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Google Pixel 4 XL review: A night vision camera that's dead by sunset

Google Pixel 4 XL
(Image: © Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Our Verdict

Bottom line: This is easily Google's best-ever phone. The hardware is sleek and efficient, and Android 10 runs brilliantly. Google's little additions to the software differentiate it, face unlock works incredibly well, and this is the best Android camera available in all lighting. But the battery life is frustratingly bad, and it's hard not to feel short-changed paying this much for weak RAM and storage.

For

  • Super-smooth 90Hz display
  • Simple, useful and fast software
  • Excellent face unlock
  • Top-notch camera quality back and front
  • Nice-looking and feeling hardware

Against

  • Incredibly weak battery life
  • Motion Sense has little real-world use
  • Low RAM and storage for the money
  • Most apps incompatible with face unlock at launch

Deserved or not, Google's Pixel phones have extremely high expectations placed on them. Whether it's because they tend to be used by the extra-observant tech enthusiast crowd, or just because they're being offered by a multi-billion dollar company with one of the most recognizable brands in the world, we expect a lot from Pixels.

For three generations, the expectations frankly haven't been met. Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel 3 ... each year brought a different set of compromises and issues that were frustrating. Frustrating because for so many people, the idea of a Pixel is exactly what they wanted their phone to be — but so few bought one because ultimately, it wasn't all pulled together in a compelling way. Even Google itself couldn't execute on this amazing idea of what a Google smartphone could be.

For the fourth generation, the expectations are incredibly high, and the chances that people are willing to let shortcomings go are even lower. Smartphones, across the board, are really good. And with this many years of history, it's completely reasonable to think Google should have figured things out by now. The Pixel 4 XL has to be great.

Google Pixel 4 XL Price & release date

Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The Pixel 4 XL was released alongside the smaller Pixel 4 on October 24, 2019. At launch, the Pixel 4 XL sold for a base price of $899 with a Snapdragon 855 processor, 64GB of storage, and 6GB of RAM. For an additional $100, bringing the total price to $999, you could double the storage to 128GB.

Google loves it quirky-named colors; the Pixel 4 XL was available in Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange, each of which features a black metal rail and a colored rear panel, along with an accent color on the power button. Just Black came in a glossy finish, while Clearly White and Oh So Orange featured frosted matte glass.

Months ahead of the launch of the follow-up Pixel 5, Google discontinued the Pixel 4 and 4 XL on August 6, less than ten months after their initial launch. At the moment, there's no more XL variant in the Pixel lineup, save for the similarly large (though less premium) Pixel 4a 5G.

Google Pixel 4 XL Hardware and design

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Hardware quality and design have always been strengths for Pixels. They've never been particularly groundbreaking or exciting just for the sake of being different, but instead very simple and well-executed. Whether you personally enjoy the minimalistic look or not — I happen to think it's wonderful — the overall quality of the hardware has always been good, and the Pixel 4 is no exception.

This isn't groundbreaking design, but it's incredibly simple and well-executed.

There's nothing particularly special, new or flashy here. A metal frame with a matte textured finish provides grip, and symmetrical glass panels on the front and back round it out. There are lots of subtle things that add to the holistic feel of the hardware, like the radius of the curves of the display corners, front and rear glass corners, and camera cutout all being the same. Like the rest of the hardware design, it isn't the individual pieces that you notice, but the total look and feel as one nice-looking object.

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Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL

CategoryPixel 4 XL
Operating systemAndroid 11
Display6.3-inch OLED, 3040x1440 (19:9)
90Hz
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 855
Pixel Neural Core
RAM6GB
Storage64/128GB
Rear camera 112MP, 1.4µm, f/1.7, OIS, PDAF
Rear camera 216MP telephoto, 1,0µm, f/2.4
Front camera8MP, f/2.0
90-degree lens
fixed focus
Battery3700mAh
Water resistanceIP68
Dimensions160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm
193g
ColorsJust Black, Very White, Oh So Orange

It's all simple and efficient, with nice attention to detail. And it feels great as well. I'm using the white Pixel 4 XL, but had a considerable amount of time with the black model in the couple of days following the launch event — and I definitely prefer the matte finish of the white and orange models. This is the best matte glass implementation I've felt on a phone. It walks a perfect balance between matte and glossy to where there's a little grip and tackiness in your fingers, but you get the better look of matte glass and resistance to fingerprints and smudges. The glossy black does provide more grip, but the white and orange have enough grip. In return, they look dramatically better both right out of the box and over time without piles of fingerprint smudges.

The shape and materials of the Pixel 4 XL match up well with its size. It's just a tad larger than the Galaxy S10+, smaller than the Note 10+ and OnePlus 7 Pro, and roughly the same size as the Pixel 3 XL. The rounded sides nestle in my palm well, and the instances of the phone just feeling too big were few and far between — due in part, I think, to Android 10's back gesture that lets you swipe in from either side rather than reaching down to the bottom of the screen. And of course, there's little to complain about in terms of size when there's also a standard Pixel 4 available, which is downright small in comparison.

This is the best matte glass implementation I've felt on a phone.

For as good as its hardware has been, Pixel displays have been average at best. The Pixel 4's is finally above average, and fitting its top-tier smartphone price. The QHD+ OLED panel is brighter than last year, and extremely colorful and crisp, with great viewing angles. It no longer has an unsightly notch, either, which is great just so I don't have to hear people complain about it anymore. Yes, there's a rather large top bezel, but it really fades away into the hardware and isn't distracting in the least.

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This is a great display in all aspects, with 90Hz refresh being the cherry on top.

Is the display as good as Samsung's latest? No, it isn't. The brightness still doesn't reach the great heights you'll see on the Galaxy S10 or Note 10, but every other aspect is neck-and-neck — colors, clarity, and viewing angles are all superb. And the bonus of having a super-smooth 90Hz refresh rate to look at every single moment mostly makes up for not having the excellent direct sunlight visibility.

