The Pixel 4’s hardware is a huge disappointment, but it can still be redeemed


Google has now announced the Pixel 4 and is soon releasing it into the wild, where it will have to compete with the iPhones, the Galaxies, and the OnePluses that make up its competition. The Pixel line has never been the best when it comes to specs, but the hardware has generally been high end and for a decent price.

Long gone are the days of Nexus, where you got good hardware at shockingly low prices. No, the Pixel line isn’t a developer phone, nor is it a budget phone. It’s a show of what Google can do, both in hardware tricks and software prowess.

The Pixel 4 features a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 90Hz OLED display, dual cameras (12.2MP main, 16MP 2x telephoto), an 8MP fixed focus front facing camera, advanced face unlock with a gesture system, and 18W fast charging via USB-PD. Everything else is par for the course, like no headphone jack and silly yet endearing color names.

The difference between the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL comes in display and battery. The Pixel 4 has a 5.7-inch FHD+ 1080p display and a 2,800 mAh battery while the XL model comes with a 6.3-inch QHD+ 1440p display and a 3,700 mAh battery. The former retails for $799 and the latter for $899, with both seeing a $100 increase to bump the storage to 128GB.

What struck me is Google’s utter failure at providing a competent hardware package, especially as the competition steps its game up. There’s so many areas where Google dropped the ball, the biggest one probably being battery. The smaller Pixel 4 offers a pathetic 2,800 mAh battery, something we haven’t seen in a high end phone in some time. That’s smaller than both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3, making it a downgrade from either device. Even the current lineup of iPhones have bigger batteries, and iPhones are notorious for their tiny batteries. The Pixel 4 XL has a much larger battery, which makes it a very tempting upgrade, but going up to a much bigger screen and higher price point isn’t for everyone.

Next is storage. 64GB of base storage has been out of fashion for some time now, with most manufacturers throwing in 128GB of storage for the last year or two. 64GB is simply not enough with bigger photo sizes and Google’s focus on photography, and the lack of microSD card makes this worse. And to add insult to injury, the Pixel 4 doesn’t come with unlimited original quality photo uploads to Google Photos like last year’s models do.

Then there are details where Google think it knows best. The choice of a telephoto lens over an ultrawide is a controversial one, but not a big deal. However, Google’s statement on the matter is surprisingly arrogant. “So while wide-angle can be fun, we think telephoto is more important.” Sure Google, you think it’s more important, but many many people will disagree with you. Not to mention that everyone else is packing three cameras into their flagships, not just two. 

Huawei uses three cameras, even on the budget phones. Samsung uses three cameras (outside of the Galaxy S10e). Even Apple has given users the choice of using either the telephoto or the ultrawide, and Apple isn’t one for user choice. The base iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10e both skip the telephoto for an ultrawide, and it’s something a lot of us appreciate. And with Google’s amazing computational photography and lossess digital zoom, the telephoto becomes even less important.

Lastly, there’s the lack of 4K video recording in 60 FPS. We don’t know if this is a hardware or a software limitation, but the lack of 4K60 video is pretty insane in 2019. The iPhone 11’s front facing camera can do it, why can’t the Pixel 4? Well, Google had an answer for that on Twitter.

Well Google, storage wouldn’t have been such an issue if you just stuck with the industry standard of 128GB. Plus what happened to choice? Android used to stand for user choice. We could do anything we wanted and we wouldn’t have a company like Apple making our decisions for us. We wouldn’t be stuck with a black wallpaper, or a static icon array, or a single app running at a time. Why is Google deciding we shouldn’t need features like an ultrawide or 4K60 video recording?

Compared to the competition, the Pixel 4 is a real loser. The OnePlus 7T has a better processor, smaller bezels, more RAM, a far bigger battery, 128GB of storage, a triple camera setup, 4K60 video recording, and all for $599. But that’s not a mainstream competitor. How about the Samsung Galaxy S10e, which is now eight months old, has a bigger battery, same processor and RAM, 4K60 video recording, a headphone jack, 128GB of storage, and a microSD card slot for a launch price of $750? What about the $600 iPhone 11, which matches the 64GB of storage but allows 4K60 video on both the front and rear cameras, and has over 300mAh more battery capacity?

However, the Pixel 4 isn’t a lost cause. It’s likely that the device will become one of the kings of photography. With Google’s experience in computational photography, we’ve already seen some amazing results. The “Pixel experience” software is a big selling point as well, offering features and Google Assistant modes that no other phones have. Paired with day 1 updates, the software is a dream.

Google definitely needs to fix its walled garden way of thinking. Enable 4K60 video recording via a software update. Give Pixel 4 users unlimited high quality Google Photos uploads to compensate for the pitiful storage. Maybe even drop the prices a bit, because a 128GB Pixel 4 XL costs as much as the best of flagships. From there, the device truly offers a lot of good and shouldn’t be ignored just because of these issues. However, the issues are really hard to ignore when the competition is so damn good.

Dima Aryeh
A tech nerd from childhood, Dima also enjoys building and racing cars as well as photography and video games to pass the time.

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