Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: The Pixel 4 XL has a fantastic camera, but basic issues on the hardware front prevent it from being a great phone. The battery life is woefully inadequate, and 64GB of storage is nowhere enough for a flagship in 2019. You're better off waiting for the inevitable discount before getting your hands on one.
A great camera gets even better
Vibrant 90Hz screen
Much-needed hardware changes
Excellent selfie camera
Meaningful software additions
Battery life is woeful
No ultra-wide camera
No more original quality uploads
64GB base storage is inexcusable
Face unlock is inconsistent
Motion Sense doesn't do anything useful
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Another year, another Pixel launch that's dominated by hardware shortcomings. I thought Google would take a good look at the hardware side of things after all the issues with the Pixel 3 series last year, but clearly that was too much to ask for.
So in the Pixel 4 XL we get a flagship phone with a flagship camera and corresponding pricing, but internal hardware that fails to pass muster yet again. To its credit, Google made a few welcome changes — the 90Hz screen is a great addition, and 6GB of RAM means you can actually use the camera and not having everything else in the background automatically close.
But because this is a phone made by Google, there are bound to be drawbacks, and this time it's battery life. The 90Hz screen is particularly power-hungry, so much so that the 3700mAh battery just isn't able to keep up.
I used the Pixel 4 XL for just over a month, and here's what I think of Google's latest flagship.
Google Pixel 4 XL What I love
Pixel devices have always featured a minimalist design, and that hasn't changed with the Pixel 4 XL. Google made a few changes to the overall design — including a square camera housing at the back — but the materials are overall aesthetic is still the same.
I particularly like the feel of the Pixel 4 XL in-hand because of the matte coating at the back. The coating does a great job masking the fact that you're essentially holding a glass slab, and it also prevents fingerprint smudges. This year, the matte finish is available on the Just Black and Oh So Orange color options, and I picked up the latter because of that vibrant orange hue.
The orange Pixel 4 XL immediately stands out in a sea of gradient patterns, and the two-tone finish gives it more character. I'm not particularly fond of the asymmetrical bezels at the front, but I'll take this design any day over the monstrosity that was the notch on the Pixel 3 XL.
But you're not buying the Pixel 4 XL for its design. What you're interested in is the camera, and Google has made considerable gains in this area. Portrait mode on the Pixel 4 XL is fantastic, and having used the Galaxy Note 10+, P30 Pro, and the iPhone 11 extensively this year I can confidently say that the Pixel 4 XL is the best camera right now for portrait shots.
Where it has a clear edge over its rivals is with shooting everyday objects: the P30 Pro also takes great portrait shots of people, but it struggles at edge detection for inanimate objects. That isn't the case with the Pixel 4 XL, and I managed to get some truly stunning photos.
Google has also made changes to Night Sight, and the result is that the Pixel 4 XL takes the best low-light photos of any phone today, Android or otherwise. But what makes the Pixel 4 XL truly great is that you can take a shot and know that it will be perfect. It doesn't matter what you're trying to capture; all you should know is that every time you press the shutter button, the resultant photo will be great.
Another feature that I particularly like on the Pixel 4 XL is the gesture to open the camera. Just double tap the power button and it'll launch the viewfinder. This particular feature makes all the difference if you're trying to capture an ephemeral moment.
I ended up taking over 850 photos over the course of the month I used the Pixel 4 XL, and here are some highlights:
Google finally increased the memory on the Pixels, with the Pixel 4 XL featuring 6GB of RAM. That extra 2GB from previous generations makes all the difference, whether it's launching the camera or multitasking. For once, I didn't get the feeling that the software is being hobbled by inadequate memory.
Because of the additional RAM and the 90Hz display, the Pixel 4 XL flies through mundane tasks. All the memory management issues that plagued the Pixel 3 XL are non-existent, and it's finally great to use a Pixel that doesn't slow down.
Google's unique software additions also make a huge difference, and the new Assistant in particular is great. Standout features from earlier Pixels — Active Edge, Now Playing, and At A Glance — are back, and the new additions in the form of Recorder, car crash detection, and theming options make the phone stand out. Overall, it's clear that Google is positioning its unique take on the software as the differentiation for the Pixels, and it is working for the search giant.
Google Pixel 4 XL What I hate
At this point, you know that the battery life on the Pixel 4 XL is less than optimal. For the first week that I used the phone, I had to charge it for a half hour in the evening to make it last until bedtime. But then it got better over the last three weeks, and I regularly managed to get a day's worth of use with medium usage.