Elsewhere in the hardware, Google gets the basics right. The display has excellent touch response to match that 90Hz refresh rate, and the haptics are great no matter what you're doing on the phone. The dual speakers are easily louder than the Pixel 3's, and don't distort even at high volume.

Google Pixel 4 XL Software, performance, and battery life

Google Pixel 4 XL

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Google's biggest differentiator is its software — both in simplicity and powerful functionality.

The biggest area Google can provide value and differentiate itself from the competition is in the software. Google obviously provides an incredibly clean software loadout without the traditional pile of bloatware and extra features. But it isn't wholly unique in this respect, with OnePlus offering a very comparable experience in terms of simplicity and cohesiveness. So the real bits of differentiation are in its Pixel-exclusive features; the Pixel 4 includes new on-device AI processing for speech-to-text, which enables live captioning of any audio on your phone, speech-to-text transcription in the Recorder app, and incredibly fast Google Assistant responses.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Live Caption works really well, and is quickly activated at any time with a button that shows up underneath the volume slider when you press the volume key. With Live Caption turned on, the phone intercepts any audio that would come out of the speakers and does realtime speech-to-text into a caption box on the screen. The captioning is incredibly accurate, which is particularly impressive because all of the processing is happening locally on the phone. In situations where you don't have headphones but need to keep quiet, Live Caption is a great way to digest information from a video without disturbing others. You can also use Live Caption with audio still playing out of the speakers, so this could be a great accessibility feature or something to use for tough-to-hear dialogue in a video you're otherwise watching with sound.

Moving voice processing to the phone locally has numerous real-world benefits.

And even if you don't want to caption from audio on your phone, the same technology is at play in the new Recorder app for things going on around you. This is a fairly straightforward audio recorder app, except that while it records audio, it's also doing a realtime speech-to-text transcription of everything — again, all happening on-device. That's extremely useful because it makes the audio searchable, tying the transcription back to the corresponding part of the audio recording. Anyone who regularly records conversations will love the Recorder app.

The same local language processing comes into play with the new Google Assistant, which was originally shown off at Google I/O several months ago. By processing a huge number of potential commands on the phone, you can get near-instant responses to lots of common queries — and the Assistant has a deeper understanding of the context in which you're asking questions.

This is the first version of the Google Assistant that's fast enough to make me use it.

For example, it's now super-fast to ask the Assistant to do things like switch between apps, perform phone functions, make searches within apps, and basically do anything locally on the phone with your voice instead of your hands. There's also support for this new Assistant in Google apps like Photos and Maps, with lightning-quick responses even when performing more complex actions. You can also seamlessly move between telling the Assistant to compose a message and then speaking the message to be sent, while also navigating between multiple apps.

If you use the Assistant at all currently, you're going to be blown away by the speed of the new capabilities. And even if you're like me and rarely use the Assistant as it is, you may be convinced to use it more often knowing how quickly it can respond and how much it can do locally without having to wait for a network response. It still isn't a replacement for just touching your phone in most scenarios, but in situations where you can't, these new Assistant is much closer than ever before to the promised future of being able to confidently use your phone from a distance.

But there's one big caveat here: at least right now, this new Assistant only works if you don't have any Google G Suite accounts on your phone. Which a lot of people have. It's something I have. And as soon as I publish this review, I have to re-add my work-issued G Suite account to my phone and lose the new Assistant. A head-scratching restriction that I hope Google sorts out in short order, because people who have G Suite accounts on their phones typically have them for a very good reason, and won't be able to take them off just to get the new Assistant.

Motion Sense on the Pixel 4 (Image credit: Android Central)

The last all-new Pixel feature is another marriage of hardware and software: Motion Sense. And I'm mentioning it last here because I've found it to be the least compelling of the bunch. Enabled by the new "Soli" sensor in the top screen bezel, you can make touchless hand gestures over the phone to perform actions. Unfortunately, you can only do two things right now: skip forward and back on audio tracks (in some apps), and dismiss calls or alarms. Once you figure out the right way to swipe — which is with your hand more perpendicular to the phone rather than parallel — it works pretty well. But it's definitely not 100%, and when it doesn't work, you feel (and look) stupid waving your hand over your phone when you could have just tapped the screen and been certain of what would happen.

Motion Sense gave me flashbacks to the LG G8 — and that's not a good thing.

Motion Sense gave me flashbacks to reviewing the LG G8, where I said its AirMotion gestures are "a solution in search of a problem" — I feel the exact same way about Motion Sense. Perhaps there are more compelling use-cases on the way in future software updates, but they certainly aren't here right now. The technology does work, and there are niche examples for when you'd like to control your phone with a swipe instead of a touch ... but those instances are few and far between, and being able to skip tracks and dismiss alarms aren't the types of things that get me excited enough to think Motion Sense is worth my time to use.

Thankfully the Soli sensor is in use for more than just these explicit Motion Sense gestures. It's being used in conjunction with the rest of the phone's sensors to improve the phone's awareness of where you are to make face unlock and other ambient detection features better. And right now, Soli's adding more value in those ways than with Motion Sense itself.

The Pixel 4 runs Android 10 smoothly and consistently, without the random jank of prior Pixels.

Beyond Google's Pixel-only additions, I'm really enjoying both Android 10 as a whole and the Pixel 4's performance. The new notification settings make it even easier to manage what interrupts your day, and I appreciate the granular options for controlling when apps have access to your phone's location. And after a few weeks straight of using Android 10 — between the Pixel 3 and 4 — I'm very used to the gesture navigation system. (The only remaining hangup for me being the odd interaction between the left-in back gesture and swipe-in drawers in apps.)

The Pixel 4 runs Android 10 smoothly and consistently, and that isn't just a function of the 90Hz display. I haven't had any of the Pixel 3's stability or consistency issues, and whether that's due to the new processor, 6GB of RAM, new software efficiencies or a combination of the group, it's a welcomed change. Using the Pixel 4 XL the same as the 3 XL, I haven't experienced any of the issues with background apps or ongoing media being aggressively closed in the background, nor have I faced odd interface jank or visual slowdowns. It's all just as fast and smooth as I expect having spent time on the OnePlus 7 Pro and Galaxy Note 10+ of late.

