The Pixel 4 XL isn’t quite the granular upgrade on last year’s Pixel 3 XL that many were initially anticipating. Not only has it had a complete design overhaul, but it boasts a new camera, a flashy new 90Hz screen and a new radar motion-sensing chip, among the usual updates like more modern internal components.

There certainly wasn’t much left to the imagination before Google finally pulled back the curtain – you can blame the barrage of leaks for that – but I’ve spent a week or so with the Pixel 4 XL, and I’m as equally impressed with the new hardware it’s bringing to the table as I am sorely disappointed with Google’s oversight in a few key areas.

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Google Pixel 4 XL review: What you need to know

Naturally, the Pixel 4 XL is Google’s answer to the age-old question: “should I get an Android smartphone?”. This is Google’s standard-bearer for its ever-popular mobile operating system and one of the very first handsets to be running the latest version: Android 10.

That’s not all it’s got going for it, though; the Pixel 4 XL is fitted with a 6.3in QHD+ screen, has a secondary 2x telephoto zoom camera on the back, and is powered by Qualcomm’s more up-to-date Snapdragon 855 processor. It can also detect whether you’re close to it or not, and I’ll discuss how this works – and why this is a feature – in more detail later on.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Price and competition

Of course, a flagship phone demands flagship prices, and in 2019 that means the Pixel 4 XL is creeping closer to four figures. The basic model, which comes with 64GB of non-expandable storage, will set you back £829, while the 128GB variant costs £929.

That might sound like a lot – it’s certainly out of reach of most pockets – but the Pixel 4 XL is sensibly priced, should you decide to prop it up against the rest of the market. Apple’s efforts are certainly beginning to take the biscuit, after all, with the most recent 64GB iPhone 11 Pro costing a lofty £1,049.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Design and key features

Rather than simply refining the design, which has been a tactic employed by Google with every iteration of Pixel phone, the 4 XL has had a complete overhaul. The final design is exactly as we expected from the leaked renders doing the rounds online. The Pixel 4 XL has a glass-coated rear with a matte finish and is available in three bold colours: “Clearly White”, “Just Black” and the new “Oh So Orange”. The last actually looks closer to peach, but there we are.

That means the two-tone design of last year’s phone is out, and this new single-colour paint job is the hot look for 2019. Surrounding the outside of the Pixel 4 XL is a new black trim, which is slightly curved and rough in texture for added grippiness. The new camera arrangement (which I’ll discuss later) is also square in appearance, while looking remarkably similar to the iPhone 11 Pro’s setup. In fact, it reminds me of when your friend would copy your answers in an exam but change them ever-so-slightly so the teacher wouldn’t notice. Except, in this case, Google has actually made it worse.

It’s not quite as neat as the iPhone, and this new, scaled-back design has certainly become a point of contention in the Expert Reviews offices over the past week. Some love it (myself included), but others prefer a more bombastic approach to smartphone design – with dazzling colours, pop-up selfie cameras and the like. Each to their own, I suppose.

Elsewhere, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack – of course – but this year Google has decided not to include a USB Type-C adapter in the box. That means you’ll have to invest in a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones, or pick up an adapter if you want to stick with wires.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Display

As you might expect, considering its nomenclature, the Pixel 4 XL has a bigger P-OLED screen than its cheaper stablemate, measuring 6.3in across the diagonal, rather than 5.7in. Naturally, this 10% larger screen has necessitated an increase in the phone’s overall dimensions, but not massively so – the phone still fits in your pocket without stretching it out, and it’s slightly narrower than the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Not only is it bigger, but the screen resolution is also higher at 3,040 x 1,440 (QHD+). Of course, there’s the worry that this will have a negative effect on battery life – the display resolution can’t be changed in the settings – but the Pixel 4 XL’s 3,700mAh battery is 32% larger than the regular Pixel 4’s, so this should help mitigate the impact.

But I digress – you can read my battery life verdict below – and I really want to point out how truly wonderful this screen is. When it comes to colour accuracy in particular, the Pixel 4 XL’s display is sitting pretty, with a measured Delta E of 1.18 (anything close to 1 is exceptional) in the phone’s ‘Natural’ display profile. Colours are practically perfect across the entire palate, but you will notice some tweaks to red, brown and dark green tones if you enable the ‘Boosted’ or ‘Adaptive’ modes.

