Opinion | The Google Pixel 4 still feels like an overly elaborate joke
Less than a week ago, Google unveiled the newest devices to trot out of its stables, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. As it is with all things Google, the devices had leaked in full well ahead of the official event, so there wasn’t much the public didn’t already know about. And yet, I still managed to be thoroughly disappointed.
Google’s hardware being disappointing is something of a tradition at this point. The Pixel 2 tossed off the headphone jack into the abyss for no reason other than “Apple did it!”, and the Pixel 3 had an outrageously incompetent design with little to no hardware improvements over its predecessor.
I’m not quite sure if this is because Google is primarily a software company, or just a manifestation of the company’s obvious lack of direction with projects, but Google has consistently been a generation behind the curve, and that shines through more than ever with the Pixel 4.
The Curious Case of the Pixel 4
The problem with the Google Pixel 4 is that it’s just not a good phone. It’s not a bad phone, but it’s not good either. One could literally pick any flagship phone from another manufacturer and, ten times out of ten, it’d be a better device. Or, at least, offer significantly more value for money.
The smaller Pixel 4 is the biggest culprit here, although the Pixel 4 XL has its own fair share of faults. The Pixel sports a 5.7-inch FHD+ 90 Hz display, and Google somehow thought it was sensible to ship the phone with a 2800 mAh battery—a downgrade on the 60 Hz Pixel 3’s.
Sure, the 90 Hz feature isn’t permanently on, and the software may be highly optimized, but both of those are merely secondary factors. If you want great battery life, you put a big battery in it, and the Pixel 4’s battery is anything but big.
The LG G8 has a 6.1-inch display and ships with a 3500 mah battery; the iPhone 11 Pro has a 5.8-inch display and sports a 3046 mAh unit; and the Samsung Galaxy S10e has a similar 5.7-inch display and makes do with a 3000 mAh battery. Hell, the Pixel 3a has a smaller 5.6-inch display and features a 3000 mAh battery. All four of those also don’t have to deal with the extra power consumption a 90 Hz display introduces. What was Google thinking with the Pixel 4?
Therein lies the problem with the Google Pixel 4: it just doesn’t compare favorably to the competition. The Galaxy S10e is US$50 cheaper and has a bigger battery and twice the storage. The iPhone 11 even offers better value for money, as weird as that sounds. Apple’s offerings are generally the antithesis of value for money, showing just how much work Google put into making the Pixel 4 a bad deal.
But that isn’t even the worst of the ills that plague Google’s new phones.
Instead, let’s talk about the Pixel 4’s cameras. The lack of an ultra-wide-angle shooter, for one. Other OEMs have taken to shipping their devices with three shooters, but it would seem that Google failed to get the memo.
And before the smart ones come up with a, “But the Pixel 4 takes amazing pictures anyway!” quip, this isn’t about sheer imaging prowess; it’s about versatility. And the Pixel 4’s cameras are a step behind in that regard.
There’s also the fact that the Pixel 4 isn’t capable of taking 4K60FPS videos. In fact, Pixels have developed a reputation for being serially underwhelming video shooters, and the Pixel 4 does nothing to remedy that, with Google completely ignoring the issue at the launch event. Google markets the Pixel 4 as being a camera-centric phone but Apple appears to have caught up with its latest phones.
Much can be said about the Pixel 4’s deficiencies:
- The trade-in program is almost insulting
- The phones are saddled with UFS 2.1 storage when the competition has moved on to UFS 3.0
- Base storage is just 64 GB
- There are no headphones in the box
- Google has stopped providing uncompressed Google Photos backup.
Yet, the biggest issue is pricing. For US$800, a prospective buyer would be much better served buying a Galaxy S10+, an iPhone 11, or a OnePlus 7T. Sure, the Pixel 4 may be the best point-and-shoot camera smartphone in the world; it may be the first Android device to receive updates; it may have a great display, and it will be supported for three years. But the rest of the phone lets it down—brutally—and I just cannot take it seriously.
I had strong opinions on the Galaxy Note 10 but it may as well be a masterpiece when compared to the Pixel 4. Yes, it was also a disappointing release, but that had more to do with failing to live up to the reputation of the Samsung Galaxy Note line. The Pixel 4 has no reputations to live up to, but still manages to fail to find its own feet.
Roses are red.
Turds are brown.
I expected nothing but was still let down.
Keep your eyes peeled for our full Pixel 4 review to see how its hard, real-world performance numbers stack up against the competition.