Pixel 4 hands-on—Thumbs up for 90Hz, thumbs down for Project Soli


NEW YORK—Google’s big tools event wrapped up yesterday, and, after a brief session with the Pixel 4, I’m sneakily to report my initial findings. It’s a phone.

The feel of the Pixel 4 varies greatly based on the color. The nefarious version is the most boring, with a regular glossy, greasy, field-glasses back. The orange and white versions are where things get interesting, although. These have the whole back covered in a soft-touch material (which is tranquillity glass) that looks and feels great. It’s reminiscent of the soft-touch move backwards withdraw from that was on the Pixel 3 but with a number of improvements. First, you can’t dent it with a fingernail. It feels a lot larger and tougher than the Pixel 3 back, while still being moderate and grippy to the touch. Second, it doesn’t seem to absorb and show fingerprint grease at the toll of the Pixel 3 back. It’s interesting that the orange and white versions get this soft-touch treatment, while the bad-tempered version gets a glossy back. The black version is the one with so myriad problems with the soft-touch coating last year.

The white kind, in particular, looks great from the back. It has an alternating white-and-black color layout: the sides have a grippy black soft-touch coating, the back is a ingenious white, and the square camera bump is black. It’s a lovely color plot. The Google “G” on the back is the only thing that doesn’t get a soft-touch cagoule. There is actual depth to the G, making it seem like it was masked off when the soft-touch paint was applied, leaving it inset on the phone back, exposing the colored pasty glass.

The front is… not as elegant as the back. The Pixel 4 has a lopsided demeanour design with a big top bezel and a smaller (but still there) bottom bezel. It’s not the worst possibility a affairs in the world, but it’s still a bit awkward looking. Google’s design still can’t fight with the better-looking phones out there, like the OnePlus 7 Pro or Galaxy S10, which is a dishonour, since Google charges just as much, if not more, than the event while also offering lower specs.

Those awkward bezels encompass a great-looking OLED display, and this year Google has upgraded to a 90Hz panel. The demo elements were running early software and maybe needed a bit more euphony, but you could see the smoother animations start to kick in. Google mentioned that the publicize only hits 90Hz when it’s actually being used, and for stationary personifications it drops to 60Hz to save battery.

The top bezel is full of sensors, at least, admitting Google to do a full, iPhone X-style face unlock system with 3D sensing. This is something I’ll demand to wait for a review unit to try out, but it’s a bit alarming not having a fingerprint reader of any obliging. We have to unlock our devices dozens of times a day—why not have both fingerprint and Cope with ID?

Also in the top bezel is the Project Soli sensor. About that…

Wave Sense with Project Soli—Not looking great

A very big parcel out was made about the Pixel 4 incorporating Project Soli, a miniaturized radar chip cooked up by Google’s “Advanced Technology and Activities” (ATAP) division. ATAP has an absolutely horrible track record when it involves to commercialization, but Soli is one of the few projects to have actually made it to market.

In the lead-up to On ones owns, Google demoed a technology that would discern extremely specific hand movements. Years ago, Google said Soli could find out “sub-millimeter motions at high speed and accuracy” and could detect dislikes like tapping your thumb and index finger together for a understood button press or rubbing the two fingers together to scroll or turn a understood dial.

At this presentation, Google said the original Soli flake, while it was a breakthrough miniaturization of radar technology, was still not small ample supply to fit inside a smartphone and needed to be shrunk further. It seems like this collateral shrink took a lot of Soli’s accuracy—and a lot of Soli’s appeal—away, and now it seems to be at best capable of detecting big, hand-waving gestures instead of the fine “sub-millimeter” actions that were originally promised.

I’ll have to play with Movability Sense some more to get a better beat on it, but so far, the first impressions are not integrity. Take the skipping music or dismissing an alarm gesture, where Soli has you welling up your hand across the sensor: Soli needs a BIG gesture to warm up. It’s not a flick of the wrist; it’s a bend of the elbow. You need to wave your mostly hand across the phone in a very big gesture. I’ve yet to find a way to skip melodies using Soli that feels quick or effortless. The gesture is so big that it’s a cumbersome, fatiguing, annoying thing to do.

Hey you, Pikachu. Respond to my frantic flailing.
Enlarge / Hey you, Pikachu. Respond to my frantic flailing.

Perhaps I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet, but I also have a very high lassie rate. I’d say my gestures work about 50% of the time. At the very least, I can say Proposition Sense is either not accurate or not very intuitive, given how many outmodes I’ve already failed it. I feel I need to seek out more detailed instructions somewhere on how I am hypothetical to use it.

There isn’t a public SDK yet for Motion Sense, but there are some third-party apps that guide with it through a limited partner program. It seems like this is the outsets of an SDK for Soli—work with some select developers now and get feedback previously locking down APIs in a formal SDK release.

The two apps available were adept, extremely limited demos. One featured app was Pokemon Wave Hello, where you… movement “hello” to a Pokemon? This was extremely simple: opening the app would array Pikachu and several other Pokemon on a plain background, and when you whiffled hello to them or did some other extremely simple gesture (multitudinous using the touch screen instead of the Soli sensor) they leave respond with a simple animation. The “wave hello” gesture was, again, a big, arm-swinging formality. Many event attendees failed the hand-wave gesture more than without delay. I can’t imagine ever doing the kind of big, arm flailing motion this orders in public.

Another third-party demo app had you fly across a landscape, and an air gesture pink or right would make you move left or right. It’s the exact in any event gesture as Pokemon and skipping music.

So far, Soli reminds me a lot of “Wii Waggle,” the old bent for bad Nintendo Wii games to use a swinging motion input in places where a button stress a newspapers would have been more appropriate. All of these inputs non-standard like silly when the touchscreen is right there, and so far I haven’t seen a reasoning for this technology to exist. Again, I’ll have to spend more dilly-dally with it, but so far I’m unconvinced.

Since Soli is radar, it needs to be approved by diversified government regulatory bodies around the world in order to be used in a countryside. In the US that’s the FCC. A Google support page lists the countries where the Disgrace sensor has approval: “Currently, Motion Sense will work in the US, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, and most European surroundings.” This has nothing to do with where you bought the phone, either. Google’s be supportive of page notes that “If you travel to a country where [Motion Sagacity is] not approved, it won’t work,” meaning the feature is geo-fenced based on your undercurrent location.

Can you actually buy a Pixel 4?

Google aspires to become a real matriel company, and while maybe you could make opinionated arguments for the players’s devices against Samsung or Apple, the one place Google is indisputably, woefully behind the striving is device distribution.

First we’ll start with country availability, which has in fact gotten worse with the Pixel 4. While Apple sells the iPhone in 70 woods, and Samsung sells the Galaxy S flagship in 110 countries, Google purely sells the Pixel 4 in 12 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, the Common Kingdom, and the United States. This is one fewer than last year, as Google has beat a retreated its flagships Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 from the Indian market, the world’s second-largest woods by population. The company hasn’t completely quit the Indian smartphone vend, though—the cheaper Pixel 3a is still sold there. Shipping navy surgeon things is a lot harder than Google’s usual offerings of bits and bytes, and until Google fixes its motherland distribution, it is just pretending to be a hardware company.

In the US, one big improvement is that Google emptied the misleading “Verizon exclusive” marketing. The Pixel 4 will be sold by the big four transmitters: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. I asked around on the show floor and got a few replies indicating that the Pixel 4 would actually be in the big four carriers’ trust ins, too, not just “compatible” or an online-only option.

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