Google Pixel 4 XL Review: Streaks Of Brilliance, Pure Android

Google Pixel 4 XL: Android Refinement And New Features

pixel 4 xl case box
Without question, Google's Pixel 4 XL has been the most leaked smartphone of 2019 prior to its official launch. Heck, even Google teased the device and a key feature or two along the way, so it goes without saying, the hype was big for this fourth generation Pixel. Google tries to set the bar for Android ecosystem partners with respect to industrial design and new enabling technologies with its Pixel phones. And in fact, the new Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL bring with them a couple of firsts for made by Google devices, specifically a 90Hz display and wireless charging. The premise is that hopefully these new features are "done right" so to speak, or at least that the technology has matured enough to merit the up-charge to consumers of integrating them in the design.

And that brings us to the all-important aspect of pricing. The 6.3-inch display-driven Google Pixel 4 XL that we have on tap for review here today, weighs in starting at $899 with 64GB of storage and $999 for a 128GB variant. Meanwhile, the smaller 5.7-inch Google Pixel 4 starts at $799 with 64GB of storage and a 128GB model at $899. With identical processor, memory and camera specs, we can generalize that the new Google Pixel 4 family starts at $800 and tops out at $1K. That puts Google's latest offering right up there with Samsung's and Apple's latest premium devices. So, is this combination of cutting-edge Android hardware and software worth it? The answer to that question is probably why you're here. So, let's explore that, shall we? 

pixel 4 back in hand

You're looking at the Clearly White version of the 6.3-inch OLED display-equipped Google Pixel 4 XL. Let's run down its specs and talk about the configuration we have in for testing... 

Google Pixel 4 XL
Specifications & Features
Processing Platform SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Display 6.3"  QHD+ OLED, 3040x1440 resolution, 537 ppi, up to 90Hz/1ms, HDR support
Memory 6GB LPDDR4X
Storage 64 or 128GB UFS 2.1
Rear-Facing Cameras 16MP f/2.4 52º FOV, OIS, AF - 12.2MP f/1.7 77º FOV, dual pixel phase detection, AF, OIS
Front-Facing Cameras 8MP f/2.0, 90-degree FOV, fixed focus
Video Recording 4K at 30 fps, 1080p up to 120 fps, 720p @ 240 FPS slow-mo
Battery 3,700 mAh
OS Stock Android 10
Dimensions 160.4mm x 75.1mm X 8.2mm
Weight 193 grams
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE
Colors Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange
Pricing Starting At $899.99 - Find It On Amazon

Google Pixel 4 XL - An Amped-Up Camera And Gorgeous Display

Running down the spec list we're treated to a couple of firsts here with the Google Pixel 4 XL. For starters, this is the first Pixel phone to incorporate a dual-camera setup. The Pixel 4 XL has both a standard view camera (Sony IMX363) with f1.7 aperture and a telephoto (Sony IMX481) shooter with f2.4 aperture, eschewing the trend these days for utlra-wide angle smartphone cameras like those found in the Samsung Galaxy S10, Note 10, and OnePlus 7 and 7T series. That telephoto lens offers a 2X optical zoom, which is probably handy for many mainstream use cases, pulling up closer to subjects on the fly, but we can't help but miss the ability to capture more of a scene in panoramic vistas. Regardless, Google's real mojo is what it does not only in capture, but in pre- and post-processing for a total solution combo that has delivered arguably some of the best auto-shot mode results for smartphone camera photography in recent years. We'll see if that trend continues in our image quality test results on the pages ahead.
pixel 4 back
pixel 4 movie demo
Then there's the Pixel 4 XL's high refresh rate 90Hz OLED display. For our purposes, this is a critical component of our evaluation here, and an area we feel gets overlooked too often in handset reviews. No other component of modern smartphone design can affect the user experience so much as a quality display. In this case, the Google Pixel 4 XL delivers in spades with supreme color accuracy and uniformity, as well as excellent contrast and color saturation that OLED displays are known for. In addition the Pixel 4 XL's display also offers low reflectivity in high bright conditions and excellent viewing angles with very little degradation. However, though DisplayMate seems to find the Pixel 4 XL near-perfect, we'd offer that it doesn't seem to deliver quite the brightness of Samsung's Galaxy S10 or Note 10 lines, or even the OnePlus 7 Pro. We did find ourselves pushing the brightness slider a bit more often than we have on other high-end handsets, though its 90Hz refresh rate is sublime when forced on for all brightness levels. That said, both its softer brightness and high refresh rate capability can eat into battery life. More on this as well, in our battery up-time benchmarks. 

