I used the Google Pixel 4 for a month, and almost fell in love with it – almost.

The Pixel 4 is a great phone with excellent features, but you might have to think twice about getting it.
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

With the launch of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL last month, Google fans looking for an upgrade have an exciting new prospect to consider. 

If you didn’t already know, Google’s latest smartphones boast new gesture controls and a dual-exposure camera, with prices starting at S$1,119 – slightly cheaper than the iPhone 11.

Google loaned me the Clearly White 64GB Pixel 4 for three weeks.

At first, the prices for the Pixel 4 seemed pretty reasonable to me, but I soon had to give it a second thought as some of its shortcomings really made me scratch my head.

Still, there were some features that I fell in love with, and they now make parting with the phone so much harder.

Here’s how it went: 


Design: Not mindblowing, but nice enough

The first thing that I usually notice about a phone is the design.

Although it isn’t particularly groundbreaking or creative, the Pixel 4 looks considerably sleeker than its predecessors.

The back of the phone has a nice matte texture and a curved square camera module that blends in well with the rest of the phone.

In addition, the Clearly White model has contrasting black edges that make the orange of the power button pop out from the rest of the phone.

The 5.7-inch phone also fits in my hands very nicely, but of course, this will change depending on your phone case.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

The front of the phone still maintains that large bezel that is commonplace among Pixel phones, but that’s because there are a lot of functionalities located there.

For example, Google’s Motion Sense radar – Soli – is located along the bezel, along with the face authentication cameras.

Although heavy on software, the Pixel 4 is light in weight. At 162 grammes, it weighs less than an iPhone 11 (which weights 194 grammes).

The Pixel 4 XL weighs 193 grammes.

Personally, I don’t really mind the presence of the bezel as the screen is sufficiently big.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Motion Sense: Coolest feature on the phone

The new Motion Sense feature uses a 1-metre miniature radar sensor to detect when someone is close to the phone.

I found Motion Sense really convenient as it automatically turns on the phone’s display when I am reaching for it, which makes it less of a hassle to use the facial unlock system. 

Specifically, the most useful and appealing thing about Motion Sense was its sub-feature, Quick Gestures. 

With a wave of my hand, I could snooze alarms, dismiss timers, or skip a song on Spotify or YouTube Music. 

Admittedly, I snoozed one too many alarms and got way too comfortable with the motion sensor that I was late for work a few times – but that’s on me.

All it takes is a flick of the wrist, or hand in this case.
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Performance: Smooth as silk

The Pixel 4’s Android 10 OS and 90 Hz screen made for a smooth sailing experience.

Throughout my time with the Pixel 4, I didn’t experience any hitches or lag, and the phone was very responsive and fast.

The vibrant colours and high refresh rate of the display also provided a more immersive viewing experience,

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

New transcribing app: Useful, but gets confused by Singaporean accents

A first in the series, the Pixel 4 has a Recorder app that can auto-transcribe whatever is being recorded. 

Although it isn’t the most accurate, it proved to be handy whenever I went out of the office to cover events, and someone was saying something important.

The feature runs into some challenges though, especially in multicultural Singapore where there’s a mix (or rojak) of different accents and speech intonations.

caption
It also colour codes the type of audio, blue for speech, and orange for music.
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Cameras: Best feature, hands down

Now on to the best feature on the Pixel 4 – the cameras. 

This was the most stand-out feature to me, and lives up to the high standards Pixel phones are known for.

The three cameras on the Pixel 4 truly make it special, particularly in three areas: dual-exposure control, super high-res zoom, and an improved Night Sight that can even take pictures of the cosmos. 

caption
source
Business Insider / Jessica Lin

Firstly, the dual-exposure controls allowed me – a newbie photographer – to take great photos in any light setting. 

Throughout my time with the Pixel, I did not need to use any photo editing software as the exposure controls allowed me to take photos any way I wanted to. 

For example, this photo below was taken at roughly 9pm at night. 

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

If I wanted a darker photo, I could take an underexposed shot. 

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Or an overexposed one for a brighter picture (below).

It’s great because the dual-exposure controls allowed for more creative freedom than most other smartphone cameras.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

The Google Pixel 4 also takes digital zoom up a notch with its “Super High Res Zoom”.

Essentially, Google combines the optical zoom from the phone’s second rear camera with its software to make photos look less blotched than photos taken with other smartphones.

Here, I took a 8X zoomed photo of Marina Bay Sands from the footpath along Singapore River at Boat Quay.

Of course, as with all digitally zoomed photos, there is still some degree of blotchiness and detail smoothing.

Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

But wait till you see how far away I was (photo below).

Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Taking photos of any kind – especially a photo of someone – is a big challenge at night. But with Google’s Night Sight feature, it isn’t as troublesome.

A feature that works on both the front and back cameras, Night Sight uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to rebalance colour in photos.

