Google Pixel 4 XL Review
An improvement over the Pixel 3 XL, but some problems remain
The Google Pixel 4 XL is the search giant’s latest attempt to create the definitive Android phone. Its predecessor, the Pixel 3 XL, was impressive, but had some flaws which let it down. So, is the Pixel 4 XL an improvement? And can it truly compete with the best phones on the market?
- Stunning camera
- Impressive screen quality with new 90Hz refresh rate
- Snappy Face Unlock tech
- Significantly better battery life than Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 4
- Stock Android interface is easy to use
- Design might not be to everyone's taste
- Gesture controls feel a bit gimmicky at the moment
- No ultra wide-angle camera lens
You’ll be heartened to hear that the Pixel 4 XL is not only a marked improvement over its predecessor, but also one of the best phones on the market at the moment.
It performs strongly across the board – notably, but not surprisingly so, in the camera department – while its battery life improvements are great to see. However, it’s not without fault: It’s expensive, there’s no wide-angle lens, and while it is fast, it lacks the raw speed of some of its rivals.
However, the Pixel 4 XL is still a compelling package, and there are few phones on sale today that we would recommend so wholeheartedly.
In this review we'll cover the Pixel 4 XL's:
- Camera quality – The Pixel 4 series has one-upped every other phone on the market
- Design and screen quality – 90Hz refresh rate and high PPI make for a winning combo
- Performance and speed – A RAM increase from the Pixel 3 is welcome, but it's not the fastest on sale
- Ease of use – Stock Android is brilliant and Face Unlock is speedy
- Battery life – Miles better than the Pixel 4, but can't match top flagships
- Cost and value for money – At $899, it's a bit cheaper than some rivals, but not by much
- Google Pixel 4 XL review verdict – A phone on the verge of greatness
Google’s phones have been lauded for their excellent camera skills for a while now. In fact, last year’s Pixel 3 XL was able to take better pictures with a single rear lens than most other phones were able to with three, four, or even five lenses.
The Pixel 4 XL, like its smaller Pixel 4 brother, gets two rear cameras. One is a 16Mp telephoto lens, which makes for better zoomed-in photos; the other is a 12.2Mp wide-angle lens, which handles most of the hard work.
In short, these rear cameras are brilliant. What’s more impressive, though, is that they are a marked improvement over the excellent single rear camera on the Pixel 3 XL. Images are sharp, well-lit, and don’t look over-processed.
Compared to, say, the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom, images appear more life-like, and don’t feature any heavy shadowing. Or compared to the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, which features three rear-facing lenses, the Pixel 4 XL manages to capture the vibrancy in any subject without looking artificial. Google is walking a perilous tightrope here, leaning heavily on its photo processing skills, rather than raw hardware – but this strategy is paying off in spades.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Pixel 4 XL’s cameras, though, is the variety of modes it can employ to help you get the right shot. Its Night sight, which finds color in extremely low-light environments, remains – in our mind – the best on the market. Its portrait mode, meanwhile, is as competent as Apple’s.
Images from the 8Mp front camera are, again, impressive, but not quite as strong as the rear cameras. Skin tones can appear slightly smoothed, for example, although the front-facing portrait mode still performs well.
Video quality is strong, but perhaps not quite as sharp as we’ve seen from some of Samsung’s recent phones. The videos reproduce colors brilliantly, and are fantastically stable, despite the lack of an ultra wide-angle lens. However, we found the camera had it some issues tracking fast moving objects across the screen. It’s nothing major, and for most people, the videos will be fine – but it is something to bear in mind if you do a lot of recording.
Design and Screen Quality
The Pixel 3 XL’s design was controversial to say the least. It had a huge front notch, no headphone jack or expandable storage, and a screen that, while good, was far from class-leading.
With the Pixel 4 XL, though, Google has changed almost everything – and for the better. The screen is the same size (6.3 inches), but is now a mite sharper, with its Pixels per Inch count jumping from 523ppi to 537ppi. The overbearing notch has also, mercifully, disappeared.
But perhaps the biggest change is the switch from a traditional 60Hz refresh rate screen to a faster 90Hz screen. This means that everything you see on screen, from scrolling social media to the videos you record, looks smoother and more refined. It’s a neat trick that instantly and passively improves almost every interaction with the phone.
If Google could match its 90Hz tech with Samsung’s AMOLED display detail chops, the search company would be onto an almost unbeatable screen. As it stands, though, the Pixel 4 XL’s screen will have to settle for being very, very good.
However, not every aspect of the Pixel 4 XL’s design is very, very good – or even good at all. Google might have ditched the unsightly notch from the Pixel 3 XL, but the Pixel 4 XL has probably the largest bezels of any current flagship phone.
Now, to be clear, the top bezel is extremely large – but we’ll let Google off slightly. This top bezel packs some seriously interesting tech, such as a radar sensor for gesture controls and faster, more intuitive unlocking. However, the side and bottom bezels are reminiscent of the sort you’d find on a cheaper phone with an LCD screen, not a flagship P-OLED display.
