Google has earned a reputation for offering amazing camera phones. The Pixel 4, a 2019 launch, was an attempt to combine the best of Android with its flagship photography features. It was rolled out to be one of the best camera phones at the time but may have fallen short on a host of other aspects.
The Pixel 4 is a novel, compact smartphone featuring a unique design uncommon among flagships. The uniqueness can be seen in its use of materials, design, and size.
Apart from the photography draw, there are a whole lot of features under its belt. Let us try to dive deeper into the features, specs, pros, cons, and other offerings to find out what you can expect from the Pixel 4, and whether it is still worth buying in 2021.
- Camera improved
- Easy to grip design
- 90 Hz display
- Efficient face unlock
- Smart AI features
- Dim display
- Disappointing battery
- No unlimited photo storage at original quality
- Motion sense requires work
- No fingerprint scanner
CPU – Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Display – 5.7-inch OLED with 90Hz Smooth Display
Front Camera – 8MP (f/2.0)
Rear Cameras – Primary 12.2MP (f/1.7), Secondary 16MP telephoto with 2x optical zoom (f/2.4)
Storage – 64GB, 128GB
RAM – 6GB
Battery – 2800mAh
Size – 5.79 x 2.71 x 0.32 inches
Weight – 5.7 ounces
Colours – Clearly White, Just Black, Oh So Orange
While there is not so much new about Pixel 4 as compared to the previous generation, the design has been improved to a great extent. You can instantly feel something new, particularly if you go for the matte finish.
An aluminium frame guards the perimeter of the handset giving it a solid structure while a black rubberized coating finishes it.
This new construction can feel a little odd in the beginning as we are used to the cool feel of glass and metal, but it soon starts making sense. You can feel a lot more grip as compared to the glass or metal counterparts and the phone rests comfortably in the hand. However, it will not meet everybody’s taste and does not feel as premium as other high-end devices.
The back of the phone has glass though some colours have different finishes. With a screen size of 5.7 inches, the Pixel 4 is a smaller handset and is usable single-handedly with the additional grip on the sides improving security. The dimensions are 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2 mm and weighs 162g. Most of the front is occupied by the display but there is a bezel above and a small chin below.
Towards the right, you find the volume and power buttons with the latter boasting a contrast colour to the black rim for a visual appeal. The rear of the device is also updated with a big square camera block at the left corner. It pops out a little from the surface but causes no discomfort in the pocket or any problem when lying flat. It is more of a functionality Google has incorporated into this version rather than a style aspect.
With an IP68 water resistance rating, the Pixel 4 handles a submersion of up to 30 minutes into 5 feet deep water. The device features stereo speakers that perform well but do not offer anything special at a time went most devices boast high fidelity audio performance.
One thing you should note about the design is the absence of a fingerprint scanner, which Google claims is part of the plan to move towards facial recognition, which is supposed to be more secure. However, if you use fingerprint scanning to log in to banking, for payments or other applications on your android device, Google Pixel 4 comes with a major drawback. The company says it will soon get facial unlock capability for security and payments but it can take some time.
Google’s Pixel line has rarely been appreciated for its display, but the fourth generation tries to change the reputation with some of the most advanced display features. The Pixel 4, for the first time, comes with a screen that refreshes at 90Hz. The ‘Smooth Display’ as Google names it is always on and refreshes the 5.7-inch OLED screen more frequently than the 60Hz display as seen in most phones.
The Pixel 4 has a 2280×1080 full HD+ resolution, bright and colourful OLED display with a screen big enough to do most things. A higher refresh rate means you get a better response to inputs, making the experience overall more convenient. The device also comes with a new feature called Ambient EQ that modulates the white balance to match lighting conditions.
Let us talk about the most critical and relevant aspect of the Google Pixel 4. While the primary camera is still a 12.2 megapixel, it comes with a second 16 MP shooter and it is the first time the company puts more than one lens on the rear. However, two cameras seem nothing new these days with most high-end models boasting 3,4 and even 5 in some cases.
The second camera is a telephoto lens with f/2.4 that combines with the primary camera to give an outstanding range allowing up to 8x zoom without much quality loss. You can also expect improvements in portrait photography and low-light shots with this addition. Google embeds the Super Res Zoom technology that adds artificial intelligence to enable the camera to do what hardware alone cannot.
At the front, you have an 8-megapixel selfie camera that works well, though it misses the wide-angle innovation seen in generation 3. Google adds an AI chip to allow powerful software manipulation of images. Another addition is the live HDR+ that gives you a real-time preview of the final result of a picture rather than applying the effects directly.
