Google’s next pair of flagship smartphones, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are finally official, unveiled during the “Made by Google” event, alongside the usual handful of smart home products and the Google Pixelbook Go.
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 a Pixel 4 XL has arrived on my desk, 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 preview: 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”. Which actually feels 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, and looks 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.
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 a cheap adapter if you want to stick with wires.
As you might expect, considering its nomenclature, the Pixel 4 XL has a bigger P-OLED screen than its cheaper stablemate, which measures 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.
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Not only is it bigger, but the screen resolution is also higher at 3,040 x 1,440 (QHD+). Of course, this will likely 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 that should help mitigate the impact somewhat.
Likewise, the more power-efficient Snapdragon 855 processor also makes its first appearance in a Pixel phone. Qualcomm’s flagship chipset is due to be superseded soon, mind you, but you should expect performance to still be among the very best of the current crop of flagship handsets. The Pixel 4 XL also has 6GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of storage, which isn’t expandable via microSD.
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 thoughts 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 displays 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.
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 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; simply wave your hand to skip songs in Spotify, silence alarms or cycle through your YouTube playlist.
Google Pixel 4 XL Preview: Early verdict
Tally up the changes, and it’s already looking like the Google Pixel 4 XL might be the worthwhile upgrade to last year’s Pixel 3 XL that we were hoping for. The new additions such as the secondary camera and radar-sensing chip might not be as drastic of an offering as prospective buyers might have hoped for, but it seems there’s plenty to like about the Pixel 4 XL, and it’s smaller brother, at this early stage.
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But of course, there’s also plenty to dislike. I’m not convinced that Google has addressed the Pixel’s historically poor battery life, and I haven’t even mentioned the removal of the fingerprint sensor – which might be a major problem if you’re regularly using banking apps on your phone.
Of course, I won’t know for certain until I’ve spent at least a few days with the Pixel 4 XL, and properly put it through its paces, so stay tuned for my full review.
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