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Pixel 4 hands-on: Quickly maturing into one of the best smartphones [Video]

Google’s Pixel 4 series of smartphones leaked extensively ahead of their launch today, leaving basically no surprises at the launch event. Now, we’ve finally got our hands on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

Succeeding the Pixel 3 series, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL makes a handful of departures from that previous design. Gone is the rear “Pixel Imprint” fingerprint sensor and the iconic “window” design Google has used since the first Pixel.

The entire Pixel 4 is crafted from metal and glass just like last year, but both materials have a very different feeling in the hand. The metal is now black on all color variants of the device with a matte coating on the entire border. The texture feels a bit nicer in the hand, should prove more grippy if you opt to go case-less, and I’d bet it’ll hold up to damage a little nicer as well. Be assured, though, it does still feel very much like a metal device.

As for the glass on the back of the device, you’ll be getting a different texture for each device. The black Pixel 4 is a glossy texture that’s fingerprint prone once you’ve got your hands on it. The white and “Oh So Orange” models, however, have a matte texture. It’s not as “soft” as the Pixel 3’s texture was, but it’s certainly better than nothing. I noticed at the launch event that the backs didn’t seem as “scratch” prone as Pixel 3 too.

Speaking of the colors, they’re striking in person. The “Just Black” variant is mostly boring, but the “Clearly White” and “Oh So Orange” options are especially great looking. The contrast of the back to the black metal border is a great design. Personally, I’m planning on picking up the White variant.

Also notable with the outer hardware is the camera bump. To house the dual-cameras, Google opted for a square bump which is a bit more pronounced than it was on Pixel 3. It’s not obnoxiously large by any means, but it’s definitely more noticeable than previous Pixel generations.

Up front, Google’s design is still against the grain compared to other flagship Android smartphones. There are thin bezels along the two sides of the device with a slight border along the bottom and a larger one along the top. In person, it’s not a bad look by any means. The uniform top of the device is nice in a world of notches especially given all the tech packed inside.

Part of the tech inside is the new Soli radar chip which is used for Motion Sense gestures. It remains to be seen just how useful those gestures will be in daily life, but the tracking seemed very accurate at the event during our hands-on time.

Another advantage of Google’s displays on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL is the 90Hz refresh rate. This provides both smartphones with a smoother look to the overall software experience. We’ll have to spend some more time with the devices to see how this affects the battery life, but with our hands on the Pixel 4, I can already say this is going to be a very attractive feature of Google’s devices. It’s really only something you can see and appreciate in person.

As for the performance, we’ve only spent a bit of time with these devices so far, but I can say the performance is pretty decent overall. The Snapdragon 855 and 6GB of RAM make the Pixel 4 feel immediately more snappy compared to the Pixel 3 series and, hopefully, that speed will last quite a while.

pixel 4 white

We’ve not been able to take these cameras out in the wild just yet, but based on our time at the event, Google’s camera quality hasn’t diminished one bit. There were some rumors that Google was using software trickery to mask an ultrawide lens, but we can definitively say that it is not the case here by any means at all. You’ll be limited to a standard 12MP camera and a 16MP telephoto camera.

Google is touting the zoom features of that secondary lens, but the more impressive features on this new device will undoubtedly be the astrophotography shooting with Night Sight and also the new dual-exposure controls. I’m already a huge fan of what Google has implemented here.

As I walked away from the Pixel 4 event, the thought that kept coming into my mind was that, so far, this is the only Pixel we’ve ever had without an obvious negative. Google probably should have solved some of its problems sooner than now, but

We’ll have more to share on the Pixel 4 in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Pre-orders are open now.

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Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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