We’ve covered the four top reasons to upgrade to a Pixel 4, but that wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t cover the four biggest issues with Google’s Pixel 4 smartphones.
Every device has its shortcomings, but some have more shortcomings than others. Google’s Pixel 4 devices showcase the potential of the company when it comes to software development, but also show several
1. Where did the features go?
We expect every iteration of most devices to constantly outdo its predecessor, but the Pixel 4 hasn’t made progress in all aspects. In fact, some features were entirely dropped from the Pixel 3.
Pixel 4 customers no longer enjoy the essential perk of unlimited photo storage on Google Photos. Unlimited storage will now be limited to “high” resolution compressed files, a huge drawback given iPhone’s lossless HEIC file format in effect takes up less space on Google’s cloud storage platforms.
Unboxing the smartphones, the lack of USB-C earphones or even USB-C to 3.5mm dongle is apparent. Users who purchase the new Pixel devices might receive some credit to purchase Made by Google accessories, but reports have indicated that the credits will expire before the new true wireless Pixel Buds 2 hit the market in the US (Singapore availability has not been announced).
It does not stop there. The smaller Pixel 4’s 2,800 mAh capacity battery is a downgrade from the 2,915 mAh one on last year’s Pixel 3. The Pixel 4 XL, does have a 3,700 mAh capacity battery, slightly up from last year’s 3,420 mAh. These aren’t top performers by any means, and the Pixel 4’s 90Hz displays will be the main feature to drain power, although its scalable nature does mitigate this effect.
Apart from dropping features from previous generations of Pixel, the Pixel 4 is evidently lacking in features when compared to the rest of the Android field. 64GB of base storage, 6GB of RAM, and flawed face unlock-only security that has faced criticism for being able to be successfully triggered with users’ eyes closed. There’s wind that the eye-closed unlock issue will be fixed in a future update, though.
2. Great cameras, glaring compromises
Google still rules the roost when it comes to still images, and its update does patch some UI issues and improves specific areas of performance to extend its lead.
However, this performance is not without glaring shortcomings, many carried over from its Pixel 3 smartphones from last year.
The most agonising is Google’s choice to add a 1.6x telephoto lens instead of a more practical ultrawide angle option. Apple had reversed its wide/telephoto trajectory implemented on the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X and iPhone Xs with 2019’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.
Popularised in the Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro, ultrawide angle camera lenses are now implemented on the top smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S10, Note 10, along with Apple’s iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. Google’s distinguished Marc Levoy claimed that ultrawides were “fun”, but telephotos were more “useful”, but we kindly decline.
While Live HDR+ and new on-screen sliders allow users to preview and tweak images before tapping the shutter, the same live view preview has not been extended to Portrait Mode, which still takes a long time to process before producing the final image.
In our tests over the past week, Photos app integration within the camera shows the same signs of strain as on the Pixel 3. Tapping the gallery after taking a picture often displays the previous photo taken rather than the most recent one, and the lag between each action is palpable and stifling.
Speaking of portrait mode, it is now restricted to a 1.6x crop as it utilises the new secondary telephoto lens. That’s a step backwards when compared to last year’s Pixel 3 and most current smartphones that offer the ability to take wide-angle portraits, widening the creative applications of its camera system.
3. So long, Soli.
While the Soli radar chip on the Pixel 4 devices embodies the future of what Google calls ambient computing, the implementation leaves much to be desired.
It does allow for some of the most seamless facial unlocking on a smartphone. Soli aids this process by detecting the proximity of the user, firing up the infrared emitters and sensors instantaneously and unlocking directly into the home screen.
But that’s when it works. I found that the radar sensors on thePixel 4 required additional coaxing at times, like a tap on the screen or wave towards my nose to trigger Soli.
Soli also offers Motion Sense functionality that allows for touch-free gesture controls. These are limited to managing alarms, calls and toggling between tracks on a music player at present. While it feels futuristic when it works, I can’t help but feel like an absolute tool when Motion Sense doesn’t … sense motion – especially when I could have just tapped the display to pick up a call or mute an alarm anyway.
What’s more, Soli has prevented the sale of Pixel 4 in various territories, such as the massive Indian market. That is due to its radar capabilities, something that might ostensibly have military applications. It’s unfortunate, especially given the limited functionality Soli enables for now.
Google’s Pixel phones have initially been viewed as the saviour of Android phones, bringing sleek user interface design, top-tier performance and prompt software updates to the masses. In Singapore, the SGD 1,119 baseline 64GB Pixel 4 is also available in 128GB at SGD 1,269. The larger 6.4-inch Pixel 4 XL starts at SGD 1,319 for 64GB and at SGD 1,469 for the 128GB variant.
For comparison, last year’s Pixel 3 started at SGD 1,249 and Pixel 3 XL at SGD 1,399. In the US, both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 devices started at USD 799/USD 899 for regular and XL models.
That’s a tough call, given that this year’s iPhone 11 starts at USD 699 / SGD 1,149. The Samsung Galaxy S10e starts at SGD 1,078.
Given the limited battery improvements, modest specs with baseline flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset, 64GB base storage and 6GB of RAM, along with issues with Face Unlock security, the Pixel 4 devices don’t seem like much of an improvement to the Pixel 3 phones. It also does not shape the phone up well as a competitor to some of the top Android and iOS competition.