Google has a cure for your cutting-edge smartphone sticker shock. While not exactly cheap, the new 5.7-inch Pixel 4 ($799) and 6.3-inch Pixel 4XL ($899), the latest phones from Android's authors, unveiled on Tuesday, are priced at $100 less than comparable Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+ models and $200 less than the iPhone Pro/Pro Max. We got a bit of a hands-on with both phones their launch event. While slightly less pricey, the Pixels don't scrimp on the bleeding edge features, and even add a couple of unique ones compared to their more famous competition.
An improved camera
Spec-wise, both Pixel 4 phones are equipped with 16MP and 12.2 MP rear cameras and an 8MP selfie lens with a wide 90-degree field-of-view, and both shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second via the rear camera. But the specs only tell part of the story. Last year, Google wowed us with Night Sight, a camera mode that takes incredible low-light photos. This year, the company has even more to offer. Night Sight gets an upgrade so it can take astrophotography images. Taking 16 shots over 15 minutes, the Pixel 4 is capable of capturing shots of the Milky Way and other objects in the night sky. There's an improved HDR+ mode for photos and videos, which lets you see the HDR effect while you're shooting. Improved white balance makes skin tone look natural even in tricky lighting situations. Portrait mode gets an upgrade, so now you can take Portrait photos further from your subject and of larger objects, like cars. And, there's a higher-resolution hybrid zoom called Super Res Zoom, which combines all of the rear cameras. To make your photos even easier to share, now you can post to Instagram, Snapchat and other social media services directly from the Camera app.
A better display
Google proudly cited its A+ rating by Displaymate for the Pixel 4 displays, a 5.7-inch for the Pixel 4 and a 6.3-inch for the Pixel 4 XL. They have a higher refresh rate — 90Hz versus the Pixel 3's 60Hz — which is great for gaming. When you don't need that higher refresh rate, though, the Pixel 4 will automatically adjust it down to save battery life. The display also has Ambient EQ, which automatically adjusts the display color temperature depending on ambient light.
You'll also notice that there's no notch at the top of the display.
The Recorder app gets transcription
If you record meetings, lectures or interviews, you'll love the new Recorder app. While you record, you can choose to have the app transcribe in real time. All of the processing happens locally, so you can use it when you don't need internet access and the recordings never leave the safety of your phone. The best part, you can find recordings by simply searching for a term using the Google search bar. Voice recording will appear with highlights showing the relevant segements of the recording.
Gesture controls with a first-ever radar sensor
With the addition of a radar sensor, Google is able to make gesture control, or Motion Sense, as Google calls it, a reality. You can silence a call or alarm with the wave of your hand or wave hello to Pickachu. Motion Sense will be compatible with specific apps and functions, including games. Motion Sense will also let the phone know you're about to pick it up, so Face Unlock happens almost instantaneously (there is no fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 4 phones). And since it uses a radar sensor instead of a camera, the phone won't see anything until you want it to.
Look and feel
Ergonomically, the aluminum-framed Pixels are much lighter than the new iPhones, but a hair heavier than the slightly larger Galaxy S10s; the Pixel 4 tips the scales at 5.71 ounces and the 4XL at 6.81 ounces compared to the heftier 6.63 and 7.97 ounces for the iPhone Pro and Pro Max respectively, and 5.54/6.17 ounces for the Galaxy S10/S10+. Gorilla Glass 5 protects the Pixels on both sides, and both are IP68 dust and dunk proof. But the Pixels 4 feel pixyish, thin, and light. The power key/camera launcher and the volume up/down toggle are both arrayed on the right spine and multiple essential operations can be performed easily with just your thumb.
Power and battery
Both Pixel 4 models are powered by Qualcomm's top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855 processors, include 6GB of RAM and either 64 or 12GB of user memory space. The Pixel 4 has a 2800 mAh and the Pixel 4XL has a 3700 mAh battery. Both support 18 W fast charging and wireless Qi charging. Neither provides 5G network connectivity.
Availability and pricing
Both Pixels come in three colors: a glossy "just" black, a matte "clearly" white, and a limited edition soft pastel "oh so" orange – how limited wasn't noted. You can pre-order the Pixel 4 for $799 and the Pixel 4 XL for $899 now, with delivery starting on October 24, 2019. Both phones will be available through all the major U.S. carriers for the first time, including AT&T, C Spire, Cellcom, Google Fi, Spectrum Mobile (Charter), Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, Visible and Xfinity Mobile (Comcast).
Suzanne Kantra contributed to this article.
[Image credit: Techlicious]