That said, anytime I stress the phone to any meaningful degree — whether it's navigation, taking a lot of photos, or playing games — the battery falls off a cliff. It's this inconsistency that makes using the Pixel 4 XL so frustrating. I've trained myself to leave the phone to charge at around mid-day to make sure I don't have to worry about the battery running out while I'm outside at night.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hardware issues on the Pixel 4 XL. The oleophobic coating on the lower half of the screen rubbed off on its own in the first two weeks. I usually wipe devices down with a microfiber cloth before taking photos, but that wasn't the case with the Pixel 4 XL and the coating came off anyway.
Google advertised Motion Sense as a marquee feature on the Pixel 4 XL, but aside from face unlock, I didn't use the feature at all. That's because the current use case for Motion Sense — waving your hand over the phone to switch tracks — is more convoluted than just hitting the button directly. On that subject, face unlock itself has been inconsistent for me over the course of the month, and more often than not I had to just enter the PIN to unlock the phone. face unlock systems always struggle with beards, and the Pixel 4 XL is no different in this area.
Then there's the fact that the Pixel 4 XL is the only major phone this year without an ultra-wide lens. Google says it took customer needs into consideration when building out the features for the Pixel 4 XL, but the fact that the phone is the only flagship this year to not have an ultra-wide camera tells you everything you need to know about how Google approaches hardware. You instead get a secondary zoom lens, and aside from using it a few times for novelty's sake, I didn't bother much with the feature.
I paid $900 for the Pixel 4 XL and got 64GB of base storage. I get to use more Chinese phones than anyone else here at AC, and this year in particular, brands have significantly raised the game in terms of value. I reviewed the $500 Realme X2 Pro recently, and that device destroys the Pixel 4 XL when it comes to hardware. Heck, every major flagship released this year had 128GB of storage as standard, but for some reason Google is still sticking to 64GB.
It's infuriating to see Google screw up the basics with the Pixel 4 XL. 64GB of storage is just not enough for a flagship in 2019, not when you consider $200 phones now offer 64GB as the base model. Then there's the fact that the storage module itself isn't UFS 3.0 — unlike every other flagship — but the older UFS 2.1 standard. This isn't an issue right now, but two years down the line the Pixel 4 XL will be on the back-foot.
This wasn't an issue with earlier Pixel phones, because every few months I offloaded all photos to Google Photos and just deleted them from my phone. But Google got rid of unlimited original quality Google Photos uploads, and you instead just get the high quality tier, which is the same as every other Android phone.
After just a month's worth of use, I ended up running through 78% of storage on my 64GB Pixel 4 XL, and have just 13GB left over. I was initially interested in the 128GB option, but the orange color variant was only available in 64GB and that ultimately made the decision for me.
Unlimited uploads was a differentiating feature of the Pixel series, and for Google to take it away feels short-sighted. Of course, the reasoning for the move is immediately obvious: Google wants you to pay for Google One instead, and while this strategy works for the mid-range Pixel 3a series, not offering the feature on the flagship Pixel 4 is a step backwards.
Furthermore, for a brand that positions the camera as a defining feature of its phone, it's astonishing that Google still doesn't offer 4K video at 60fps. You're limited to 4K at 30fps, and it's solely because of the hardware shortcomings: as the phone has just 64GB of internal storage, Google decided to forgo the feature.
Then there's fast charging. This year we saw the introduction of 40W wired charging on the P30 Pro, and even Samsung got in on the action by introducing 45W charging for the Note 10+. You would think that Google would be interested in offering faster wired charging considering just how often you have to charge the phone, but the Pixel 4 XL is still at 18W, the same as last year.
Finally, the fact that I can't use this phone when I go back home to India next month pretty much makes the Pixel 4 XL a non-starter for me. For Google to not anticipate that Motion Sense would not work in all countries speaks volumes of its naiveté when it comes to hardware.
Google Pixel 4 XL One month later
I didn't mean for this review to turn into a rant, but the fact that Google screwed up in so many key areas suggests that it just isn't serious about hardware. What makes it even more infuriating is that this is Google's fourth go-around at making a flagship; it should have ironed out these issues a generation ago.
Sure, an argument could be made that Google's philosophy isn't about delivering the best specs, but instead offering a great overall experience. That line of thinking comes undone when your phone runs out of storage after just a month.
Google is decidedly taking an iPhone-esque approach with the Pixels, but it doesn't have the same follow-through. Apple designs its own silicon and makes sure the software is able to take full advantage of the hardware platform. That's why even though the iPhone 11 has just 4GB of RAM, it doesn't slow down or feel laggy. Google, meanwhile, is hedging all its bets on software optimization without making sure the hardware is up to scratch first.
