Pixel 4 and 4 XL smartphones launched at Google event

Pixel 4 sees you coming

by Andy Bassett

With virtually everything already known about the Pixel 4 after a relentless series of leaks and blog posts, all that was left for the Made By Google event was to make the announcement official and tie it all up with a bow.

Google did their best to avoid a series of ‘our phone’s faster than your phone’ proclamations or engage in any spec wars instead, settling on a few notable functions they feel will make a user’s experience more rewarding. As always, a lot of this revolved around the new camera features, which is something that the company has always prided itself on.

Sporting a new look, finish and colour, the Pixel 4 handsets are the first to feature two rear cameras. They are also the world’s first smartphone to use motion detection based on radar technology - the culmination of a 5 year project called ‘Soli’ which sought to harness radar’s speed, precision and power-efficient motion-detecting properties. All of radar’s advantages have been introduced into the Pixel 4 via a technology called Motion Sense.

This enables the handset to detect movement prior to any actual interaction, so Motion Sense will detect movement towards the phone and prepare Face Unlock, even before the handset has been lifted towards the face. With this state of preparation, the actual unlocking process that follows is extremely quick. Once a phone is placed back down, Motion Sense will detect movement away from the handset and put the phone in sleep mode, thus saving power. It also allows simple gestures to control media playback or swipe through various screens.

Motion sense can be turned on or off at any time and the Face Unlock data remains locally on the handset and never interacts with any other Google services. Additionally, the latest version of the Titan M security module keeps data secure on the phone.

Google will be keenly aware of the advances that their smartphone rivals Huawei and Apple have made in their own camera departments, so the company will be keen to reassert what is largely recognised as one of the Pixel’s strengths. To that end, as well as an 8MP front facing selfie snapper, both handsets now benefit from a pair of rear cameras - a 12.2 MP wide angle lens with a 77° field of view and a 16MP main camera with a 2x telephoto zoom.


But it’s not just the camera hardware which distinguishes Pixel photography, the software plays a huge part in getting the high quality results and this so-called computational photography has been improved in several key areas.

Firstly, the Pixel’s well established HDR+ method of stacking and averaging several shots of the same image to reduce noise and allow brightening to bring out shadow details can now be seen on the screen before the picture is taken using Live HDR+, which uses machine learning to approximate HDR+ in the viewfinder during the composition phase.

On top of that, Dual Exposure Controls allow real time adjustment of the capture exposure and tone mapping via the Brightness and Shadows sliders. This allows different exposure settings to be applied for different parts of the image and previewed before the image is captured. Previously, an image had to be taken and checked to see if the settings delivered the required effect.

There’s also machine based learning for white balance settings to remove some of the tonal discolourations found in tricky lighting conditions.

Portrait mode now also benefits from a combination of the dual cameras and machine learning to improve depth of field effects with large objects, or portraits where the subject is some distance away, and hair and fur are dealt with more accurately too.

Finally, with the improved Night Sight mode, Google is hoping that you won’t actually need to use the included flash module - ‘but it’s there just in case’. Pixel introduces a new Astrophotography mode which takes an exposure up to 16 seconds in length and up to 15 times. Altogether, this equates to a lengthy 4 minute exposure which would actually result in blurred stars as they moved across the night sky. The Pixel 4 avoids this by using the software to merge the images accurately, but will still need a tripod to achieve best results.


Away from photography, Google has also included a new version of its Sound Recorder application which allows real time transcription of dialogue - useful for recording lectures or presentations. It also allows keyword searches across all recorded sound files with instances being identified and located within the files.

Just for the hardware record, the Pixel 4 phones both sport an Always-on OLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, rated A+ by DisplayMate and described as “visually indistinguishable from perfect” as far as colour accuracy and image contrast are concerned. The Pixel 4 display is 5.7-inches and has a FHD+ resolution, while the larger 4 XL is 6.3-inch display and features QHD+ resolution.

The 4 XL also has a larger 3700mAh battery compared to the smaller handset’s 2800mAh battery and they both feature 18W fast charging and Qi-certified wireless charging, which all seems pretty standard for 2019 handsets.

Elsewhere, just about everything else is shared between the two models including the Snapdragon 855 CPU, 6GB of RAM and 64 / 128GB of storage.

Of course, coming from the home of Android, they’ll ship with Android 10 and undergo a minimum of three years O/S and security updates.

Looks like we’ll be waiting for the Pixel 5 for a 5G model though, as there was no mention of support for the new network standard.


Coming in three colours, Just Black, Clearly White and Oh So Orange, the handsets are available for preorder now and will ship on Oct 24th with the Pixel 4 costing £669 and the 4 XL costing £829, both undercutting their respective Pixel 3 antecedents.

Source: Made By Google event.
Image Source: Google, The Verge

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