Every Pixel has developed performance issues over time; I'm crossing my fingers that trend has ended.

This take requires at least a tiny pinch of salt, though. I've reviewed three generations of Pixels, and each time they seem great out of the box and end up being less-than-stellar after a couple of months' use. And there seems to be an unnaturally large variety of software quirks and issues that make their way out of the woodwork once the phones start to get out to regular buyers. But I'm feeling very positive about the Pixel 4's software capabilities — both based on how well it's been running during my review period, and how my Pixel 3 XL has been very quick and consistent since its Android 10 update.

Enter face unlock

Google Pixel 4 XL

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Well, would you look at that: Google dropped the fingerprint sensor in favor of advanced face unlock. And it's done things the right way, with a multi-sensor array that's much more secure than a single camera-based system and uses infrared light to analyze your face in any lighting condition. It starts looking for your face basically any time the phone is moved or detects movement around it, which in the real world means it's just about always ready to scan. It's fast and consistent. Most of the time, the phone was unlocked and on the home screen before I even had it positioned properly to start using it — and it even works in the pitch dark, while lying down, with a hat on, and while wearing sunglasses.

Face unlock has been implemented perfectly from a technology perspective — but apps have to support it.

Per usual, there's a whole bunch of hullabaloo over whether Google's face unlock implementation is secure or not. It's just as secure as fingerprints are (yes, even without a requirement to open your eyes), and if you're really worried about security you shouldn't be using face unlock or fingerprints — set up a long password or several-digit PIN for your lock screen instead.

Despite how awesome face unlock is, it has limitations that are incredibly frustrating. The technology is clearly sound and secure. But face unlock's problem isn't technology, it's app developers. In order for an app to be unlocked with the Pixel 4's face unlock, it has to be using the latest "BiometricPrompt" API — any app that uses the old API for just fingerprint sensors will not be aware of face unlock, meaning it falls back to prompting you to log in manually with a username and password.

Not a single app that I use with a fingerprint sensor today has face unlock support.

None of the apps I use that typically require a fingerprint have been updated with the BiometricPrompt API. Not Bank of America, American Express, Enpass, PayPal, and on down the list ... not a single one. This API has been available since the Android 9 release was finalized, and yet only a handful of apps are using it. Google points out that Dashlane, Keeper, Password Safe, Robinhood, and 1Password all use BiometricPrompt ... popular apps, but c'mon, it's five apps.

Right now, it's incredibly frustrating to be using a brand-new $900 phone and have to sign into my password manager manually (remember, it doesn't support face unlock either!) and use its autofill service to log into my secure banking and payment apps; something you don't have to do on a $100 phone with a fingerprint sensor. This should be a short-term problem, though: all apps that want to release an update after November 1 must target the Android 9 API level, including the new biometrics API, which should make quick work of this problem. But that doesn't force developers to update on November 1 — we could be waiting months to see many popular apps, particularly from the big companies like banks, update for face unlock.

Everything else aside, this may be the biggest reason to delay buying a Pixel 4 — you don't realize how frustrating it is to be missing fast biometric authentication until it's gone.

Battery life

Google Pixel 4 XL battery life settings

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Battery life is, without question, the Achilles' heel of the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. And it's baffling that this is still the case after three generations of Pixels that had the worst battery life of their peers.

Battery life is, without question, the Achilles' heel of the Pixel 4 and 4 XL.

Even with a larger battery, a more efficient processor and Android 10's battery-saving features, the Pixel 4 XL still has incredibly weak battery life. My typical weekday starts at 7 a.m. and includes a ton of time on Wi-Fi, between 3-5 hours of "screen on" time, and mostly consists of short bursts of phone usage with messaging, tracking a workout or run with Strava, time in social media apps, a decent amount of podcast and music listening over Bluetooth, and of course lots of notifications. Nothing crazy, no gaming or video streaming, nor hours of hotspotting or 30+ minute sessions of having the screen on. And yet, the Pixel 4 XL struggles to make it through the day.

On these typical weekdays, I was making it just 13 to 15 hours — aka 8 to 10 p.m. in my scenario — and hitting 5% battery, even with Battery Saver on at 15%. That's while leaving all of the phone's settings on their defaults, which includes using Ambient Display, auto screen brightness, 90Hz screen refresh, Motion Sense, etc. On a heavier travel day, I killed the 4 XL in under 12 hours. I had to use Battery Saver for some portion of every day during my review period.

Source: Android Central

After several months using phones with great battery, it's anxiety-inducing to be on the Pixel 4 XL.

After several months using the Galaxy S10+ and Note 10+ and not worrying about battery life a single day, it's anxiety-inducing to be on the Pixel 4 XL. Swiping down the notification shade at noon and seeing the estimated battery life of 9 or 10 p.m. — even if I were to take the battery to 1% — is ridiculous. Even with my completely normal and average use, the Pixel 4 XL will at best make it to bedtime with single-digit battery left ... so what happens if I have late-evening dinner plans, or need to hotspot during the day, or simply have some time to kill and want to play a game or watch a few YouTube videos? Anytime I lean outside of the simplest phone-usage day, I have to charge to be confident my phone won't die in the evening.

Our own Hayato Huseman has been using the smaller Pixel 4 exclusively, and has this to say regarding his battery life:

Even by Google's own (presumably optimistic) estimates in the notification shade, the smaller Pixel 4 can't make it through an entire day with my usage — that was frustrating last year, and this time it's just downright insulting. It's a shame because I really like this phone for the half a day it actually lasts me.