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Alas, the Pixel 4 XL’s screen does lack brightness, only managing to measure a maximum of 407cd/m2. That’s perfectly fine if you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed on a sunny day, of course, but viewing HDR content on Netflix will look particularly drab, especially if you put it up against the iPhone 11 Pro with its retina-searing luminance of 1,292cd/m2.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Performance and battery life

As for the 4 XL’s internal specifications, the more power-efficient Snapdragon 855 processor makes its first appearance in a Pixel phone. Qualcomm’s flagship chipset is due to be superseded soon, but it ensures the 4 XL can go toe-to-toe with the very best of the current flagship crop.

In the Geekbench 4 CPU tests, the Pixel 4 XL is 26% faster than its predecessor when it comes to single-core processing, and 23% faster in multi-core. It’s not quite as fast as the iPhone 11 Pro – although nothing is – but it’s still remarkably nippy, never faltering no matter what application you throw at it.

Elsewhere, the Pixel 4 XL also has 6GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of storage. Sadly, this can’t be expanded via microSD, which is a massive shame – especially as that 64GB of storage will fill up very quickly.

Equally disappointing is the Pixel 4 XL’s overall battery life. This is an issue that’s plagued Google’s Pixel phones since the very beginning, but I had my fingers crossed that we might see decent gains in the stamina department.

Sadly, according to our in-house battery rundown test, the Pixel 4 XL only managed to reach 15hrs 7mins before shutting down completely; only a two-hour improvement on last year’s phone. That’s simply not good enough for a flagship phone these days, but you might be able to squeeze out a day’s use on a single charge if you’re conservative with what you do with it.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Camera

On to the Pixel 4 XL’s camera capabilities, which don’t differ between the two handsets, despite the difference in price. Both phones are equipped with the same 12-megapixel rear camera as last year, although this time around it’s supplemented by a secondary 16-megapixel 2x telephoto zoom lens.

Rather than repeat myself – you can read my in-depth verdict on the new camera here – it’s worth briefly mentioning the new camera features before I continue. Google has expanded the Pixel’s “Night Sight” shooting mode, which supposedly takes low-light pictures with a more accurate colour balance than last year’s phone, and you can also take better-looking starry night pictures with the new astrophotography mode.

The live viewfinder now previews what your image will look like – after the backend HDR+ algorithms have done their thing – before you take the shot, and you can also adjust the foreground and background exposure levels independently.

As for the quality of the images, Google’s handsets are yet again capable of doing a tremendous job. They’ll capture noise-free pictures of superb clarity, with well-judged exposures and plenty of intricate details. It’s not quite the best smartphone camera on the market anymore, though. I still think the iPhone 11 Pro takes the photography crown this year, thanks to its unbeatable video recording capabilities.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Android 10 and Soli

Finally, let’s discuss the Pixel 4 XL’s new motion-sensing abilities. Google tells me that this technology is five years in the making, and the Pixel 4 XL is equipped with a special “Soli” radar chip at the top – somewhere underneath the front-facing camera – that can detect movement around the phone from all angles.

This means the Pixel 4 XL can recognise whenever you’re nearby, and prepare the front-facing camera in anticipation so that you can (theoretically) unlock the phone faster than usual. There are other practical applications too; by simply waving your hand you can skip songs in Spotify, silence alarms or cycle through your YouTube playlist. It’s certainly a neat little feature – and one which you can’t get on any other phone – but not one I see being a major selling point on the stands in Carphone Warehouse.

Of course, a major benefit of Google’s Pixel phones is the ability to try out the latest version of Android before anyone else, and the Pixel 4 XL is no different. Both phones come with Android 10 pre-installed, which introduces a handful of new features including a system-wide dark mode, notification-blocking “focus mode” and new swipe navigation options.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Verdict

Tally up the changes, and it looks like the Google Pixel 4 XL is the worthwhile upgrade to last year’s Pixel 3 XL we were hoping for. The new additions such as the secondary camera and radar-sensing chip might not be as profound an improvement as prospective buyers might have hoped for, but there’s plenty to like about the Pixel 4 XL and its smaller brother.

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But of course, there’s also plenty to dislike. Google has failed to properly address the Pixel’s historically poor battery life, and I haven’t even mentioned the removal of the fingerprint sensor, which could be a major problem if you’re using banking apps on your phone.

Regardless, if you’re the stubborn sort that can’t be persuaded to look elsewhere (the formidable Galaxy S10 Plus is roughly the same price) then the Pixel 4 XL is still a smart choice – worthy of a recommendation for all its flaws.

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