Pixel 4 XL bashing misses the big picture: here is why I think this is the best Android phone of 2019
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The new Pixel 4 series are getting a lot of flak from reviewers this year. And you have probably already heard the complaints: the battery life is not quite great, it costs too much, there is only 64 gigs of on-board storage, and on, and on.
Many of those criticisms are valid, but... I've been using the Pixel 4 XL in the past few days and those things are a footnote to something more important: this is the most enjoyable Android phone I have used so far in 2019, beating all others with its refinement and class. Those are not things that make for a great headline and they are not included on the specs list, but they are hugely important once you actually start using a phone.
Specs don't tell the whole story
You can learn many things about phones by looking at their specs, but not quite the whole thing. And it's in those intangibles that Google excels.
The first thing that I noticed about the Pixel 4 XL is the amazing display. You know the specs: it's a 6.3-inch OLED display with a very high resolution (1440 x 3040 pixels), but let's be honest and admit right away that every other phone out there features a big OLED screen, that is not what stands out. Where this particular display really excels, though, is in color reproduction: white balance is as perfectly tuned as I have seen on an OLED screen so far and colors have a vibrancy and richness to them, without going into the extreme neon tonalities (a problem I see commonly on other high-end phones and their Vivid modes). This display is an absolute marvel and if you value great image quality, you will appreciate it.
One thing it is not, however, is as bright as the screen on the latest Galaxy series or iPhones. This is a bit annoying when you look at the screen outdoors, on a bright sunny day, and I hope Google improves this aspect in the future, but apart from this issue, the Pixel 4 XL has a truly amazing display.
Right after the incredible display, the other thing that strikes me about using this phone is just how smooth and quick it is. The quickness is not just about the processor. Again, every flagship phone this year comes with the same Snapdragon 855 chip and while all those phones perform about the same in benchmarks, it doesn't mean that the actual experience of using those phones is the same. The Pixel brings together the most refined Android gesture navigation system so far with the speed of a 90-hertz screen response, plus a good amount of under the hood optimizations, that combine for a killer performance. In my humble opinion, the Pixel 4 XL sets a new standard for a buttery smooth performance on the Android platform, and others should take notice.
Attention to detail like no other
Another area you won't see mentioned often is the refined haptic feedback on the Pixel. The vibration motor here does a great job with a precise, well-tuned taps for notifications, but also for typing, which I found to be an extremely pleasing process on the Pixel. I was able to type faster and with less error thanks to that well-defined haptic feedback.
Then comes the attention to detail: the live wallpapers are absolutely gorgeous and it's hard to wrap your head around the reason why other companies simply don't pay that much attention to visual details like these wallpapers. It honestly feels like you are going back in time when you look at the poor selection of wallpapers on other rivals. Of course, this is not a reason why you would buy a phone, but it gives you a deep personal satisfaction to own a device where designers have crafted little details like that as well.
I also have a lot of good words about the loudspeaker quality on the Pixel: I personally listen to a lot of music on Spotify right on my phone, it's often just easier than to connect to a speaker or headphones, and the loudspeaker here is loud and clear, among the best I have heard on a smartphone.
Last, but not least: it is the Android experience as a whole. There are no heavy, not quite thought custom skins that would slow down the phone, there are no excessive options, there is no clutter.
What about the downsides, though? We have run the Pixel 4 XL through our battery tests and while it doesn't excel in any of them, it's definitely not at the bottom of the charts and is right about average. In my personal experience, the phone would last a full day and while I do wish it went the extra mile, I don't see battery life as a big issue. Quite honestly, last year's iPhone XS, for example, struggled in a big way with battery life, but was getting far less criticism for that, so it's a bit surprising to see the excessive criticism towards the Pixel.
Are there things that Google could have done better with the Pixel? Absolutely: for the camera nerd, the lack of an ultra-wide camera is an absurdity (I know it is for me), video quality is lackluster, for the specs obsessed the meager 64 gigs of on board storage are simply not acceptable at the $900 price point, and we've already mentioned the battery. And those much talked about radars are an absolute gimmick that I quickly disabled because they actually would skip songs when I unintentionally gestured around the phone.
But as I said in the beginning of the article, those ultimately feel like a footnote to the grand theme of the Pixel 4 XL: this phone is an absolute joy to use in a way that I have found no other Android phone quite matches. And while you should know about its shortcomings, keep that in mind and don't skip on the new Pixel without trying it first.