Daniel Bader has also been using the small Pixel 4 and summed up his feelings on battery life:

There's a considerable amount I can point to that the smaller Pixel 4 does right, but so much of that success is undermined — negated, even — by the phone's terrible battery life.In my week with the Pixel 4, I couldn't manage to get through even an average-use day without needing to top up in the late afternoon. The battery life is so bad that it re-introduced a concept I thought I'd long left behind: charger anxiety. If I went out for an extended time, I had to plan around when, not whether, the phone would die.

Not everyone needs their phone to be a total battery champion. I don't expect any flagship phone to go two days without a charge, stream Netflix for 3 hours a day, or end the heaviest travel itinerary with battery to spare. But I expect a $900 phone to get through a day of typical use without battery anxiety. The Pixel 4 XL doesn't do that, and the Pixel 4 isn't even close.

Google Pixel 4 XL Cameras

Google Pixel 4 XL

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

I'll say right off the top that the Pixel is the best Android camera available, and it has a good shot at keeping that top spot until this time next year. With effectively the same hardware as last year, Google has upped its game considerably from the Pixel 3.

The Pixel 4 is the best Android camera right now, and that'll likely be the case until the Pixel 5.

Coming from what was already arguably the best camera out there, the Pixel 4 has improved colors, brightness, textures, and sharpness in all situations. The colors and brightness, in particular, are important, because one of the Pixel 3's (few) flaws was its tendency to under-expose and produce somewhat dull shots — those instances are further between and less dramatic now. The Pixel 4 more consistently hits the exposure, and ups the colors to be pleasing to the eye without being over-saturated. I was consistently happier with what I got right out of the camera on the Pixel 4 than the 3 — even though there are still instances where a quick hop into Google Photos for an "Auto" adjust is very useful.

There are also improvements in the fundamentals that are much tougher to edit after the fact; the Pixel 4 is sharper than the 3 while also doing a better job accurately capturing texture. This is most noticeable in low-light shots, where the Pixel 4 is still incredibly sharp and somehow makes the Pixel 3 look soft or almost blurry by comparison. In both daylight and low light the Pixel 4 tends to lean toward cooler white balance, which is, of course, a personal preference but I didn't feel I had to actually edit it all that often — and had to far less often than I did on the Pixel 3 to remove its overly warm cast.

Google Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 3: Camera comparison

Google has improved quality from the Pixel 3 across the board, while keeping everything that made it great.

Perhaps most importantly, the Pixel 4 seems to have addressed the massive issues with inconsistent performance and bugs in the camera app. I didn't have a single photo fail to save, and the app was consistently fast to open and capture photos — even burst shots — on short notice. I know this is table stakes by 2019 smartphone standards, particularly at this price, but these things were not givens on prior Pixels. The camera app also provides more utility than before, with a live HDR+ view of what your photo will actually look like, quick share options, a quick settings panel, and super-useful brightness sliders.

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Even though I think the biggest improvements to the camera have come in the automatic mode, Night Sight has also improved considerably. Night Sight photos continue to have a distinct look; they aren't perfect representations of a dark scene, but are instead a clearly opinionated take on what the scene should look like. There's a lot of processing going on here to bring out light and colors that, frankly, aren't actually there. That obviously won't appeal to everyone, but it doesn't take many instances of seeing Night Sight pull something out of nothing in a super-dark scene to be impressed. The Pixel 4 does it better than ever, with improved textures and detail compared to the Pixel 3.

Night Sight photos continue to have a distinct 'Pixel' look, but damnit they're great photos.

There's really just one place where Night Sight still struggles: large swaths of flat colors or smooth objects, like a cloud-free night sky or still body of water. For whatever reason, Night Sight still has a considerable problem introducing grain and blotchiness as it tries to process the smoothness. It's noticeably improved over the Pixel 3, but compared directly to the iPhone 11, the Pixel 4 looks considerably grainier in these situations — even though the rest of the scene is just as crisp and well-processed as (if not better than) the iPhone.

Google's choice to add a secondary telephoto camera may not be my favorite choice, but it's very well done. The 2X lens provides crisp shots in all but low light, and when paired with Google's already-wonderful Super Res Zoom tech easily grabs 4-5X shots that look quite good. Now I'm not really zooming with my smartphone camera all that often, but I can recognize that a lot of people do, and Google has a great combination of hardware and software to provide really good zoom. The telephoto camera also improves Google's strong portrait mode, though I still find the look of artificial portrait blur (in general) off-putting and easy to spot as being artificial.

Zoom shots with the Pixel 4 are great — but they don't satiate my appetite for an ultrawide camera.

Contrary to what Google may say, a telephoto lens (even a great one) is not a substitute for an ultrawide lens. I'm not trying to say that one is better than the other, but that's also not a choice we should have to make — many other companies put all three cameras in their phones, and I would've loved to see Google do the same. Seeing what Google can do with a standard and telephoto lens, I want to use Google's take on an ultrawide as well.

The front-facing camera is still great, but a couple of downgrades make it less enticing for vloggers.

There was one annoying downgrade this year, with Google moving to a single front-facing camera (like the Pixel 3a) from the dual cameras of the Pixel 3. The 90-degree lens splits the difference well between the Pixel 3's 75- and 97-degree lenses, and the quality is still superb — though oddly, autofocus has been removed. Presumably, there just wasn't room for dual cameras alongside all of the other complicated sensors in the top bezel, but that doesn't explain the loss of autofocus on the one camera that remained.

Perhaps Google thinks the camera's wide enough that autofocus would be superfluous, and I haven't yet found a situation where the Pixel 4 took a soft or out of focus selfie — either alone or with others. But as my friend MrMobile reminded me, the narrower field of view and loss of autofocus is a bummer for vloggers.

Google Pixel 4 XL Bottom line

Google Pixel 4 XL

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The Pixel 4 XL is easily Google's best-ever phone, and the one with the fewest compromises and issues. The display is no longer a weak point — it's bright, colorful, and has a 90Hz refresh rate. Its stereo speakers are loud and clear. Face unlock works exactly as advertised. Google has seemingly addressed the performance hiccups and software instability. And you can't overlook that it's now available from the four largest U.S. carriers and also unlocked from several retailers on Day 1.

