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Google Pixel 4 XL review

The Google Pixel 4 XL is a great all-rounder but the esoteric extras fail to help it charge out of the pack.

Google Pixel 4 XL
(Image: © Top Ten Reviews)

Our Verdict

The Google Pixel 4 XL is a superb all-rounder - it does everything you want a smartphone to do, but most of the Pixel 4 XL’s unique selling points are a bit pointless and gimmicky.

For

  • Beautiful screen for video
  • Deafening speakers
  • Fantastic camera, especially Night Sight mode

Against

  • No headphones included
  • Gimmicky extras

If you’re in the market for a new handset, you’ve come to the right place as we run down Google’s latest effort in our Google Pixel 4 XL review. The Google Pixel 4 XL is Google’s latest flagship model, competing with the likes of the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10+. It has a 6.3-inch QHD screen, top and bottom speakers, and a 12.2/16 megapixel dual lens front camera.

So far, so good, but what else does the Google Pixel 4 XL have? What’s its unique selling point that makes it stand out among the best smartphones? Well, there’s the much touted Night Sight mode, which helps you take long exposure shots of the night sky. There’s also facial recognition and motion controls, which let you interact with your phone without touching it. Are these features enough to help the Pixel 4 XL stand out from the crowd though? 

Tech Specs:

Average price: $899
Operating system: Android
Screen size:  6.3-inch QHD
Storage: 64GB or 128GB
5G ready? No
Headphone jack? No
Charging type: USB-C
Also consider... iPhone 11 Pro

It seems bizarre to gloss over the phone part of a smartphone, but at this point what can we say? Every smartphone on the market can make calls and send texts. You can safely assume every phone we look at meets these requirements. What we’re interested in is everything else.

If you're looking to go off-plan, and not sign up to one of the best cell phone providers, the Google Pixel 4 XL has an MSRP of $899, while the regular Google Pixel 4 costs $799. Considering all the upgrades that the XL has over the standard model, the Pixel XL seems like a no-brainer at only $100 more. It’s also competitively priced when compared to the competition - an iPhone 11 Pro Max will set you back an eye-watering $1,099.

And if that all sounds a bit rich for your blood, you could also check out the Google Pixel 3a, which offers most of the same features as the Pixel 4 XL, but at a fraction of the cost. But if you want to see how the Google Pixel 4 XL stacks up against the competition, check out our best smartphones guide.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Design and styling 

  • Available in black, white, or orange.
  • Stylish design.

The Google Pixel 4 XL is available in three colors: Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange. Ironically, Oh So Orange is actually somewhere between orange and salmon pink which put some users off, though we think it looks stunning. The colored back of the Pixel 4 XL has a really weird, but oddly pleasant texture to it - it feels more like a ceramic than the usual plastic or metal cases that we’re used to with smartphones.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: You can get it in three colors

Google Pixel 4 XL review: You can get it in three colors (Image credit: Google)

At 6.3-inches long and 2.9-inches wide, the Google Pixel 4 XL is one of the biggest smartphones on the market. It will still fit comfortably in your pocket, but we’re approaching the size limit when it comes to smartphones. If you’re looking for something a bit more slender, the regular Google Pixel 4 might be more your thing.

There’s a small black bevel around the screen, most prominently at the top where it accommodates the front facing camera and top speaker. It’s nothing unsightly though. In fact, we’d say the Google Pixel 4 XL is a stylish piece of kit, especially in white or orange as the black border around the side of the phone creates a striking contrast.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Battery life

  • Battery lasts throughout the day with moderate use.
  • Charge via USB-C cable.

Smartphones are usually power hungry beasts and the Pixel 4 XL is no exception. A full charge will be enough for general use, but you’ll need to charge your handset at the end of every day. Heavy use will drain the battery faster, so if you’re using your handset to watch movies or play games then you’ll likely need to recharge during the day.

When you do need to recharge your Google Pixel 4 XL, it connects via a USB-C charger to either a USB port or into a regular wall socket using an adapter.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Screen and audio

  • QHD screen and 90Hz refresh offer fantastic image quality for video.
  • Great speakers, but no headphones included.

The Google Pixel 4 XL features a 6.3'' QHD OLED screen, much like its predecessor the Pixel 3 XL though now with a larger 19:9 aspect ratio, which puts it somewhere between widescreen (16:9) and ultra widescreen (21:9). The main upgrade to the screen comes from the improved refresh rate, which is now at 90 hz. This results in much smoother image quality when moving between apps or playing games.

The QHD screen doesn’t offer the same image quality as some high-end phones which offer full 4K resolution, but you’d be hard pressed to notice on a screen of this size - 4K is better utilized for laptops and TVs. We found the image quality to be fantastic when watching Netflix and YouTube videos, though the odd aspect ratio does result in some dead space at the edge of the screen when viewing widescreen videos.

Google Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL review: It's a large, stylish phone (Image credit: Top Ten Reviews)

Sound quality is also impressive from the Pixel 4 XL, with front and bottom-firing stereo speakers which are surprisingly punchy - you can comfortably use the Pixel 4 XL to listen to music in a large room without needing to hook it up to a wireless speaker, which is ideal if you need some tunes while you’re cleaning the house and don’t want to wear headphones.

