I spent a few hours with Google's new Pixel 4 smartphone - here are the most important things I learned

Pixel 4 and 4 XL007Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

  • Google's Pixel 4 smartphones might be brand-new, but they don't look like it.
  • It's still a phone for those who value function over form.
  • The new smooth display makes an immediate impact, and helps make the Pixel 4 feel fresh after the Pixel 3.
  • My biggest concern is that Google didn't give the Pixel 4 an ultrawide camera.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

To my relief - as well as Google's, surely - the Pixel 4 leaks can stop now that the company has announced the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL during its event in NYC.

Despite everyone knowing pretty much everything about this thing, the Pixel 4 was eagerly anticipated. After all, it's the latest smartphone from one of the absolute biggest tech companies in the world. It offers the core Android smartphone software and hardware experience - the ying to Apple's yang.

I've had the Pixel 4 XL for a few hours now, and a few things about Google's new smartphone are already very clear.

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At first glance, this thing looks almost identical to the Pixel 2.

At first glance, this thing looks almost identical to the Pixel 2.

The company clearly isn't shy about looking back. With its large forehead, you could easily mistake the Pixel 4 with the Pixel 2. I don't feel like I'm holding a new device. The only giveaways are the thinner bottom bezel, the square camera module, and the single-tone back compared with the two-tone backs of previous Pixels. At the same time, Pixel 4-specific features help make up for that.

Google's Pixels are still smartphones for people who value function over form.

Google's Pixels are still smartphones for people who value function over form.

I get the sense that Google isn't trying to make the best looking smartphone in the world. All of the Pixel phones so far seem to prize function over form. That's not to say the Pixel 4 is ugly, but it's not a stunner like the Samsung Galaxy S10, either. With its rather plain design, the Pixel 4 is classy and understated.

From the moment you turn on the Pixel 4, the 90Hz screen makes the phone feel like a big upgrade.

From the moment you turn on the Pixel 4, the 90Hz screen makes the phone feel like a big upgrade.

The Pixel 4's smooth and fluid 90Hz screen makes Google's latest Pixel phone feel revitalized and helps makes up for its utilitarian design. It gives the impression that the Pixel 4 is a big update over previous Pixels, and even current smartphones with 60Hz screens in general.

I had thought that Google ditched the fantastic wide-angle selfie camera from the Pixel 3, but the Pixel 4's selfie camera is wider than normal.

I had thought that Google ditched the fantastic wide-angle selfie camera from the Pixel 3, but the Pixel 4's selfie camera is wider than normal.

There's only one visible selfie camera on the Pixel 4, and some of us at Business Insider were (deeply) concerned that Google had ditched the wide-angle selfie camera from the Pixel 3.

It turns out that the Pixel 4's selfie camera has a 90-degree field-of-view, which is wider than standard selfie cameras that hover around the 70s for field-of-view. The Pixel 4's selfie camera is only seven degrees shy of the Pixel 3's 97-degree wide-angle selfie camera. It's just close enough to keep me happy after using the Pixel 3 for a while.

The Pixel 4 might be lagging behind with only two camera lenses.

The Pixel 4 might be lagging behind with only two camera lenses.

Google isn't backing down from the Pixel's reputation as the top smartphone camera, and it's not resting on its laurels. The company added new enhancements and features that will surely keep the Pixel camera leagues above the rest.

Still, with two camera lenses, the Pixel 4 trails behind the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S10 and Apple's iPhone 11 Pro that come with the versatility of triple-camera systems. Instead, it's hanging out with the "standard" iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10e's of the world. That would be a good thing had the Pixel 4 been priced closer to the $700 iPhone 11 and $750 Galaxy S10e. But starting at $800, the Pixel 4 sits in between "standard" phones and the ultra-premium models.

To be clear, price tags don't directly relate to how many lenses a phone has. The Pixel 4 has extra "stuff" like its radar-based facial recognition, motion gesture control, and 90Hz screen that other phones don't have.

Only quality time with the Pixel 4 will tell if that extra stuff justifies the Pixel 4's place and price tag among a wide variety of smartphones.

My biggest concern is that neither of the rear camera lenses in the Pixel 4 are for ultrawide photos, which are starting to become the norm.

My biggest concern is that neither of the rear camera lenses in the Pixel 4 are for ultrawide photos, which are starting to become the norm.

As I spend more time with the Pixel 4, I'll be paying close attention to the battery life and the performance it gets thanks to its additional slice of RAM memory, two weak spots with the Pixel 3.

But one aspect of the Pixel 4 is already a disappointment in my book: the lack of an ultrawide rear camera. Google chose a zoomed lens instead of an ultrawide lens with the justification that ultrawide angle lenses are "fun" but zoomed lenses are more useful.

That's a debatable statement. I anticipate myself wishing I had an ultrawide camera while I use the Pixel 4 more often than wishing I had a zoomed lens.

Still, Google has made some major improvements to zooming with its dedicated optical zoomed lens and its fancy Super Res Zooming software magic. If the Pixel 4's zooming is so good that I find it useful, perhaps I'll change my mind. At the very least, it might soften the blow of not including an ultrawide camera.

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