Phones

Google Pixel 4 XL review

The Google Pixel 4 XL is a handsome phone in its simplicity that, by the same coin, feels less impressive than its Android flagship counterparts. It doesn’t help that its new standout features are inessential, and erratically functional. But new interface improvements and a camera suite that’s better in both the hardware and software departments ensure that this phone stands up to be counted, even if it doesn’t stand out from the competition.

Good
Top-of-the-line cameras
Simple, no-nonsense design

Bad
Face Unlock is finicky, no fingerprint sensor
Low storage options
Battery life is barely adequate

Pixel 4 XL specs
Starting Price – $899
Display (Resolution) – 6.3-inch AMOLED (3040 x 1440)
CPU – Snapdragon 855
RAM – 6GB
Storage – 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD? – No
Rear Cameras – 12.2-MP main (f/1.7); 16-MP telephoto (f/2.4)
Front Camera – 8-MP (f/2.0)
Battery Size – 3,700 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins) – 9:42
Size – 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Weight – 6.8 ounces
Colors – Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange

The Google Pixel 4 packs a Snapdragon 855 chipset, which isn’t quite as advanced as the mid-year upgrade Snapdragon 855 Plus, but that’s not a deal-breaker. The phone is plenty fast enough for all tasks, and with the Adreno 640 graphics chip, powers games like PUBG without a hitch.

The Pixel 4 XL’s 6GB of RAM definitely pales in comparison to other Android flagships, but we didn’t see any performance dips or other signifiers of memory limitations. Heck, if Apple can get away with 4GB of RAM in its blazingly-fast iPhone 11 series, the Pixel 4 XL should be just fine.

Where the Google Pixel 4 XL cuts corners is in storage, which starts at 64GB – an insultingly low amount in 2019. With the included package of Google and Android apps (plus a few others) and a week’s worth of photos and video, we’d already used up a third of that amount.

The only bigger tier is 128GB, which is the baseline for just about every other Android flagship released this year, and far below the terabyte of storage at the top end of phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.

On top of that, there is no microSD card slot to manually expand storage, which feels like the final guardrail funneling users toward Google’s suggested solution: the company’s Google One cloud storage, which carries a monthly subscription.

There are a couple workarounds, thankfully, as Google still allows users to upload as many images as they want into the cloud via Google Photos at limited ‘high quality’ for free (capped at 16MP and 1080p video). Combine that with a Pixel 4 XL optional setting to delete backed-up photos when storage becomes limited (starting with the oldest) and users can mitigate the phone’s low storage woes.

Choosing between Google’s new Pixels, it’s clear that the Pixel 4 XL is the better option, especially if you like big screens and longer battery life. As for how Google’s phablet stacks up to other top smartphones, that’s a tougher call that depends on what you’re looking for in a handset.

The Pixel will still be on the short list for anyone who wants a top camera phone, though the iPhone 11 Pro exceeds it in many ways. The Pixel remains the best way to experience Android, and exclusive features like Live Caption (which comes to other Android devices in 2020) and Recorder’s live transcription drive that point home for the Pixel 4 XL. That said, if you’re intrigued by the new Pixel’s 90-Hz refresh rate and want the latest version of Android on a big screen phone, the OnePlus 7T ticks both boxes and costs $300 less than the Pixel 4 XL.

Still, the Pixel continues to deliver the best that Google has to offer great cameras, the latest version of Android, and software smarts that really allow you to do more with your phone. And the Pixel 4 XL’s wider availability makes it easier than ever to make this phablet your smartphone of choice.

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