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

Google Pixel 4 XL: Software, User Experience And Camera Performance

Google's flat, super clean UI returns with Android 10, though there are some notable updates and new features. The interface itself is actually almost too flat now with simple icons that get the job done with an almost wireframe look. This may or may not appeal to you, but for some folks a little more pop and prominence may have been appreciated. You can of course increase font sizes as well and there's also a dark mode toggle for a bit more contrast, which happens to be the way I'm rolling now, as I test the Google Pixel 4 XL as a daily driver candidate. 

pixel 4 xl home android 10 dark mode
motion sense gestures gesture navigation

Gesture Navigation - Just Give It A Chance

One of the most discussed, and likely debated, new feature of the Google Pixel 4 XL with Android 10 is support of Motion Sense technology with its front facing radar sensors, as well as the Pixel 4 / 4XL's gesture support. If you've been on a Samsung or virtually any other Android phone that has traditional home, back and recent app buttons, those buttons are now gone. And frankly it's just plain jarring. However, after a week or so I personally was up the learning curve with gesture navigation and Motion Sense works really well at waking up the display when you reach to grab it. You can revert back to three button navigation if you like as well, as you can see in the screen shot above, but we'd argue you should give it that week of adaptation to get used to. At this point, I personally am not missing three button navigation one bit. Once you get use to just swiping from the right side of the display to go back in an app or web browser, and swipe up to close an application and return the home screen, you'll start feeling a lot more at home. In addition, it's a lot easier for one-handed navigation.

Finally, Motion Sense gestures, when simply waving your hand over the device for things like skipping tracks and silencing calls, work really well. Traveling down the road with Pandora piping in over Bluetooth to our car audio system, Motion Sense enables a safer experience overall. When the time came where I wanted to skip to another song in my station, I just wave my hand over the Pixel 4 XL and even though it was locked, it skipped to the next track reliably without needing to pick up the phone -- no static at all.

main camera google pixel 4 xl
camera settings pixel 4
Google Pixel 4 XL Camera Interface - The Definition Of Dead Simple

New Pixel 4 Camera Features

In terms of the camera interface, not a whole lot has changed here for the Pixel 4 series, though there are a couple of new key features and capabilities now. The rear camera can capture up to 4K30 video with image stabilization but Google stopped short of 4K60, as has been widely reported, in an effort to respect storage capacity. Especially with a top-end configuration at 128GB this makes sense, though some power users might protest. Frankly, lack of 60 fps UHD shooting isn't a a big deal to us, but obviously Google is behind the competitive curve versus many other flagship Android phones currently, if this sort of thing is important to you.

However, what we have become accustomed to is the trend in ultra-wide angle rear-facing cameras. Having lived on devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10+, we found ourselves missing the ability to pull in a bit more real estate for panoramic vistas like Friendly Fenway Park. Are we spoiled? Perhaps. Deal-breaker? No, not really. 

more camera modes
live caption
Pixel 4 XL Live Caption Engaged

In terms of new features, there is also now the option to enable Motion Mode shots, which allow you to capture crisp foreground subjects that might be in fast motion (like say a rambunctious Jack Russell), while the background has as bokeh blur effect. This will come in handy at sporting events for sure, sort of like a Portrait mode for fast moving subjects. The other new option, in addition to the Pixel 4's astral photography capability in Night Sight mode (which we'll cover in our sample shots below) is Live Caption. Above is a screen shot from a video clip with Live Caption enabled. Live Caption is picking up the spoken commands that I'm barking at Yogi (which for the most part fell on deaf ears), and rendering them to text on a video overlay. It could be a nice feature in certain situations, but we found it also interferes currently with other speech to text input, (like speaking to the device for an SMS text), so we turned the setting off. This seems to be a bug of some sort because the two functionalities shouldn't be dependent or coupled in any way really.

Pixel 4 XL Camera Sample Gallery

Camera shot quality is a very subjective area obviously, so in general, we'll let the following samples from the Google Pixel 4 XL speak for themselves. Our general observations are that Google has once again delivered a top-performing camera that has an accuracy-first setup and configuration from a capture standpoint, in an effort to preserve fidelity that can perhaps be better manipulated later by the user. In other words, you'll  generally have more to work with post shot, but sometimes, depending on your personal preference, things might look a little drab. Here are a couple of examples... 

yogi dog on stairs pixel 4
Contrary to popular belief, Yogi isn't this dingy... Pixel 4 XL
yogi dog on stairs note 10
Galaxy Note 10+

fall foliage pixel 4
Nor were the leaves quite this yellow... Pixel 4 XL
fall foliage note 10
Galaxy Note 10+
These two shots above generated a fair amount of debate among our team members. If you head to our Pixel 4 XL vs Galaxy Note 10+ shootout, you'll see what we mean. That said, above you can see Yogi, sitting on the stairs has excellent definition, crisp rendering and tons of detail with very little noise and artifacting. However, truth told, his white fur isn't that dark and his brown fur is a little brighter as well. However, in the Galaxy Note 10+ shot below it, things are a little too bright and over-saturated it seems. Somewhere in between perhaps, is the sweet spot. The same can be said in the fall foliage shots. Here, the sky is rendered more accurately on the Pixel 4 XL, while the Note 10+ has too much of an artificial boost of the blue sky color, even rendering a faint white halo at the top where the treeline meets the sky. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4 XL renders a more accurate sky and better definition in the leaves and trees, but its lacking some of the color variations that are present in the Note 10+ rendering. Again, somewhere in between is likely ideal, but it's up to you ultimately to decide which you like best. 

hanging flowers pixel 4 portraitstatue by window clock pixel 4
Pixel 4 XL

Pixel 4 portrait flowersgalaxy note 10 plus portrait flowers
Pixel 4 XL (Left/Top) - Galaxy Note 10+ (Right/Bottom)

In mixed lighting shots and the Pixel 4 XL's Portrait mode however, Google's new camera algorithms look better than ever. While we have historically given the nod to Samsung's Live Focus shot mode, we're now leaning definitively to the Pixel 4 series, though again, a touch more exposure in some cases for the new Pixel would be nice. 

Google Pixel 4 XL Night Sight Shot
Google Pixel 4 XL Night Sight - The Clear Victor

galaxy note 10 night shot
Galaxy Note 10+ - Night Mode

In Night Site mode, it was no contest whatsoever. Google's Pixel 4 XL can take some seriously impressive shots that a literally post or greeting card level quality. The shot above here of the Draper building overlooking Hopedale Pond in Massachusetts, on a dreary, misty evening looks fantastic in the Pixel 4 XL's shot, with very little noise and beautiful color transitions. Conversely, though it doesn't look particularly bad, per se, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ capture has noticeable noise and some challenges with color shift. Again, let your eyes decide for yourself, but that's what we're seeing here.

Now that we've looked at software and camera performance, let's look at some device-level benchmark performance metrics as well... 

Related content