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Should you buy… the Google Pixel 4 XL?

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

Google may lead in smartphones when it comes to software but the hardware side of things rests on its still-young Pixel range, which is now in its fourth generation.

Though its market share remains small, the Pixel has made a name for itself for its high-performance camera, all done from a single lens – unlike most rivals.

Now the company has made the jump to a dual lens, but with everyone else improving on their own photography offering and much more, is it enough to win consumers over?

Look and feel

The Google Pixel 4 in the ‘oh-so orange’ colour (Jamie Harris/PA)

Google has once again opted for evolution rather than revolution when it comes to design of the Pixel 4, though the extra camera lens and move from fingerprint scanner to facial recognition for security has resulted in the biggest aesthetic change up of the Pixel line yet.

The camera lens, sensor and light are huddled together in a neat rounded square which doesn’t protrude too noticeably.

Free of a fingerprint scanner, the back offers a smooth matte finish that gives the Pixel 4 a real premium feel to it.

The striking “oh-so orange” colour gives the device a confident, bold appearance – but those wanting something a bit more discreet can always opt for the black or white options.

After introducing a notch on the Pixel 3 XL, Google has reverted to the standard thick borders of before, which means users don’t gain the extra display space.

The refresh rate of the display (which is the number of times it updates with new images each second) has been bumped up to 90Hz, which Google is calling its Smooth Display, though it is limited to higher brightness conditions.

Features and software

The Pixel 4 XL runs on Android 10 (Jamie Harris/PA)

As ever with the Pixel, Google being both hardware maker and software maker means it will always be first in line for the latest Android updates.

The Pixel 4 XL receives a RAM boost from 4GB previously to 6GB this time round, bringing its spec up to scratch with competitors and providing more smooth functionality between apps.

For the first time, Google has introduced facial recognition to replace the fingerprint, which works super-fast, though there is one major – and widely reported – concern: it can be unlocked when the owner’s eyes are closed. Google has said it is working on an update to resolve this.

What’s more, third party apps like banking apps that support fingerprint scanning on previous Pixels do not yet accept facial recognition, leaving users to gain access to their account the old-fashioned way.

Motion Sense is brand new to the Pixel 4, allowing people to wave their hand past the device to perform tasks like stopping an alarm or skipping tracks.

The feature can be very hit and miss, and seems to be more unkind to left-handed users.

Camera

Comparison shots of Pixel 4 XL’s Night Sight option off and on (Jamie Harris/PA)

Photography remains a star feature for the Pixel, with even crisper results now that two lenses are in play.

The Night Sight feature continues to wow, although rivals have caught up with Google on this front. It has attempted to build on this with capabilities it claims allow people to take bright, clearer pictures of the night sky for enhanced visuals of stars, the moon and galaxies, but cloudy nights have made it impossible to try this out so far.

It is also worth noting that the Pixel 4 XL also doesn’t have an ultra-wide lens like the iPhone 11 Pro.

Battery

The Pixel 4 XL’s battery size is the same as the budget Pixel 3a XL (Jamie Harris/PA)

The battery capacity stands at 3700 mAh, which is only a slight increase on the Pixel 3 XL and is actually equal to the budget Pixel 3a XL released earlier this year.

Frequent use of the Pixel 4 struggles to make it through the day on a full charge, which may put some consumers off considering the progress Samsung, Huawei and many others have made in the battery department.

Verdict

The Pixel 4 XL is the slickest looking Pixel yet on the outside but slow progress on the inside holds it back.

Instead of focusing on brand new features like Motion Sense and astrophotography, Google would do well to go back to basics on things like battery, which people really care about.

Teething problems with facial recognition do not help, as well as a starting price of £829 for the XL version.

Photography remains the Pixel’s saving grace, but it can’t rely on that alone forever.