Google Pixel 4XL Review: Pixel Imperfect

Like the earlier Pixel series, the new Google Pixel 4 series is a product of Google’s vision of what a state-of-the-art Android smartphone should be. This latest upgrade will suit die-hard supporters and should also win new fans with its latest capabilities.

The Pixel 4 design is completely revamped from the previous Pixel series. The rear glass on the black unit is glossy while the sides remain matte-finished. The square camera module is positioned similarly to iPhone 11 but distinctly different nevertheless (the iPhone’s camera lens are more prominent). On the front display, there is no notch, but a thick top bezel full of sensors and components.

Google Pixel 4XL

One of the sensors is a radar sensor which Google termed “Motion Sense”. The Pixel 4 series is the first smartphone ever to have a radar sensor that will enable users to interact with the phone without ever touching it. For instance, it will sense that you are reaching for your phone and would have activated face unlock before you even pick up the phone, and this translates to faster phone unlock sequence. You can also navigate music player, snooze alarm, and reject calls just by ‘air’ swiping. As of now, the Motion Sense is limited to big hand gestures instead of tiny finger movements as demonstrated in Project Soli. Let’s hope the next iteration of Motion Sense will be much more exciting.

The Pixel 4XL comes with dual rear camera: a standard 12.2MP and a 16MP telephoto lens. The lack of an ultra-wide angle is disappointing for many fans and could be a deal-breaker to win new converts, but let’s not get too worked out here, as the Google Pixel camera quality is still as good. The new shooting feature to adjust brightness and contrast during framing is fantastic, giving better creative control. Night Sight is also enhanced to support astrophotography, though it’s not easy to shoot in Singapore. Still, the low light night shots appear with a little more detail. What I like about the Pixel 4XL camera is that they look less processed and compressed, the shadow details are substantial.

As for the background blur, Google opted for intelligent processing, which means it does not always blur everything according to the focal plane. For instance, if you take group photos and the faces are in various distances from the lens, all the faces will still be clear, while only the parts behind the last person’s face will be blurred out. There are some misses, but Google works on its Neural Core to get it right for the users. It will even learn Frequent Faces to make sure they will be in focus. If you want to further tweak the blur intensity, you can do so from the edit options that appear below the photo viewer.

Pixel 4 and 4XL now supports Live Captions which instantly transcribes audio from the video to text, even if the volume is turned off. The result can be rather entertaining, and unless you are watching a video with clear diction from the presenter, you are bound to spot some weird captions. Nevertheless, it’s a great feature and is easily enabled from the volume pop-up, which allows user to easily enable without going through levels of settings.

The Pixel 4XL contains a relatively small battery of 3700 mAh, and struggles to last an 16-hour day confidently. Perhaps it was the live wallpaper I activated, or the always-on display I enabled. A larger battery that stores more juice will allow users confidence to enable all the features and enjoy the phone instead of having to turn them off to conserve battery.


Rating: 4/5

From $1,319

The Google Pixel 4XL remains a fantastic practical-designed smartphone with outstanding camera quality and the Motion Sense offers a few helpful use cases to interact with the phone at a distance.