The Pixel 4 is Google’s best smartphone yet, improving on its predecessor’s outstanding camera and its audio transcription capabilities. It also adds a nifty, unique feature that allows you to control it with hand gestures.
Nevertheless, the new crop of Google-powered bells and whistles doesn’t include a boost in battery life — and doesn’t justify the phone’s sky-high price tag.
Since the first Pixel debuted in 2016, the feature that has made it stand out was its camera, whose ability to make adjustments on the fly resulted in stellar image quality. But the gadget’s latest iteration doesn’t raise the bar nearly enough.
Yes, the Pixel 4’s new software makes low-light photos better than ever and allows for impressive astrophotography. But after both Apple and Samsung introduced flagship phones with three rear-camera lenses — including an ultra-wide lens — the Pixel 4’s pair of cameras feels paltry by comparison.
Indeed, with fierce competition in the form of the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10 at similar price points, it’s hard to see the Pixel 4 being the phone that finally sees Google phones break into the mainstream.
The design of the Pixel is clean and basic, with a smooth matte glass back and a camera bump that’s every bit as unsightly as that of the iPhone 11 Pro. The 6.3-inch OLED display on the large version of the phone is crisp and attractive, but the chunky bezel on the top of the screen — which houses the phone’s new, impressively fast face scanner — is unsightly and feels dated.
The Pixel 4’s biggest drawback, however, is its battery life. The Pixel 4 XL routinely failed to last much more than 24 hours on a full charge — a whopping 10 hours less than what I average with my iPhone 11 Pro.
For a price starting at $899, that battery life just doesn’t cut it.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Pixel 4 does have some neat features. The built-in radar sensor allows you to control audio playback by just gesturing with your hands. Thrust your flattened palm above the screen to stop or start a song, and swipe it back and forth to swipe through tracks.
It’s a fun party trick that can come in surprisingly handy — as when I was recently in the kitchen handling raw chicken and listening to a New York Knicks podcast.
Google also flexes its software might with a new feature that transcribes your voice recordings in real time. It’s extremely quick and surprisingly accurate, getting punctuation and sentence breaks with impressive accuracy.
It doesn’t seem like something most regular users would find very handy, but for a reporter who regularly spends hours transcribing interviews, it is a revelation.
Still, features like that won’t be enough to generate excitement among most folks for the Pixel 4 when better options are out there. Google has to play catch-up with the Pixel 5, or their smartphone ambitions may be left in the dust for good.