What’s more, very few phones have had a rear case design that split opinion quite like the Pixel 4 XL. Some people we’ve shown it to have loved it, with some genuinely thinking it was one of the new iPhones (meant as a compliment, we assure you). Others, meanwhile, have slammed it, saying it looks like a toy with its matte rear panel, black borders, and bright orange power button.
Here at Tech.co, we like the Pixel 4 XL’s design, but we’re struggling to really love it. The design language is sleek, sure, but it’s also a little bit safe for our liking. And after living with a Samsung Note 10 Plus for a while, the large top bezels felt like a step back.
Performance and speed
The Pixel 4 XL has some pretty standard specs for a flagship phone in 2019. It gets Qualcomm’s latest non-5G Snapdragon 855 processor, as well as a healthy (if unremarkable) 6GB of RAM.
However, this means that the Pixel 4 XL can handle pretty much everything you’d be able to throw at it. Multitasking is slick and speedy, while it can also run some of the most resource-heavy games on the Play Store, such as Call of Duty Mobile, with ease.
However, we did notice that under heavy loads, the Pixel 4 XL would run pretty warm. While its obviously not intended as a dedicated gaming phone, it might be concerning for hardcore mobile gamers – if we’re honest, though, we’d only really worry if you regularly put hours into playing mobile games.
However, one area where the Pixel 4 XL does let itself down is in the storage it offers. Users will have to make do with 64GB as standard, although you can double this storage to 128GB for an extra $100. Particularly galling, however, is Google’s decision to remove the unlimited original-quality photo storage it previously offered on the Pixel 3 series. This means your 64GB doesn’t go anywhere near as far as it used to.
Ease of use
Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay the Pixel 4 XL is that it feels closer in spirit to an iPhone than any other Android phone on the market. There’s no bloatware to speak of, meaning no app duplication (we’re looking at you, Samsung) and a feeling that everything just works effortlessly.
What’s more, the Pixel 4 XL (and regular Pixel 4) come with new gesture controls in place of Android’s regular navigational buttons. You swipe up to change apps or return to the home screen, and can swipe left or right from the edges to move backwards or forwards with apps. It’s all delightfully simple.
There’s also no fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 4 XL. Like Apple, Google has decided that facial recognition is the way forward – and again, the Pixel 4 XL’s Face Unlock system is a worthy rival to Apple’s FaceID. Unlocking is speedy, and thanks to the radar sensor in the thick top bezel, the Pixel 4 XL literally knows when you’re going to pick it up and starts preparing itself.
There are also a range of other gesture-based controls that you can use – for example, swiping in front of the screen whilst playing music from Spotify or YouTube Music will skip songs. However, there aren’t too many applications supporting these gestures at the moment, so it feels slightly gimmicky for now, at least.
Battery size is one of the most controversial aspects of the Pixel 4 series. While Google upped that battery size on the 4 XL compared to the 3 XL, it actually reduced the size of the battery on the regular Pixel 4 compared to the Pixel 3. We’ve written more about the disappointing battery life on the Pixel 4 here.
However, the battery life on the Pixel 4 XL makes it a far more viable option. We managed to get just under 21 hours on a full charge, which while strong, isn’t the best on the market. However, we were able to extend this to a little over two days with some judicious use of the power saving mode and serious self-discipline.
If you want an Android phone with great battery life, we’d still point towards a Samsung model. But, by the same token, if you were choosing between the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, we’d choose the larger phone simply for the better battery life.
Cost and value for money
At $899, the Pixel 4 XL is a decidedly not-cheap phone. It rubs shoulders with some of the most expensive Android phones on the market, including our current favorite, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.
So, how does it stack up to the competition?
|Pixel 4 XL||Pixel 4||S10 Plus||iPhone 11 Pro Max|
|Screen size (in)||6.3||5.7||6.4||6.5|
|Dimensions (HxWxD mm)||160.4×75.1×8.2||147.1×68.8×8.2||157.6×74.1×7.8||158×77.8×8.1|
|Weight (g)||193||162||175/ 198 with ceramic case||226|
|Storage sizes (GB)||64/128||64/128||128/512/1,000||64/256/512|
|Battery size (mAh)||3,700||2,800||4,100||3,969|
|Rear cameras (Mp)||12 + 16||12 + 16||12 + 12 + 16||12 + 12 + 12|
|Front camera||8||8||8 + 10||12|
|Buy now||Click here||Click here||Click here||Click here|
As you can see, the Pixel 4 XL stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the strongest models on the market. While it isn’t quite as fast as Samsung and Apple models, its exceptional cameras lead the way.
If you’re after a budget option, we’d still be tempted by the OnePlus 7T, or even its bigger, flashier 7T Pro brother.
The Pixel 4 XL, then, is one of the best value phones on the market – and comes with high-end price tag to match.
Google Pixel 4 XL Review Verdict
The Pixel 4 XL is one of the best phones on the market, and easily one of the best phones of the year. Google has, somehow, managed to improve its cameras once again, while also remedying a number of flaws with the previous model.
However, it is expensive, and the lack of storage feels particularly miserly from Google. Still, if you’re looking for a simple and intuitive phone that isn’t an iPhone, you’ll find none better than the Pixel 4 XL.
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