Google’s new Pixel 4 is a disaster.
Okay, maybe that’s too strong a word. But something like “disappointing” is too light to describe this mess of a product.
It’s not often you use the words “mess” and “Google” in the same sentence (at least, when referring to their hardware; specifically their phone hardware; specifically their phone hardware that doesn’t have just a 3 in its name). But yes, perhaps the most leaked phone of all time is finally here, and it is… absolutely boring, with a price tag that is entirely unjustified.
As the leaks were coming in, especially the early ones, it seemed like there was real excitement around what this phone might be and do. Remember the hope for really cool gestures with Soli integration? Remember when Google revealed the camera layout and everyone lost their minds?
And, pretty much after that, the Pixel and blogger community worked off the fumes of those two additions. Meanwhile, I, while certainly excited about the prospect of those features, was waiting for something more, something to solidify that this phone was going to be brilliant.
As I said on the Technically Speaking Podcast back in July when Google first revealed the camera layout, I was holding out hope that there would be awesome software features that hadn’t leaked yet, that couldn’t be discerned from schematics and case molds.
And then bloggers started getting their hands on completed, working devices, doing walkthroughs of what we now know was the final product, and not a new software feature in sight. Sure, there’s a 90 Hz refresh rate screen and the gesture control with Soli, but the former is available on cheaper phones, while the latter doesn’t seem to be as effective as we had hoped (six years later, and gesture controls is still as buggy as it was on the Samsung Galaxy S4). There’s no Google Duplex or Call Screening; there’s no exclusive software features that would make me consider this phone (Google gave up perhaps the closest thing to it, Astrophotography Mode, by deciding to roll the feature out to older Pixel 3 devices).
And before you mention it, no, the camera is not, nor should it ever be, the selling point for a new phone. Real photographers don’t use cell phone cameras, and everyone else takes twenty selfies, throws one up compressed on Instagram and never looks at the other 19 ever again. Average consumers couldn’t give a damn if a phone has an f/1.4 or an f/1.2 lens.
As much as I hate software exclusives, that’s what sells phones. The Samsung Galaxy can make GIFs, the OnePlus offers customization, the iPhone has iMessage and syncs with your other devices. It’s all about what your phone can do that others can’t (in terms of quality-of-life; don’t kid yourself, you’ll use Soli to change music tracks once as a parlor trick at a party, then never use that feature ever again).
Now, this wouldn’t be a huge problem if not for the price. Had Google advertised this phone as they did the original Pixel, or even the old Nexus devices, as a overall quality, no-gimmick, it-just-works phone, it would sell great, assuming the price is appropriate. Unfortunately, Google has made two (and a half) grave errors with this launch.
- They’re hyping up Soli to be way more impressive and important as it actually is.
- They’re handing us a mid-range product and asking for a premium price.
- Eagle-eyed reporters noticed they’re killing the excellent exclusive services that make owning a Pixel great (i.e. no more unlimited Original Photo storage on Google Photos)
I could go on a lot longer about the flaws with the device (abandoning the fingerprint scanner for a Face Unlock that can’t tell that you’re asleep, the lackluster design, the boring color choices), but instead I’ll focus on the marketing aspect of this device.
Google really did blow a great opportunity. The enormous hype, combined with a lackluster Apple iPhone 11, put them in a prime position to shoot ahead this year and stake their claim on the smartphone market share. All they had to do was undercut Apple. And they failed. No one is going to pay $800+ for this perfectly average phone.
Case in point, I had committed myself to buying the new Pixel. I hadn’t followed the leaks closely or watched the conference, but I knew the gist of what it was offering. And I was praying it wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg. Honestly, $899 for a 64 GB Pixel 4 XL is less than I was expecting based on leaked pricing (the only leaks I care about), but not by much. Regardless, moments after the presentation wrapped up, I mindlessly went to the Google Store and slapped down $980 for the phone. And then I started looking around.
Thanks to a couple blogs for making the mandatory “How does it stack up?” posts, I realized that the OnePlus 7 Pro has almost the exact same features (you know, the ones I’ll actually use, sorry not sorry Soli) for over $200 less. So, after that, plus a conversation with my friend who has the device, I decided to switch.
I’ll admit, it was tough cancelling my order. My first phone was a Galaxy Nexus, and then after a few years with an HTC One M8, where I tried my hardest to get to stock Android, I returned to the Nexus line with the 6P and promised myself I would never leave stock. Essential Phone, Pixel 2 XL, and now… OnePlus. You’ve left me no choice, Google. How I yearn for the days when “premium” meant a $500 Nexus 6P, when you worried about building a quality experience rather than trying to get cash rich.
Perhaps if Soli pans out, I’ll return, but I’m not holding my breath. I wish you the best of luck, Google. You had everything working in your favor, but when it came time to perform, you fell flat on your face.