[Review] Google Pixel 4 XL After 8 Months

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL launched nearly 8 months ago and  I got my Google Pixel 4 XL around December in India due to the phone not being released in India. As you know, time flies and there are new high-end phones on the market, several software updates have tweaked and added new features, and speculation about the Pixel 4a (and even the Pixel 5) is well underway.

But, we haven't forgotten about Google's latest phone, the Pixel 4 XL. This phone is my daily driver and been using it for 6-7 months. So how has the Pixel 4 XL held up to 8 months of use? Here are my experiences.

While Pixel 4 XL is good and has plenty of promise, it still falls short in some areas. This is not to say it’s a bad phone, it’s actually really great in several areas. It’s just a bit disappointing because while it brings some innovative technical marvels, a pedestrian necessity like battery life is still left unaddressed. Let’s get into our Google Pixel 4 XL review.

What’s in the box

  • 18W/2A charging brick
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • USB-C to USB-A adapter
  • SIM ejector tool

The Design

Pixel 4 XL:
  • 75.1 x 160.4 x 8.2mm
  • 193g

Design Features:
  • Gorilla Glass 5 front and back
  • Matte finish aluminum frame
  • IP68 dust- and water-resistance
  • Active Edge for Google Assistant

The phone feels very premium and there's just something about this hardware that speaks to me. Compared to other phones like Galaxy S20,  it somehow feels small and lightweight, and its simple soft-coated metal and glass (I have the white one) still looks and feels unique in a world of super-glossy phones. Yes, the overall design is boring, but it's at least boring in a different way than the other phones out there. There are three launch colors: a glossy black, a limited edition “Oh So Orange,” and a black and white stormtrooper version.

The black color has a different texture with a glossy back and the other two are matte finish. I like the matte finish rather than the glossy one due to it attracts fewer fingerprints and slippery too. The matte finish is reminiscent of a soft-touch polycarbonate but is actually frosted glass.

Regardless of which color you get, there’s a matte black aluminum frame, which I can only assume is a response to the notoriously slippery edges of the Pixel 3. This is a welcome change to the bare aluminum frames you’ll see on most other phones. It’s better for grip, shows fewer dings and scratches, and adds a little additional flair to your phone.

The phone has some bezel on top due to all the tech inside it, I prefer bezel over notch any day. Your opinion may vary. There’s no fingerprint reader on the back, nor under the display. There’s no fingerprint reader whatsoever.

The most important thing is the Pixel 4 XL design is bold and confident, whether you like it or not.

The Display

Pixel 4 XL:
  • 6.3-inch Quad HD+ OLED
  • 3,040 x 1,440 pixels, 537ppi

Design Features:
  • 19:9 aspect ratio
  • Adaptive 90Hz refresh rate
  • HDR support (UHDA certified)
  • Always-on display, Ambient EQ
This year, Google went for a 90Hz variable refresh rate display for the Pixel 4 XL. The adaptive refresh rate is good and you can feel the responsiveness on the display. The display drops to 60Hz when it is not required or not supported (e.g. in some games), so you don’t take quite the same battery hit as you might on a display that’s permanently running at 90Hz. Still, if you’re concerned about Pixel 4 XL battery life then turning it off is always an option.

This year, Pixel 4 XL display has three color profiles in the Settings: Natural, Boosted, and Adaptive. Adaptive is the default and the others just mute the colors a little or lock you into the more saturated palette all the time. Ambient EQ is kind of like Apple’s True Tone, adjusting the color and brightness of your display depending on the ambient environment.

This year we didn’t notice any issues with the display like we saw in previous years. The display was vibrant and sharp with relatively bright in the direct sunlight. In fact, according to our objective testing, the Pixel 4 XL is the best all-round smartphone display we’ve currently tested.

The Performance

  • Snapdragon 855
  • 6GB RAM
  • Titan-M security module
  • Pixel Neural Core
  • AR Core
Now let's talk about the performance of the phone. The Pixel 4 XL's performance is very good, there’s 6GB of RAM in a Pixel for the first time and both models (Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL) run with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor.

In the past, the Pixels have long suffered from slow-down over time, so additional RAM is very welcome here, even if it is only 6GB. The Pixel 4 XL also seems to have addressed the RAM management issues that plagued the Pixel 3.

But with the 6GB RAM, you can now safely keep Spotify, Maps, and the camera in the cache without any of them being force closed. This is good news.

While we appreciate seeing the bump in RAM here, nearly every other flagship now uses 8GB as the standard. You don’t even have the option for more RAM if you pay for the higher storage option. While the new Pixels may not need 8GB of RAM right now, given that Google guarantees updates for at least two more years.

