“Is the Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL worth it?” That’s the question on the lips of many a smartphone user following the launch of Google’s latest in-house Android phone. Why are users suddenly contemplating the switch to the Google side of things?
Google’s Pixel line of smartphones have a passionate and dedicated following, but it seems that the champion of Android itself can’t quite get its phone’s right. With previous generations of Pixel inevitably having one bug or another. The Pixel 4, it seems, is different. If you want know our detailed thoughts on both sizes of this phone, head over to our own Ben Schoon’s excellent in-depth review of the Pixel 4. To me however, this is the most important thing he has to say:
Also, for the first time on a Pixel there are no strange bugs at launch either. Most Pixel releases have been plagued by some truly weird issues based on the software, but the Pixel 4 is basically free of that. There are the usual random software bugs that a handful of people will notice, but overall, this is the most polished, clean experience you’ll get on an Android smartphone.
Free from its slightly janky reputation, you might be seriously considering either the Pixel 4 or its larger XL sibling. The thing is, these phones are not cheap. Their respective price tags put them in flagship territory, so is it worth the asking price? Let’s try to make the strongest case for the Pixel 4 and then you can decide whether the price of admission is fair or not.
No bloat, all speed
When a company like Samsung ships a phone like the Note 10 Plus, it doesn’t load it with the vanilla Android that Google provides. Instead, it painstakingly builds its own customization into the operating system, especially when it comes to the user interface. In the case of Samsung, their window dressing is known as One UI. Whether you like One UI or any of the umpteen custom UIs for Android is almost completely a matter of personal taste.
Pixel diehards swear by the “stock” Android experience — now known by the name “Google Experience” — especially when it comes to responsiveness and speed. The Pixel has the same class of processor as many other flagship phones, but without any of the pre-installed app or UI bloat.
From our review:
…even after using technically more powerful phones from OnePlus and Samsung, I can still say that I think the Pixel 4 is the fastest Android smartphone I’ve ever used and I feel there’s not much more that needs to be said.
That being said, the era of laggy flagship phones is all but over. While the Pixel 4 may be snappier than anything that isn’t running stock Android, using a flagship from one of the other big names can hardly be described as “slow”. It’s all relative.
Pixel phones are about more than just presenting Android in its pure state. Google has introduced several truly unique innovations with each generation. For example, it has a built-on astrophotography feature which is pretty cool. If you want to photograph giant balls of burning gas, that is.
Oh, and you might have missed the fact that the Pixel 4 has a miniaturized radar system in it.
Google’s Pixel 4 is the company’s first product which uses the Project Soli radar chip. That chip is literally a miniaturized radar chip that can detect what’s going on around the device. – Ben Schoon
That feature is integrated into the user experience of the Pixel 4, allowing for reliable and accurate motion control and spatial awareness.
The Pixel 4 also sports a unique, upgraded version of the Google Assistant that benefits from AI-specific hardware in the handset. Which means there are certain Assistant functions that happen locally, rather than in the cloud.
Are features like these essential? I doubt anyone would go that far. However, for the type of Google enthusiast that generally loves Pixel phones, this sort of unique party trick is worth a lot. At least you don’t have pay an exorbitant premium to have one or two forward looking features.
If you buy a phone from Samsung, LG or any of the Android phone manufacturers of note, you won’t get new versions of Android as they release. That’s simply because each of these companies need to take the latest update and put it through their own process. Customizing and testing it with their handsets.
That’s the opposite of Apple’s iOS experience. Where everyone gets the latest version of the OS as soon as it becomes available. Well, unless Apple decides your handset is too old.
The Pixel 4 and 4 XL offer the closest thing on the Android side of the universe to that experience. When Google releases a new version of Android, you just update to it. No muss, no fuss.
Where things may fall somewhat apart for potential buyers us the hardware and design. For one thing, the Pixel doesn’t have the almost bezel-free display of a Galaxy S10. It doesn’t have the battery capacity of many modern phones in it’s size class either.
The list of expected, yet missing, features is perhaps longer than it should be. There’s no fingerprint sensor, a lack of display brightness to match its peers and there’s no ultra wide camera lens.
Speaking of the camera, it’s a particular strong point of Pixel phones both past and present. The overall verdict seems to be that pictures snapped by the Pixel 4 are better than the competition, but the divide is not a mile wide.
Is Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL worth it?
Both Ben’s review of the smaller Pixel 4 and Damien’s look at the larger ended up recommending the Pixel 4 XL thanks to a larger display and bigger battery. Both warn against the smaller handset in favor of, well, something else. However, that’s not the full equation when it comes to deciding whether the new Google Pixel is worth it for you.
What matters are the importance of those key unique strengths listed above. If that sounds like the sort of phone experience you want, there’s really nothing else in the flagship Android segment that does what the Pixel does. Of course, Pixel 1, 2, and 3 owners don’t even have to think too hard about this, but if you’re seriously tired of the not-so-Googley Android experiences of other makers, the Pixel 4 phones look mighty enticing indeed.
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