I spent some time with Google’s brand-new Pixel 4 — here’s what it’s like to use

Pixel 4 1

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

Google just unveiled its brand-new flagship phones: the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. You can preorder the phones now, and they’ll ship on October 24.

The $799 Pixel 4 packs in radar-powered motion controls, an OLED screen, and a super-smart camera. It has a compact, lightweight build, and comes in a striking new “Oh So Orange” color. You can buy it from every major carrier.

I spent a few minutes with the Pixel 4 after the company’s press event in New York. Here are my first impressions of the device.


I don’t want to put a case on this phone.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

The Pixel 4 is an upgrade to its predecessor, the Pixel 3, in so many ways that I’d be remiss to pick one main attraction. But 24 hours after the event, the feature I can’t stop thinking about is the design.

Google has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book, replacing the Pixel 3’s singular rear camera with a square, iPhone 11-esque camera bump. Couple this with rounded edges, aluminum bumpers, and a sleek finish, and you have the Pixel 4. Both the front and back are Gorilla Glass 5. It doesn’t look like a luxury product; it looks stylish and pragmatic like it belongs in an upscale Manhattan apartment.

The phone comes in three colors: “Just Black,” “Clearly White,” and “Oh So Orange.” I particularly like the latter model, though if we’re being picky, I’d describe its hue as more of a “coral.” It’s got a matte finish (as does the white model; the black one is glossy) that didn’t retain any dust or fingerprints in my short testing period, and it contrasts nicely with the black rails.

Overall, the Pixel 4 is probably the first smartphone that I’d actually feel bad putting a case on. Not only does it feel sturdy enough to handle the odd drop and spill, but it also looks too good to cover up.


Small-handed folks, rejoice.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

It sounds weird, but it’s true: I love holding the Pixel 4.

It’s a small phone, with a 5.7-inch screen (the iPhone 11 is 6.1 inches), and incredibly light at 162 grams or 5.7 ounces (over an ounce lighter than the 6.94-ounce iPhone 11). I barely felt like I was holding anything.

I have small fingers, and there is basically no flagship smartphone I can easily use with one hand. So I was floored by how easy it was to browse on the Pixel 4 – I could swipe back and forth with ease.

The band around the phone’s perimeter was super comfortable to wrap my hand around as well, and the texture was easy to grip. I’m a complete klutz who drops my iPhone at least once a day, but I’m much less worried about dropping the Pixel 4 than I would be the large, glossy iPhone 11 or Galaxy Note 10.


It’s mindblowing how fast this phone unlocks.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

The feature Google seemed most excited about during its keynote was the radar sensor.

That’s right: There’s a literal radar chip in the Pixel 4, which the phone uses to sense motion around it even when it’s not in use. This enables a number of interesting features, but the most notable one is a rapid face-unlock process.

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are the first Pixel phones that you can unlock with your face a la Apple’s FaceID. The phone’s sensors can tell when you’re reaching for it, and begin the unlocking process before you’ve picked it up.

I tried unlocking the device a few times, and it was unbelievably fast. By the time it was off the table, it was ready to use. In a brief side-by-side test, I found that the Pixel 4 unlocked between a half and a full second faster than the iPhone 11 Pro did. The screen was pulled up by the time I could see it; I basically didn’t notice the unlock was happening.

Note: Google has ditched the Pixel 3’s fingerprint scanner, so fans of touch unlocking are out of luck. But if facial recognition isn’t your speed, you can still use a passcode.

In addition to face unlock, the radar allows for air-gesture control. For example, while playing music, you can side-swipe to skip to another song. I didn’t get to test these features extensively at the event, but I’m looking forward to using them more.


The OLED panel is great, but the refresh rate is even better.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL have a 5.7-inch and 6.3-inch OLED screen respectively.

But that’s not even the coolest thing about this screen. What I’m most excited about is its 90HZ refresh rate, which means it refreshes 90 times per second. This spec has historically been reserved for high-end Android phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro; the iPhone 11 only has a 60HZ screen, as does the Pixel 3.

While I generally had a good experience using last year’s Pixel, I sometimes encountered a bit of lag when doing very fast scrolling or zooming in and out. There was none of that on the Pixel 4: All browsing was snappy and smooth. I spent an embarrassing amount of time scrolling through Wikipedia articles at the press event because I loved watching the text slide by.

The one downside of this display can be summed up in one word that will make any tech enthusiast cringe: bezel. Gone is the iPhone X-esque camera notch that graced the Pixel 3 XL. To house its extra sensor and selfie camera, the Pixel 4 has a large bezel at the top of the screen (although it’s nothing like the monstrosities on the front of the Pixel 2).

The bezel didn’t detract from my experience with the phone – I still felt like I had a lot of screen to work with. But if you’re wed to full-body displays like that of the Galaxy Note 10, you’ll want to look elsewhere.


The native transcription app is a game-changer.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

If there’s one reason I’m considering purchasing the Pixel 4 for myself, it’s the real-time transcription.

When Google described this feature during the keynote, I was a bit skeptical, given the mixed success reviewers had with the company’s real-time translation feature earlier this year. But the Pixel 4’s transcription feature works just as advertised.

I read the first paragraph of “A Tale Of Two Cities” out loud in a very loud, crowded setting. As you can see above, the Pixel 4 got every single word right, apart from mistaking “epoch” for “epic” (and that may have been my fault). Even the punctuation wasn’t too far off, and I was reading fairly monotonically.


The Pixel 4’s camera might be the best in the business.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

It’s too early to announce this year’s smartphone camera champion, but the Pixel 4 is definitely a contender.

The Pixel 4 is the first Pixel with a dual-lens setup. The rear array includes the same 12-megapixel primary camera as the Pixel 3, plus a new 16-megapixel telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom for close-up shots. That means we’re missing the ultrawide shooter that headlines the iPhone 11. Google engineer Marc Levoy said in his keynote that “While wide-angle can be fun, we think telephoto is more important.”

The camera isn’t just a hardware upgrade; it’s also gotten smarter. You can now adjust brightness and saturation while composing your shot, and you can see an accurate preview of your photo in the viewfinder if you’re shooting in HDR+. The cameras work together on portrait-mode shots, which Google says will help the phone better capture depth and fine details.

But what Google is really excited about is its new astrophotography mode, which helps you photograph starry night skies and moonlit scenes. I didn’t have an opportunity to test this at Google’s mid-morning event, but above, you can see a sky photo that the Pixel 4 took. It looks pretty good.


The Pixel 4 is Google at its best.

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

I can’t tell you whether the Pixel 4 is worth its $799 price tag until I’ve spent more time with the device. But it feels head and shoulders above the Pixel 3, and, for that matter, any smartphone Google has made in the past.

The phone feels like Google hitting its stride. Rather than running after Apple’s or Samsung’s designs, it’s embracing an aesthetic of its own. And even in areas where Google was playing catch-up (such as the camera), the Pixel 4 has made unique strides.

At every smartphone launch, companies throw a slew of new features up on the screen, and it can sometimes be hard to tell the gimmicks from the gold. On the Pixel 4, however, I have yet to see any bad apples. From the real-time transcription to fast face-unlock and smart camera features, these things all seem like they actually work and, more importantly, are concretely useful. I’m really excited.

Preorder the Pixel 4 ($799.99) and Pixel 4 XL ($899.99) from Best Buy – ships October 24