Google Pixel 4 XL review & new features


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Erin Lawrence

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

The new Google Pixel 4 is here! It’s got some upgrades and some new features—will they be enough to entice you to upgrade? Let’s dig in. I received a pre-release Google Pixel 4 XL in Black to test out and review and here’s what I found.

Because there’s lots of new features to talk about, I’m not going to get too much into the stuff that’s already on the phone and has been for a while or the specs, since you can get those yourself easily enough from google. If you want to learn more about Pixel smartphones and features in general, check out my review of the Pixel 1, 2 or 3 here on the blog and the channel.

Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL has Radar and thus Motion Sense

Let’s start with Motion Sense, as that’s the base of some of these new features and technology. The Pixel 4 has radar built in; its imbedded in a tiny chip inside the phone and the radar allows the phone to detect when you’re near or when you’re moving around it. That’s allowed Google to create a new way to interact with your Pixel 4, recognizing gestures and motion and reacting accordingly. Google calls it Motion Sense but what does that mean, exactly?

Motion Sense can do things like automatically turn on your display when you get close and keep it off while you’re away. It automatically triggers face unlock when you reach for the device, meaning there’s no need to also swipe to open the phone like you do on some other handsets.

You can turn on Motion Sense features during Setup or in Settings>System>Motion Sense.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Tied into this is what Google calls the “Come Alive” series of wallpapers. These animations subtly respond to your motions. The cactus wallpaper for example will lean if I wave my hand over it. A cute diversion but onwards to more important tech.

Quick Gestures on Google Pixel 4

There’s Quick Gestures on Pixel 4. Gestures came to the Samsung Note 10 recently too, using the S-Pen, and you can read that review and watch how gestures work on the YouTube channel review of the Note 10 too.

Quick Gestures lets you do things like skip songs so you can control your music no matter what else you’re doing – driving, cooking with raw chicken hands, or eating. In essence, wave you hand over the display while the music is playing to skip a track. Snooze alarms, dismiss timers, and silence ringers with a wave. (You can find an interactive tutorial in the Pixel Tips app.) Google says these are just the beginning when it comes to gestures, and you can expect more in the coming months.

While this new technology sounds great, is it something I’ll really use? It wasn’t immediately second nature to me to wave commands at my phone, but maybe I’ll pick it up with a bit more use.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock

While this is a new feature for Pixel, it’s not new technology. But even so, Face Unlock is now available on Pixel 4, though I will say this version makes it faster and more seamless than other face unlock features; you don’t need to swipe to open the phone; once it recognizes you, it recognizes you. You pick up your phone and you can just start using it. I found this feature worked really, really well and makes it so much easier to access my phone. It just knows it’s me so I can get right to what I want to do.

Worth noting that Google has nixed the rear fingerprint scanner altogether in favour of this new technology. That’s too bad; I really liked the fingerprint scanner; it was fast and effective and well placed on the rear of the phone.

Probably also worth noting that there’s a well publicized bug in the facial recognition software that unlocks the phone even with your eyes closed, meaning someone could unlock it while you’re asleep. Google says this will be patched in the coming weeks.

How to Turn on face unlock

You can turn on Face Unlock in Setup and or afterwards, in Settings under Security>Face unlock>Set up face unlock.

You’ll be asked to point your nose at a circle of targets to help the system learn all the angles of your face. Note: Face unlock uses facial recognition technology that is processed on your device, so that image data never leaves your phone.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Google Pixel 4 & Pixel 4 XL camera improvements

I’ve said for years that Google Pixel’s camera is probably the best in any smartphone. It takes amazing photos, no matter your circumstances and I often carry it with me even if I’m using another phone, just for the camera. I’m not going to get too deep into the camera basics, since that could be a whole blog itself.

Rear Camera Specs:

  • 16 MP
    1.0 μm pixel width
    Autofocus with phase detection
    Optical + electronic image stabilization
    Spectral + flicker sensor
    ƒ/2.4 aperture
    52° field of view
    12.2 MP
    1.4 μm pixel width
    Autofocus with dual pixel phase detection
    Optical + electronic image stabilization
    ƒ/1.7 aperture
    77° field of view

Front Camera 8 MP:

  • 1.22 μm pixel width
    ƒ/2.0 aperture
    Fixed focus
    90° field of view
    NIR flood emitter
    NIR dot projector
    2 NIR cameras

Video/Rear Camera:

  • 1080p @ 30 FPS, 60 FPS, 120 FPS
    720p @ 240 FPS
    4K @ 30 FPS
    Front Camera:
    1080p @ 30 FPS

Nightsight with Astrophotography

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Now you can take your night time shooting to the next level. Anyone who’s ever tried to take photos of the stars or the night sky with proper equipment knows it’s hard to get a great shot and requires lots of adjustments and painstaking finesse.

Now, the Pixel 4 can take a picture of the Milky Way or constellations with Night Sight mode. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to take great star shots in the city during my testing period. I’ll have to reserve judgement on this feature for a future video, but Google’s publicity materials sure make it look like it does a bang-up job! ON my next trip out to the desert or camping, I will definitely be bringing the Pixel 4 to try this out.

New Exposure balance

Google Pixel 4 has added exposure balancing that lets you adjust the exposure of different parts of the photos separately, even when taken in other apps. This means that if you have a very shady selfie in a bright area, you can adjust your face to make it brighter, and tone down the background sky.

To use it, tap the viewfinder to reveal sliders for overall brightness and shadow brightness, all before you take the photo. The feature is able to capture data live, making the shifts in highlights and colors dramatic and more significant than post-capture editing in standard editing apps such as Google Photos.

This works pretty well, but it’s a lot of fiddling as you’re trying to capture the photo, manipulating sliders and tapping around the picture viewfinder. And you can’t go back and adjust these after, it happens when you’re taking the photo.