Therefore, I have a hard time recommending the Pixel 4 XL. It has a great camera and I like the unique software additions, but there are basic hardware issues that need to be worked out. Google still has a long way to go before it is anywhere close to Samsung and Huawei when it comes to hardware.
3.5 out of 5
Ultimately, there is no way you should pay over $800 for this phone. The Pixel 4 XL is a good option at around the $500 price point, and if you are interested in that camera, you should wait a few months for the price to inevitably come down. Google thinks it can compete with the likes of the Galaxy Note 10+ and the iPhone 11, but the hardware on offer with the Pixel 4 XL just does not hold up in long-term usage.
It is what it is
Great camera letdown by baffling hardware choices.
The Pixel 4 XL has a fantastic camera, but basic issues on the hardware front prevent it from being a great phone. The battery life is woefully inadequate, and 64GB of storage is nowhere enough for a flagship in 2019. You're better off waiting for the inevitable discount before getting your hands on one.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
And I though Pixel 4 bashing season was finally over.
I was wrong!
Having a different opinion from you isn’t “bashing”. 🙄
Hard disagree on some of those negatives. I must be using my phone dramatically differently than every reviewer, but I sit at a desk all day. It charges all day. 95% of the time, I have no battery worries, even with the smaller version. Second, face unlock has been great for me, and I haven't noticed any inconsistency. I'm often amazed that it recognizes me even with sunglasses, hats, etc. obscuring parts of my face even. Lastly, motion sense. No, there's not big life-changing feature from motion sense, but the phone knowing when I reach for it to wake up, or quiet alarms, and the swipe to snooze have been great, and I don't want to go back to a phone without those.
I sure hope you wouldn't see battery issues if your phone is connected to a charger 95% of the time.
If you are on a charger all day then any generic smartphone phone will do for that kind of usage. When you have to be away from a charger, have to rely on strictly the phone battery then the tale is much different story on what last and what does not.
My wife's original iPhone 3GS will only run for an hour unplugged. It would work fine for you! 😉
Your going to cause loads of battery issues leaving your phone on charge all day it will kill it altogether
You shouldn't have a love hate relationship with a device that costs this much.
And a love/hate relationship with a phone is a hate relationship, really.
Great review. I agree completely. If you want a good camera (and are willing to pay for it) go with a Pixel. Otherwise, go with something different or a Pixel 3a I suppose since it is cheap enough to make up for its shortcomings.
It’s pretty clear the Note 10+ is the real phone winner this year. Great battery, great cameras, and high storage options.
I think the Notes are great but not as good cameras, no 90hz display, no fast updates and the Pixels update longer. The software is also better on the Pixels for things like AI and machine learning and the Pixels are cheaper. That's not to say that the Notes don't have many of their own advantages too.
I chose the pixal 3a XL over both pixal4's. Why, the value of course. I could not see spending 1,ooo dollars on the 128gb XL model. I got the 3aXL for 4oo.oo bucks including tax. That's a 6oo.oo dollar difference. I just feel there is no value in the flagships. The 3a performs admirably for the money with almost identical cameras which is the reason I wanted a pixal, no regrets & my pocketbook is very happy!
Amen!! You took the words right out of my mouth!!
Verizon dosen't 'honor' the 3aXL for a dual sim... I would have jumped on it for the Black Friday promo price, unlocked. The 4's are priced way too high for what one gets. Of course, YMMV.
3a/3a XL make it hard to justify paying for a flagship again.
Nice to see a fair review. Well done!
As I mentioned on another forum, I believe google should stop making phones. One has to question their overall commitment to producing a phone in a complete package. To ignore users feedback about pixel shortcomings shows a big disconnect and disingenuous attitude. If they insist on building phones maybe they should focus on a top model being mid tier in terms of specs and prices and be happy with that. (Such as the pixel 3a) To continue to offer a product where the main plus is their camera but underwhelming hardware features with a high price is an insult to consumers. Unless something drastic changes my next phone will be going back to samsung.
If the price point was 400-500 with the current hardware config I would be okay with it aka Nexus line that is what this really is with a major improvement in camera. The rest was always included so it's hard to justify the additional cost IMO.
90hz displays, top end cameras, custom chips for AI and machine learning, the best quality biometric security, premium builds and new technologies like Soli radar are costly additions in place of cheap add-ons that others offer instead. You may prefer more RAM, a slightly bigger battery or wide angle lens and that's fine, to each their own, but the fact is that cheap Chinese midrange phones have that stuff while NOBODY can offer the combination of high end expensivee technologies that the Pixels offer.
All I needed was four days with my 4xl
and I sent it back!