The Pixel 4 XL is easily Google's best-ever phone, and one with the fewest compromises.

Those improvements were made while continuing the Pixel's strengths. The hardware is simple, solid, and beautiful. The camera is, once again, the best you can get in the Android world — and arguably as good as the iPhone 11 Pro. Android 10 is clean and functional for novices and pros alike, and Google's handful of extra features, aided by on-device speech recognition, are incredibly useful. And it's guaranteed to receive software updates — both monthly security patches and full feature releases — for years to come.

4 out of 5

But many of Google's shortcomings are still apparent. The biggest one being battery life, which is frustratingly bad on the Pixel 4 XL and unacceptably bad on the Pixel 4. Not being able to consistently make it through the day on even the larger 4 XL is going to be a straight-up deal-breaker for many people, and I won't blame anyone for skipping these phones for their battery life alone.

I won't blame anyone for skipping these phones purely for their bad battery life.

Elsewhere, Google's typical head-scratching decisions are apparent. Face unlock, as a technology, is wonderful — but we're months away from developers implementing it in their apps. And the much-hyped Motion Sense isn't going to be responsible for selling a single phone. For a launch price of $900, you get a Pixel 4 XL with just 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage — and have to pay another $100 to simply get 128GB of storage, which should be the standard for this level of phone.

The incredible thing is that despite the Pixel 4 XL's subpar battery life and questionable value considering its specs, it's still a great total package. You have to get over the first major hurdle of accepting that you're going to think about battery life and charging every single day you use this phone. If you can do that, you'll be rewarded with an exceptional experience in many other ways: great hardware, an incredible camera, and good software. The Pixel 4 XL is, ultimately, one of the best and most holistic combinations of software and hardware you can get in a smartphone.

Google Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL

This is easily Google's best-ever phone. The hardware is sleek and efficient, and Android 10 runs brilliantly. Google's additions to the software set it apart, face unlock works incredibly well, and this is the best Android camera available. But the battery life is frustratingly bad, and it's hard not to feel short-changed paying this much for weak RAM and storage.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

