I came down pretty hard on the Pixel 4 in our review, and for good reason. Compared to everything else out there, it skimps on too much to be competitive. And, as usual, it has its fair share of Pixel problems. Regardless, there are still some bits I love and I’m using the Pixel 4 XL as my daily driver to this day. So what gives?
Most people need and deserve good battery life on their smartphone. The battery you need to get through your day should be in the phone, not connected to it by a cable. The battery alone is probably reason enough to keep you away from the Pixel 4 XL. I totally get that.
As sad as it is to admit, I've just accepted that bad battery life is the price of entry for using a Pixel.
The thing is, I long ago gave up hope that Google would put a beefy battery in a Pixel. Bad battery life is the price of entry for using a Pixel, especially a smaller one. As sad as it is to admit, I’ve accepted that. It’s not right and I’m not happy about it, but I’ve made my peace with it. I didn’t expect much from Google on that front this year and I wasn’t disappointed.
This is probably how iPhone owners felt back when Android users made “wall-hugger” fun at their expense. Now the tables have turned. While I could switch to another phone with better battery life, I keep using the Pixel 4 XL. And it’s for two of the same reasons people kept using the iPhone back in 2014: software and the camera.
A question of priorities
I love the Pixel camera, I always have. I’m frustrated that Google doesn’t put more lenses on Pixels, just like many of you are. Google’s camera software is great but more lenses equal more versatility. Despite this, I’ve always appreciated how good the Pixel’s camera is. Computational photography is the future and Google is further ahead than anyone else.
But I only use the Pixel 4 camera a couple of times a day (and as often as I can at night). The screen and the software though? I use those every time I turn the phone on, and I love both of them. I love the 90Hz display enough to keep it on all the time, even though it further destroys my Pixel 4 XL battery. At this point, I figure why not? I’m already charging the phone halfway through the day so what’s the difference?
Toggle is in Dev Options pic.twitter.com/93E8lzlNXs
— Kris Carlon (@kriscarlon) October 27, 2019
The pixel pickle
I get that Pixel software isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a far cry from what we got on the Nexus series or can find in AOSP. But it is my cup of tea and that screen and extra couple gigs of RAM make all the difference. I love the experience of using the Pixel 4, even if I hate the nagging bugs, missed opportunities, or terrible battery life.
This is the Pixel pickle I’m in. I love it and hate it at the same time. I hate what it is but love what it does. A plague be upon Google for the battery and then I forget my rage as soon as I start using it again. I’m practically certifiable: I wouldn’t recommend this phone to anyone but I still use it every day.
This is the Pixel pickle I'm in. I hate what it is but love what it does.
Should I forgive Google for making a sub-par phone? No. Am I willing to not use the Pixel 4 because of its flaws? Apparently not.
Last year, the sub-title of my Pixel 3 review was “the Android iPhone.” This year, I’m beginning to realize the Pixel has acquired some of that special magic that blinds iPhone owners to its flaws. Like them, I know the facts: I know it’s overpriced for what you get; I know there are far better specs out there for less; I know the battery sucks.
And yet here I am.
Night vision myopia
Software. Camera. Magic. This is what the Pixel is now. It used to just be software and camera — because we all know it’s never been about hardware — but the acquisition of that Apple-esque magic is new. It’s new, and it’s frightening because of what it might mean.
A couple of weeks ago, I was certain the universal condemnation of the Pixel 4 battery would force Google to make amends with the Pixel 5 battery. Now I’m not so sure. Despite putting a middling battery in the Pixel 4, a lot of people like me are still using it anyway. That’s a pretty good vote of confidence in the rest of the product. We’re not forgiving the Pixel 4’s flaws, but we are accepting them.
Even Apple addressed battery life concerns this year, so the ball is in Google's court.
Does this resignation mean Google now has less incentive to fix things next year? Perhaps. Apple certainly managed to successfully ignore customer feedback and do whatever it wanted for years. But this year even Apple listened and addressed battery life concerns after years of complaints, so the ball is very much in Google’s court. Does it want to become the new Apple or learn from its mistakes quickly and fix them?