Google Pixel 4 Is Finally Here.

Does This Mean the iPhone’s Brief Stint as the Best Smartphone Camera Is Done? Not Yet.

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It’s that season of the year where new gadgets come rolling in. Just in time to start convincing buyers for their hard-earned dollars in the upcoming holiday season.

And the latest is Google Pixel 4. It is the most leaked phone in history. At one point Google just gave in and tweeted a picture of the unreleased phone themselves. So, in a way, it was here before the iPhone 11 and OnePlus 7T that launched in September. But Google still managed to put on a show yesterday.

Pixel 4 comes with a new design, a superior display, a novel motion sensor, a smarter assistant and of course, improved cameras.

Design

The new design eliminates the intrsuive notch that Pixel 3 sported last year. Instead, going for a large forehead which is also distracting in an age where flagships are striving for the highest screen-to-body ratio. The Pixel 4 houses a number of sensors that demand this large upper bezel. The back has a square camera bump similar to, but better looking (although less functional), than the iPhone’s. They come in three straightforward colors: Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange. All three colors have a black aluminum railing which looks like a thin bumper case that you may or may not be a fan of. The backs of the white and orange variants have a matte-glass finish while the black is glossy. They also come in two sizes just like the last year: 5.7" and 6.3". Other than screen size and battery life, the two size variants are exactly the same.

Display

Every year, the Pixel’s camera receives the most attention. But this time the display deserves it. Pixel 4 has received DisplayMate’s highest rating of A+ which is the same as what the iPhone 11 Pro received, and the latter has received much praise for its display. But where the Pixel really wins is the 90Hz refresh rate, joining the OnePlus 7T and Pro. This makes it smoother and more pleasurable to view than the iPhone and Samsung flagships. To maximize battery life, the refresh rate is variable, a feature that could be life-saving to the smaller sized Pixel 4 which only has a 2800 mAh battery compared to 3700 mAh in the XL variant. The Pixel 4 also has this new feature called Ambient EQ that adjusts the color temperature of the screen to match the room, similar to True Tone on the iPhones.

Motion Sensor

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This is the one thing that you won’t find on any other smartphone. It’s unique to Pixel 4 and has the potential to be the most innovative feature announced by Google. I say potential because right now its uses are very limited. The motion sensor is a radar chip that is a product of Project Soli that Google has been working on for many years. It’s amazing how the team found a way to shrink the large prototype sensors to fit into a tiny corner in the upper bezel. This sensor creates a spatial awareness around the phone and primarily looks for gestures. As of now, it does simple things like silence alarms when you reach towards the phone or dismiss it if you wave. It can also be used to change songs and it makes the face unlock faster by activating the required sensors even before you pick up the phone. There’s also a fun Pokemon game that illustrates a lot of the features of the sensor. But that’s about it. The sensor is still not open to third-party developers and its untapped potential is yet to be fully discovered. There’s also the big question of how the sensor will handle the slight nuances in gestures.

A Smarter Google Assistant

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The Google Assistant is already the undisputed best in the game. It’s better than Apple’s Siri and certainly better than Samsung’s ‘never-used’ Bixby. With Pixel 4, it gets smarter, faster and more helpful. It can be used to multitask and switch between apps effortlessly. It handles complex follow-up sentences that we find natural but is extremely tricky for an assistant. it is also now capable of large range of offline activities thanks to the new Neural Core chip which can handle voice commands locally. The new chip, in fact, has the entire model for transcribing English speech without connecting to servers. The Google Assistant was already one of the best features of the Pixel and if you bought the Pixel 4 just for this new and updated assistant, I wouldn’t blame you.

The Holy Grail of the Pixel — the Camera

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Before I get to the most burning question of is it the best smartphone camera, let me address the elephant in the room: the lack of a wide-angle lens. The deceptive square camera bump would’ve suggested otherwise but, Google has decided to forego the wide-angle because while “wide angle can be fun, we think telephoto is more important.” I could argue all day with that claim. Also, why would you not add something that you know is more fun?

Until now, Pixel’s brilliant computational photography made it the best smartphone camera, even though it famously had only one lens while its peers had two, three or more lenses. When Google finally decided to add a second lens, they went for the telephoto lens instead of the wide-angle. This is obviously better for zoom capabilities and depth-sensing in portraits.

Nevertheless, the Pixel camera is as good as ever. With the new Pixel Neural Core chip, the phone has some new computational tricks up its sleeve: live HDR+ which allows users to see a real-time render of the final photo, manual brightness and shadow controls that allows users to take some really creative shots, better-range portrait mode, and astrophotography capable Night Sight.

We didn't hear anything about improvements to video capabilities which has generally been an area where the Pixel has lagged behind Samsung and Apple.

As for the quality of the photos and to find out if it’ll take back the crown for the best smartphone camera from the iPhone 11 Pro, we will have to wait for the in-depth reviews to roll. But it would’ve been a lot easier to answer this question if there was a wide-angle lens as well.

Other Tidbits

Both phones come with a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6 GB ram, HDR support, all-day battery life, Titan-M security, 18W fast-charging capability with charger included in the box, wireless charging, Active Edge sensor for squeeze functionality, eSIM+Nano SIM support, IP68 water-resistant rating, and unfortunately, no USB-C earphones included. Google is also releasing an all-new recorder app that transcribes offline and in real-time. And as always, Pixel 4 comes with the latest and cleanest version of Android OS.

Price

The Pixel 4 is priced at $799 (64GB) and $899 (128GB), while the larger sized Pixel 4 XL is priced at $899 (64GB) and $999(128GB). Google’s limited-time introductory offer also gives you $100 to spend on any accessories on Google Store.

iPhone 11 or Pixel 4?

As I write this, I am personally debating which one of the two to get. So here’s my frank opinion. If you’re using the iPhone but are fine leaving the Apple ecosystem and don’t need a wide-angle lens, then go for the Pixel 4 which has most of the features of the iPhone 11 Pro variants, a superior display, smarter assistant and starts at a cheaper price. If you don’t care about a great display and don’t use the Google Assistant, go for the standard variant iPhone 11 (not the Pro) which is the cheapest option of all, starting at $699 and includes a wide-angle lens. Otherwise, go for the iPhone 11 Pro. If this has left you confused, join the club. Reach out to me if you have any doubts and I’d be glad to help.

freelance technology writer | sarveshmathi.com

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