The feature saved me the hassle of looking for a light source or repositioning objects for the sake of taking a better-lit photo.

I took photos of my Stormtrooper plushie with and without the Night Sight feature to show a comparison.

The photos were taken after adjusting exposure on the normal camera (left) and with Night Sight turned on (right).
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

In case that wasn’t convincing enough, I decided to put up a real challenge for the camera by placing the Stormtrooper in a room with extremely low (almost close to no) light.

Faint moonlight was the only lightsource here but the resulting image was surprisingly clear, considering that it was almost pitch dark in my room.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

While the Night Sight feature is also available on older models of the Pixel phones, the Pixel 4’s f/1.7 aperture and double rear camera  mean that its Night Sight mode is more effective.

Here’s a photo taken on the Pixel 3’s Night Sight in comparison, which turned out a lot blurrier and way more blotchy.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

But wait – there’s no wide-angle rear camera

Despite all these great things about its camera system, the Pixel 4 lacks an ultra-wide-angle rear camera, which is a common feature amongst other flagship phones today.

The absence of a wide-angle lens disappointed me as it made it impossible to capture photos with a wider field of view without having to move backwards.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Battery life: Not enough juice for 24 hours

More glaringly, another thing I disliked was the Pixel 4’s battery life.

The 2,800 mAH battery of the Pixel 4 is just too small for a flagship smartphone in this day and age.

In comparison, Apple’s iPhone 11 and the Samsung Galaxy S10 boast a 3,110 mAH and 3,400 mAH battery respectively, Business Insider previously reported.

Even the recently launched realme XT – which only costs S$469 – has a 4,000 mAH battery, with a 64MP rear camera to boot.

Having said that, the Pixel 4XL does have a 3,700 mAH battery, which is bigger than both the iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10.

Business Insider / Antonio Villas-Boas

Now, I am an avid player of Supercell’s mobile game, Clash Royale, and I try to get some games in during pockets of free time throughout my day like during my commute.

The game isn’t a performance-heavy one by any means, especially if you compare it to other online multiplayer mobile games like PUBG Mobile and Fortnite.

I estimate that I spend an average of three hours on the phone everyday, of which an hour is spent watching YouTube.

And yet, I found myself reaching for the charger one too many times throughout the day.

For its exorbitant price, the battery life of the Pixel 4 is just way too short.

Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

This is probably partially because the 90Hz display consumes more power than a typical 60Hz display.

Of course, you can lower the refresh rate by turning on the power saving mode, but that defeats the purpose of getting a 90Hz phone.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Face unlock: Erm… a little iffy

The Pixel 4’s facial recognition security system is also a little lacking.

The first signs of this are shown by Google’s “keep in mind” disclaimer, which says the facial recognition technology can be fooled by a lookalike. 

In addition, the current iteration of the unlock system also works when the user’s eyes are closed, which raises concerns that someone can unlock your phone in your sleep. 

caption
source
Business Insider / Antonio Villas-Boas

When asked if the Pixel 4 would eventually get a feature that prevents this, a Google spokesperson said that like most of the brand’s other products, the face unlock was “designed to get better over time with future software updates”.

The Google spokesperson also told Business Insider in October that the system meets security requirements and can be used for payments and app authentication, including banking apps. “It is resilient against unlock attempts via other means, like with masks,” the spokesperson said.

So if you’re uncomfortable with setting up face unlock, you should do things the old school way – through a passcode. But this also means you won’t be able to make use of the super quick unlock.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Headphone jack: Just another phone that has moved on

The Pixel 4 also doesn’t come with a 3.5mm headphone jack, which makes things more inconvenient for people who prefer not to connect via bluetooth or USB-C.

In fact, the set didn’t come with any sort of headphones, earbuds or an adapter for headphones. As a result, I could not listen to music privately without using wireless earbuds or USB-C headphones.

The only way to resolve this was to either get my own bluetooth earbuds – which I dislike – or go out of my way to find a USB-C compatible headphone.

caption
source
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Despite its shortcomings, the Pixel 4 is still a pretty solid phone with, undoubtedly, one of the best phone camera systems you can find.

Plus the Pixel 4 offers a very smooth Android experience, so much so that an iOS user like myself had an easy time navigating the system.

Motion Sense is also one of my favourite smartphone features of all time, and the small amounts of convenience it brings helped to move my day along in meaningful ways.

But its S$1,119 price tag might prove to be too much, especially if I can just top up S$30 more to get the iPhone 11 – which ranks the best battery wise.

If you are looking for a phone with an excellent camera, the Pixel 4 is definitely a good choice. But if you’re running low on budget, you can consider first checking out some cheaper models with highly-rated cameras, such as the S$469 realme XT.

The Pixel 4 (left) and the realme XT smartphones (right).
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Read Also: