With the Android Q beta program well under way, and the mid-range Pixel 3a and 3a XL announced, we're starting to get a little information trickling in on the forthcoming Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL that are expected to launch later this year.
All of the Pixel 4 hype starts with following device codenames as they're put through their development. As is so often the case with these sorts of things, the codenames were revealed through the process of communicating about addressing development issues with the software on Google's phones. Developers working on Android's SELinux policy refer to two never-before-seen Google devices codenamed "Coral" and "Needlefish" right alongside the Pixel, Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 series of phones.
The names themselves aren't particularly important, but they unlock the ability to track their progress.
The codenames fit the history of Google devices using nautical names, and when then cross-referenced to the latest version of the Google app, well they're clearly linked to two new phone models: Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The only wrench thrown in this whole thing is that in the Google app, the Pixel 4 is linked to the Coral codename while the Pixel 4 XL is linked to "Flame" instead.
Perhaps a change was made one way or the other between the two, but it seems odd that Google would drop its nautical naming scheme between two devices to be released at the same time. It also leaves the door open to speculate about what a potential third Pixel 4 model could be, including the chances it could be a lower-cost mid-range version in the lineup to alleviate some of the pressure Google is feeling from people who were not fans of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL's price increases.
Codenames are fun and all, but they don't really tell us much at the moment. What they do offer, though, is the ability to track their names through development from this point forward to get more clues as to what they'll have to offer when they're released. The hype is already starting, and we have several months to go before the Pixel 4 lineup's expected release in October.
Google has kept its design refreshes conservative from year to year, but with the Pixel 4, we'll see something different.
On June 12, Google flat-out confirmed that the Pixel 4 is a thing and shared an official render of the back of the phone. Gone is the two-tone design of past Pixels as we appear to now have a sleek glass back like so many other handsets.
Also new is the large rear camera housing that has two cameras instead of the usual one. Also in the squircle is an LED flash and an additional sensor of some kind — likely a time-of-flight one.
It's unclear if Google will release additional renders of the phone as time goes on, but at the very least, it is certainly unique for a company to give us a legit look at an upcoming phone so many months before we expect it to be released.
A little under a month later on July 8, additional renders from reliable leaker OnLeaks appeared — this time showing the back and front of the Pixel 4 XL.
The back of the phone isn't anything new, but this is the first time we've seen the front of the device. Google's apparently ditching the 3 XL's infamous notch, and in its place, has opted for a more traditional design with large-ish bezels at the top and bottom.
It's certainly not as futuristic compared to phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro and Galaxy S10, but it's bound to be a lot less polarizing than last year's design.
Most recently on July 20, OnLeaks shared crispy 5K renders of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The renders don't reveal anything new, but they do give us yet another look at Google's upcoming flagships.
On August 7, we got a massive spec dump thanks to the folks over at 9to5Google.
First, let's take a look at the spec sheet so far based on that report:
|Category||Pixel 4||Pixel 4 XL|
|Operating System||Android Q||Android Q|
90Hz refresh rate
90Hz refresh rate
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855|
|Rear Camera 1||12MP main camera||12MP main camera|
|Rear Camera 2||16MP telephoto camera||16MP telephoto camera|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|Battery||2,800 mAh||3,700 mAh|
Perhaps the biggest highlight from the rumored specs so far is the 90Hz display. This is something we've seen on very few smartphones, with one of the most recent being the OnePlus 7 Pro. This allows the display to move at a faster refresh rate, resulting in everything looking considerably smoother. Google is said to call this "Smooth Display", and it could really help the 4 and 4 XL stand out from the crowd.
Another highlight is the bump up to 6GB of RAM. Every Pixel phone since the original Pixel from 2016 has shipped with a mere 4GB, and especially with last year's Pixel 3 series, this resulted in a lot of issues with poor memory management. With the increase to 6GB, hopefully those qualms will be nonexistent.
Battery life has also been a consistent pain point for the Pixel lineup, and unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be changing. The Pixel 4 XL has a decently-sized 3,700 mAh battery, but the regular Pixel 4's 2,800 mAh unit is already making me sweat ?.
All the way back in 2015, Google announced something called "Project Soli." Project Soli is a specially-designed chip that allows you to control devices by making hand gestures above them. All these years later, it's finally being integrated into a product with the Pixel 4.
On July 29, Google uploaded a teaser video to YouTube showing how Motion Sense works on the Pixel 4. The two main things it offers are sophisticated face unlock and air gestures.
In regards to face unlock, Google says:
As you reach for Pixel 4, Soli proactively turns on the face unlock sensors, recognizing that you may want to unlock your phone. If the face unlock sensors and algorithms recognize you, the phone will open as you pick it up, all in one motion. Better yet, face unlock works in almost any orientation—even if you're holding it upside down—and you can use it for secure payments and app authentication too.
As for the air gestures, you'll be able to wave your hand over the Pixel 4's screen to silence phone calls, skip songs, and snooze alarms — all without touching the phone. Even better, Google notes that "these capabilities are just the start, and just as Pixels get better over time, Motion Sense will evolve as well."
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like everyone will be able to take part in the Motion Sense party. Google has said that Motion Sense "will be available in select Pixel countries", meaning that only certain markets will be able to use it. At this time, we have no idea what countries will get Motion Sense and which will not.
Now that the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are out and well-received by those looking for a Pixel experience for less money, it's reasonable to wonder what's going to happen with a hypothetical Pixel 4a. In reference to the codename information we're tracking now, there's a third codename that seems to be associated with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL that leaves the door open to speculation regarding a Pixel 4a launching at about the same time.
Considering the Pixel 3a was just released in May, it wouldn't make much sense for Google to follow it up so closely with a Pixel 4a alongside the standard Pixel 4. Google is far more likely to release a less expensive Pixel 4a early in 2020 — but presumably not as late in the year as the Pixel 3a.
Until we have more information to differentiate these three codenamed devices, it's hard to tell what the third phone would be.
5G is the feature that carriers and phone makers are hyping up as the first consumer-ready networks go online, but we don't expect the Pixel 4 to support the next-generation network. Google has historically lagged behind a bit on incorporating cutting-edge new technology in its Nexus and Pixel phones, and that extends to new networking capabilities.
There's a tiny chance that the referenced third Pixel 4 codename could be some sort of a 5G model, but it just doesn't seem like the kind of move Google would make considering its current spotty standing with carriers in various markets around the world.
And considering just how small current 5G networks are, and the compromises that need to be made in the phone hardware itself, it really isn't worth it to strive to have a 5G phone at this point. There are many more aspects of the Pixel 4 and 4 XL that will be more important than whether it has 5G.
Google has stuck to a regular cadence of releasing its Pixel phones in early October.
At this point, there's still plenty of room for that to adjust or shift, but we have no indication that the launch will be any other time. An announcement in early October with retail availability in the two weeks following is what we expect right now.
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