I took photos of black curtains against a bright window and was successfully able to balance the dark with the light, or to at least improve it.

I’ll take some more time to play with this before I make a big judgement, but it’s nice to have more control over photo taking.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Super Res Zoom with Pixel 4 improvements

Pixel 4 uses a combination of optical zoom the second rear camera with Super Res Zoom software (originally launched in Pixel 3) to provide great photo quality. You just double tap from the view finder to zoom, or spread your thumb and forefinger apart in one motion. No longer do you just get a close up shot that’s grainy. Google says you can feel confident using zoom as a creative tool for the popular focal lengths (35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and the fabled 24-70mm), knowing you’ll get optical quality for every photo.

Other improvements:

Google PIxel 4 comes with 50% more RAM, for a faster user experience. Plus the Pixel 4 has a dynamic 90 Hz–capable OLED Smooth Display. That makes for a snappier, smoother and faster user experience, and it was definitely noticeably quicker than another phone I was using.

The Pixel 4 automatically adjusts between 60 and 90 Hz for the best viewing and optimal battery experience.

Productivity improvements

Smart Copy/Paste

I am FOREVER copy-pasting stuff around my phone. Whether it’s social posts, email addresses or batch responses to texts, it’s tedious. Now the Pixel 4 has something called ‘smart clipboard’ that is supposed to reduce instances where you need to type information from one app to another, to save time. For example, if someone sends you an address in WhatsApp and you go to Maps to look it up, the address is shown as an option to use with a single tap. To do this, Pixel finds useful information you’re typing, such as addresses and codes, and remembers it momentarily.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Live Caption in action (watch the video review to see it happening)

Recorder and Live Caption

The Recorder app is a game changer. Recorder brings the power of search to audio recording, meetings and presentations, family events — anything you want to save and listen to later.

Recorder automatically transcribes and labels what you record so you can easily find the parts that matter to you. That’s done with a feature called Live Caption.

Live Caption is a game changer for reporters and journalists like myself. I’m constantly doing interviews and the old way is to record them on the spot, and transcribe them later.

Live Caption will automatically caption speech in audio or video on your phone; videos, podcasts and audio messages—even stuff you record yourself.

I used it to record a press briefing recently in Nashville Tennessee and was blown away by how well it worked. I got full transcripts of the day’s presentations and of the interviews I did as well, making it so fast and easy to go back afterwards and find my quotes and clips. For me, in my work life, this phone is worth it for this feature alone.
To turn Live Caption on or off:
■ Press the volume button.
■ Under the volume controls, tap Live Caption.

When Live Caption is turned on, captions appear whenever you have media playing on
your device.

Live Caption works using on-device automatic speech recognition technology meaning it works without a connection to the internet. Audio and transcripts never leave the device.

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Call screening happening

Call Screening feature

The Call screen feature, available in US and Canada only is not new. But I haven’t had a chance to test it out in detail until now, so here’s what I learned.
Pixel 4’s on-device AI helps you screen phone calls and avoid spam calls.

I love this feature. When you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, tap on “Screen call” to find out who’s calling and why. You’ll immediately see a transcript of the caller’s responses so that you can then decide whether to pick up, respond by tapping a quick reply (like, “I’ll call you back later”), or mark the call as spam and dismiss it. Processing the call details on-device means these experiences are fast, private to you, and use up less battery.

Personal Safety via Safety app

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canada

Another cool new feature is the Personal Safety function. You need to have a working SIM card in the phone for this to work.

Available only on Pixel 4, the new Safety app lets you specify your emergency contacts for starters… not really revolutionary. But there’s a new feature that lets you easily share a quick message that you’re in trouble, and your location with a group of preferred contacts when you might need help. While this is a good idea in theory, I guess, in practise, you’d need to have the wherewithal to go to remember to go to the Safety app, and click Start Message in there, as opposed to calling to sending a regular text. Or dialling 911.
I hope I never need to test this feature for real…

Car Crash detection not available in Canada

Google also says the Safety app can use the Pixel 4’s sensors to detect when you may have been in a severe car accident, and it will check-in on you and call 911 on your behalf if you do not respond. Since I wasn’t in a car crash during my testing obviously I have no hands on info about how well this works. And just as well since this feature is not enabled for Canada right now.

For my American friends you can. To enable car crash detection, launch the Safety app and complete the setup flow then toggle the Car crash detection feature on.

When Pixel 4 detects a crash, it will vibrate, sound an alarm at max volume and ask if you need help. If you don’t respond, it will try to call 911 and provide your location.

Car crash detection is currently available in the US, in English only. Here’s hoping it comes to Canada soon, since that’s a pretty valuable tool.

No extra accessories

In a bold move Google is opting not to include headphones in the box with the phone. Google says it found customers already use their own personal audio accessories and, for those people, the extra in-box audio accessories end up going to waste. Instead, they offered a short term incentive to pre-buyers, giving them up to $150 credit for purchases on Google Store.

Overall Review of Google Pixel 4

google pixel 4 xl, review, how to, features, about, tech, canadaOverall the Pixel 4 has a lot of cool new features, added on to an already solid smartphone foundation. The Pixel 4 is my favourite Android Phone by a mile; I love the beautiful design, the amazing camera, and all the extras that it comes with. Of course it seamlessly integrates into your Google user experience and the battery lasts a long time too.

I like the new safety features, I’m dying to try night sight and astrophotography, I love call screen and the Recorder app with Live transcript is a game changer for my work life.

In short if you’re wondering whether to upgrade your current Android phone, I say yes, and if you’ve been toying with switching to a Pixel, the Pixel 4 makes it a great time to make your move.

Google Pixel 4 sells for $999CAD for the 4 and $1129 for the XL and they’re available from Google or your cellular provider.

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