[Rant] OK Google, we need to talk about the Pixel 4

I’ve been ruminating on this for a while now, probably since the Pixel 4 launch back in October, in fact. I liked the Pixel 3 XL from 2018 but felt disappointed that Google only gave it 4GB of RAM. But hey, it’s Google, they are on a learning curve and it’s just a small thing in the greater scheme of things, and wow, the Pixel camera is just awesome. This year, we’ve seen other brands such as OnePlus and Samsung launch smartphones with 8GB, 10GB, and even 12GB of RAM, with budget handsets such as the Honor 20 boasting 128GB of storage. And yet, Google insists on charging premium prices for its Pixel 4 and 4 XL with mid-range specifications apart from the presence of the Snapdragon 855 processor and OLED displays.

I thought that Google would learn from the Pixel 3 XL’s memory issues and give the Pixel 4 at least 8GB of RAM. But, no, the Pixel 4 was announced with a whopping 2GB of extra RAM. And then to add insult to injury, a mere 64GB of built-in storage for the base model, and 128GB for the model up. It’s underwhelming, for sure, especially when phones at half the price feature double the storage and often have MicroSD card support as the cherry on top. Once you discount having the latest version of Android and the inclusion of the Pixel camera, which doesn’t quite have the lead in photography chops that it did a year ago, it’s difficult to see how the Pixel 4 range offers value for money compared to its competitors.

And it isn’t even just the memory issue, although I’ve managed to write a fair bit about it. We’ve got the seemingly usual occurrence of sub-standard oleophobic screen coatings, smaller batteries that lead to even worse battery life than the Pixel 4’s predecessors, the omission of the fingerprint reader that takes users back to entering passwords and pins that they can’t remember, a display that isn’t great in direct sunlight, and the less said about the gimmicky Motion Sense and flawed Face Unlock the better. One of the big reasons for buying a Pixel handset in the first place was getting to upload unlimited photos at original quality to Google Photos, but that was nixed with the Pixel 4. After such a promising start with the original Pixel and Pixel XL, it’s like Google has lost touch with what users expect to see featured on flagship smartphones. We haven’t mentioned the Pixel 2 XL for obvious reasons.

And yet, that isn’t strictly true because the Pixel 3a and 3a XL that launched as affordable handsets with all the Google goodness such as the latest version of Android, monthly security updates, and the magical Pixel camera, are both examples of the search giant getting it right. Offering outstanding value at its Black Friday pricing of $299, the Pixel 3a is still the budget champion when at full price. As for popularity, it was the best-selling handset on Amazon a while back, and it’s still the best phone that Google has produced in 2019.

It isn’t that the Pixel 4 and 4 XL are terrible phones, it’s just that they seem weirdly limited in ways they shouldn’t be. Back when Google was developing Nexus phones, we could forgive most, if not all of the quirky faults because of the value for money that the phones offered. With the Pixel program featuring premium pricing, we expect premium-level hardware, but Google is failing to deliver and consumers aren’t quite so forgiving if they’ve spent $799 of their hard-earned money.

It’s difficult to say exactly why Google has gone so wrong with its Pixel strategy; it’s like the hardware division has a blind spot when it comes to battery capacity, display quality, and RAM, failing to understand that there is a limit to what can be achieved with software. Unlike most of Google’s features, phone performance, screen brightness, and battery life can’t be offloaded to the cloud to process.

I guess the big question is this – will Google shape up and give us the Pixel 5 we want instead of the one they think we deserve? We’ll only find that out next year October, sadly, but on the brighter side of things, we hopefully have the Pixel 4a and 4a XL to look forward to sometime around Google I/O next year. Perhaps the answer to Google’s difficulties with the premium Pixel smartphones is to simply let the team that produced the 3a lineup take over.

What are your thoughts on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL? Let us know in the comments below.

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He’s been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being his first phablet. He currently carries a Huawei P30 Pro and a Huawei MediaPad M5 (8.4) in his pockets and thinks nothing of lugging a 17-inch laptop around in his backpack. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, he’s an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, he loves a good Braai (BBQ).

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