Pixel 4 XL: 48 Hours On…

Pixel 4 Xl Example Photo

My initial impression of the Pixel 4 XL was that it’s smaller than I expected, it’s physically smaller than my 5.7 inch LG V20. I had to get a ruler to measure the screen size, as I thought that Google had sent me the standard Pixel 4 and not the XL model, the Pixel 4 XL has a 1/2 inch larger screen compared to the Pixel 4.

My second initial impression was how slippery the Pixel 4 is; super smooth glass on the back and front. I have been handling it with kid gloves over the past two days, while I wait for the case, which was actually shipped from Google before the phone itself, it’s due to arrive tomorrow. I bought a Tech 21 Evo Check, which is the same case I used on my V20 for the past 3 years, just in a different shape and size.

The initial setup was not as smooth an experience as I would have expected. I inserted my SIM card into the phone, powered on, connected to my Wi-Fi network, but despite being connected, I could not log into my Google account, it kept on throwing an error. After trying to log into my Google account 4 times, I skipped login, which got me into the phone. The Pixel 4 prompted me to connect my old phone and the new Pixel together using the USB-c cable, to transfer data, which sorta worked. After it said it had finished transferring data, it threw another error saying that not all data was transferred.

All data had been transferred except my lock screen wallpaper, which is a photo of my wife holding her phone, which I think is superglued to her hand, but I digress. Now, I could add my Google account, logging me in without an issue, I cannot explain why, but this was my experience of setting it up.

First negative, no fingerprint scanner, only Face Unlock, which currently is not supported by my credit union, Meritrust, Discover, American Express, or Credit Karma apps. Also, Face Unlock does not work well in dark environments, forcing me to use a pin number instead, obviously a fingerprint scanner would not have an issue with darkness. I think Google is trying to run before it can walk, fine, have Face Unlock as an available option, but also offer a fingerprint scanner until all app developers support Face Unlock. It’s quite irritating to have to type in a complex password every time I want to check my bank balance.

Second negative, the default camera app has zero manual exposure functionality. Yes, you can adjust the shadows and highlights and add fake bokeh, but I cannot choose ISO or shutter speed. From the few test shots I took, the Pixel camera app would shoot at slower shutter speeds, < 1/30 of a second, for example with an ISO of 64. Which does reduce noise, but trying to shoot a moving subject, like at a live show is impossible at 1/30 of a second, creating images with significant motion blur. Another oddity is that there is no option to shoot in 3:2 aspect ratio, which is standard in photography, only 4:3 and 16:9 is available.

So, I will be searching for a good manual camera app to use with the Pixel. I’m old school, I’d rather have control over my exposure than having clever software to fake it, often missing the target.

Honestly, I was expecting better, I had never owned a previous Pixel, I kept on hearing how amazing the Pixel is for photography, so I feel somewhat disappointed with the Pixel 4. It’s fine in normal lighting conditions, the fake bokeh is passable, although it does get it horribly wrong at times. Maybe I’m being too hard on the Pixel 4, maybe it’s a limitation of sensor size and I’m expecting too much from the phone?

Moving onto the positive, the phone’s small footprint is actually a positive, the Pixel 4 XL fits in your pocket like older 5.7 inch smartphones, with the tiniest of bezels on the sides and bottom. The top bezel is thicker to house the various sensors, which I personally like, a much better solution than a notch.

Audio quality, whether through the built-in speakers, headphones (via USB-c to 3.5mm converter) or via Bluetooth in my car is excellent, great clarity, good bass response, although it could be a little deeper, and good body in the middle of the frequency range. I would have liked a dedicated 3.5mm jack, so I can charge the phone while listening to music at the same time without buying a wireless charging pad.

Finally, battery life, which, the Pixel 4 has been much maligned, seems fine to me, I took it off charge at 7:30am this morning and at 1:07am, battery is showing as 62% remaining after 2 hours and 41 minutes of screen on time, and one hour of streaming Spotify to my car via Bluetooth, taking about 30 photos and general checking of Email, text messages and looking up information, etc. According to the battery stats in settings, it’s claiming that the battery will last until 8:15pm at the same usage level as today, which is damn close to 37 hours of usage before a recharge is necessary, obviously, your mileage will vary.

So initial impressions are a mixed bag, I like some things, other things I do not like. No 3.5mm headphone jack, no fingerprint scanner are two of the biggest things, but I also knew these things, before purchasing the Pixel 4 XL. I really like the audio, and the battery life for my use case.

Update [Dec, 8 2019, 14:40]: The battery did last a full 48 hours for me, at 8:30 this morning, it still had 4% battery remaining. 2 full days seems pretty good to me for a modern smartphone. I never got a full 2 days of usage on a single charge on any previous smartphone I have owned in the last 10 years. In that timeframe, I’ve owned a Samsung Exhibit 4G, Galaxy S4, LG V10, V20 and now, Pixel 4 XL.

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