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Pixel 4 review: Google needs to do more to stand out

A solid high-end phone, it pales against the latest iPhones and Galaxy devices

Brian X Chen | NYT 

Pixel 4 phones review: Google needs to do more to stand out

Google’s new Pixel 4 phones will reach stores soon. Apple’s new iPhone 11s debuted last month. The question is: Will you be able to tell the difference between the smartphones?

It used to be easy to distinguish them. While the Pixel’s hardware features were never as impressive as those of other high-end devices, Google stood out by leveraging its prowess in software and artificial intelligence to meet — and sometimes exceed — its competitors in areas like smartphone photography. But this year, rivals have caught up with Google’s camera software. The latest iPhones, for instance, have added Google-esque capabilities like a night mode for shooting better photos in the dark.

When evaluated in a vacuum, the Pixel 4, which comes in two screen sizes, is a solid all-around device. It has a second camera lens, making Google’s excellent camera system slightly more capable than last year’s. It has incorporated an iPhone-like face scanner and new software that mimics the swipe-gesture controls for using an iPhone. The screen looks rich and bright. It’s also cool that Google’s voice recorder can automatically transcribe audio clips. But Apple and Samsung phones now have triple-lens cameras, which are more versatile for taking photographs.

The Pixel 4 is the best at one thing: integrating Google’s software and internet services into a mobile communications device. Unlike other Android phones, Pixels aren’t cluttered with clunky software and confusing interfaces. But for most people, that won’t be enough.

The most notable new feature on Google’s Pixel is also the most flawed part of the device. Google decided to go all in on face-scanning as a way of unlocking the Pixel 4. When you set the phone up, you scan a 3-D model of your face. From there, whenever you pick up the device, it will unlock as soon as it verifies your mug. The problem? BBC News reported last week that the face scanner would unlock even with a user’s eyes closed, which I confirmed in my tests. This is a major security flaw.

The bottom line

The Pixel 4 has a few intriguing features, like the transcription feature built directly into its voice recorder. The screen also has a higher refresh rate, which makes motion look smoother. But over all, these perks did not make up for the Pixel 4’s weaknesses, and I was disappointed that Google didn’t do more to distinguish its premium phone from competitors.

In the meantime, people who enjoy Google products have a good option: the $400 Pixel 3A. It lacks frills of higher-end phones like wireless charging and waterproofing, but it includes Google’s smart camera and a nice screen. It’s the best Android phone you can get at that price.

© 2019 The New York Times

First Published: Fri, October 25 2019. 22:45 IST