Closer Look at the Pixel 4 XL: Next Gen Google Assistant, Selfie Camera, Face Unlock Limitations
September 24, 2019 Andrew Cheng

Since we posted our hands-on of the Pixel 4 XL, we received quite a number of questions regarding the device, so we’ll try to address some of them in this article. On top of that, we’re also taking a closer look at some of its features, including the next generation Google Assistant, Active Edge – yes, it’s retained on this phone – and the limitations of Face Unlock.

We’ve mentioned this a number of times in our previous article, but it’s worth repeating again. This unit of the Pixel 4 XL is running on pre-release software, so some of the features outlined here may be different on the final retail unit. With that out of the way, let’s get to it!

How Big Is It?

Featuring a 6.23-inch 3040 x 1440 display, the Pixel 4 XL is a reasonably big smartphone. It’s not quite as large as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, but it’s about the same size as the Galaxy S10+ and Pixel 3A XL.

Interestingly, the top bezels of the Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 3A XL are about the same size, which…isn’t exactly a great thing. Of course, the former does (possibly) need to house the radar technology for Project Soli, which explains the thick bezel. Soli is essential for Motion Sense to work, though our unit does not have the feature enabled.

Next Generation Google Assistant Is Crazy Fast

Back at Google I/O 2019, the capabilities of the new Google Assistant were revealed, and we’re happy to report that it’s available on our pre-release unit of the Pixel 4 XL. Basically, the new Assistant now runs on-device, allowing it to work a lot quicker than it used to.

And it really is fast: the next generation Assistant is noticeably quicker at processing our requests, which makes it a lot more seamless to use. Thanks to Continued Conversation, we can also issue new requests to the Assistant one after another without having to say “Hey Google” every time.

Oh, we also dig the Assistant’s new interface. Very eye-catching.

Face Unlock May Not Be Very Secure

While the Pixel 4 XL’s Face Unlock feature works pretty well in our testing, there is one big caveat: it may not be as secure as Apple’s Face ID. In the Face Unlock settings page, there’s a disclaimer below that warns your phone can be unlocked by someone “who looks a lot like you.”

Now, we don’t know any identical twins to really put this to the test, but it is interesting for Google to put that disclaimer there; whether or not Face Unlock can be fooled by your evil twin remains to be seen. At least, until the device is in the hands of consumers to try out more comprehensively.

Ambient EQ: Google’s Version of True Tone

If you’ve always wanted Apple’s True Tone technology on an Android smartphone, you can get just that with the Pixel 4 XL’s Ambient EQ feature. Once enabled, the phone would adjust the white balance of the display to match your ambient lighting.

On our pre-release unit, enabling the Ambient EQ feature does make the screen warmer or cooler, depending on the surrounding lighting.

Active Edge Is Retained

Yes, just as the leaks and rumours have suggested, Active Edge is still available on the Pixel 4 XL. You can adjust the sensitivity of the feature, summon the new Google Assistant with a quick squeeze, and even squeeze to silence alarms, notifications, and incoming calls.

No Expandable Storage, Single SIM Slot

Just like previous Pixel smartphones, the Pixel 4 XL does not have a microSD card slot. On top of that, our unit can only accommodate a single SIM card, and we can’t find any indication of eSIM support in the settings menu either.

But, again, this unit of the Pixel 4 XL is running on pre-release software, so it’s entirely possible eSIM support is still in the cards.

What About the Selfie Camera?

For the most part, the 8.1MP front-facing shooter can take good-looking selfies with more natural colour reproduction. We took a normal shot and another one in portrait mode with the Pixel 4 XL, and we did the same with the Galaxy S10+ as a point of comparison.

Just like shots taken with the rear camera systems of both phones, the Pixel 4 XL’s selfie shots look more true to life. Not surprisingly, its bokeh simulation is a lot better too, with more precise separation between the subject and the background. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s certainly better than the majority of phones we’ve tested in the past.

As mentioned before, these shots are taken with a Pixel 4 XL running on pre-release software; we expect the camera performance to be further improved on retail units with finalised software.

The Google Pixel 4 XL really has a number of features that are quite exciting. The new generation Google Assistant is a lot faster and more seamless to use, Project Soli could be very interesting (even if our pre-release unit doesn’t have it enabled), and Ambient EQ is a nice feature to have for those who are particular about white balance on their screens.

However, it remains to be seen exactly how secure Face Unlock would be. Considering that this is the only biometric security option on the Pixel 4 XL, it’s very important for it to be as secure as possible. Nonetheless, we’ll just have to wait for Google to officially unveil the Pixel 4 series on 15 October to learn more.