Google Pixel 4 Review Roundup: Disappointing Battery Life, Impressive Design

Google’s Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL go on sale this week after debuting at a hardware event in New York last week. And as with previous versions of Google’s flagship smartphone, artificial intelligence powers many exclusive new features and improvements.

Here’s a roundup of some of the devices’ early reviews that praise its design and camera but highlight its underperforming battery.

The Verge‘s Dieter Bohn praised the phone’s design, calling it the best-looking smartphone Google has designed to-date:

If I had to pick a standout design element, I’d go with the aluminum rail around the edge. It’s painted black metal, rounded simply with a matte finish. That helps significantly with grip but also makes it stand out — the rails are black whether you have the black, orange, or white model. Something about the look reminds me of thick, heavy Buddy Holly-style eyeglasses.

Another highlight of the Google Pixel 4 is the smartphone’s new face unlock feature. While Android Central notes that it is possibly faster than Apple’s Face Unlock, it lack widespread support in the Google Play Store:

In fact, only five apps in the entire Play Store have received the necessary tweaks to support the Pixel 4’s face unlock, which means the vast majority of app you use — from banks to payment processors to airlines to note vaults — have no shortcuts. You’ll be entering a username and password every time for the foreseeable future. And that sucks because instead of Google showing off how incredibly useful its new tech is, it’s going to have to defend the fact that once again it couldn’t corral enough developers to update their apps.

Brian Heater of TechCrunch notes that the addition of a second camera, as well as the Pixel 4’s strong photo software, combine to create a formidable smartphone camera:

Essentially it comes down to this: Look at what the company has been able to accomplish using software and machine learning with a single camera setup. Now add a second telephoto camera into the mix. See, Super High Res Zoom is pretty impressive, all told. But if you really want a tighter shot without degrading the image in the process, optical zoom is still very much the way to go…

The fact is that a majority of people who buy these handsets won’t be doing much fiddling with the settings. As such, it’s very much on handset makers to ensure that users get the best photograph by default, regardless of conditions. Once again, software is doing much of the heavy lifting. Super Res Zoom works well in tandem with the new lens, while Live HDR+ does a better job approximating how the image will ultimately look once fully processed. Portrait mode shots look great, and the device is capable of capturing them at variable depths, meaning you don’t have to stand a specific distance from the subject to take advantage of the well-done artificial bokeh.

While many praised the phone’s camera and design, the main issue with the handset was the lower-than-average battery life. Android Central claims that the phone  doesn’t get through an average-use day:

In my week with the Pixel 4, I couldn’t manage to get through even an average-use day without needing to top up in the late afternoon. The battery life is so bad that it re-introduced a concept I thought I’d long left behind: charger anxiety. If went out for an extended time, I had to plan around when, not whether, the phone would die.

In 2019, that’s inexcusable. Worse, Google knowingly reduced the Pixel 4’s battery capacity even though the Pixel 3 had battery issues of its own. In a year when almost every phone manufacturer improved battery life, included the notoriously battery-ambivalent Apple, which added four hours of daily uptime to the smaller iPhone 11 Pro, this oversight overshadows almost everything good about the small Pixel 4.

Overall, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL offer substantial improvements over their predecessor, except for its terrible battery life. Engadget‘s Chris Velazco sums it all up:

Google’s Pixel phones have a reputation for thoughtful software and impressive cameras, but this year’s Pixel 4 represents a step in a new direction. Motion Sense makes it possible to control the phone without touching it, and some key improvements make Google Assistant faster and more capable. When everything works the way it’s supposed to, the Pixel 4 feels like a taste of the future. It’s too bad, then, that some of its most important new additions don’t work as well as they’re supposed to, and that the phone’s small battery can be limiting. While those issues don’t disqualify the Pixel 4, they mean this smaller model is harder to embrace than in years past.