Another impressive camera feature in Pixel 4 is Dual Exposure. It separates the brightness controls for the background from the shadows of the foreground and you can adjust the settings using two sliders. Another attraction is the improved portrait mode with the device capable of distinguishing the subject from the background quite effectively.
The Night Sight mode also gets an upgrade in Pixel 4 and even includes an astrophotography mode to capture clear, bright pictures of galaxies, planets and incredible resolutions of the moon..
Motion Sense & Face Unlock
Google introduces the powerful Motion Sense feature built on its Project Soli Radar Technology whereby the device can monitor gestures and other movements. This feature lets you perform simple tasks with gestures when you are not comfortable touching the screen like when working out, cooking or driving.
You can wave your hand to snooze alarms or change tracks. The Pixel 4 uses a radar chip to implement this functionality. This chip gives a wider field of view to let the device detect the hand from a distance. Gestures are currently supported by a few apps like Spotify, YouTube, clock and phone. When the application supports the feature, you can see a glowing border at the top of the screen as a visual clue that it is working.
Another exciting thing about the Pixel is the three-dimensional Face Unlock System. It uses some of the most advanced components to achieve this functionality and provide reliable results. Face Unlock on the Pixel 4 works when it is lying flat and even when the phone is held in landscape mode. It even works when your eyes are closed, though the company has added a setting where you can choose to confirm attention before unlocking.
One of the most impressive aspects of the device is the way Motion Sense works with Face Unlock. The chip is smart enough to know when you are approaching the phone and it gets the Face Unlock ready even before you wake it up. It is a really intuitive feature that you get used to very soon and forget.
However, while the Face Unlock is quite powerful and beats the iPhone, Motion Sense is not so perfect. There is little you can do with this feature outside snoozing alarms and controlling playback. Moreover, sometimes it can function erroneously when you are skipping songs in continuous succession.
The Pixel receives a performance boost with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip and a memory upgrade to 6GB.
The earlier generations of Pixel all came with 4GB of RAM but the improved specification aims to bring the Pixel 4 in line with the competition in the Android market.
While this is not the best chipset available, this device works pretty fast, loads apps quickly and runs games without any issues.
With all the latest features like Face Unlock and a powerful display that work on power-demanding components, it is natural to expect Google to increase the battery size in this Pixel version. However, the company has done the opposite packing a 2800 mAh battery which is smaller than that in Pixel 3. While it gives better performance than many other brands and devices, it is not much better than the previous Pixels.
However, the 18-watt USB-PD charger helps the device back up quickly, though the adapter is no different from what came with the Pixel 3. Pixel 4 also supports wireless charging over Pixel Stand and third-party Qi pads. Pixel 5 has a much bigger battery at 4080 mAh, making it a better choice for those who are serious about battery life.
Software & Special Features
Being a Google phone, the Pixel 4 launched with Android 10 is the first ever phone to get upgraded to Android 11 and will be supported for future updates. You can find a more responsive Google Assistant that performs searches and opens apps for you.
The Pixel 4 also introduces a Live Caption feature that feels like omnipresent subtitles. Regardless of what you are doing on the phone, Live Caption can spell out whatever is on the screen.
The Pixel 4 also marks the end of the free unlimited cloud storage perk. It backs up your photos and videos in high quality like any other smartphone, but Google aims to encourage users to subscribe to cloud storage and gives a 3-month free trial of Google One with this device. However, eliminating this perk reduces the value and attraction of the phone.
Price and Availability
At the time of its release back in 2019, the Pixel 4 was priced at $799 for 64GB storage with the 128GB variant costing $899. However, it has been discounted a few times since the launch and Google has officially stopped selling it. And with the launch of the new Pixel 5 starting at $699, prices have been falling where the device is still available.
This Google comes in two size options – the regular 5.7 inches we reviewed here, and the 6.3 inches named Pixel 4XL that boasts a larger battery to power its higher-resolution screen. Both the models have otherwise similar features in terms of camera and specs and come in the same colour options.
Google has undeniably created one of the best camera smartphones in the form of Pixel 4 with a phenomenal point-and-shoot auto mode and useful features like astrophotography mode. It is also a great choice for those who like a handset fitting conveniently in the hand and pocket.
It is also one of the phones with a 90Hz display, offering a super smooth refresh rate for a pleasant experience across tasks.
However, the battery life of the Pixel 4 is not impressive and may not last a full day without another round of charging. With so many powerful options available at the moment, this device may not suit users looking for long battery life.
It also lacks some other useful features like a fingerprint scanner. So, if you already own a Pixel 3, there is no point upgrading to this model. The Pixel 4, however, is a good choice for those who want to try Google’s finest camera smartphones at a budget-friendly price.