Last year, we loved the Pixel 3. Google showed us that with great software skills, it is possible to fill hardware gaps and offer one of the best smartphones on the market. Gifted with photos, the Pixel 3 is still a benchmark today and rivals the best such as the iPhone 11 Pro, the Galaxy S10 or the Huawei P30 Pro.
A year later, here is the Pixel 4. Sold a little cheaper than its predecessor (769 euros against 859 euros), this smartphone is distinguished by some innovations such as its 3D facial recognition and its motion detector. Is that enough to place Google at the top of the high-end smartphone market? You will see in our full review that we are very divided.
Still the king of the camera
Once it is not customary, we have divided our review into two parts. First, we present you the strong points of the Pixel 4. We then end this review with all the faults of the device. Let’s start right away with its highest quality: the camera.
Armed with the same 12.2 Mpix sensor (with lens opening to f / 1.7) as last year, the Pixel 4’s main novelty this year is the arrival of a telephoto lens (f / 2.4) attached to a 16 Mpix. If it is technically capable of an x2 optical zoom, the Pixel 4 does not leave the user the possibility of switching from one camera to another. The company prefers to highlight its “super zoom” which allows you to gradually switch from a view x1 to x8 with the least possible loss of quality. Is it convincing? To our surprise, the answer is yes. A big yes even.
According to our interpretation, Google once again demonstrates its superb software. When you zoom in and take a photo, the smartphone applies processing for about ten seconds to artificially add pixels where it thinks they are missing. The text therefore becomes perfectly legible while the details of a wall are smoothed in order to reduce the effects of blurring. It’s not as perfect as a P30 Pro but it’s more than enough to keep your vacation memories. Faced with an iPhone 11 Pro, the Pixel 4 is doing much better.
The other novelty this year is the arrival of “Live HDR +”. We remind you how the Pixel camera works: the smartphone takes nine photos simultaneously (at different exposure values) and uses an algorithm to create the perfect image. With the Pixel 3 you had to wait for a posteriori processing to see the final result. With the Pixel 4, there is now a preview. Our reviews show, however, that this novelty is somewhat untrue. There is always a big difference between the preview and the final photo. Is it really problematic? No, you will only be more satisfied when you discover that the Pixel photo is much more successful than you expected.
Note also the arrival of a new feature called “Dual Exposure”. It allows the Pixel 4 to separate an image in two (foreground / background) to vary the exposures in order to reduce a backlight. If this function offers artistic possibilities, it is not easy to use. If there is no auto mode, it’s up to you to tap the screen to access the menu, which most of the time you won’t want to do. Let us salute the result which is more than correct.
Finally, without too much upheaval, the Pixel 4’s “main” camera lives up to the brand’s reputation. Facing an iPhone 11 Pro (all our photos are accessible in an album Google Photos below), Google’s smartphone wins almost every time. Even if this is of course subjective, the Pixel displays more details, delivers better HDR rendering, offers a more interesting palette of colors and, above all, provides a more breathtaking night photo quality. The night vision mode, which you can activate yourself, creates low-light photos that no other smartphone is capable of. The latter can even take pictures of the stars but we have not had the opportunity to review it given the weather in recent days.
The only major flaw in our opinion is the lack of color fidelity between the two sensors. As soon as you zoom in, the white balance changes completely and there is no longer any consistency between the different photos you can take. In this game, Apple is the big winner. The iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy S10 also win the battle of versatility thanks to their ultra wide-angle, absent from the Pixel 4. We would have loved to have this type of lens here. In fact, ultra wide-angle selfies are no longer relevant on this Pixel 4. Google only has one front camera.
• To access a wider selection of photos taken at Pixel 4, click here
• To access the equivalent photos taken with the iPhone 11 Pro, click here
In video, the Pixel 4 is good without being excellent. Its stabilization is much lower than that of the iPhone 11 Pro, Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 Pro and the smartphone cannot film in 4K 60 fps (it is limited to 4K 30 fps). Unless you have professional needs, it should still suit most users.
Very fast facial recognition
Above the Pixel 4 screen is a thick border rather than a notch. Inside is a very sophisticated 3D facial recognition system similar to Apple’s TrueDepth sensor. Are we convinced? It’s not perfect, but it’s great. Unlocking takes place in a very short time (just lift your smartphone) and works in the dark. Unlike the iPhone system, from which it is very clearly inspired, the Pixel system works without you having to make a gesture from the bottom of the screen. We therefore save time.
Now, “Face Unlock” also has limits. The first of these is a huge security issue: Google facial recognition works even if you have your eyes closed. We do not wish you to have a jealous partner who could use your device without your knowledge while you sleep! When asked about the subject, Google promises an update (with the option in the settings to require to have eyes open for unlocking) but it is not available at the time of this writing.
Finally, third-party applications do not yet support facial recognition. In other words, you can’t access a banking app with your face. In the absence of a fingerprint sensor on this Pixel 4, you will therefore have to type a code each time.