The same is true of storage. While Google is understandably enthusiastic about streaming all the things, not everyone can live their life in the cloud. The base model Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL have 64GB of storage (still), and it’ll cost you an extra $100 to double that to 128GB. For comparison, Apple only charges an extra $50 for the 128GB iPhone 11 and $100 more for the 256GB version. Given that original quality, Google Photos uploads are no longer on offer and we’re never getting a microSD card on a Google phone, you have justifiable reasons to feel disgruntled.

The Motion Sense

The Pixel 4 series comes with a Motion Sense feature which is a Soli radar unit positioned just to the right of the earpiece speaker. Enabled by default, it allows you to use swiping gestures above your phone to control it without touching it. You can snooze alarms, silence calls, skip music tracks, and fire up the Pixel 4’s infrared face unlock cameras before you even touch it for super-fast face unlocking.

An example of Motion Sense skipping through songs and play/pause the song

Since I live in India and Google officially didn't sell the phone here. It is disabled by default on the phone. Back when Google released the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, they said they're skipping out on launch in India — one of the largest phone markets in the world — due to a spectrum licensing issue with the Motion Sense radar technology that powers the phone’s gesture and face unlock features.

The problem is that Motion Sense (previously known as Project Soli) works on the 60GHz band of the spectrum, for which Google was apparently unable to get a license from the Indian government to use in the country. Still, not shipping the phone in India is somewhat strange.
As you can see, some the gestures are disabled due to Motion Sense being disabled

The company would not confirm that Pixel 4’s lack of availability in India was due to Soli, but it did confirm that it would not be selling the phone in the market. “Google has a wide range of products that we make available in different regions around the world. We determine availability based on a variety of factors, including local trends, and product features. We decided not to make Pixel 4 available in India accordingly,” a Google spokesperson tells the media.

The Camera

The Pixel 4 XL is still my favorite smartphone camera.

Main camera:
  • 12.2MP sensor
  • ƒ/1.7 aperture
  • 1.4μm pixel size
  • 77-degree FoV

2x Tele camera:
  • 16MP sensor
  • ƒ/2.4 aperture
  • 1.0μm pixel size
  • 52-degree FoV
How can I not talk about the Pixel 4 XL's cameras? The camera experience is still amazing, and the biggest thing I've come to appreciate is just how consistently great it is. I never fiddle with the interface or need to tweak things — I just point and shoot, and get an awesome photo. Spend a little time with composition, tap-to-focus, and the highlights/shadows sliders and you can take things to another level.

The Pixel 4 XL's camera isn't quirky or weird, and the only trick you need to learn is that Night Sight takes exceptional photos — both at night and during the day. You're far less likely to get an eye-popping over-saturated photo out of the Pixel 4 XL, but that's exactly why I like it. I appreciate the balanced colors and excellent fundamentals of Pixel photos. Although we all miss an ultra-wide camera, and yes its zoom beyond ~3X is easily beaten. But the shot-to-shot consistency, and low-light quality, easily outweigh those shortcomings.

The real killer feature on the Pixel 4 camera is astrophotography mode, which is so insane you have to see it to believe it. When in Night Mode, if the Pixel 4 detects the light is low enough and the sky is visible it will enter astrophotography mode automatically. It then takes up to sixteen 15-second-long exposures, aligns and tweaks them in the background, and pops out the kind of astrophotography you normally only get from a fancy DSLR and a lot of editing. 

The results speak for themselves and are truly incredible.

Some Camera Samples

Portrait Mode

Low Light Test

Details Are Sharp

HDR Test

Low Light Test

Night Sight Test

Night Sight Test

The front-facing camera is also superb, not necessarily for its shot-to-shot quality in good lighting (which is great), but for how well it handles low-light and challenging scenarios. You just get great selfies out of this camera is so many more situations than the competition. Google rightly took some flack for dropping the dual-camera system of the Pixel 3, but this is still the best selfie shooter out there.

Let's talk about the Video Recording capabilities of the phone...

This year was very clear that Google doesn’t care as much about video as it does photography. While the iPhone 11 has 4K at 60fps on its front-facing camera, the Pixel 4 XL still doesn’t even support it on its primary camera.

The Pixel 4 XL shoots perfectly fine 1080p video at 30, 60, and 120fps, but you can only shoot 4K video at 30fps on the main camera. This is disappointing for a phone that tries to position itself as a camera-first device. In the More menu in the camera app, you will see Slow Motion and then choose between a 1/4 and 1/8 toggle which also switches you between Full HD video and HD. EIS and OIS do at least mean the video is super stable and smooth.

It’s a shame Google doesn’t seem interested in catching up to the competition, let alone pushing the limits of videography. The company is very clearly invested in breaking new ground where mobile photography is concerned, but the video is sadly a second-class citizen.

The Battery Life

Pixel 4 XL Battery Features:
  • 18W/2A charging brick
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • USB-C to USB-A adapter
  • SIM ejector tool
One of the downsides of the Pixel 4 XL will be: the battery life is average. Our Pixel 4 XL battery life averaged between five to six hours of screen-on time with a 24-hour usage cycle.