91 Comments
  • i dont see a single mention about video recording?
  • I wish I could hit on every last point of the phone, but at 5300 words the review is already substantial. Video recording is one of the things that didn't make the cut, mostly because it's effectively unchanged from the Pixel 3.
  • Which means it is lackluster.
  • Video recording is limited to 4k 30 fps. If you're ok paying $900 for a "top tier" phone that is artificially limited to 4k 30 fps, then P4XL has you covered.
  • Correction: so few bought one because it was only available through Google or Verizon. Watch this change now that it is available in all major carriers. This was the main reason I didn't purchase, as well as about a dozen people I know.
  • You're probably right but when I look at t-mobile (my carrier), they only have the 64gb variants available. That's a no-go for me. I don't need half a terabyte like some people claim. I don't even need a full 128gb...but I do need more than 64, so 128 it is. I don't think I'm going to be alone in that and carriers not carrying the 128gb is going to remain a blockade for major adoption (in my opinion)
  • Sucks to hear video didn't improve at all. I have pre ordered mainly because my carrier gave me a discount making the 128gb the same price as 64gb. Didn't think the battery life thing would have improved but sadly, since I have a 3XL that only makes it through the day because I have chargers all over the place it won't be a deal breaker for me. But if you have a phone with good battery life, yikes this won't be fun.
  • I think 4/5 hours of screen on time is definitely above average usage. If it does 4 I'll be more than happy after 2.5 on the regular Pixel 3 for the last year.
  • Yeah but that's new. I've had phones that do that new then average out at under 3 hours pretty quickly.
  • I have a regular Pixel 3 and don't have a problem getting 4hrs now and it was a launch day order. But I think I'm skipping this one, and hope others do the same so maybe Google will finally take battery life seriously.
  • You should be asking for more, and Google should be giving you more. Like, just this last weekend I took my iPhone 11 Pro off the charger when I got off work around 5 pm-ish Friday. It was Sunday morning by the time it was at ten percent, and trust me I used it a lot (about 8-ish hours of screen on time by the time it was at 10 percent). That. Is. Bonkers. Especially coming from the "small" model. Now, a majority of the time I don't let my phone go that long without a charge because I have a wireless charger at work, home, fast charger in my car, etc., and I also don't use it that hard. However, I was at a wedding this weekend, and it's just nice to know that the phone CAN last that long. It has done so well for me, that I'm staying with it for the foreseeable future. Typically every year, I try out the latest iPhone model, but come back to Android once the Pixel arrives because its camera has pretty much always been ahead of the competition, and because battery life wasn't too far behind. But all that changed this year when Apple stepped up its camera game and finally caught up to Google but also pulled ahead significantly in the battery life department. It's a shame because I do enjoy the Pixel's software, and this year I actually prefer the overall look of the Pixel 4 compared to my iPhone 11 Pro. However, what's the point in having all that super advanced, machine-learning craziness in the camera and software when the phone can't even execute the basics like battery life right? Maybe next year, Google.
  • In England the iPhone 11 Pro is £1,049 vs £829 for the Pixel 4 XL - that's significantly more money, I would hope it would be better for an additional £220
  • This is why you can't just look at screen-on time. Yes 4-5 hours is fine ... but if it's paired with standby that's bad enough that the phone can't make it through the rest of the day, it isn't worth that much. My other phones from 2019 can do 4-5 hours screen-on and also last a full 17-18 hour day.
  • This is a great point. Maybe stand by can go up a bit with further software updates. At any rate I need the great camera to be useable for say a day at the zoo, or theme park.
  • Never buy a phone hoping something will be improved via software updates. Buy a phone because it suits your needs at the time of purchase...not for what might get better later.
  • Seriously, anybody know what happened to "Doze" etc? Why does my Moto G7 Power sip battery in standby, but my pixel 2 and 2XL chug it like a sailor on shore leave? Why can't Google figure this out?
  • in standby with battery saver on, i once took phone off charger at 10pm (100%), woke up at 5am, phone still at 100%.... battery saver works great on this phone
  • I can't imagine suffering with 2.5 hours SOT. That reminds me of my Galaxy Nexus days
    *cringes*
  • Pixel 1, 2 and 3 phones have had their batteries degraded by half since the Android 10 update.
    The forums are filled with tens of thousands of people complaining about this sudden battery degradation just before Pixel 4 launch.
    My own Pixel used to get me 4-4.5hrs of Screen on Time easily. Now its been reduced to 2.5hrs.
  • One to get with a atrocious battery life? I'll pass.
  • "The Pixel 4 XL is easily Google's best-ever phone, and the one with the fewest compromises and issues." Should be the headline. Lol. I'm sure I will have great battery life with it. As I don't have my eyes glued to a screen. Sounds like a damn near perfect phone for me. Should be five stars by the way judging by the quoted line.
  • Not using your phone and getting great battery life is a weird flex.... but OK. You do you.
  • So bad battery life and sub-par video recording, but it's okay because wow that camera and software? Smh. Like, I get it, I've had every Pixel since the OG one, but at some point Google has to be held accountable for what they produce compared to the rest of the pack, right? I mean, the iPhone 11 Pro stepped up its game significantly with its cameras this year and further moved the bar in the video recording department, but it did not do that at the expense of battery life. It's a damn shame the same can't be asked/expected here. I was honestly hoping Google pulled out some optimization wizardry and that these phones, especially the smaller model, could go the distance, but it looks like that's not the case, and it's a shame Google can't treat the rest of their phone experience with as much care as they do their camera/software. It also makes me question the taste level of some reviewers. Like, how can you call a phone a "total package" when it's missing an aspect that is quite possibly the most important part of that package?
  • That's what's so hilarious about the pixel line! Google makes the freaking software and hardware for this phone but still can't optimize it properly. Google gets away with so much and if reviewers would stop justifying and rationalizing this phone maybe Google would wake up but alas. 
  • And it only took Apple a decade to finally step up its game.
  • "I'll say right off the top that the Pixel is the best Android camera available" LOL.
    No.
    Not even close to it.
  • Yeah, the color reproduction on Huawei's new phones come out on top this year. Thr photos I've seen so far on this year's Pixels look good, but surprisingly grainy.
  • Take this with a grain of salt since Nexus 5 was the last Android device I owned. While Apple can get away with a lot of those issues mentioned in this review, I don't think Google can. Not on a platform that offers so many good/better options out there for cheaper prices. The reason I left Android is because of Google, I did not want a Samsung device and wanted Google to be more consistent and dedicated to their offerings. It seems those issues are still there.
  • I likes both phones but you kinda need a battery pack, or like hanging around a plug or wireless charger. I'm still amazed a 2800mamp battery with a 90hz display? Yikes... 800.00+ dollars seems a bit much!
  • Great, not good, battery life is table stakes these days. 4 stars is too high for a phone that doesn’t deliver that. It’s inexcusable.
  • Good thing I read this (and many other) reviews before ordering this phone. I don’t want it if it will struggle just to make it a full day on battery. I’ll look to the OneOlus 7T instead.
  • Same. I am getting the oneplus 7t
  • I got my 7T today. For $599 I couldn't ask for more
  • You should ask for more. Redmi K20 Pro is stunning and competes with flagships but at like $400 price range.
