Launched last month, Google’s Pixel 4 came packed with a ton of new features, like face unlock, a rear-facing telephoto lens, and the ability to take astrophotography. Are these enough to put the Pixel on the top of your shopping list when Black Friday arrives in a few weeks? Let’s take a quick look at how the Pixel 4 stacks up against the hottest devices from Samsung, Apple, and everyone else.
With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, this is undoubtedly the time to think about upgrading your device. In this guide, we’ll break down the Pixel 4’s features for you, and we’ll help you figure out whether it’s worth the upgrade if you’re already wielding an older Pixel device.
(And if all you care about are specs, we’ve got that comparison, too! Remember, though: Numbers aren’t everything.)
What about the Pixel 4’s size?
Starting at $1,049, the Pixel 4 comes with a 5.7-inch Full HD+ display, while the Pixel 4 XL starts at $1,279 and offers a 6.3-inch Quad HD+ display. The screen size doesn’t necessarily give away the size of the phone, however.
At 147.1 x 68.8 x 8.2mm, the Pixel 4 is comfortable enough for smaller hands and pocketable for those who carry phones in their jeans. It’s smaller than the iPhone 11, and almost the same size as the regular Samsung Galaxy S10, which launched earlier this year. The Pixel 4 can be operated one-handed and sports the same 90Hz display as its larger counterpart, but it’s more “phone” than “multitasking handheld device.” Though those who are used to the relative feather-weight of the Pixel 3 will find the Pixel 4 to be denser than its predecessor.
The Pixel 4 XL measures at 160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm. It’s a bit bigger than the Galaxy Note 10, already a giant phone in its own right, and the iPhone 11 Pro. Those looking for a productivity or gaming device might find the Pixel 4 XL’s display to better suit their needs. But it is a bigger phone, and larger devices require you ensure you have a grip on it at all times.
Opening up the Pixel 4 and peeking at its brain
The bummer about new smartphones released this late into the year is that while their hardware is current, their innards will inevitably get eclipsed by something else a few months into the new year.
The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL both run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM. The processor is on par with other phones that launched earlier this year. However, there’s already a Snapdragon 855+ inside the OnePlus 7T and Asus ROG Phone 2, both of which are explicitly marketed towards hardcore mobile gamers. The benefit of this particular chip is that it’s slightly more optimised for gaming performance and machine learning, though it isn’t necessary for getting decent performance down the line. And the Snapdragon 855 has performed just fine inside the LG G8 ThinQ, OnePlus 7 Pro, Galaxy S10, and Galaxy Note 10.
More memory is always nice to have for hardcore phone users. If you’re always switching between streaming video and a mobile game that’s grinding away for points in the background, starting with 8GB might make for a smoother experience overall. Both the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus, the OnePlus 7T, and its predecessor, the OnePlus 7 Pro, offer up to 12GB of RAM. Casual smartphone users will hardly need that much memory, but if future-proofing is your primary concern, it might seem worth the extra cash.
It’s difficult to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison between Android devices and Apple’s iPhones. The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max are all powered by the Cupertino-made hexa-core Apple A13 Bionic processor and 4GB of RAM. Apple optimises its chip specifically for use with its devices, so while it may not sound like a powerhouse on paper, benchmarks have shown the latest iPhones to be as capable at gaming and multitasking.
More storage, but not enough
The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are available in 64GB or 128GB configurations. The first option might seem like enough to get you through a few years of taking photos, saving memes, downloading documents, and dealing with everything else that accumulates on your mobile device over time. But it’s paltry in comparison to the 256GB capacity OnePlus smartphones typically max out at, Apple’s 256GB and 512GB capacities for the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, and Samsung’s up-to-1TB offerings. It’s also worth noting that Google Photos no longer offers unlimited storage for pictures snapped with the Pixel 4, as it did with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 2. The Pixel 4 doesn’t have an expansion slot, either.
Life moves fast, and mobile apps are getting bigger. You’ll want that extra space so you’re not always worrying about phone maintenance and cloud backups. If 64GB sounds too constricting and you’re not primarily relying on streaming services for content, you’ll want to drop the extra money on a higher-capacity Pixel 4 or go for another device.
Make-or-break battery life
The Pixel 4’s small battery size has folks scratching their heads on whether or not it’ll be enough to sustain a full day’s worth of use. The Pixel 4 has a 2800 mAh battery, making it the smallest battery in its class. The battery isn’t much bigger than the second-generation Pixel 2’s 2700 mAh battery, and it’s even smaller than last year’s Pixel 3 battery. (Both of its predecessors had smaller screens.)