Over time, Android’s Adaptive Battery should learn your app usage habits and improve battery life, but there’s no getting around the fact these results are pretty average. Features like a radar or the 90Hz display should deserve a larger battery. The adaptive 90Hz refresh rate won’t impact battery life as much as it would if it weren’t variable, but a bigger battery here seems like a missed slam dunk. Google apparently still hasn't realized battery life is a thing people care about.

Now, we are not saying that it is bad. It gets the job done but since this is a flagship phone with a premium price tag, Google should do more in the battery department.

And we know it isn't just about the capacity of the battery, though at 3700mAh it isn't particularly large. The OnePlus 7T does dramatically better with 3800mAh, the Galaxy S20 does notably better with 4000mAh, and there are plenty of other examples. Google simply doesn't make the best use of the battery it has at its disposal, and it's a negative mark on this phone.

Google desperately needs to start focusing on the Pixel battery, especially when Apple’s new iPhone 11 series made the battery a primary focus. There’s no point adding a radar, 90Hz display, and long-exposure camera if using them means you’ve got zero chance of making it through a full day.

The Pixel 4 models come with an 18W charging brick, the same 18W charger Pixels have been shipping with since the beginning. Considering other manufacturers have 25W, 30W, 40W, 50W, and even 65W fast chargers, Google is once again lagging behind. The battery is by far the biggest disappointment with the Pixel 4 series. Google apparently still hasn’t realized battery life is a thing people care about. Both models support Qi wireless charging including 10W via the Pixel Stand, but there’s no reverse wireless charging here either.

The Software

  • Android 10
  • 3 years OS and security updates
  • New Google Assistant
  • On-board language processing
  • Pixel feature drops
Let's talk about the Software of this phone, I won’t go too far into Android 10 on the Pixel 4 XL, as it has been covered it in lots of detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say the software experience on the Pixel 4 XL is fluid and smooth — in part thanks to the 6GB of RAM and 90Hz display.

Now, coming to some of the features of the software. The new Google Assistant with the Pixel 4 XL, Google moved the Assistant’s language processing on-device. This makes it much, much faster than before, and more secure as well. 

Another feature that takes advantage of Pixel 4’s onboard language processing and machine learning is the new Recorder app. Not only is it blazing fast, transcribing your speech in close to real-time, it is also searchable. This means you can search dozens of saved voice recordings for a particular word or phrase and identify the recordings in which it appears. The Pixel will even show you a timeline of those recordings with the searched-for words or phrases highlighted.

There are existing recorder apps that have similar functionality, but what makes Google’s special is that processing is done on-device. This means you can see transcription in real-time, even without a data connection. You can also export either the audio or transcription to Google drive if you want to share them.

Android 10 on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL is generally great. Navigation gestures won’t suit everyone, but if you swapped over a while ago you’ll be used to them by now. You can still enable three-button navigation, but I doubt it’ll be long before Google axes the option.

The Audio

  • Stereo speakers (earpiece and bottom-firing)
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack, no adapter
  • 3 microphones
  • Noise suppression
This year, Google worked on their Audio capabilities of both, the speaker and the microphone. There’s no headphone jack, but you can pick up a smart Google dongle if you need wired headphones or you can connect via Bluetooth. The phone supports SBC, AAC, aptX, aptXHD, and LDAC codecs, but there’s no aptX Adaptive here yet. Regardless, you won’t notice any issues and it’ll handle whatever audio you throw at it just fine.

There are stereo speakers on the Pixel 4 XL via the earpiece and a bottom-firing speaker. They’re noticeably louder than the Pixel 3 and have a richer sound all round. The Pixel 4 XL handles treble a lot better than the Pixel 3, and the bass is rounder without getting tinny at the high end. At higher volumes, there’s less distortion too, so well done Google.

The Conclusion

This has been a tough review to write but the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are great phones for all the reasons I’ve just listed. I would recommend getting this phone for everything I listed but few bumps here are there and since the price of the phone has been cut recently, it is a perfect all-rounder phone.

The MSRP on the Pixel 4 XL is $800 available from all major U.S. carriers and several retailers since October 24, 2019. In India, it will cost around Rs. 75,000-80,000.

However, the phones are currently on sale. The Pixel 4XL is $600 and Pixel 4 is $500 which makes them affordable compared to the launched prices. Google offers a standard limited warranty that protects the phone from manufacturing defects one year from the date of purchase.

Yes. The Pixel 4 XL might not be the best Android phone of 2020, feeling somewhat dated and being hampered by its sub-par battery life, but it still kicks butt, and you can find it discounted for a real bargain today. It’s a solid choice for Android fans seeking a great phone without a flagship price-tag.
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