Last year I wrote a post declaring that Google needed to “bring the heat” with the Pixel 4 in an effort to keep the series competitive in 2019 with the likes of Samsung and OnePlus. In that post, I offered a wishlist of specs that would help get folks excited for the new Pixels, which somewhat surprisingly, was checked off nearly perfectly by the Pixel 4 XL. Google even offered more than 4GB RAM for the device. Truly shocking.
I have been using the phone nearly every day since I first got it, which was late October (full Pixel 4 XL review here), so I have a solid three months of experience with Google’s fourth generation flagship Pixel device. Did Google end up bringing that heat?
Let’s go over our experience so far.
Not the best, but I like Google phones.
It’s reasonable to say that while the Pixel 4 XL is a great phone, there are phones that offer more. More in terms of the spec sheet and more in terms of features. This is evident when comparing our favorite phones of 2019. However, I prefer the Google Pixel experience, so while the Samsung fans and OnePlus fans can have their arguments about why their phones are better than mine, I’m completely content with what’s in my pocket. Do I think it’s a little overpriced for what it is, sure, but things are technically worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.
Things that continue to bring me back to Pixel phones include the smooth software experience and the camera (we’ll discuss that below). I’d typically list software updates here, too, but we’ll have to talk about that down below. Needless to say, Google’s been acting a bit strange lately with the software updates.
For software, I appreciate the “it just works” approach, which is very similar to what OnePlus does, even though they do still tend to bake in more features than I personally require. Unlike Samsung’s One UI, Google’s UI, otherwise known as the Pixel Experience, is straightforward and easily navigable. I’ve even gone ahead and enabled gesture controls and after a week of use, I grew very accustomed to them and have a weird time interacting with phones that still have dedicated navigation buttons.
To sum up these feelings, what Google does well as a business, that being software, is great on the Pixel 4 XL and it’s one of the main reasons I continue to use Pixel phones. Now, you give me this software in hardware similar to that of Samsung’s and you’re pretty much describing my perfect phone.
Camera is great!
I recently took a trip and I knew I’d be taking a ton of photos while I was gone. Before heading out, I knew I needed to be carrying a phone that gave me the best chance of capturing the best images, so of course, I opted to have my Pixel 4 XL with me. Given my line of work, I could choose literally any phone I want (Galaxy Note 10, S10+, OnePlus 7 Pro, Saygus V2, etc.), but I know I can count on the Pixel to deliver good still images not just in optimal lighting conditions, but in dark conditions, too. Given I was going to a very remote part of a foreign country, with an opportunity to shoot the night sky, I couldn’t pass up the chance to put Night Sight to the test.
Night Sight played a massive role in my trip and that’s not an understatement. Most of the events I attended on my trip were taking place at night and the Pixel 4 XL kept up with all of my picture taking without hesitation. Not only was I able to take pictures of everything on the ground, but as you can see from some examples below, I was able to take pictures of things in the sky.
What makes the Pixel 4 camera experience special is that it doesn’t take a professional to get good shots. All you have to do is point and shoot, and more times than not, you have really good photos that are worthy of sharing with friends and family. Of course, Google’s Portrait Mode works amazingly well, too. Really, I am still completely convinced that Google is doing more with just two rear camera sensors than other OEMs are doing with 3+ rear sensors. Thank you for all of your software optimization and continued efforts, Google.
I disabled Soli/Motion Sense.
One of the big hype features on the Pixel 4 lineup is the inclusion of the Soli radar chip, allowing for physical gestures in front of the phone to be turned into actions on the device. For example, when Motion Sense is enabled, you can swipe your hand in front of phone while music is playing to skip tracks. Unfortunately, this feature is way less cool than you’d imagine and three months later we’re still waiting to hear if Google intends to bring new features for Soli.
I don’t know if Google needs help coming up with new ideas for Motion Sense, but just in case you read this, Google, here are a few suggestions!
Battery life holding up fine.
Unlike the Pixel 4, which has battery life that we label as not good at all, my Pixel 4 XL has treated me just fine over the past 3 months. Do we wish the battery was just a bit larger? Yes, but again, it has been getting me through full days with hardly any issues. Going back to my trip, I did have a couple of days where I was getting worried about the battery, but I was using the phone so much that it wasn’t surprising me that I was running out of juice well before the day ended. That’s what happens when you take about 500 pictures a day on average.
When not traveling and just doing my usual day-to-day stuff, it’s been fine, but nothing to get too excited about. I average about 3 hours of screen on time, usually going to bed with under 20% battery left. If you use your phone more than I do, my hope is that Google’s software work with Battery Saver and Adaptive Battery are able to get you through your days as well. We all use our phones differently, especially over the course of 3 months, so I’d be interested to hear how other Pixel 4 XL owners are doing in this department.
For me, it’s just fine.
Updates have been kinda weird.
As we saw for the first two months, software updates have been a little odd so far. For the month of January, things appears to be back on track, but a lot of Pixel 4 owners were left waiting for weeks to receive the joint December-January patch via OTA. It wasn’t the end of the world, since it was only a security patch and not some major Android version upgrade, but Pixel users expect to have updates hitting their phones within 5 minutes of release from Google, so I suppose I get their frustration.
Moving forward, things should be normal for updates.
I miss my fingerprint reader.
Instead of a fingerprint reader, Google included its new Face Unlock tech on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. While it works great, whether you’re wearing sunglasses or laying in bed at night, I miss my fingerprint reader. I don’t need to say a lot about this, but here’s another reason I am looking forward to the Pixel 4a lineup. It’s pretty much confirmed via reports and renders that the phones will have fingerprint readers and not the Face Unlock tech, as to keep the price down, and I am all for it. Bring back the fingerprint reader!
Should you buy a Pixel 4 right now?
This might sound weird, but I’d say you should probably hold off on buying a Pixel 4 or 4 XL. We have the Galaxy S20 lineup coming from Samsung, which should then be followed by the Pixel 4a lineup from Google. For 2020, the 4a phones have us very excited, as they should have what makes the Pixel 4 XL great (software + camera), but will also be quite a bit cheaper than your standard Pixel 4 and 4 XL.
However, if you spot a good deal for a Pixel 4 XL and need to take the leap, I’m sure you’ll still enjoy the phone very much. I know I am.