Hmm, a great camera for $999, or a better Nikon camera with 40x zoom for $225... By the way, I did a photo-documentary the last two days... spent 6 hours straight walking and shooting 167 photographs, plus a couple video segments, plus music and GPS on the way home. Battery was at 40% when I was done.
I have a 4XL and abuse it daily. I love the screen, the camera, and the overall performance. I've only once run out of battery and that, unfortunately, was at the critical moment I needed to tell my wife that I was in an ambulance on my way to hospital. Inconvenient, but the phone hadn't been charged in over twenty four hours and I'd been at my office Christmas party the night before. I don't get why people are so negative about this phone. I know the standard 4 is woeful when it comes to battery, but the XL is a great phone.
Maybe the small battery is Google's attempt to cut back on the amount of cobalt being used from child labor mines in the Congo.
I can find much more fault in the criticism of the Pixels than the phone itself.
-Battery life is woeful
It's really not THAT bad, especially on the XL version, and it's offset by excellent fast charging anyways. This one is perhaps the most exaggerated of all.
-No ultra-wide camera
The quality is awful on those cameras with them and you can get just as good or better with an add on. Either way it's a cheap omission on one of the best camera phones on the market.
-No more original quality uploads
This one is funny. It was deemed as worthless when available and now it's a con when it's gone, even though NOBODY else offers it either.
-64GB base storage is inexcusable
This criticism is inexcusable. Many would rather the cheaper phone with low storage and it's not like a 128 GB version isn't available.
-Face unlock is inconsistent
That is flat out wrong in my experience. If the phone is on a flat plain, beit held that way or on a table, and you raise it to your face it works every time. If the phone is upright/on an angle then only the lock screen is displayed for quick view of notifications. It's this way by design, otherwise the phone would unlock all of the time when you only want to view the lockscreen/notifications.
-Motion Sense doesn't do anything useful
It wakes the phone faster as you reach for it and makes for a faster Face Unlock and it's great for silencing an alarm without having to fumble with the phone. It's not a game changer but that doesn't mean it's useless either. For me, the lengths of which that people go in order to find weak criticisms of the Pixels just tells me that they actually must be very good. That these criticisms are highlighted while the far more important Pixel advantages are ignored is the real travesty here. Fortunately owners appear to be very happy with them regardless so many have been able to see past the negative smokescreen.
Valid points made in the review. Battery life for me has been good enough since my phone is never far from a charger and I always use Android Auto in my Mazda6. However I can see it as a liability when on vacation (i.e. Disney World etc). Face Unlock has been great for me. In fact I never grow a full beard and during November I did I saw surprised Face Unlock was still able to recognize me despite setting it up clean shaven in October. The lack of ultrawide is annoying and I've already had a few moments when it would have been useful. But I have small kids and the optical zoom has come in handy during a recent Christmas concert and general shots when I just want to snap photos of them and don't feel like getting up. The Pixel 4XL definitely deserves all the criticisms and I bought it for $710 from Best Buy at launch so the cost was more palatable to me. But Google certainly could have done better with the hardware. But the software experience so far has been amazing. From Google Call Screening, to innovative filtering of Spam calls, to Smart Storage, to automatically detecting confirmation codes in SMS, to the Now Playing ambient song detection feature, smart Always On Display.. all these little things and more add up to a great software experience, but on paper the specs are meh, and the battery is definitely a liability if you will be away from a charger for a while.
bigbrother2, no shave November? I miss it! Anyway, it seems my thoughts coincide with a lot of yours. In my car, I'm using Android Auto. At work, I'm in a car so I always have charging available. My son is still small, so not sure why I would need a wide angle lens. Never noticed missing it with my Pixel 2 XL. Plus, it is on sale right now for $500. Would that price point have made it more palatable?
Was looking forward to the Pixel 4 to move on from my Pixel 2 XL. Then the initial launch reviews came and I was disappointed. Right now though, I can get the 64 GB (never needed more) Pixel 4 (don't want the XL) for $500. Worth it? Of all the problems mentioned in the Hate It section, the only thing that pisses me off, is the unlimited storage change, but I think that was inevitable. Not sure any of the other complaints apply to me. That being said, what'll think? Harish, opinions?
I want a pixel but I just wished it had good battery life. Its what drew me to my huawei as I can do heavy battery use and it always lasts and still have 30-40% left at the end of the day. I will just wait till next year see what they come up with
« Unlimited uploads was a differentiating feature of the Pixel series » No, it was a marketing move from the start! It was limited in time (2 years i think). It was obviously a marketing hook to get more subscribers after they got all their pictures backed up in original quality. Now they are more likely to pay to keep it that way! It was never about the Pixel...
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