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Google Pixel 4 smartphone review – excellent camera and some great new features

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  • VERDICT

While Google has played it safe with the design, the Pixel 4 is an impressive device that delivers where customers want it with a great camera, impressive display, excellent new features and a battery that won’t let them down.

There’s a lot to like about the new Pixel 4 which offers users a fresh approach to the smartphone and their first look at the all-new Android 10 operating system.

Google normally reserves some new features for its own Pixel devices and this year is no different with a proximity sensor which can tell when you’re near and gesture controls that allow users to wave their hands to navigate their content,

And then there’s the camera which has gone to the next level with the addition of another telephoto lens and even more smarts.

Once again there are two sizes – the Pixel 4 (5.7-inch) and the Pixel 4 XL (6.3-inch).

But Google has added some new features including Motion Sense and a Recorder that can not only capture audio but also transcribe speech at the same time.

For this review we used the Pixel 4 XL.

DESIGN

The Pixel 4 has ditched the notch altogether and instead has a large bezel above the screen – we call this the forehead – and it’s big.

This was an unusual move for the Pixel after really embracing the notch on the previous flagship model and when other brands are being creative with their respective notches.

This space is large enough to fit the earpiece and the front facing camera and there’s still plenty of screen real estate to enjoy but it would have looked pretty slick with thinner bezels and a notch.

The display is flat to the edge like the iPhone instead of trying to take a leaf out of Samsung or Huawei’s book by offering a bezel-less look with a curved edge.

The Pixel 4 is playing it pretty safe here.

The same thing goes for the matte rear panel which is flat and featureless apart from the iPhone 11-like square camera module.

The display itself is 90Hz – which mean it refreshes 90 times a second – while displays on other phones including the iPhone 11 are 60Hz.

The result is a barely noticeable improvement in smoothness when scrolling between pages, on websites and when watching video.

PERFORMANCE

The Pixel 4 is powered by Google’s custom-built Titan M security chip to protect your data and ensure the security of the operating system.

On the performance side there is also the Pixel Neural Core which will handle the on-device processing, always-on computing and machine learning.

The Pixel 4 has twice the RAM of the previous model at 6GB so users are ensured of fast and smooth operation.

SECURITY

There is no fingerprint reader on the Google Pixel 4 so the only biometric security is through the new Face Unlock.

Set-up is easy and the phone can be unlocked at a glance in an instant.

What helps here are the proximity sensors which can sense when you’re going pick up the device so its preps the screen to read your face.

So far so good.

But now here’s the bad news.

The Pixel 4 Face Unlock also works when your eyes are closed so someone can pick up your phone and hold it up to your face while you’re asleep to unlock it, access your content, your contacts and even authorise payments.

And it even says it in the settings that this is a possibility.

Face ID is the only biometric security measure on the iPhone 11 – there is no fingerprint reader but the Face ID happens to be the best and most secure you’ll find on a smartphone.

And yes, you need to be looking at it with your eyes open to unlock it.

We can only hope Google can address this issue and send out an update.

Ironically leaked images of the Pixel 4 clearly showed a screen offering the option to make Face Unlock work only when your eyes are open. Let’s hope they bring it back.

CAMERA

Once again, the camera is the standout feature of the Pixel 4.

It was amazing what Pixel could achieve with one lens but now Google has doubled down and added a second telephoto lens to the wide-angle lens.

Google didn’t add an ultra-wide-angle lens which is what customers get when there are three lenses on their smartphone.

Without HDR control with with the subject in silhouette …..
And with HDR control and the subject is brighter

But this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker because the Pixel 4 still takes incredible photos through the 16-megapixel and 12.2-megapixel cameras.

One new feature allows users can also now fine tune the brightness and the level of shadow detail in their images with Live HDR+ so you know exactly how your photo will look before you press the shutter button.

One example of this is when you’re shooting your subject with light behind them like a sunrise or sunset.

Portrait mode

Usually in this situation, your subject would be in silhouette but now users are able to adjust the level of brightness as well as the level of detail in the darker areas of the image. The result is a much more balanced picture.

The Google Pixel 4 also plays a strong game when it comes to portrait shots. The only thing you don’t get is being able to control the level of blur in the background – the device decides this for you.

Portrait mode

And it does a great job because the results are spectacular.

Pixel phones have always produced excellent results when shooting in low light and the Pixel 4 continues that with Night Sight.

Excellent quality from the two camera system

In low light, the Pixel 4 can drag every bit of brightness out of the image and provide a picture that looks like it had been lit artificially.

Google has taken a step further this time and is using that technology to allow users to shoot the night sky.

Stars without night sky mode
And with night sky mode

Fans of astrophotography will be delighted to know that it works really well and provides sharper images of the stars and the moon.

It works by taking several images and combining them into one clear and sharp image and the results are better than anything you would get with another smartphone.

If you’re shooting video the Pixel 4 can shoot all the way up to 4K quality but at 30 frames per second and not at 60fps like other smartphones.

OTHER FEATURES

Onboard the device is Motion Sense which will allow you to use gestures to control the Pixel 4 without having to touch it.

You can do things like navigate your music, snooze alarms and dismiss reminders and even silence phone calls with a wave of your hand.

This can come in handy if you’re cooking, eating or on the treadmill at the gym.

Nothing new here, this feature has been around for a while but it can be useful.

Another great new feature aboard the Pixel 4 is the Recorder which cannot only record audio but transcribe speech at the same time.

We know a lot of journalists who would be considering purchasing the device just for this feature. Well, the good news is it works and works really well by using speech recognition and artificial intelligence.

We tried a little test recording with three different people talking and the Recorder did a great job in transcribing all of our voices in real time and with surprising accuracy.

It wasn’t perfect but certainly good enough to save hours and hours of transcribing interviews, press conferences and lectures manually.

But the magic part of it is the fact it doesn’t need to connect to the internet to provide the transcription unlike other apps on the market which also require a subscription.

It’s all done on the device thanks to the on-board Pixel Neural Core processor.

BATTERY

The Pixel 4 has a 2,800mAh battery while the Pixel 4 XL boasts a 3,700mAh battery which are smart enough to learn and adapt to how you use your device.

It will recognise the apps you use the most and reduce the power consumption every time you’re using them.

For our review, we found the battery easily lasted an entire day with enough left over to take you into the next morning.

The battery was consistently steady and there was never an issue we run out of power before the end of the day.

On the charging side, the Pixel 4 comes with an 18W charger to power the battery back to 100 per cent capacity in a much shorter time.

We charge the phone when it was down to about 20 per cent in just over an hour later will back up to 100 per cent.

The system is smart enough to maximise the battery performance so you’ll never complain about not having enough juice to get you through the day even when you’re using the Pixel 4 constantly.

PRICING

The devices are priced at $1,049 (Pixel 4) and $1,279 (Pixel 4 XL) and it will be available from Telstra, Vodafone, Optus, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Officeworks and the Google Store.

VERDICT

While Google has played it safe with the design, the Pixel 4 is an impressive device that delivers where customers want it with a great camera, impressive display, excellent new features and a battery that won’t let them down.