  • Just bought the OnePlus 7T today as well. Google needed to nail everything they were trying to execute at the price point they are at and they didn't. So to me, the pixel camera is just not worth $400 upcharge vs a better spec'd $600 phone.
  • Wise choice. I still miss my OnePlus 5, and 3, and 3T. I stopped with them too when they crept up in cost, but boy oh boy, was the 5 my favorite phone ever. I owned 2. Wish I still had them.
  • Battery life is very subjective. Most people claim the 2xl has horrible battery life, but I can easily get a day out of mine. I plan on buying some of those Pixel stands to wireless charge my 4XL at work and home; it will look better on the stand instead of laying on my desk.
  • My previous phone was a Samsung S8+. It became useless disappointingly quickly, and had to be charged mid-day. I have been using a Pixel 2XL for two years now, and the battery experience has been wonderful. I haven't had to charge it before bedtime more than a handful of times, always after very heavy use. Granted, the battery is starting to worsen, the last few weeks I've noticed streaming music over 4G is wearing the battery down noticeably faster than it used to, but it's still good. To me, the 2XL has been an amazing battery phone, the best I've ever owned by a pretty big margin.
  • Hey, you have seen a battery degradation in the past few weeks because of Google's Android 10 update recently.
    Tens of thousands of people are complaining about this random battery degrade on Google forums.
    My Pixel's battery life degraded by half overnight after Android 10 update.
  • Why was video recording for both front and back cameras left out? if it's just as bad as last year's pixel why does it deserve the title of best camera on Android? isn't it 50/50 pictures and videos that should contribute to say a phone is the best overall?are they improvement to the point now that it can compete with iPhone or Samsung?
  • From what I have read they changed nothing with video.
  • Google will win the crown. 1% of market share plus no India release, ouch! Most consumers like battery power, these two phones!
  • How many devices do you think Google would sell at this price point in India? Expensive devices do not sell well in India, its simple economics. The majority of the population do not have that kind of buying power.
  • The on-device assistant processing is a nice upgrade. I use assistant frequently and it's irritating that it doesn't work when data connection is spotty (or when using a VPN often). I will probably pick one up in a few months when they start to drop the price a bit.
  • Andrew, I know we are going back in time a little here, but how would you compare the Pixel 4XL's battery life to the Pixel 2XL? There is a fairly significant difference in sizes of battery between these two phones, and I feel like there are many P2 XL owners (including myself) that will be moving on to the 4XL this year. I know for me, the 2xl more than makes it through the day, im sure in part to hooking up to android auto when i take my short commutes, but Im curious as to what your opinions between these two phones would be.
  • This is a good question and reviewers should actually start comparing to the latest phone to two generations back.
  • *Uh, what?* Not sure if serious...
  • Why would anyone compare a new phone model to a two year old model with a battery that’s been used for two years?
  • Because most of the phone buying population isn't getting a new one every year. It's a relevant comparison outside of sites like these.
  • I am a Pixel fan and have preordered the 4XL. All reviews are the opinions of the person reviewing the phone. I do think Andrew does good reviews and am not surprised by any of the items he talked about. I use my phone differently than you do. I dont do FB, SC, Twitter. I look at Instagram a few times a day but I am not glued to it. I currently get about 12 hours or so on the battery of the 3 XL. I carry a Aukey power 10000 mAH power bank that pretty quickly recharges the phone. To me it's all about the cleanest install of Android. I use Fi so have no carrier BS on my phone and love it. I lasted 7 weeks with a Samsung Edge. I also look forward to seeing how the phone works for me, Your Mileage may vary!
  • You can disable or uninstall pretty much anything you want on Samsung phones without root. I have exactly the same apps on my Note as I do on Pixel. Samsung UI is actually better then Pixels because settings have lots of useful features. Samsung for example had dark mode for a while now and Pixel just got it with Android 10. Google is playing patch up here
  • Glad that works for you, but not everyone wants to carry a battery pack. And in 2019, you shouldn't have to...especially with a $800-900 phone.
  • Google doesn't care if the phone lasts from morning to night, they'll already have harvested and sold enough of your marketing potential by 4pm.
  • Google does not sell your data. This has been well covered.
  • Pixels resale values make all other phones look good.
  • The battery life, and the inclusion of Soli and motion sense for no really substantively beneficial reason, hint to a company that continues to be tone deaf to making real consumer devices, and to the pixel for being a generation to skip. There is no reason the competition should be able to catch up in the camera department as well, except for Google being lazy in hardware. This is the same mortal mistake made by LG and others, including Samsung, where they don't bother to actually upgrade image sensors, to save money. Imagine if the money and internal real estate wasted on motion sense was utilized towards extra battery life, slightly larger battery and a newer, more sensitive image sensor. Instead we have battery life sacrificed for the sake of including tech for tech's sake, and we have the same old recycled Sony IMX363 sensor used a year ago in the Pixel 3 and rehashed for the pixel 3a. It's a shame, because I love what Google has done from the pixel 2 to the pixel 3 and the pixel 3 remains one of my go-tos for photo shooting on the fly, but the pixel 4 is half baked as a consumer product. The competition has not been sitting still, Google. The pixel 5 is going to be the next Google phone to get, not this one. Apple finally learned that taking care of consumers number one complaint, battery life, is actually a good thing. When will you learn Google?
  • Soli is worth it just for the fastest face reconition on a phone.
  • Just going to throw out a prediction. Apple will have a tougher time selling phones next year because of it.
  • Hi, had a question around the battery life piece. I keep reading in a lot of places that it's bad, even on the XL, but would anyone be able to comment on it vs. say, the OnePlus 6T. Just curious, because that phone got great reviews for battery life (including on this site) with an ever so slightly larger screen, and same sized battery. Is 90hz that big of a culprit? If so, has it been tested without it enabled? Just curious before I decide on upgrading, if it's comparable to the 6T, I'm sold. Either way, enjoyed the review. Thanks
  • I would say the battery life is not as good as the 6T. The 6T is pretty barebones in its software, and the display is 60hz, lower resolution and not nearly as bright. But of course there are other reasons to consider upgrading ... you just may be happier with a OnePlus 7T, for example, with better battery life, if you like your OnePlus.
  • Nice headline :) and true
  • I wonder if it's possible to turn down the screen refresh rate, and if so, if that would make the battery life bearable. I get a full 2 days out of my Pixel 3a XL pretty easily.
  • Yes, screen can be set at 60hz
  • It has been proven by several Pixel 4 testers that turning off 90hz completely has little to no effect on battery life. So enjoy 90hz full time!
  • That is not what MKBHD said...
  • You can, then your battery life will be similar to current Pixel 3 which is not enough for me. With all features enabled it seems battery is just horrible. I am not a fan of topping off my phones, and on top of it the charger is from last year which is only 18w, all others are 25-45w already
  • You can set it to 60Hz, but it doesn't automatically make this a full-day phone. The battery life is impacted by the screen, but the screen isn't the only thing draining it.
  • leaving 90hz on 24/7 has little to no effect on battery life. Already proven by some of the Pixel 4 testers/reviewers.