Pixel 4 XL - Traditional Pixel Design Characteristics Carried Forward

Google designed the Pixel 4 XL with a familiar flair that we appreciate - the color coded power/screen lock button, matte finish side edging and an all glass backing.  If you have a Clearly White or Oh So Orange model in hand, they resist fingerprints on the backside really well. The gloss Just Black option, however, is a smudge magnet on its both its front and rear. 
pixel 4 rear camera

pixel 4 front sim

As seems to be the trend these days with not only Android devices, but also Apple's latest iPhone offering, the rear camera array of the Pixel 4 XL is housed in a square bump-out that's also strapped in glass. When not in a protective case, this is bump-out does make contact with any surface you rest it on. We're not so concerned with how this camera design will hold up over time, but it probably makes sense to go easy on it if you're living life on the edge without a case. Even small scuffs and nicks won't be good for camera image quality. 

The right side of the Pixel 4 XL is home to a traditional volume rocker and the aforementioned color-coded screen lock/power button. The top of the device has a microphone port, and the bottom is home to a dual speaker setup and a standard USB-C sync and charge port. The Pixel 4 XL's speakers offer surprisingly good sound output that is about as full as we've heard any smartphone. And there is actually a hint of base response, though within the limits of its tiny smartphone drivers, of course. If you care at all about speaker output, you're not going to be left flat with the Google Pixel 4 XL. 

Making Room For Pixel Cameras Was Not Compromised

pixel 4 front camera

One area that's definitely not flat is the large chin on the front of the Google Pixel 4 XL. Google clearly wasn't compromising when it came to making room for both its front facing camera and radar technology for gesture support, along with a prominent earpiece speaker port as well. Its radar sensors power Google's new Motion Sense technology that understands when the phone is picked up in order to fire-up facial recognition immediately. Though its facial recognition tech probably isn't as secure as a fingerprint reader, it is very fast. This is key because, other than pattern or code combination screen unlock, that's all there's to unlock the Pixel 4 XL. Unfortunately, we can confirm that Google hasn't fixed its eyes closed screen unlock bug yet and you can still have your phone accessed while you're taking a nap if it's pointed at your snoozing face. Google has however noted that it will be rolling out an update that will enable settings for requiring an eyes open Pixel 4/4 XL face unlock in the months ahead.

The Pixel 4/4 XL's on board radar technology also enables motion gesture support as part of Google's Motion Sense system. We'll dig into this a bit more as well on our user experience page but this technology has room for expansion down the road and it will be interesting to see what else Google can do with the tech. Also, somewhat surprisingly, we've found at least one useful function with motion gestures that felt like more than just a gimmick feature. 

Pixel 4 XL Accessories And Features

In terms of accessories, beyond the Pixel 4 / 4 XL's on-board fast wireless charging, Google offers some nice optional appointments itself, along with some interesting offerings from partner OEMs. 
pixel 4 back with cover
pixel 4 stand case
Google's classic woven cloth case adds an attractive protective barrier to our Pixel 4 XL though it does detract from the natural beauty of Google's industrial design. Alas that is the fate of almost every smart phone in existence, if you want them to survive that is. Regardless, Google's stylish threads do a nice job of adding texture and grip to the device, as well as requisite protection.

Then there are 3rd party solutions like the JOBY StandPoint Tripod Case for Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. This works exceptionally well at propping up your device for movie binging and the like, protecting the Pixel 4 XL as well -- and it's how we were able to capture the movie preview shot above.

Let's look at Google's latest Android 10 user experience, software features and camera performance, next... 

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