Technology

Hands on: Google Pixel 4 XL review

Still a top photo phone – for now

Early Verdict

The Google Pixel 4 XL hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, but aside from the extra camera lens and refined photo software, what changes there are might put off potential buyers. The notch is gone, with the top black bezel returning, and the fingerprint scanner has been ditched in favor of facial recognition ID; we’ll have to see if the other tweaks can keep the Pixel 4 XL ahead of the competition.

For

  • Camera has lots of potential
  • Large display, no notch

Against

  • No fingerprint scanner
  • Few hardware improvements

The Google Pixel 4 XL is the new, big-screened flagship smartphone bearing the search giant’s name, and arrives alongside its smaller sibling, the Google Pixel 4.

It’s the direct replacement for the Pixel 3 XL, and like its predecessor the main attraction on the Google Pixel 4 is its photography abilities. Google has added a second lens on the rear of the handset, while also introducing more software features for enhancing your images.

Aside from having a bigger screen, battery and body size, the Pixel 4 XL is pretty much the same phone as the Pixel 4 – they have the same specs, cameras and software.

Google Pixel 4 XL release date and price

The Google Pixel 4 XL release date is set for October 24, which means there isn’t too long to wait before you’re able to get your hands on the new phone.

As for how much it’ll set you back, the Google Pixel 4 XL price starts at $899 / £829 / AU$1,279 for the 64GB of storage model. There’s also a 128GB model, which will cost you $999 / £929 / AU$1,429.

No, you’re not losing it – those storage options are pretty low, especially in 2019, which is why Google is pushing its Google One cloud storage service. You can try it free for three months when purchase a Pixel 4 XL.

(Image credit: Future)

Design and display

At a quick glance, not much has changed from the Pixel 3 XL, but there are enough subtle alterations to qualify the Pixel 4 XL as a generational improvement, more or less.

Not all the changes may be well received, however. Most notably, Google has opted to ditch the notch and reinstate a bezel above the screen to house the earpiece, selfie camera and various sensors.

The rear fingerprint sensor, meanwhile, has been abandoned in favor of facial identification-only, Apple-style. This makes for a sleeker back, which is unblemished save for the new camera block in the upper-left corner – and while it isn’t as alien as the iPhone 11 Pro’s tri-blob lens suite, it still looks a bit awkward.

The rear has a matte finish, while the outer rim has changed from metal to a textured aluminum that, while not as classy as a gloss finish, gives better grip.

The Google Pixel 4 XL remains on the smaller side for a ‘large’ phone with its 6.3-inch QHD+ display, providing you with plenty of space for your apps, gaming sessions and video binges without being too big to handle.

Google has upped the screen refresh rate to 90Hz, which makes for admirably smooth scrolling through apps and interface. While this will probably best be most appreciated for gaming, we’ll have to see whether it delivers as good an experience as dedicated gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 2 and Razer Phone 2.

(Image credit: Future)

Camera

Just like its predecessors, the Pixel 4 XL bets big on its camera. The 12.2MP main camera (77-degree field of view) has been paired with a new 16MP telephoto lens (2x optical).

While that flies in the face of the 2019 trend to add ultra-wide lenses – heck, it’s only now catching up to the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 in adding a second telephoto shooter – it’s still fulfilling the dream of every Pixel phone fan who imagined the possibilities of pairing Google’s camera tech with more lenses.

The shots Google showed off at the launch event looked impressive, and it’s the software that’s doing much of the heavy lifting. For instance, Google recommends zooming in into hybrid territory (optical + digital) instead of shooting from afar and cropping later – advice that flies in the face of traditional phone photography logic, but which seems to pay off with higher-resolution images here.

Other software tweaks include better HDR, an improved Portrait mode and new astrophotography capability in the Night Sight mode – in short, giving users the ability to capture stars and the moon, even alongside less-bright Earth-bound features. Google’s photo software is pulling out all the stops to keep its lead.

Likewise, there have been improvements to the camera UI, including the ability to preview how HDR will enhance an image before you take it. There are also two new HDR sliders in the basic photo mode – Dual Exposure controls that let you tweak highlights and shadows on the fly.

Lastly, the 8MP dual selfie cameras remain unchanged – though you can also fiddle with Dual Exposure on front-facing photography.

(Image credit: Future)

Specs and performance

Under the hood the Google Pixel 4 XL comes with the flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset and 6GB of RAM, which provides plenty of grunt for the stock Android 10 operating system.

Zipping around the operating system felt extra smooth thanks to the 90Hz refresh rate display, and the top-tier specs kept up gamely.

There’s one more big interface improvement here: Motion Sense. As rumored, the Pixel 4 phones have a radar chip to read hand movements that enable you to control the phone without touching it, and Google showed off the usual baseline commands for this kind of thing, such as skipping songs by swiping.

There’s a bit more intelligence stitched in – for example to dial down the volume of your alarm when the phone detects your hand moving in – but in general these controls are scattered across apps and not universally implemented, and it’s hard to see this feature catching on.

Other neat tweaks include Live Caption, which Google first showed off at Google IO 2019, and the Recorder app, which now creates transcripts on the fly. They’re niche additions to existing apps, but ones that will be professionally useful for some select groups, and will expand accessibility for others.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

Google’s Pixel line of phones have always served as the purest vessel for the company’s vision of Android, and that’s okay, especially since their photo-taking chops have been top-notch for years. The Pixel 4 XL continues in that tradition, with a few tweaks that buttress its camera capabilities while keeping it behind the competition in terms of cutting-edge features elsewhere.

But with the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and Huawei P30 Pro upping those brands’ camera games this year, Google’s lead in the phone photography race continues to dwindle. The Pixel 4 XL is still a contender in the large flagship phone game, but its new features seem less essential, and more gimmicky, than those appearing in rival handsets.

While we still have faith that the Pixel 4 XL’s photo capabilities will keep it ahead of the chasing pack, it’s unclear for just how long they’ll make this a must-have device for phone photography aficionados.

Source : TechRadar