If you do want to use headphones, you’ll have to get your own, because the Google Pixel 4 XL doesn’t come with any included. Google says that most users prefer to use their own choice of headphones, so there’s no point throwing them in the box if no one is using them. It’s a fair point, but we’d have liked to see some headphones thrown into the package regardless. You can buy a set of USB-C headphones (R.I.P audio jack) from Google for $30.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Camera

  • Good lens backed up by great software.
  • Night sight gives beautiful images in low light.

There are a lot of technical specs that we could throw at you (and we will) when it comes to the camera, but what really matters is does it take good photos? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes. 

There Google Pixel 4 XL features a dual camera system on the front. The primary camera is the 12.2-megapixel lens which has a 77 degree field of view. This isn’t bad, by any means, but it pales in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S10 which offers a 123 degree field of view on its camera. If you’re looking for wide angle shots, the Pixel 4 XL is serviceable but not the best.

When you’re using the camera’s zoom feature, the Google Pixel 4 XL leans back on the secondary lens, a 16-megapixel telephoto lens which offers 2x optical zoom and 8x hybrid zoom. This back up with some impressive software called Super Res Zoom to kick out some gorgeous images.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: The XL takes great night pics

Google Pixel 4 XL review: The XL takes great night pics (Image credit: Google)

If you’re more interested in the Google Pixel 4 XL’s selfie game, then you’ll be pleased to know that it features an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. This is a bit of a step back from the Pixel 3 XL’s dual front camera set-up, which means the Pixel 4 XL has to use some software trickery to simulate depth of field in your selfies. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a shame to see the dual front camera go.

One of the unique features that Google is keen to show off with the Pixel 4 XL is the improved Night Sight mode, which helps you take pictures in low light conditions. It’s a fantastic feature that lets you snap some beautiful shots of the stars at night. This is aided by the addition of an Astrophotography feature, which lets you take long exposure shots to show every star, planet and nebula in the night sky. It’s not a miracle worker though and Night Sight won’t work in complete darkness.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Software and assistant features

  • Google Assistant helps you stay on top of life.
  • Active Edge is neat, but seems pointless.

Like all of Google’s devices, the Google Pixel 4 XL offers an integrated AI assistant, the imaginatively named Google Assistant. This smart AI can help you access apps and responds to queries much like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. You simply say “Hey Google” and the smart assistant will activate.

You can also activate the Google Assistant by squeezing the bottom portion of the phone thanks to something Google is calling Active Edge. Weird is what we’re calling it, and we’re not entirely sure what the point of it is? Once the Google Assistant is awake, you’re going to need to talk to her anyway so you might as well just say “Hey Google”. Still, Active Edge works as intended and there may be some hidden benefit we’re not seeing.

Google Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Google Assistant is the best of the Android assistants (Image credit: Top Ten Reviews)

However you choose to bring her to life, Google Assistant is incredibly useful. You can ask her random trivia questions, find out the weather forecast for tomorrow or even get her to tell you a joke. You can also set alarms, reminders, and calendar appointments. Google Assistant defaults to a female voice, but there is a male option that you can switch too if you’d prefer.

Google Pixel 4 XL review: Security

  • Motion Sense lets you control your phone with a wave.
  • Face unlock recognises you and unlocks automatically.

Fancy screens, impressive cameras and sleek designs are all well and good, but every smartphone has these things these days. So, what does the Google Pixel 4 XL do to stand out from the competition?

Motion Sense is one of Google’s main selling points this time around. This nifty feature lets the Pixel 4 XL use motion sensors to detect your movements and can be used to activate some features. So, if you pick up your phone, the screen will automatically wake up from sleep mode. You can also perform more advanced tasks like skipping to the next song by waving your hand across the screen. Google says this feature will be useful when you’re busy driving and don’t have the time to properly interact with your phone. It’s a nice idea and it works as described, though we’re not sure how much use we’d get out of it in everyday use.

Google Pixel 4 XL

Google Pixel 4 XL review: An expensive phone, but worth it (Image credit: Top Ten Reviews)

The other side of Google’s Motion Sense technology is the face unlock feature, which teaches your Pixel 4 XL to recognize your face and unlock automatically when you’re looking at it. This lets you keep your phone password locked and secure to other users, but saves you having to input your password every time you want to use it. And it works too, for the most part. We occasionally had to re-orientate our face before it would play ball, but the Pixel 4 XL recognized our reviewer every time and, more importantly, refused to unlock for anyone else.

Should you buy the Google Pixel 4 XL? 

The Google Pixel 4 XL is a fantastic smartphone, but in a market filled with fantastic smartphones, it struggles to carve out its own unique identity. It’s a stylish device with a great screen and bombastic speakers for watching movies and listening to music. The camera is great for taking pictures, and the phenomenal night sight mode is a must have for people who love to photograph the night sky, but the other unique features are niche, and often feel unnecessary.