The Pixel 4 XL’s 3700 mAh is likely to be enough, though that’s if you plan on not using that 90Hz OLED display at full brightness. It’s meager when compared to the Galaxy S10 Plus’s 4100 mAh and Galaxy Note 10 Plus’s 4300 mAh battery, both of which are marketed as devices for power users, though there’s been criticism that the latter isn’t as power-friendly as its battery size would lead you to believe.
If battery life is your primary concern and you have no interest in taking high-resolution photos or doing a ton of gaming, ditch any of the flagships mentioned here and go for a Motorola Moto G7 Power. It has a 5000mAh battery and skips out on the high-end specifications, so longevity is the last thing you’ll have to worry about.
How many cameras do you need?
As you peruse through this list of phones, you’ll find the Pixel 4’s multiple camera lenses compete with Samsung’s phones, OnePlus’s, and Apple’s. The Pixel 4’s primary camera is a 12.2-megapixel lens with dual pixel phase detection, optical image stabilisation (OIS), an f/1.7 aperture for taking low light shots, and a 77-degree field of view. There’s an additional 16-megapixel telephoto lens, which hails OIS, f/24 aperture, and a 52-degree field of view. The front-facing camera is 8-megapixels with 4K video capture capabilities, but it loses the second camera of the Pixel 3, which helped enable wide-angle selfies. This was great for massive family photos, but it’s hardly a loss if you weren’t using it much.
Multiple rear-facing lenses have become a staple on the latest crop of flagship devices. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 both offer a telephoto and an ultra-wide-angle lens, while the OnePlus 7T bundles it all in with a wide-angle, an ultra-wide-angle, and a telephoto lens. The iPhone 11 also offers dual ultra-wide and wide-angle cameras, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max tacks on a third telephoto lens. If variety in camera angles is what you’re looking for, there are plenty of choices between ecosystems.
Google’s big kicker for the Pixel 4 is that it uses computational photography to string together a good looking photo. Features like Live HDR+, which uses machine learning to calculate HDR+ in real time through the viewfinder, now offers sliders for both the exposure brightness and shadows. The Pixel 4 also utilises machine learning to automatically adjust the white balance in all of its shooting modes, and there are smarts when you engage the telephoto lens to help piece together a depth map as you zoom in and out. Lastly, the Pixel line’s marquee Night Sight has been updated to allow for astrophotography, so you don’t have to cart out a full-body camera, lens, and tripod to the desert to get a clear picture of the milky way—just some kind of mount that can keep your Pixel 4 still.
While Google typically makes its camera features backwards compatible, the Pixel 3 will not receive Live HDR+ or dual-exposure controls. However, the astrophotography mode should make it to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a via an app update.
Most flagship devices like the Galaxy Note 10 and OnePlus 7T offer a dedicated Night mode, but the Pixel’s abilities have often outperformed both in the past. Apple’s iPhone 11 now boasts a Night Mode, which is capable, but still has a bit of journey ahead of it before it can produce what the Pixels have been able to do.
Wave hello to the radar
One of the Pixel 4’s main features is that it has a tiny radar chip inside it. The feature that utilises it is called Motion Sense, and it is limited at launch. It enables you to swipe from left to right to shuffle between a music playlist or wave your hand to dismiss a call or snooze an alarm. It can also sense as your hand is about to approach the phone. The technology is a derivative of Project Soli, shown off back in 2015 and originally meant for Google’s wearable devices. There will hopefully be more use for it down the line, but it’s not exactly a reason to choose the Pixel 4 over anything else.
Scan your face, not your fingers
The Pixel 4 eliminates the fingerprint scanner in exchange for a new face unlock mechanism. Like the iPhone’s Face ID, the Pixel 4’s face unlock uses infrared cameras to project dots on your face and figure out if it’s you.
The feature is already marred by caveats, however. In addition to having limited launch support, the Google Support page warns that not only can looking at your phone unlock it even when you don’t intend to, but that it can be unlocked by your identical twin.
If you’d instead continue in life with a fingerprint sensor, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a still use the fingerprint unlock mechanism. It also has plenty of support from third-parties, including oft-used banking apps.
What if I want an iPhone, not an Android?
Here’s the thing: if you’re choosing between the Pixel 4 and an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro (or the Pixel 4 XL and an iPhone 11 Pro Max), what you’re deciding on is an ecosystem, not a device. With a Google product, you’re walking into a Google-led world, with Google Maps, Google Docs, and Google Photos at the forefront. By choosing the Pixel, you also get the added benefit of receiving software and security updates directly from Google.
Conversely, if you choose an Apple iPhone, you’re entering a neatly coiffed walled garden. While there, you’ll still have access to most Google’s apps and services, like Maps, Docs, and Photos, but you might receive updates and features to those at a later time. Then again, you have Apple’s support as a customer, including consistent software and security updates, and full integration with other Apple products. And let’s not forget—you also get access to the Apple Watch, which remains one of the better-selling wearables.