    As a longtime Pixel phone user I tend to disagree with quite a lot of this article. My house is, as in the article, almost entirely made up of Google devices. From multiple Home’s to Chromecasts, smart lights, smart meters and I even have a Pixel Stand. I agree that the 4XL just works. As with all Google devices. The assistant is a market leader. Nothing comes close. The face unlock of the 4XL was a sore point for me. Moving from my trusted fingerprint scanner scared me right up until I got the 4XL in my hands. Now it’s… Read more »

    Glenn Batten
    Glenn Batten
    Reply to  Cameron
    7 months ago

    I concur pretty much with this. I just dont have a battery issues at all. The photography is amazing and in low light its not even a fair fight with any other phone. Prop the phone up or put it on a tripod to activate astrophotography mode and the results are outstanding.

    Joe
    Joe
    7 months ago

    Does the pixel 3xl still hold up? Sounds like it could be worth skipping the 4.

    Jamie S
    Jamie S
    Reply to  Joe
    7 months ago

    I skipped the Pixel 4 and got the 3a XL instead. Half the price, still a great camera, headphone jack, flat display and battery life I average around 5hrs SOT out of a full day

    Oldmike
    Oldmike
    Reply to  Joe
    7 months ago

    my little brother has a, 3xl, I will say my bro is a fairly undemanding dude when it comes to phones, but he seems happy with it, and I can attest it does take nice pics.
    not sure, but possibly the battery life might even be better on the 3xl than the 4xl.
    he reckons in his use without his animated wallpaper that sucks the juice away at a great rate , he could normally get 2 days.
    everyone’s use varys , but it might be worth investigation mate.