  • Battery stand by can be fixed through software updates. Might take six months however knowing Google. Still buying when the first drop in price comes around.
  • The battery story is pretty sad. I'm at about 18 hours of runtime on one charge right now, and my poor battery is all the way down to 78%. I guess the best camera is the one you have with you, unless it's dead.
  • You must be using your phone only as a alarm clock
  • No, actually I've used Chrome more than anything, and that's a battery pig. Th rest of the time was gaming, Visual Voicemail, Amazon shopping, YouTube, the Nine email app for work, some phone calls and some text messaging. So technically, it IS a light day for me, because I usually pound it with lots of video and gaming. Even then, I have power to spare, but I forgot to mention I don't have a Pixel... this is for the HTC U12 Plus. PS: My official stats as recorded by GSam Battery Monitor Pro are an AVERAGE screen on time of 5h 1m, and a maximum actual screen on time of 9h 48m on one charge. Average runtime is 23h 9m per charge, but I have gone 70 hours on one charge.
  • PS: wrapping up day two on the same charge: 39h 20m of run time, 4h4m of screen on time, and an hour of that was binging YouTube videos. Still have about 13 hours of battery left :)
  • After walking into my local T-Mobile store and trying the OnePlus 7T and the Pixel 4 I've come to the conclusion that OnePlus does Google better than Google does Google. Also my OnePlus 7 Pro isn't too bad either.
  • Really well written review. Cheers.
  • I think the Pixel 4 has failed basic expectations and for the first time in a couple of years I think people will skip the Pixel and buy a Samsung. Old Pixel 2 > new Samsung S10 Shame really, I was hoping the Pixel 4 was going to be great.
  • Good review.
    I still think Google's hardware division is very young, but there is hope. I just don't see future proof in their overall designs.
    The only thing that will keep me in their camp is their Assistant and how that firms up. That's how I currently use my phone - as my personal assistant, so everything based on that is a plus...
    A great camera is a bonus, but it has to function as a good phone first.
  • "Per usual, there's a whole bunch of hullabaloo over whether Google's face unlock implementation is secure or not. It's just as secure as fingerprints are (yes, even without a requirement to open your eyes), and if you're really worried about security you shouldn't be using face unlock or fingerprints — set up a long password or several-digit PIN for your lock screen instead." Finally, someone who gets it!!!! Great article by the way!
  • My Pixel 4 XL arrives in a day or two. Let's see how it does. I'm comparing to my iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung S10+. Battery comments are concerning. I was already on the fence regarding the lack of ultra-wide camera which I find incredibly handy when travelling, especially in dense spaces or at beaches where I want to capture FoV closer to what I see.
  • News flash: DxOMark finished testing the Pixel 4, and it did not make the top five. It's currently in eighth place, and the iPhone 11 is yet to be tested. Take this with a grain of salt, as the score includes features which impacts the score of devices that don't have that particular feature, like a wide angle camera. Also, some phones get high scores which don't pan out in real life, like the OnePlus 7 Pro and the iPhone XS Max.
  • This phone is a joke. A great camera is not equal to a great smartphone.
  • I don't think it's the Pixel 4 that has the battery issue, I think it's Android 10 that's causing the battery issue. My P2XL has less battery since installing Android 10. This give's me hope that a software fix might greatly improved charge life of the P4's.. and my P2XL.
    This battery thing is the only thing keeping me from running out and grabbing one of the Obviously an Ugly Orange P4XL..
  • Hit the nail on the head. Idk how Google can let an half baked Android 10 be available to everyone.
    All the Pixel users have noticed that their battery life degraded by half after A10 update.
  • I wouldn't buy this phone for $300. There's no excuse for bad battery life in 2019. My S8+ gets 5 hours of screen on time after almost 3 years.
  • I think this phone is extremely frustrating on the point that I want to like the phone. I have the Pixel 3XL and the battery life there was okay to not good. The camera is good and all but there is more to a smartphone than just the camera and Google seems to have forgotten that. It is still a phone. Recently decided to switch over to the OnePlus 7Pro and it is like night and day. The phone is just a pleasure to use. The battery life last me and more through a whole day. The camera is perfectly fine. It can get some great pictures most of the time and terrible pictures some of the time but that is a compromised I didn't realize I was okay to make. I'm a big Pixel fan and pre-ordered the Pixel 4XL right at launch but after reading the reviews (here & youtube), I decided to cancel it. This will be the first time I will skip ordering a Pixel since its launch. I'll wait until the dust settles. Give it some time and maybe on sale for Black Friday and think about it but for now I'm more than happy with 7Pro (except waiting for Android 10). LOL
  • What was google thinking when they decided on weak battery? And minimal storage? I'll stay with my pixel2 for the camera and quick updates only. My next phone is leaning back to samsung.
  • terrible effort from google. google should be ashamed. hope the sales are beyond terrible.. just pathetic from a multi billion dollar global giant.
  • Pixels, and the Nexus' before them always struck me as classical google products.. experimental and permanently in beta.
    Frustrating the crap out of me anyway.
    Maybe 5 will be the magic number like the Nexus line
  • Do not update your Pixel phones to Android 10.
    That is the major reason for a bad battery life.
    Literally tens of thousands of people have taken to forums to complain that their Pixel phones (across generations 1, 2 & 3) have degraded in battery life by half. Even mine has degraded battery life. I used to get 4.5 hrs Screen on Time and now I barely get 2.5 hrs SOT.
  • Thank you for the thorough review! I had already placed my pre-order by the time I read it, but I already knew what I wanted in a smartphone and the Pixel 4XL has it. Add to that a $450 credit for my trade-in, and it was an easy decision for me. The battery life issues you raised concerned me, but I did a test and determined it was fine for my use case, since I had a charge from 7:45 am to 11:45 pm, and my phone was at 5% at that time. That seems more than reasonable to me, since I charge it at night while I sleep. I didn't use them yesterday because I wanted to see how long the battery would last, but typically during the day, I have my phone on a Pixel Stand at work, and when I'm in my home office, I place it on a Pixel Stand I have there. I have a wired charger next to my favorite theater seat in the media room, and another one near my nightstand for overnight charging. I have chargers and a high-capacity portable charger in my laptop bag for when I travel. I never have battery or charger anxiety because I have them everywhere. I guess my point is that you provided some valuable information on the battery and how your use case isn't conducive to its limited capacity. Every potential buyer needs to take their use profile into account when purchasing this or any other phone. I wanted the timely software updates and "pure" UI experience of the Pixel, and I take many more pictures with the Pixel than I did before when I was a Galaxy Note devotee simply because the camera is amazing for novice shooters like me. Price is a factor for me, too, and if it wasn't for the significant credit Verizon offered, I would have been perfectly content to stay with my Pixel 3XL.
  • not having your battery life issues, but I have disabled 90hz screen and motion sense. I do leave location on though... i typically get 4.5-6 hours of SOT. If i proactively use battery saver, its very easy to make it through a whole day and I have yet to see what compromises it causes me. I still get emails without loading my gmail, etc, so its still working in the background. I do miss the fingerprint scanner. Face Unlock works well but sometimes I have found the fingerprint is more convenient. I hope the 5 has an in-screen reader.