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This Is (Possibly) the Pixel 4 XL, and We Got Our Hands on One
September 23, 2019 Andrew Cheng

The Google Pixel 4 XL is arguably the most leaked smartphone in recent memory. Its features, design, and so much more have been leaked numerous times; there are even hands-on videos of the yet to be released smartphone. In fact, we…actually got our hands on a unit too.

At least, we’re almost certain this is the Pixel 4 XL. Given that the device hasn’t even been announced yet, we can’t say for sure this is indeed Google’s upcoming flagship phone, though it does match official images released by the company. Nonetheless, this is our hands-on of the (alleged) Pixel 4 XL.

Now, before we get to it, do note that this device is still running on pre-release software, so some features – especially the camera – do not work quite as well. This comes as no surprise, of course; the Pixel 4 XL hasn’t even been officially introduced by Google yet.

Then again, we’re likely looking at the final hardware of the Pixel 4 XL, so there’s a good chance this is how the phone would look and feel. While I’m not too crazy about the large bezel at the top of the display (possibly to fit the radar technology for Project Soli), it’s certainly a premium device. The matte frame feels great to the touch, and same goes for the glass back (also with a matte finish). 9to5Google believes that this colourway will be called “Clearly White.”

But I’ve got to be honest here: the back panel’s texture isn’t what I expected. Even though it does have a matte texture, it’s a very light finish, to the point where it almost feels like regular glass. I was expecting something like the Oppo Reno‘s frosted glass-like finish, which is a lot smoother to the touch.

However, if that was the case, the Pixel 4 XL would be a lot more slippery too. I imagine this isn’t something most folks would want, so I’d consider the light matte finish a plus point. In retrospect, it’s the best of both worlds: the rear panel still feels like regular glass, but the matte texture is a lot more resistant to fingerprint marks.

So that’s the design of the Pixel 4 XL; let’s get to the other hardware parts now. One of the most interesting new hardware is the phone’s 90Hz display, which I can confirm is available on this particular unit under the Smooth Display option. Basically, the feature “dynamically adjusts the refresh rate between 60Hz and 90Hz.”

As far as I can tell, the display is locked at 90Hz at all times with Smooth Display enabled; I’m not entirely sure exactly when the panel would be set to 60Hz instead. Chances are, only apps that don’t support 90Hz would run at the lower refresh rate.

What about the display quality itself? Well, it’s really quite good. I believe the Pixel 4 XL has an AMOLED screen, given that it has deep blacks with vibrant colours. Diagnostics tool AIDA64 also shows that this phone has a 6.23-inch 3040 x 1440 display – definitely a flagship-tier panel.

Other specifications of the Pixel 4 XL shown on AIDA64 include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset – not the newer and faster 855+ SoC, unfortunately – paired with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, a 12.2MP rear camera, an 8.1MP selfie shooter, and a relatively generous 3,700mAh battery. It’s not the biggest battery capacity we’ve seen, but it’s probably good enough to return a day’s worth of usage.

And then we have a pretty big new feature on the Pixel 4 XL: Face Unlock, which appears to be Google’s answer to Apple’s Face ID. For the most part, it works a lot like Apple’s implementation. Even the setup process for Face Unlock is very similar to Face ID, requiring me to move my head in a circular motion.

Once the feature is set up, a quick glance is enough to unlock the Pixel 4 XL, and it seems to work even in darker environments. On top of that, it can still recognise my face even when I’m holding the phone sideways or upside down. However, if the Pixel 4 XL is set flat on a table, it wouldn’t be able to recognise my face. I would have to be looking directly at the phone for the biometric security to do its thing.

Speaking of biometrics, Face Unlock is the only biometric security option available on the Pixel 4 XL. That’s right, this phone does not have a fingerprint reader. There isn’t any in-screen fingerprint sensor, or even a conventional capacitive one. Clearly, Google is putting a lot of trust on Face Unlock; perhaps as much as Apple is with Face ID.

Pixel smartphones have always been lauded for their amazing camera performance, so I was quite excited to put the Pixel 4 XL’s dual camera system through its paces. But after taking some shots with the phone, the camera performance…may not appeal to everyone. Judge for yourself with these sample shots comparing it against the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

At a glance, it may seem like the Galaxy S10+ takes better-looking shots, but upon closer inspection, the Pixel 4 XL is actually superior. Not only does its shots have better detail preservation, the colour reproduction is more true to life too.

Of course, some (or most) folks would prefer the Galaxy S10+’s saturated shots – a typical trait of Samsung’s image processing, really – as they are more pleasing to the eye. But if you want more neutral colour reproduction, the Pixel 4 XL offers just that. That being said, the phone does have some difficulty focusing on closer subjects; this is evident in the last set of images above.

Again, do note that the Pixel 4 XL I’m testing is not running on final software, and the camera app still looks like a work in progress. As a matter of fact, there isn’t any quick shortcut to use the (supposed) 16MP telephoto sensor. In order to zoom in, I’d have to pinch to zoom on the camera interface; it seems to switch to the telephoto sensor around the 2x zoom mark.

Once the camera application and its image processing have been properly tweaked by Google, I reckon the Pixel 4 XL would have even better camera performance. Personally, I’m hoping the autofocus speeds and accuracy would be much better in the finalised software.

The Google Pixel 4 XL looks to be a meaningful upgrade over its predecessor, and this is only based on my time with an early pre-release unit. Without a doubt the true potential of the phone will be fully realised once it’s running on consumer-ready software.

Google’s Project Soli on the Pixel 4 XL is especially intriguing, which allows for motion controls. Unfortunately, this feature isn’t enabled on my pre-release unit, so I couldn’t put it to the test. Regardless, Soli is similar in practice to the Z Camera on the LG G8 ThinQ, as well as the Huawei Mate 30 series‘ Gesture Sensor.

What’s left now is for Google to introduce the Pixel 4 XL and reveal exactly how much it will cost, which is happening next month on 15 October. Hopefully, Google’s flagship smartphone will make its way to Malaysia as well, even if the Pixel series never made it here officially.

Read more:

Closer Look at the Pixel 4 XL: Next Gen Google Assistant, Selfie Camera, Face Unlock Limitations

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