Google Pixel 4 review: Solid camera, but poor battery and cellular performance kill it for business

pixel-4-9.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.6 Very good
  • $799.00

Pros

  • Latest Android software
  • Excellent camera software
  • High quality design, fit, and finish

Cons

  • Limited storage options
  • High price for specs
  • Limited MotionSense gestures
  • Lacks ultra wide-angle camera
  • Poor cellular reception
  • Poor battery life
Pixel 4: Anticlimactic, expensive, but still innovative? Jason Squared's Jason Cipriani and Jason Perlow discuss how nothing about this 2019 Android flagship was left to the imagination at Google's Made by Google event. Read more: https://zd.net/2IXHvtx

I usually spend my fall phone money on the newest Galaxy Note, but this year I went all in on the Samsung Galaxy Fold and think it's the most innovative and exciting phone I've tried in years. That said, I had to give Google's latest Pixel a try and after a week of use I have to say that the smaller Pixel 4 is not really a phone anyone should consider to get work done.

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The Google Pixel phones have gained a reputation for amazing computational camera technology and the Pixel 4 does well with the hardware it is supplied with. However, it lacks the ultra wide-angle camera we see on other flagship phones, has very poor battery life, launches with limited internal storage, and is priced hundreds more than mid-level phones that offer more.

See also: Pixel 4 specs vs price: Google's new phone is too weak, too late, and too expensive

ZDNet's Jason Cipriani tested the larger Pixel 4 XL and unfortunately, it's larger battery didn't cut the mustard either. There will be some improvements in the Pixel 4/4 XL with software, but there are much better smartphones available this year.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Display: 5.7 inch OLED with 90 Hz refresh and Gorilla Glass 5
  • Operating system: Android 10
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 64 GB or 128 GB internal
  • Cameras: 16 megapixel telephoto and 12 megapixel standard rear cameras. 8 megapixel front facing camera with f/2.0 aperture.
  • Battery: 2800 mAh battery with fast charge capability
  • Dimensions: 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2 mm and 162 grams
  • Colors: Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange

Looking at the specs you might think this is a mid-level phone priced at $499 or $599 with just two rear cameras, a small capacity battery, and few other unique hardware features. One would expect Google to have the latest Snapdragon 855 Plus, even if it doesn't offer vast improvements.

Hardware

If you are going to pick up a Pixel 4, and thankfully you can do so at all major US wireless carriers this year, then I highly recommend you get the white or orange one. The black one has a glossy glass back that is a fingerprint magnet while the orange and white ones have lovely frosted glass matte finishes that don't seem to show any fingerprints.

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The matte black edges of the phone have substantial texture that makes it easy to hold onto. The power button is also colored in either orange (white and orange models) or white (black model) so there is a splash of color on the right side.

The dual camera setup on the back looks a bit like the new iPhone 11 Pro models, but with a flat piece of glass over the camera, sensor, and flash assembly. Unlike other flagship phones, Google did not include an ultra wide-angle camera and stated matter of factly that telephoto is better. I'm not sure this is the case, especially when Google has Super Zoom computational technology that can take care of zoom levels.

For years LG has had ultra wide-angle support and most reviewers didn't seem to care or act like it had anything special. While there is a lot of discussion about this missing on the Pixel 4, I think it is primarily due to the fact that other smartphone brands offer such an experience on competing flagships. Given Google's awesome ability to enhance zoom digitally, adding in a 2x optical zoom doesn't seem to add much while an ultra wide option would have been appreciated.

I don't use my phones to take a lot of selfies, but last year I took the Pixel 3 XL on a family trip and was able to use the ultra wide-angle front-facing camera to capture my family of five in each of the nine states we visited. This year, Google removed that second front-facing camera, thus giving up one advantage it had over other phones.

See also: Google Pixel 4 XL review: A perfectly disappointing phone

There is no headphone jack, typical for phones today, but there is no dongle or USB-C headphones included in the box either. The speakers sound decent, but not as good as the Pixel 3 as the lower speaker is moved from the bottom of the display to the bottom of the phone.

Software

Check out Jason's full Pixel 4 XL review for details on the performance of the phone, camera results, Google Assistant, and Face Unlock as his experiences match mine on the Pixel 4.

I enjoy the squeeze to launch Google Assistant and new bottom prime color animation from the bottom two corners for Google Assistant. The Pixel 4, and upcoming Pixel Buds, are very focused on Google Assistant and I see this becoming the focus of these devices in the future.

I haven't had a clear night to try out astrophotography and while I've seen some fabulous results, this is a niche activity that is not vital to daily phone usage where things like long battery life are critical.

Price and availability

The Pixel 4 is priced at $799 (64GB) and $899 (128GB). By comparison, the OnePlus 7T has the Snapdragon 855 Plus, a 90 Hz display, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage with UFS 3.0, triple rear cameras, and a large 3,800 mAh battery for just $599.

See also: The 10 best smartphones of 2019: We have a winner

Daily usage and conclusions

It's not that often I purchase a Google Pixel phone because Google's hardware is never the best offered at the time of release and stock Android doesn't offer as much to buyers as Samsung does. This will be another year where I will not be purchasing a Pixel phone and for those who want to use their phone for more than taking photos this is not really a phone to consider either.

One of the most asked for improvements in smartphones is increased battery life and Apple took this seriously with major battery life increases in its iPhone 11 models. Google took a step backwards and offers worse battery life in the Pixel 4 when compared to the Pixel 3. While wireless charging and fast charging is offered, this still cannot justify less battery life and it's an unacceptable trade-off for the enterprise.

Google Pixel phones are known for regular firmware updates, but for businesses this may actually be a deterrent as history has shown this to lead to buggy phones in regular need of updates. The Android security updates are what is important to the enterprise and Samsung has proven to have a track record for excellence in getting these updates out just a couple weeks after release.

The camera on the Pixel 4 is excellent, but you can get very similar photos with the new iPhone 11 series, the Galaxy Note 10, and Galaxy S10 as well. The camera alone is not enough to carry the Pixel 4, especially when there is no ultra wide-angle lens present on the phone.

I tested the Pixel 4 in the low signal areas where my commute takes me and in comparison to other phones over the past three years it has shown to have the worst strength of all, even the terrible Essential phone. Samsung sets the bar for reception so if you need a phone to stay connected at all times, don't look to the Pixel 4.

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