The advantage of Pixels is of course their belonging to the Google ecosystem. Delivered under Android 10, the Pixel 4 should receive many updates from Android and will always be served first. The browsing experience is far superior to that of many other smartphones, Google is content with the essentials and does it well. Thanks to its powerful processor (Snapdragon 855) and its formidable software optimization, the device can run all types of applications (including resource-intensive games) without any problem. We really enjoy using it.
And yes, we are already coming to the negative part of this review. With its small 2800 mAh battery, the Pixel 4 worried us even before it was unpacked. Our fears proved to be justified: here we have the least enduring high-end smartphone on the market. Our laboratory has measured a versatile autonomy of 9:05, a video streaming autonomy of 7:38 (less than three films) and a communication autonomy of 3:41 p.m.. Very sincerely, it’s lamentable. In our week with the device, we did not manage to last an entire day. We got to 0% between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. depending on how we used the device. This smartphone is intended for people who have a charger on their desk or are still walking around with an external battery … but definitely not for nomads.
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Too low-cost design
Today, all manufacturers offer smartphones with an edge-to-edge screen and make original efforts at the back. For a price of 769 euros, we expect a smartphone to be elegant, even if it is obviously subjective. This is again not the case with the Pixel 4. With its thick and asymmetrical borders and its shiny glass back, the device looks like a low-cost smartphone.
The back of the smartphone is particularly disappointing. Very sensitive to fingerprints, the “Simplement Noir” color (the only one available in UK) is very commonplace. The dual camera module of the smartphone, located in a square block at the top left, is also very unsightly.
Besides, we have big doubts about the solidity of the device. The screen of the Pixel 3 was particularly sensitive to scratches last year, that of the Pixel 4 seems to us as fragile. Its coating seems too easy to damage and makes us want to quickly buy a protective film.
A mini format perfect for a dim screen
With a diagonal of 5.7 inches, the screen of the Pixel 4 is perfect for those who love small smartphones. Few mobiles are as pleasant to hold in hand. The refresh rate of the panel at 90 Hz, as on the last OnePlus, also gives it a significant advantage. Scrolling through a feed like Instagram’s on the Pixel 4 is clearly more restful for the eyes than on other devices.
The screen of the Pixel 4 suffers, on the other hand, from a size defect: its lack of brightness. According to our measurements, it does not exceed 441 cd / m2, which is almost half as much as on an iPhone 11 Pro (813 cd / m2) or a Galaxy S10 (749 cd / m2). In direct sunlight, the difference is cruel for Google. You have to squint to decrypt the content of the screen and you quickly regret other smartphones.
All this is all the more regrettable in terms of color fidelity, the Pixel 4 is doing well. Its measured Delta E index of 4.2 (which corresponds to the difference between the colors displayed by the device and reality) is satisfactory – without more – by default, but much better when you configure the display on the natural mode (2.66). Ambient EQ mode, modeled after Apple’s True Tone, also improves readability.
64 GB, seriously?
Equipped with the Snapdragon 855 processor and 6 GB of RAM as we said above, the Pixel 4 does not steal its title of high-end smartphone. Google has however made funny hardware choices. First of all, the amount of storage. In UK, Google has decided to market only the “64 GB” version of the smartphone. As if that weren’t enough, this is the first pixel to not offer unlimited storage in Google Photos. We have already saturated 60% of storage space on our Pixel in one week and we are convinced that few users will succeed in not filling it in the long term. We would have liked a 128 GB version.
By the way, speaking of what we would have liked, the Pixel 4’s charging is not up to par with a high-end model. It takes 1h48 to charge the device, which is a lot for such a small battery. We also wouldn’t have been against Wi-Fi 6 support.
Motion Sense: a great disappointment
Motion Sense. This is the great innovation of this Pixel 4. After five years of research, Google has finally made its Soli project a reality and has successfully miniaturized a radar. There is therefore a sensor dedicated to detecting movements in the upper border of the smartphone.
What is Motion Sense for? Today, it offers only four possibilities:
• Stop a timer or decline a call (a gesture to the radar)
• Change song (left or right)
• Say hello to your wallpaper
• Turn on the phone screen by passing your hand over it
Five years of development to say hello to Pikachu. (Very honestly, I am very disappointed. The gestures are ultra limited, they are sometimes triggered by mistake and 3/4 of the time, it does not wake up the phone). # pixel4 pic.twitter.com/5QbT0v2EJL
– Nicolas Lellouche (@LelloucheNico) October 15, 2019
Let’s not go there, right now Motion Sense is of no interest. We can only salute the technological feat, but the way Google implemented it on their phone is woefully unimaginative. This is all the more distressing since gestures are not systematically detected or, on the contrary, sometimes detected by mistake. If we trust Google to improve Motion Sense in the future, we encourage you to deactivate it first.