After a week with the new Google Pixel 4 XL, I found myself unable to fully describe my feelings towards it. This was something beyond a purely technical standpoint. That's when the realisation dawned on me - why it all felt so familiar...
The Google Pixel 4 XL can be compared to that hot summer romance we've all undoubtedly encountered before. For the majority of us, they're now remembered as an ex that came into your life at just the right time and place. In the beginning, it's fun, exciting, sexy.
Then the glaring compatibility issues start to surface. At times, there's no singular thing that you can pinpoint it to. It doesn't feel completely wrong - but it doesn't quite feel right either. Ultimately, it soon becomes clear that things just won't work out.
Here's are some of the key points you need to know.
What it gets right...
At face value, the Pixel 4 XL is an attractive bit of hardware that flaunts a gorgeous and clean design. Especially so in the case of the white colourway and edges. You will have noticed a similarity between this and the iPhone 11's square camera. Make no mistake, though, the two are actually worlds apart (more on this later). As for the screen, the display is amongst some of the best I've personally encountered. The super-smooth 90Hz display makes for an extremely pleasant viewing experience.
Under the hood, there's also an entire host of flashy new features. One of which entails live-transcription of audio you record, allowing you to export the ensuing text into a document. Quite handy when you're in my line of work. Another related to this previous feature is a live-caption function that offers you subtitles for whatever you happen to be viewing, even if the original platform does not offer any.
It's details like this that convince you that Google has actually considered the habits of modern users, i.e. scrolling through your feed in public, occasionally without earphones. Even more remarkable is the fact that both of these features are largely accurate - the transcribe function does, however, occasionally miss the mark, especially if there is more than one voice interjecting.
A personal favourite feature of mine is the built-in song-detection. Once activated, all you have to do is glance down at your phone's lock screen to figure out what's playing within proximity.
The standout - unsurprisingly given how much coverage it has gotten up until and including this point - is the Pixel 4 XL's camera. Initially, I was sceptical about just how good it could be, having previously been indoctrinated into the cult of Huawei. I stand before you today after a thorough comparison between the Pixel 4 XL, the iPhone 11, as well as the Huawei P30 Pro to say the Pixel 4 XL wins. Hands down. No question. I don't care what metrics you throw at me. The low-light performance AKA 'Night Sight' is on another level compared to the iPhone. Image clarity, user experience, and so forth - it's the Pixel 4 XL all the way.
Additionally, the post-edit function allows you to select any images in Google Photos and adjust an entire range of variables like depth, blur, lighting balance, usually accomplished in the settings prior to taking the snap. This is truly a purpose-built device for the phone photographer. The camera, however, isn't without its own shortcomings (also more on this later).
What it gets wrong...
Right off the bat, the battery leaves a lot to be desired. The Pixel 3 XL garnered some negative attention during its release due to its below-average battery life. Sad to say, this has only improved marginally. The Pixel 4 XL's battery life remains noticeably weak, especially when the rest of the office is running iPhone 11's that don't even need to be charged daily. From my personal experience, power throttled downwards at an alarming rate during extremely moderate use (i.e. scrolling through Facebook and Instagram during a half-hour commute which ate up around 15%). Though when left unattended, the percentage seemed like it was suspended.
This wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for the fact that smartphones are made to be used. And an issue to be resolved through a system update perhaps, given the fact that at 3,700-mAh - the battery itself is at a larger capacity than both iPhone 11's (3046 mAh for regular, 3190 mAh for Pro) without being anywhere near the same performance. What's more concerning is that the regular Pixel 4 has been downgraded to a 2,800-mAh battery, the smallest in the entire history of Pixel batteries. Why anyone would think that's a good idea is beyond me.
In terms of locking/unlocking the phone, there are a few problems here. The absence of a fingerprint unlock - which worked wonderfully on the Pixel 3, is quickly becoming the standard - which is fine I guess. Totally fine. It's not like I really had any attachments to it, anyway (I did, I had an attachment to fingerprint IDs). In any case, it forces you to use either the passcode unlock or the facial recognition unlock.
This wouldn't be an issue either - if weren't for the fact that the facial recognition remains wildly inconsistent on the best of occasions, despite the technology having been pretty much perfected for several years now. Throw on a cap or some sunglasses, an acute angle, or harsh direct sunlight, and you're done for. And before you protest with, "Oh you probably have a weird head and/or face." Yes. Correct. Well done. But I asked other Pixel 4 users with regular heads and faces about this and they had the exact same problem. So there. Suck it, ordinary people. You're just as grotesque in the eyes of Google's software as I am. In all seriousness, the iPhone facial recognition totally shits on the Pixel 4 XL's.
On a more minor note, and something that others may not care so much about, the memory is non-expandable. Yes, I know. Age of cloud data storage. Even still, a key benefit of choosing Android devices as opposed to an iPhone has traditionally been the ability to change it up a little if you need to. "It", in this case, referring to the ability to expand your memory. Call me crazy, but I'm of the belief that there's nothing inherently wrong with having options. Just saying. You'll be surprised at how quickly you can use 68 GB. Plus, at a retail price of $1,279 (entry Pixel 4 XL model), Google could at least sling you a few more gigs.
In terms of general performance and user experience, there's no real scathing criticism here. All I'll say is that it's bang-on average and does the job. Nothing more, nothing less. 6 GB RAM. Alright processing for conventional use. You'd expect more from Google's flagship, and again, for what you're paying - there could definitely be a little more juice in this puppy.
NO WIDE ANGLE FOR THE CAMERA!
It's a jarring detail, just like your summer fling's intolerable cackle-like laugh. The iPhone wide-angle lens is something that sees an extensive amount of use here in the BH office - photo and video. How has it been overlooked when every flagship device from every major manufacturer is sporting it?
Look, when all is said and done, the Google Pixel 4 XL isn't a terrible device. It's simply an objective fact that once the novelty of being new with flashy additional features wears off, all you have left is a rather average smartphone that offers little more than a great camera. Which might suit your exact needs, if you're only desire is to shoot the best portraits possible (though who is really using Portrait Mode religiously?). For the time being, however, it doesn't suit my needs, and I can guarantee the device as a whole won't be a perfect match for a good percentage of the population either.
I guess at its essence, that's where the comparison between the Google Pixel 4 XL and the hot summer romance that ultimately won't work out stems from. There's a misalignment of needs and wants. One that cannot be ignored no matter how many niceties are thrown at you. And sure, there'll be someone out there who this works out for perfectly. We've all been there. But that doesn't mean we'll never go there again.
If you feel so inclined, you can cop the Google Pixel 4 XL at google.com/au