I have been using the Google Pixel 4 as my daily smartphone for more than 100 days. It's been a period of ups and downs for me and this smartphone. Here's my long-term review of Google's flagship smartphone.
I was pretty positive about the Google Pixel 4 when I reviewed it in Autumn 2019. I'd been a fan of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 smartphones, and was excited about the new features. The battery life was an issue from day one, but I was happy to have a new daily driver and settled in for the long haul. The Pixel 4 has now been in my pocket for four months. It's time to take stock of exactly how Google's flagship has performed over extensive testing.
The battery issue has become unworkable
I have written about the Pixel 4's battery life before quite extensively. My colleague still occasionally laugh when they see me reaching for the charger, but I didn't use to care. I work in an office. I am always close to a USB-C port. However, there have been times in the last 100-plus days where the Pixel 4 has let me down.
When I have traveled for work, it has been a nightmare. Particularly on a long trip to Tel Aviv, where I needed to use my phone to call an Uber once I landed. I was so terrified of running dry that I turned the phone off when it still had 30 percent of battery left on the flight. Carrying a second phone is a must at events, but that's not something the average user is going to do. I have also reluctantly gone back on my original decision to force the screen into 90Hz mode at all times. The difference is noticeable, and it pains me, but that's the price you pay for 2,800 mAh in 2020. At least it charges quickly, after all, there's really not that much capacity to fill!
Motion Sense needs some work
One of the biggest new features of the Google Pixel 4 was Motion Sense, made available for the first time thanks to all of that Soli Radar tech in the large top bezel. I liked it at first, and it still has its uses. Unlocking the phone via facial recognition is much faster as a result, and I do enjoy the 'reach to quieten an alarm' thing.
Switching tracks on Spotify, for example, is way to sensitive though. I enjoy listening to Discover Weekly on Spotify. The playlist is great for discovering new music, but when I glance over at the phone to see what track is playing when I hear something I like, Motion Sense will often read my face as a hand gesture to skip the track or pause it. Thanks, Pixel, you just took me out of the experience. There is a future for Motion Sense, but it needs refining. I still have it tuned on, but there have been times in the last couple of months where I disabled it completely.
It's still the best true compact smartphone you can buy
There are a couple of things I still love about the Pixel 4 though. It's still the best compact smartphone you can buy today. Take that claim with a pinch of salt, because there is not much competition here. I should clarify what I mean by 'compact'. I am not counting anything that has a display larger than six inches here. Sorry, Samsung Galaxy S20. The Apple iPhone 11 Pro does make the cut, but I can't live with iOS in my life. Therefore, the biggest competition here is the Samsung Galaxy S10e. Great phone, but I'd take the Pixel 4 over it for the next positive on my list of likes.
Google's regular Feature Drops are a dream
One thing that has been great about being a Pixel 4 owner over the last 100 days are the regular Feature Drops that Google is committed to rolling out for its first-party phones. The latest drop, which landed this month, featured new emojis and faster access to Google Pay. The first drop brought more photo controls, controls for spam calls, improved video calls on Duo and the useful Live Caption for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a.
The Pixel-exclusive features are a joy and one of the main advantages of using this device over a flagship from a competing brand. I particularly love Live transcribe, which can convert anything you say into copy and pastable text It's a huge time-saver for anyone who conducts interviews that need to be written up. Students and note-takers, in general, will also benefit from this feature.
I would be excited about future Pixel feature drops, if I hadn't already made a tough decision...
Conclusion: my time with the Pixel 4 is over
It's true. I am done with the Google Pixel 4. This is quite a big deal for me as, as my colleague is more than happy to tease me about, I am the office Pixel fanboy. I have championed the Pixel 3a when I did my 100 days review, but the truth I used it as my daily driver for way longer than that. I went back to it again and again, even after reviewing phones like the OnePlus 7T Pro and the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro - both superb smartphones - I was quick to return them to our inventory and pull out my slap my SIM back in my trusty Pixel. With the fourth generation, however, I can't wait to move it on.
I didn't mention the camera in this long-term review. We all know what the Pixel 4 camera can do. The lack of a wide-angle lens is kind of frustrating, but as a simple, quality shooter for 90 percent of the images you take, the Pixel 4 is still a high-performing camera phone. Unfortunately for Google, the competition from Samsung and Huawei has caught up a lot in the last 18 months, and they are added more features and more variety to the mix.
The Pixel 4 is still a cracking compact smartphone, and one that is constantly being updated with cool new features, but Google is falling behind the pack in terms of hardware. It's not just Samsung, Huawei, and Apple that are leaving Mountain View behind, but the second-tier manufacturers like Oppo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus are pulling ahead of Google. When I look at those Pixel 4a leaks, I don't see a change in the tide on the cards any time soon.