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Google Pixel 4 XL - the thinking smartphone
4.4Overall Score
Name: Google Pixel 4 XL and Google Pixel 4
Price (RRP): $Pxiel 4 from $1049 and 4 XL from $1279
Manufacturer: Made by Google

I think therefore I am. The Google Pixel 4 XL thinks – therefore it is. It is an Android science project on steroids.

The Google Pixel 4 XL (and it’s almost identical but smaller brother Pixel 4) is Google’s attempt at offering a smartphone that a) uses Android to the fullest and b) has everything it ‘thinks’ users need.

The second point has many users saying, Why does the Google Pixel 4 XL (and indeed all Pixels) NOT have microSD storage? And, until this model, “Why does Google Pixel have a single-lens camera when we are up to, two, three, four or more”.

The answer is that Google doesn’t really care about making Pixel 4 XL et al., the world’s best-selling smartphone. But it does care about making a reference design that shows its pure Android off. We kind of agree.

Having said all that about reference design, the Google Pixel 4 XL has stepped a long way from a straight Qualcomm Snapdragon Platform, adding some interesting silicon and proprietary features. In our opinion, this makes it an even more desirable purist’s phone.

This Google Pixel 4 XL review is for geeks!

  • One of the first 90Hz refresh screen sourced from Samsung that has not even used this yet.
  • 60GHz Soli radar sensors for ‘Motion Sense’. This methodology is unique, although other makers have employed NIR and 3D ToF sensors to achieve similar results.
  • A face unlocks NIR camera (sensor) that comprises a face unlock illuminator, IR dot projector, IR sender and IR receiver. A lot is going on in the phone’s broad forehead!
  • Google Pixel Neural Core with .5GB RAM for onboard AI and computational photography. The Pixel 3a/XL deigned to use the Qualcomm SD845 SoC instead of the ‘secret sauce’ Neural Core. In earlier models, it was called a Pixel Visual Core.
  • Quad-core audio ARM Cortex M4 Knowles IA8508 processor for always-on OK Google (keyword trigger processing) and the improved recording app (live caption and transcription)
  • The mysterious Titan M H1C2M3  hardware security chip (ARM Cortex) to add hardware protection for on-board information like passwords, verified boot-loader sequences, strong encryption keys, secure third-party app transactions (think e-Voting and e-commerce),  and 3D facial data (it no longer has a fingerprint reader)
  • A new Google Assistant. What does that mean and is it unique to Pixel 4?
  • The first with Android 10 OS

And according to our friends at iFixit that have done the teardown, it bears minimal resemblance to the previous Pixel internals. Buying HTC’s R&D has paid off with a new generation, 100% Google hardware designed, Google Pixel 4 XL.

Google PIxel 4 XL

So, it is no longer a Qualcomm Reference device, but a unique product. Is it right for you?

Geeks – this is what some of the Pixel 4 XL hardware enables

Soli – Motion Sense

Out of Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group that was acquired by Google and then dumped at Lenovo. It allows detection of micromotions or even twitches of ‘hands-in-the-air’ movements that can presently only be captured by a Soli sensor – unique to Google.

We think it is a solution looking for a question. At present is it limited to switching music tracks, snoozing alarms, dismissing timers, and silencing calls. Soli has broader implications for earbuds, watches and more if Google let it out into the wild.

It also enables auto AOD on or off. Like many features, enabling motion sense can impact battery life.

Pixel 4 motion sense

Face Unlock

It works very well, even in low light. Given there is no fingerprint reader, it is that, or a pin/swipe/pattern. We understand (not tested) that most password managers, bank apps or Google Pay do not support it yet.

This is true Face Unlock in that it projects 3D dot pattern over the face. The NIR flood illuminator works in absolute darkness.

Google Pixel 4 XL

Neural Core

All we really know is that it is an always-on, ARM-based, co-processor with RAM for on-device processing, computing and machine learning. It is mostly responsible for computational photography results and night mode.

There is great overview of the older Pixel 3 Visual Core here which may sate techie types. Google can develop more uses for the Core.

Titan M

Because we are not sure what it does – and we probably do not have the paygrade to know – we can say that Samsung’s Knox chip is similar and that most Android smartphones have been using Verified Boot for years. The main difference is that security is via a tamper-proof hardware chip instead of in software.